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One Woman’s Quest to – DISCOVER THE HORSE – by Alyssa Mathews        

In my life so far, I have ridden in 8 different countries and I feel so honored and privileged to call THIS equine community my home. The people here truly care about their horses and about each other. For each of you this support means something different. But for me, it has allowed me to grow and learn as a horse person and is one of the reasons I have been able to start this ambitious project.

I have been riding since before I can remember. In a note about my first ride, my mom explained that I wanted to ride all by myself with no help.  “I love Casper,” I proclaimed as I hugged him. No one in my family was into horses and they had absolutely no idea what they were getting into when they let their little girl exchange house chores for riding lessons.

When I was 5 we noticed several trucks, horse trailers and horses at our local community center. We went up to a man in a cowboy hat and my parents explained my obsession. Luckily for me, Ralph understood my obsession and happened to be afflicted in the same way. The Brush Bustin Trail Riders were a group of cowboys on an annual three day trail ride. They rode about 30 miles each day, camped, and ended up at the PRCA rodeo in Spooner, WI. My parents invited the entire group to camp at our place the following year. We became good friends with Ralph.

Not long after we first met, he had my dad putting up fencing on our property and brought a couple of horses over for us to take care of. One of the mares that he brought was bred, and so began a six-year-old’s first full life course on animal husbandry. It was an experience complete with sleeping in the barn and hourly checks when the due date arrived. I got to be there for the birth. A few days later, the Cowboy Ralph came over to check on the new foal. He asked me if I wanted the little colt to be my first horse. My acceptance was enthusiastic, to say the least. Ralph is 86 years old now. He still rides, drives and farms his land where he keeps 16 horses, two mules, a miniature donkey and lots of sheep.

Throughout my life I have had some very special experiences with unique breeds and the amazing people that have dedicated their lives to these horses. Including:

* Driving, pack trips, breed shows, and Performances at Road to The Horse in Kentucky with the Norwegian Fjords.

* Owning a Little Iron Horse, also known as the Cheval Canadian.

* Riding to my wedding on my Kiger Mustang.

* Crossing Country borders from Slovenia to Italy on the Lipizzaner.

* Working with the Skyrian Pony at a Therapeutic Riding Center in Greece.

* Thanks to local Helen Mleynek, falling in love with an incredible gaited breed – The Icelandic.

My equine love story probably feels familiar to many and it has led me down a unique and exciting path.   In September of 2017 I officially launched my DiscoverTheHorse Quest. I am going to ride and document every breed of horse in the world. There are over 350 breeds. When complete, it is my hope for this to be the largest equine education project of its kind.

With no actual road map, doing something that has never been done before, my goal is to make meaningful and entertaining content.  So I decided to document with video. Ideally, each breed will have videos  featuring something the breed is known for, an impressive example of the breed or a ride in the breed’s country of origin.

For each breed, I put together a quest video and an “about the breed” video.  The quest video takes you on the journey with me and tells the story of my ride. The breed video goes into more detail about the breed features and history. All of the videos can be seen on my Facebook page, Youtube, and my DiscoverTheHorse website. Since the project launch, I have ridden and documented 26 breeds.  My videos have accumulated over one million views on Facebook.  The Irish Draught breed video is the most popular so far with over 250,000 views and counting.  Feel free to join 7,500+ followers on the DiscoverTheHorse Facebook page to come along for the rides.

My most recent quest tour brought me east.  Meeting the horse that played “Hidalgo” in the movie with Viggo Mortensen and going on a ride with an Emmy award winning TV producer were a couple of the highlights.  I am very excited about the future. After planning and thinking about this idea for over a decade, it truly is a dream come true to be doing this. Horses are my passion. Meeting these people and horses all over the world shows that we have a common bond that bring us together in a truly authentic way. If through doing this I can bring awareness to our amazing animals, I know it is what I’m meant to do.

This brings me to you. You have your own story. All of us have one life to live and yet often times we limit ourselves.  There are fears, finances and time. What will people think? In the horse world we often get into debates about training styles, disciplines and philosophies.  These concerns and opinions are valid and they are real, but you would be amazed at what you can do if you decide its okay for people to call you crazy.

I have two challenges for you:

The first one is easy. Go and hug your horse. Thank them for the role they play in your life. If you don’t have a horse right now, a dog, cat or human are reasonable alternatives.  Please don’t hug the elk!

Second, I challenge you to come up with something that you have always wanted to do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that is meaningful to you. Take the steps you need to make it happen. And remember to use your amazing horse community that you have right here to help you succeed.

To help contribute financially to Alyssa’s quest, go to: Patreon.com/discoverthehorse

Follow my quest, plus view all breeds documented to date, go to:

Facebook.com/discoverthehorse

Instagram.com/discoverthehorsequest

Bob is Back in the Saddle!

From Colorado Serenity Magazine, November 2017:  On August 17, 2017, Bob Benefiel was bucked off his horse.  Immediately after the fall, Bob was unconscious and not breathing, he then started breathing on his own.  911 was called and his wife Jody held his cervical spine until EMS arrived.  He was taken by ambulance to Elk Creek Elementary School where he was met by the AirLife helicopter and flown to St Anthony Hospital.  It was determined that he had suffered a severe spinal cord injury that was caused by a herniated disc at C2 & C3 that was compressing his spinal column.  He also had 2 additional cervical vertebrae that had stable fractures.  He underwent emergency surgery that same night and was then admitted to the Neuro Trauma ICU at St. Anthony Hospital. 

On August 24, Bob was transferred to Craig Hospital with a central cord injury with permanent damage to his spinal column at the level of C3 & C4.  He is considered to have incomplete paralysis.  At the time of admission to Craig Hospital he just had movement of his big toes and thumbs.

At Craig Hospital, Bob had an intense rehabilitation schedule from 8am-4pm daily.  He did not stop there.  Anytime he had a space in his schedule, he found an opening in the therapy schedule to fill it in.  In each part of his therapy appointments he pushed his limits and went beyond what was required that day.  Bob told everyone at Craig that HE WOULD WALK OUT OF THERE!  With his dedication, grit, determination and of course the attitude that this was the time to COWBOY UP, he made huge strides daily. 

Any free time outside of therapy, Bob spent talking and encouraging other patients to keep trying.  Bob’s focus and optimism throughout his journey has been infectious to all of those around him.  His attitude made such an impression on the Craig staff, Bob has been asked to return to give talks about his accident and his recovery. 

Incredibly, although not surprisingly to his friends, family and staff at Craig Hospital, Bob did just as he said he would and walked out of Craig on November 2nd

After walking out of Craig Hospital that day, Bob set his next goal to getting back in the saddle a year after his accident – it may have been sooner, but he promised his doctors he would wait a year!

On August 17th, Bob reached that goal and rode his gelding Dusty and has been riding since!  Seeing others ride since the accident has been difficult and brought back memories of being a kid and how much he loved to ride.  That drive to ride again kept him going every day.

Bob shared, “When I reached that goal to ride, the accomplishment gave me such a happy heart and that feeling of freedom.  When I am on a horse, I feel so free and all of my troubles are gone.  My legs and arms are still weak, but I am comfortable once I am in the saddle.”

Bob explained that the accident was very humbling.  He learned to ask for and receive help.  Bob never blamed the accident on the horse.  He admitted he knew better and hurried her along without doing the groundwork he knew was so important.  “You can’t rush a young horse,”  Bob stated.

Most importantly, Bob and Jody want to express how grateful they are to all of the people that have supported them on this journey.  They are beyond thankful for this community and all of their help, thoughts and prayers!

Land Preservation with the Track System

Green grass is here, but how do we keep our horses from overgrazing every blade in the first month and turning our property into a dirt lot?  There is hope!  A few years ago I read an article about a Texas A & M military reenactment group who were using a track system at their five acre base to keep their horses fit for their weekend duties.

Forward to a couple years ago when we moved to our new property.  It was a blank slate with no fencing or any horse amenities.  We requested an evaluation from Colorado State University Extension Agent Jennifer Cook, who is a grasses and grazing specialist, to come over to look at the natural state of our property and to advise us on how to best steward and preserve our land while the horses also enjoyed the property.  One of her suggestions was a track system.

There are certainly exceptions, but in general, the arid Colorado climate flora cannot sustain continuous grazing.  So how do we keep the horses happy, healthy and living the way they were designed to live which is walking and grazing throughout the day? The track system!  The principle behind the track system is to sacrifice smaller areas in order to save larger areas while keeping the horses moving and grazing.

The track system can work on most any size of property.  In our case, we designated one pen with the water and shelter that the horses have access to all day, and we shut them in there at night for our own peace of mind and so we are more likely to hear them if anything is amiss.  The back gate from the pen opens to the track, which is a 12’ wide thoroughfare that makes a circle perimeter around about 6 acres.  We also created two other wide areas along the track for feeding hay.  The recommended track width is 6’ to 12’ wide.  The narrower width will keep them moving more, but wider will provide more escape routes from dominant horses.  We have three horses on our track and the 12’ width seems to give horses that know each other plenty of room to negotiate.

In the morning, we put hay out in the two larger areas and open the gate to the track.  The horses spend their day walking the track to the hay and coming back to the water.  This time of year there is a little grass that comes up on the track, but the track and the pen are essentially sacrifice areas where the traffic is too heavy to grow much vegetation.

The area in the middle of the track we have divided into three pastures that we use to rotate the horses through for an hour or two each day.  That time decreases or may even cease if the grass heights get too low, but they still have the track to keep them walking and busy.

Ideally, we would have slow feed hay nets around larger hay bales in the feeding areas, but that does not work where we are with the elk and deer.

We have noticed an increased level in the fitness of the horses and are amazed at how they walk the track most of the day, sometimes “doing the loop” at a gallop just for fun.  It is a great way to keep your horses fit if you don’t get to ride as much as you would like.  You will find they move a lot more then they do in an open pasture.

 

Materials are flexible.  We have seen more permanent tracks or just electric fencing.  We chose cord electric fencing and T-Posts with caps over the majority of the track to try it out.  We picked cord over tape because it does not catch the wind and snow like the tape.  Starting with the “temporary” fencing gives you the flexibility to change the width and maybe the route.

Pasture Paradise by Jaime Jackson

Benefits of a track system:

  • Sacrifice small areas to save large areas for grazing
  • Ease of grazing management
  • More stimulating environment for horses
  • Prevents boredom and vices
  • Preserves the beauty of your property
  • Keeps horses moving all day
  • Mirrors the natural environment by horses walking, eating smaller amounts at a time
  • Keeps horses fit

The track system can work in all different climates and for different purposes.  If the majority of your land is used for arenas or barns, the track system can be a great way to use those smaller spaces and corridors for exercise and turnouts.  We have utilized our track system for over two years now and it has been revolutionary for our horse keeping and land management.

Heather McWilliams © 2018

For more information:  http://www.all-natural-horse-care.com/paddock-paradise.html

Paddock Paradise – A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jaime Jackson

Pen sacrifice area with water and shelter

Track area made from cord electric fencing, note green grass on either side.

Overnight Colorado Horse Trips

Fall is one of the most beautiful times to ride in Colorado with the changing leaves, cool weather and minimal tourism traffic.  In the last couple of years, we have explored a few Colorado places to camp with our horses and trail ride.  Here are some of the places offered in our beautiful state that provide overnight facilities for people and horses.  For more information, details and additional ideas see Margi Evans’ book:  Riding Colorado III:  Day and Overnight Trips with your horse.

Make reservations as far ahead as you can, but often in the late fall there are openings for spontaneous trips.  Make sure you have all of the health papers you need ready specific to the facility.  You may need a current negative Coggins test, possibly a vaccination record and/or a health certificate within the last 30 days.  If travelling over 75 miles from home, you will need a brand inspection.   Some places require certified weed-free hay.

Beaver Meadows Resort, Red Feather Lakes, CO, beavermeadow.com, 970-881-2450

Beautiful common area with beaver ponds, general store and restaurant.  A great place for non-horse folks too!  Many, many well marked trails for different loop options every day.  Several small stream crossings.  Horses:  Pens at the horse stable area or large pens at campsites with nearby water.  People:  Many options including cabins, condos, hotel rooms and horse camp sites.  There are no hook ups at the horse camping area, but it is along a beautiful stream in a private setting.

Homestead Meadows from Hermit Park Campground, Estes Park, CO, 800-397-7795

Ride to Homestead Meadows from Campground.  The trail tours through a registered National Historic District.  The area was first settled in the 1800’s and the last resident in 1952.  Each homestead is labeled telling about each homesteader family.  Two days recommended to really explore.  Horses:  One or two pens per site, but keep in mind they are too small to really put two horses in one.  Nice pens with good ground and shade.  People:  Tent camping or living quarters trailers, but no hook ups. Restrooms available and water down near pavilion or entry.  Bring water for you and your horse.

Indian Creek Campground, Sedalia, CO, fs.usda.gov/activity/psicc/recreation/horseriding-camping, 877-444-6777

Several options for trailing riding in the area including the Indian Creek Equestrian Trail, a segment of the Colorado Trail, and the Ringtail Trail.  Horses:  Hitching posts, water spigots and pens at sites, some shaded.  People:  Nice campground with restrooms in the loop, picnic tables, fire pits and tent sites.  There are a couple sites that would work well for living quarters trailers, but there are no hook ups.

M Lazy C Ranch, Lake George, CO, mlazyc.com, 719-148-3398

Meals available for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Some nights there is a chuckwagon dinner with hay rides, reservations required.  Surrounded by National Forest, there are many trails to explore.  On the 4WD roads you may encounter ATV’s that were always very respectful of the horses.  There are plenty of single track trails to explore with no ATV’s.  Beautiful open areas and distant mountain views.  You can camp here and trailer to Dome Rock as well.  Horses:  Two pens at each campsite and the ability to add more.  Some of the pens have roofs. Water at each site.  People:  There are some cabins and rooms available near the main area with pen options for horses as well as a round pen and outdoor arena.  Great camping area with different configurations.  Water, electric, fire pits and picnic tables at sites.  Also, a round pen and several trail obstacles in camping area.

Mill Creek Ranch (formally known as Old Cow Town Colorado), Saguache, CO, millcreekcolorado.com, 719-655-2224

No expense was spared designing and building this recently built cow town.  There is a restaurant, saloon, general store, museum, social club and more.  Bring more than your horse friends and family, there is something here for everyone.  Surrounded by National Forest, there are many trail riding options to explore like Hoaglund Mountain and the Hodding Creek Area.  Horses:  Very nice stall barn to outdoor pens.  People: Many options of cabins, the Social Club or a nice RV area near the barn and pens with hookups.

Mueller State Park, Teller County, CO, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Mueller/Pages/Activities.aspx, 800-678-2267

Extensive trails for riding, plus you can connect to the Dome Rock area with additional trails.  Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in this area as well.  There are a few areas where horses are not allowed which are marked.  Horses:  Stalls/pens available at the stable area.  There are only two horse camping spots with pens that are a little ways from the main area.  No hookups here.  People:  Lodging available at the main area or there are the two horse camping sites.

Oleo Ranch, Lake City, CO, oleoranch.com, 281-728-0267

10,500 feet elevation.  There is an old 1800’s stagecoach road bed, local trails and the Colorado Trail and Continental Trail both come through here.  Horses:  free horse corrals, water available.  People:  Seven different cabins to rent with refrigerators and hot water.  No internet or wifi.

Sun Canyon Ranch, Dove Creek, CO, suncanyonranch.com, 970-677-3377

Great riding from the ranch as well as fishing, nearby historic Indian Ruins, Cowboy Supper and Show, and more!  Horses:  Stalls, paddocks, panel pens, pasture and round pen.  People:  Beautiful lodge as well as 12 RV sites with water and electric and 5 tent sites.

Tutor Rose Bed & Breakfast, Salida, CO, thetudorrose.com, 800-379-0889

The Tutor Rose property adjoins BLM land through which you access the Lost Trail, to the new Little Rainbow Trail, to the Rainbow Trail.  Head north or south from here.  Beautiful trail along the east side of the Sangre De Cristo mountains.  Old roads, lakes, mines, and stream crossings over decent footing with some exposed roots and rocks.  Horses:  Various horse accommodations from stalls to paddocks.  People:  Main house with rooms as well as Chalets that sleep up to six.

The Wilderness Cabin, Gunnison County, CO, coloradowildernesscabin.com, 970-527-3010

Trails like Little Robinson Trail #850 and Kaufman Creek Trail #852 are highly rated for beauty and views.  There are some full day rides as well.  Horses:  Metal sectional pens that the owners will reconfigure for you with water near pens.  People:  Large, beautiful three-story lodge with a hot tub plus an additional cabin.

Winding River Resort, Grand Lake, CO, windingriverresort.com, 970-627-3215 or 303-623-1121

Trail ride into Rocky Mountain National Park and there is also forest service land that adjoins one side of the resort that ATV’s can access – bring ATV’s and horses to ride in different areas.  The check in for horses was a bit stringent.  We saw moose every day.  Recommended trails are the River Trail, Green Mountain Trailhead to the Big Meadows Loop, and Onahu Trail all in RMNP.  Pancake breakfast on Sundays.  We went to Grand Lake Lodge that was about 5 minutes away for breakfast one day and a couple dinners in Grand Lake at night.  Horses:  Nice panels pens which can be made larger or smaller with water close by.  We did not see any flies and noticed the wranglers using Fly Predators.  There is a general pen area if you are in a cabin or lodge or pens at your site if you are camping.  People:  Lodge rooms, separate cabins and many campsites available.

Trail Riding is Upon Us!

“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”  Winston Churchill

As mountain residents, we enjoy some of the most beautiful trails in the nation to ride our horses on.  Not just a few, but several right in our backyards, not to mention the amazing places all over our state.  Riders down the hill go to a lot of effort just to come to our local trails.  While many local horse people are very comfortable riding local trails, others may need people to ride with or the fear of the unknown keeps them from venturing out.  Some friends moving here from the west coast noted that in California, horse riders are more concentrated into communities, but here we are spread out and it can be difficult to connect.

Trail riders come from all disciplines and use trail riding as a break from the arena or a horses usual job.  Of course it is also a great way to socialize, enjoy riding and Colorado with friends and family.

As trail riders, we hold quite a bit of responsibility in our hands.  Our most important job (other than staying alive) is as horse riding ambassadors to keep the trails and parking lots accessible to our horses and rigs.  It is no secret that the majority of the local trail users are bikers and hikers.  We are the minority, but pedestrians and bikers must yield to us, because plainly, we could be killed if something goes awry.  Hold that privilege and responsibility with appreciation and respect.

Be kind, be aware of your surroundings.  Most bikers and hikers encountered are aware of our frailty and predicament.  As prey animals, horses get a little nervous when encountering fast moving people on wheels and people hiding in bushes ready to pounce on them, not to mention the dog that has been waiting for the chance for a good sniff of a horse.  The majority pull off the trail, stand in a conspicuous place and talk to the horses.  Avoid being rude or officious.  We need to get along with our fellow trail users.  Start a pleasant conversation with them to get them talking.  Let them know that your horse needs to see and hear them.

Be proactive and aware of your surroundings.  If possible, put the more trail savvy horses at the front and back of your party.  That way if a bike comes up quickly, the horse is less likely to fear it is a mountain lion.  Of course, stay on the trail (unless muddy) and walk while passing other trail users.  If you are on a young horse or one with little trail experience, keep your eyes open and as soon as you see a bike or person, talk to your horse and the person.  If the trail allows, turn your horse toward the person/bike as soon as you notice them so your horse can get a good look at them.  If possible, pony young horses initially off of more experienced horses to get them used to the trails and other users.

Venturing first on more open trails is wise.  Open trails give your horse a chance to see someone coming from a distance.  You can step off the trail and let your horse see the bike coming.  Some open trails under an hour from our area are Bear Creek Lake Park, Chatfield Park, parts of Elk Meadow and Mount Falcon.

Take care of each other and ride to the level of the least experienced horse or rider in your party.  If you want to go on a fitness ride, go out with others with the same goal.  If you are meeting various friends and friends of friends, consider it more social and be flexible.  Although in our mountains, no matter the speed, you and your horse will get a work out.    Get a feel for the other riders and their horses.  If you think you might want to trot, ask everyone in the party if they would be comfortable first.  Then, let them know when you are transitioning back to a walk.  An easy way to not be invited back trail riding is to take off at a canter/gallop without warning.  This is very unkind to your fellow riders.  Many a person has been bucked off or taken off with because of such idiocy.

Some of our best local horse trails include Alderfer Three Sisters, Kenosha Pass, Pine Valley Ranch, Elk Meadow Park, Flying J, Beaver Brook Watershed, Mount Evans Wilderness, Gashouse Gulch, Little Scraggy Peak and Miller Gulch.  I recommend going early or later in the day, even after dinner is a great time during our long daylight hours in the summer.  In addition, weekdays can be wonderfully quiet at local parks.

Riding horses is one of the most natural ways to experience the beauty and peacefulness of the mountains.  Wildlife are more comfortable with our horses than people on their own and horses can take us places we would struggle to go without them.  Stay safe and enjoy your summer riding around our beautiful state with your horses and friends!

Resources:

Margi Evans’ Riding Colorado I – II and III books are a must have for Colorado trail riders.

ridingcolorado.equineexplorer.com

mtnhomes4horses.com/category/trail_guide

jeffco.us/open-space/parks/

horsechannel.com/horse-news/2013/09/13-trail-etiquette.aspx

Heather McWilliams © 2018

Working Equitation in the Foothills

Hear the word “equitation” and many horse enthusiasts think of a class judged on the rider’s form and effectiveness.  In reality, the definition of equitation is just the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding. From there one could say, Working Equitation (WE) is the art and practice of horsemanship as it applies to the tasks that horses help people perform on the ranch.  While WE is an international sport originally pioneered by Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, it is hitting its stride in the United States.  The first international competition was held in 1996 and then in 2004, the World Association for Working Equitation (WAWE) was established to govern the sport.  WAWE rules are used for all international competitions, but each individual country has its own rules for domestic competitions.

Working Equitation was formed to celebrate and showcase the horse and rider partnership with a foundation in classical horsemanship and the use of the horse in ranch work.  The sport seeks to support and allow countries to stay true to their own historical types of horsemanship, as well as working traditions and their traditional tack and attire.  Of course in the United States, that is a very diverse group with a melting pot of traditions and styles.  At local competitions you will see all shapes of saddles and styles of dress.

In the United States, Working Equitation competitions offer five performance levels to accommodate horses and riders at various stages of training: Introductory, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Masters. The Masters level is the international standard of the sport.

In each level there are four trials or tests that are put together at a competition.  First, the Dressage trial consists of a test where collective marks are given for movements considering the horse’s impulsion, submission, and quality of gaits, as well as for the rider’s position and effective use of aids.  As with classical Dressage, each level builds upon the last and prepares the horses training for the next level.

The second trial is Ease of Handling, which applies the skills performed in the Dressage test to an obstacle course.  Each obstacle is given a score of 0-10 paying attention to the quality, ease, symmetry and geometry of the obstacles and transitions in between in light of what is looked for in the Dressage phase.

Third is the Speed trial which is often the horse and rider’s favorite, as well the spectators.  This phase takes a part of the same obstacle course as in the Ease of Handling phase, but time becomes the key component with time penalties being added for errors.

Finally, the Cow trial tests the ability of horse and rider pairs to work cattle individually and with a group of 3-4 horse and rider teams.  The objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team herd the selected cow into a designated pen.  Due to the logistics of having cattle at an event, not all competitions have the Cow trial.

At the end of the competition, horse and rider pairs receive scores based on their placing in each of the trials, and then the scores are tallied to determine the overall placings.

Allison and Rosa

Over the past few years there have been a growing number of WE enthusiasts in the foothills.  Indian Hills resident Christina Turissini has been the force behind organizing lessons, clinics and play days for WE.

The foothills group started when Christina won a free group lesson from Allison Mazurkiewicz at a High Country WE event which resulted in bringing Allison to our area. Allison is excited to see this group flourish with regular clinics and advance in the sport. The Foothills group has a wide variety of horses and riders which makes her clinics educational for all, whether riding or watching.  Allison’s aim is to be an ambassador for the sport and spread the fun that is WE.  Allison competes up to the Intermediate level, holds an “r” judge card with the Confederation of WE (as well as holding a board position), is a member of WE United and is a founding member of High Country WE (created in 2014), who puts on several shows in Colorado every year.

Allison states, “Working Equitation requires you and your horse to work together as a team in a soft, fluid manner. As an instructor and trainer, I find the obstacle course an effective way to teach horses and riders how to focus and gain confidence in skills that might be new to them. The obstacles bring home the lesson of flat work training into everyday riding as a tool to improve your horse for any job you have them do.”

She goes on to mention, “students that have fear or confidence issues learn to focus on a task thereby reducing anxiety levels. The rider and the horse learn to perform something new and come together as a more confident team and are often more relaxed by the end of the lesson.”

Claire and Bitta

Local Claire Gosnell and her horse Bitta, an 11 year old Tennessee Walking Horse have been training and competing in WE since 2013.  Claire has found WE to be a great way to strengthen the horse and rider bond, as well as their communication in a powerful way.

Claire explains, “we enjoy all four phases of the sport. Dressage has helped develop collection, working from the hindquarters, soft feel, communication and precision. Working the obstacles is just flat out fun. Whether it’s working a gate, side-passing a pole or spearing a ring from a bull’s nose with a garrocha pole with precision or at speed, it has made us both a better horse and rider pair.  My favorite though is the cattle phase – the ultimate objective of WE.”

Whatever you do with your horse, WE has something you can use.  Jumping, Dressage, trail or western, WE touches on a part of your training.  Horses and riders can see the reasoning behind the flat work and doing obstacles adds an interest to schooling in the arena, plus WE creates a well-rounded horse and a confident rider.  2018 © Heather McWilliams

For WE information in the US, go to www.weunited.us and www.confederationwe.us.  Make sure to like the Foothills CO Working Equitation Facebook page (High Country Working Equitation too) for the latest on upcoming clinics and play days.  Contact foothills group founder, Christina Turissini at [email protected] and Allison Mazurkiewicz, Tall Grass Horsemanship at [email protected]  Mt. Falcon Equestrian is bringing in WE trainer Steve Kutie for clinics as well, see kutieperformancehorses.com/about and email Nicole at [email protected]

Lifelong Learning – Clinics, Instructors and Competition

Lifelong Learning – Clinics, Instructors and Competition

In Colorado, we have a bundle of horse related educational opportunities especially during the spring, summer and fall.  The quality and frequency of those opportunities will only grow with our consistent participation.  You will find that most any competition or clinic has a place for all levels of riders and horses.  Even a clinic with an international caliber instructor is open to all levels of riders, simply to fill the time slots in order to pay for their trip, time and the facility.  I encourage you this year to make clinics, riding lessons and competitions a part of your yearly goals to better yourself and your horse, while helping to bring top instructors to our area.

Clinics are just a compliment to an excellent local instructor.  No matter your level of riding, having eyes on the ground are invaluable.  Olympic rider Robert Dover states, “there is never a point in a rider’s life where it’s a good idea to ride without some form of help.”

As you start making your plans for your horse schedule this year, take a step back and intentionally make the most of the precious time we spend with our horses.

Make goals:  Write them down!  How many times have we heard this?  It’s true, people who actually write down their goals have an 80% higher rate of achieving them.  Don’t overthink it, just write them down.  It is rewarding to look over your goals at the end of the year and see what you have accomplished.  If you have an instructor, go over your goals with them and make a plan to accomplish them.  Your goal may be as simple as getting your horse to load in the trailer without hesitation, or it may be the year end award in a local organization or maybe it is even to qualify for a national competition.  Getting there takes goals and planning, day by day.  In addition, have a picture in your mind of what you want your horse to be like in a year, in five years.

INSTRUCTORS:  Don’t have an instructor?  Find one!

Goals:  Look at your goals and find an instructor that lines up with those goals.  Do you want to compete?  Find an instructor who competes and knows what judges are looking for at a competition.  Depending on your goals, you may need to take lessons at least once a week, or maybe you can only afford the time or money once a month, just commit to consistency and make it a priority.

Accessibility:  Find an instructor that is within reach geographically for your time availability.  If you cannot trailer to them, see if you can get them to come to you by getting a group together to do a morning of lessons that makes it worth their trip.

Personality mesh:  Riding with 10 different instructors in 2017 taught me personally a few things.  Instructors have different teaching styles and we all have different learning styles.  Find one that matches you.  Find an instructor who can find your strengths and weaknesses.  One who challenges you each time to be a better rider.  Find an instructor who likes your horse specifically and ultimately considers the horse’s well-being above all.  Avoid instructors that make you feel like an idiot the entire lesson.  On the flip side, avoid instructors who mostly just make you feel good about yourself, but don’t really teach you anything.

Lifelong learner:  Make sure your instructor is committed to their own lifelong learning.  Dover states, “The No. 1 mistake they (professionals) make is they stop being a student.  If you look at the greatest athletes in any sport, they’re never without great people on the ground supporting them and helping them and making sure things are exactly as they should be.”

Take notes:  Keep a notebook and write down what your learned after EVERY lesson or clinic – before you forget.  Review your notes before each ride and periodically look back over your notes to remember helpful exercises or thoughts that may have new meaning today.

Homework:  Make sure you have homework to take with you to work on in between times to make the most out of each lesson and make consistent progress.  Write the homework in your notes.

Be prepared:  For clinics or lessons, make sure you and your horse are fit.  Dress you and your well-groomed horse smartly with clean tack and good equipment.  Ride consistently in preparation for the lesson or clinic in order to get the most out of it other than exhaustion.  Have in mind and be able to articulate what you are working on and what difficulties you are having.  Most importantly, BE TEACHABLE.  You are there to learn and be challenged.  It should be hard and maybe uncomfortable.  You are there to be pushed outside of your box by a professional who has dedicated their professional lives to being better every day themselves.

CLINICS: 

Discipline Based Clinics:  If you are interested in a certain discipline, not matter your level, find the local organization, check out the schedule, find a clinic and sign up.  Every organization has several clinics every year in different areas and organized by different people.  While they are more expensive sometimes than lessons, they can be a great compliment to your local instructor.  They are also a great way to try out a new discipline, or to expose your horse to cows or a different location with different obstacles that you may not have access to without attending a clinic.  Clinics are also a great way to meet a new group of people to ride with that have similar interests.

Foundational Clinics:  This type of clinic can be beneficial to any discipline, horse and rider and can serve to find holes in foundational skills.  It does not matter what kind of saddle you ride in, these clinics work on better communication between you and your horse.  Kip Fladland, a student of Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and Buck Brannaman is a great example of a foundational clinic.

One day or multiple day:  While clinics that are more than one day logistically can be more difficult, the intensive effort and daily consistency can advance you and your horses abilities exponentially in a short amount of time.

Colorado and horses are a perfect combination.  With a wide variety of thriving disciplines in our region, educational opportunities abound.  There are not many areas that have such strong organizations in western and English disciplines, not to mention incredible trail riding.  Taking consistent lessons, going to clinics and competing, helps give riders focus, purpose and our horses a job.  While it all costs money, with the value that you will add to the time and enjoyment with your horse and the problems that you will avoid down the road, you can’t afford not to be a lifelong learner!  Heather McWilliams © 2018

 

A Throwaway Horse and A Dream Come True by Bill Morgan

We drove toward Bennett, Colorado to look at a horse.  Our friend, Lindsay the vet tech, joined us – I wanted a seasoned opinion.  As I reflected on the journey that led us to this place, we talked about my having been raised on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Kentucky, then when my parents divorced, horses no longer being a part of my life.  Although they had left an imprint on my soul.

I felt it on the day that my wife and I saw the miniature horse at the vet two years earlier.  I assisted in getting him into the exam area, and felt him relax and let go of his tension at my touch.  In that moment an old fire reignited.  After some research, and finding a horse where we had “that connection”, we came home with a miniature stallion (a World’s Top Five stallion), and his feisty gelding son.  Smaller, and easier to care for and train, they seemed a great fit.  I trained the stallion to harness, and got both a show cart and lightweight Hyperbike cart, and took to the trail.  He is a mighty package in a small size and won the first Combined Driving event we entered.  But there were trails my little man could not take me.  Was it crazy to want another horse, a saddle horse?

I looked at all kinds of gaited horses, and was about to despair at finding a decent one in good health, with a good spirit, then I heard about a string of Tennessee Walkers in Bennett.  We went to see and possibly ride them, expecting another a disappointment.  When we pulled up, we saw horses in tough shape.  The closer we looked at them, the worse they looked.  They looked like throwaways.  There were ribs showing, scars all over, and sunken loins matched with eyes that showing they had given up.  Our vet tech friend was incensed, and privately told me she was ready to report this fellow.  I shared her outrage, but since we were there…

None of these horses even had a name.  No papers, no history, and no names.  That was a telling sign of the care they were getting.

The best looking of the bunch, a TWH over 17 hh, the herd bully, was already spoken for.  I rode one, and then another, after the seller put a saddle on them and warmed them up.  Nothing so far.  There was one horse left, a bay and white pinto, with scars and hair falling out.  His feet were overgrown, shoes held on with a total of eight nails.  The seller admitted he was a little afraid of him.  He warned me that he was just “green broke” even though he was around 7 years old.  He put a severe twisted wire long shank snaffle bit and an ill-fitting saddle on him, and swung a leg over.  The whites in this horse’s eyes showed the horse had the same opinion of the rider as the rider did of the horse.

The horse took off in a very strange, “walk-a-lope” gait that made me think he was lame.  He was tough to handle and spooky.  The seller came back for me to get on.  I was an extremely green rider then and my riding experience could be measured in hours.  What could go wrong?

I swung a leg over him, and simply asked that he stand.  I exhaled, and I could feel him relax like that little gelding at the vet.  I had learned soft hands through driving a miniature, and I gave him the slightest leg.  We walked around, over logs, circled both ways.  We went on a little trail with the seller’s warning, “be careful now, he is scared of water.”

We ended up girth deep in water, and he was playing in it.  He gaited nicely, then that funny walk-a-lope, then back down to a nice gait.  He did everything I asked, and it was like we had a connection.  I was falling for the ugliest, roughest, greenest horse in the bunch, with a goofy gait and possibly lame.

On the drive home, I kept thinking that this was NOT the way to buy a horse.  But that night, I felt this horse seeking me.  I don’t know how else to put it.  He was looking for me, and I felt it clearly and sharply.  I woke up with a start, and told my wife, who said, “you have to get him now.”  I said it would depend on the vet check the next day.

At the vet check, the vet said that the level of care was not good, just shy of reportable.  His feet had overgrown his shoes, one foot was ½” out of balance, and fluid had accumulated on the right front fetlock.  He was grade 2 lame as a result.  Discussing with the vet, she felt the foot condition might – and she stressed, ‘might’ – explain the lameness score.  Other than that, he was in surprisingly good health, not counting a thin coat and very poor body condition.

I took a chance that I would counsel others to avoid.  The next day, he was in my trailer headed home.

My farrier was outraged at the condition of his feet.  I fed him 12 QUARTS (not a misprint) of good pellet feed a day with all the grass hay he wanted.  Within a few months, this bay and white pinto turned BLACK and white, with a luxurious thick coat.  I gave him a proper fancy name: Foxhaven’s Medicine Man (because of his walkabout in the spirit world, seeking me), barn name, Dakotah.  No scars remained, and he filled out and muscled up nicely.  We took lesson after lesson with a dressage trainer who did eventing.  With a kind bit and a custom saddle, he was comfortable, happy and we learned more in that year of lessons than I can describe.

Every time we went on a trail ride, it seemed like he not only loved every minute, but we forged a connection that allowed an ever-softer cue.  My farrier suggested that his athleticism and good bone really would be a match for a NATRC (North American Trail Ride Conference) competitive trail ride.  We entered our first one, were first in our class and I was hooked.

Dakotah continued to mellow, having become quite sure footed on the trail, and ever more trusting that when I told him something was safe, it really was – and that I “have his back”.  We continued to train and condition, and his progress has been amazing.  He is no longer afraid of people nor avoids them.

I registered him with the American Indian Horse Registry based on conformation, giving him more than ‘grade’ status.  In his first year with NATRC, he was the National High Point American Indian Horse in NATRC and we just learned he earned that for the second year in a row in 2017.  He also won his 2017 Region 3 Novice Championship.  I am currently in the process of training him to harness as well.  His trust of me, and mine of him, is deepening with every ride, as we learn deeper communication and I learn better horsemanship.  As he has built up muscle and been in top condition, I learned that he is also a speed racking horse – a very fast one.

I am struck by how apt his name is: in the Lakota tongue, it is Wicasa Wakan, one who is spirit-connected.  He is for sure my Medicine Man.  Just a throwaway horse?  Not this one.  I found my heart horse for sure in him, because he had the courage to reach out in a dream.

Edited by Heather McWilliams

Winter riding in the Foothills – What do your horse neighbors do?

Being a horse owner in the Colorado Foothills offers different dynamics to riding in the different seasons.  We have a plethora of amazing trails within an hour of our door.  Our spring, summer and fall weather offers many days of beautiful outdoor riding weather, with few days lost to precipitation.  But living in an arid climate, we take what moisture we can get!

The Rocky Mountains are just that, rocky – the ground is hard and abrasive on horse hooves.  There are very few horses that can take all of our trails barefoot.  The majority of riders have their horses shod for the main riding months, at least in front or use some kind of trail boots when riding in hard or rocky terrain.

This year, fall and early winter have allowed for some beautiful cool weather riding, but we all know the snow will soon fall and the mountains and valleys will fill their stores of moisture for the coming year.

Indoor arenas are more the exception in our community, but are a great way to carry on with riding and training no matter the weather.  Some people choose to board their horses at a nearby indoor facility during the winter or even head south for a month or so to facilities such as in Arizona that offer Roping, Team Penning and Ranch Sorting during the winter months.  Some head to California or Florida in the early spring to start getting geared up for the summer show season.  No matter the discipline, the local events slow down significantly or come to a winter hiatus.  What do we do to keep our horses active and fit?

Here are some winter activity ideas from your local horse neighbors on what they do in the winter months when the trails get icy and the outdoor arenas are hard and crusty.

  1. Barb G. in Evergreen

Activities – Trail riding in neighborhood, local fields and fox hunting, but only when the footing is good. I am a safety freak!  I have had my horse and I slip and fall and I want to avoid this again!

Arena – Outdoor freezes, sometimes trailer to Jeffco Fairgrounds Indoor Arena.  I have heard there is a brand of magnesium chloride that is environmentally safe you can mix with outdoor arena sand to keep it thawed out.

Turnout – Always, no matter the weather.

Time off – Not by choice, but just inevitable sometimes.

Winter boarding – Thought about it, but turnout is limited and I won’t give up giving them my special attention and care.

Feet – Borium and snow pads – tried pulling shoes in the winter, but mine come up lame.  Tried Easy boots – but just simpler to shoe.

Clipping – Partial clip.

  1. Nicole K. at Mount Falcon Equestrian Center in Indian Hills

Activities – We ride around our property all the time unless it’s terribly icy and love riding in the snow. When our outdoor arena becomes snowy – I pull a sled behind my horse!  This winter I am planning on pulling skiers behind me for some skijoring. Otherwise I haul down to Chatfield Park and other parks as long as it’s not icy.

Arena – We have an indoor arena and a heated barn so that makes the coldest of months bearable. Still many of my clients don’t ride much during the holiday season in December if it’s too cold. I encourage everyone to at least lunge their horses and give them a mash after workout to keep them hydrated and help prevent impaction colic. If we don’t get too much snow our outdoor arena stays alright.

Feet – Barefoot horses stay barefoot in winter. For horses that I shoe, I add snow pads. I truly believe horses here in Colorado need some sort of hoof protection while being ridden – hoof boots or shoes. The ground is just not forgiving and very abrasive – even in winter – riding that much more on the sandy surface of the indoor, still files their toes plus they don’t grow much horn in winter.

  1. Amy H. in South Evergreen

Activities – Love loping in deep fresh snow in the pasture, or for slick days, ground and liberty work!

  1. Chris S. in Evergreen

Activities – I seem to do more training in the winter because the icy trails (especially in the shade) aren’t safe.

Favorite Activity – One year a friend and I trailered down to Chatfield Park.  We bundled up as it was about 20 degrees F.  There was snow on the ground, but we just walked and stayed on the dirt service roads.  It was sunny and beautiful and one of my favorite rides ever.  The horses really seemed to enjoy it too.

Arena – My outdoor arena stays pretty good until January, but then gets too frozen and hard. Then I go down to Jeffco indoor arena 1-3 times a week.  It costs $5 and is usually open Monday thru Thursday, but you do need to call to make sure it hasn’t been rented.

Feet – My horses wear rubber boots when I trail ride so I feel a little better about riding the hard roads, but do tend to spend more time in arenas.

Clip – No

  1. Mary T. in Conifer

Activities – I still try to ride at least 5 times a week—and continue with lessons– regardless of the wind or the cold.   Only if it is below 25 degrees do I not ride or ride a much more easy routine for the sake of our horses.

Arena – I board at Red Hawk Ranch in Conifer which has both an outdoor and a lighted indoor arena (although unheated) my riding changes very little with the seasons.    Our outdoor gets good sun and is generally clear but when not, we use the indoor.

Feet – We pull shoes in the winter since we are generally only riding in the arena so generally do not trail ride.  We typically do not do shows in the winter.

Clip – No

  1. Heather B. in Conifer

Activities – I love riding in the snow, and my horses love it as well.  Of course I work on big turns, or collection (I used to get wonderful passage on my dressage horse in the deep snow!) and transitions, we go on trail rides, either up here or down the hill, depending on the footing.

Arena – I try and get in some work in an indoor just to keep the training from falling too far backwards!

Feet – Shoes with snow pads

  1. Dan L. in Evergreen

Activities – Fox hunting and trail riding.  Fox hunting is a winter sport because originally hunts ran over farmer’s fields, which are fallow only in the late fall and winter. If I have two operational horses, I will hunt twice a week during the October through April season. Although the Arapahoe Hunt is very fast, it is also quite relaxed about riders who want to go at a more sedate pace on any kind of sensible horse. If you want to ride right up with the hounds, you need a fast, well conditioned horse, normally a calm thoroughbred or cross (yes, hard to find).  I do ride in the “first flight”, so I have to start conditioning on the local trails in August, and then exercise once or twice a week during the season. Fortunately, there are some good people who enjoy helping me out with the exercise program. Hunt season also means lots of grooming, tack cleaning, trailering and all the special care that goes into keeping a horse in top condition for seven months. Fox hunting is the only horse sport that is non-competitive where you get the thrill of a five mile gallop across the Colorado high plains.  Check out the Arapahoe Hunt website at http://arapahoehunt.com/ or call Dan at 303-674-3834 for more information.

Feet – Shoes with borium.

  1. Heather M. in Evergreen

Activities – Riding in fields, fox hunting, riding in outdoor as weather allows, trailering to Jeffco Fairgrounds when the other activities are not possible.  Spring Gulch Equestrian Area in Highlands Ranch can be a great place to trailer to in the winter.

Turnout – always with shelter options.

Time off – I like my horses to get breaks and that happens naturally in the winter months when I cannot ride as often.

Winter boarding – Have tried and may again depending on goals, but I miss my horses and caring for them!

Arena – If ground is good and it is above ~25 degrees F, yes!  If too cold, don’t want my horse to get too wet and chilled.  I only have run in barns.

Feet – Depending on job, two are barefoot for winter and have trail boots if needed, one has shoes with snow pads and holes for studs.

Clip – The fit horse that gets ridden the most is partially clipped and blanketed as appropriate.  Others in light work, au natural.

What are your plans this winter?  Email me with more ideas to share – [email protected]

Indoor or outdoor arenas:

Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, 303-271-6600

Indiana Indoor Equestrian Center in Arvada, 720-394-0191

Parks close down the hill with good sun and trails for winter:

Spring Gulch Equestrian Area, Chatfield State Park, Bear Creek Lake Park.

Please Join Us! Benefit for Bob Benefiel November 19th!

It is not what happens to you in life, but how you respond to it.  This sentiment has been said many ways, by many people, but Bob Benefiel is a living example.

Bob and Jody Benefiel moved to Evergreen in March of 2006 and shortly thereafter, he joined the Evergreen Rodeo Association.  Bob was President of the ERA from 2012 – 2015 (2 terms as president), Vice President 2010 – 2011, Head of Security 2008 – 2009. He was also on the Board of Directors for 2015 – 2016.  Bob was also very involved with the ERA Royalty Program and traveled thousands of miles to local rodeos in Colorado and Wyoming as well as the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as an ambassador for ERA.

On August 17, 2017, Bob was bucked off his horse.  Immediately after the fall, Bob was unconscious and not breathing, he then started breathing on his own.  911 was called and his wife Jody held his cervical spine until EMS arrived.  He was taken by ambulance to Elk Creek Elementary School where he was met by the AirLife helicopter and flown to St Anthony Hospital.  It was determined that he had suffered a severe spinal cord injury that was caused by a herniated disc at C2 & C3 that was compressing his spinal column.  He also had 2 additional cervical vertebrae that had stable fractures.  He underwent emergency surgery that same night and was then admitted to the Neuro Trauma ICU at St. Anthony Hospital.

On August 24, Bob was transferred to Craig Hospital with a central cord injury with permanent damage to his spinal column at the level of C3 & C4.  He is considered to have incomplete paralysis.  At the time of admission to Craig Hospital he just had movement of his big toes and thumbs.

At Craig Hospital, Bob had an intense rehabilitation schedule from 8am-4pm daily.  He did not stop there.  Anytime he had a space in his schedule, he found an opening in the therapy schedule to fill it in.  In each part of his therapy appointments he pushed his limits and went beyond what was required that day.  Bob told everyone at Craig that HE WOULD WALK OUT OF THERE!  With his dedication, grit, determination and of course the attitude that this was the time to COWBOY UP, he made huge strides daily.

Any free time outside of therapy, Bob spent talking and encouraging other patients to keep trying.  Bob’s focus and optimism throughout his journey has been infectious to all of those around him.  His attitude made such an impression on the Craig staff, Bob has been asked to return to give talks about his accident and his recovery.

Incredibly, although not surprisingly to his friends, family and staff at Craig Hospital, Bob did just as he said he would and walked out of Craig on November 2nd.  He will continue outpatient therapy 3 days a week and looks forward to returning to the saddle soon.

Bob and Mark Johnson Celebrating Bob’s November 2nd release from Craig Hospital!

On November 19th from 2-6pm, please join your community at The Little Bear in Downtown Evergreen as we gather to support and raise funds for Bob and Jody.  Be ready for a spectacular afternoon with your community and the band, Barely Gettin’ By.  Bob and Jody’s life has understandably completely changed.  Jody left her job to be available to help support and care for Bob on his road to recovery.  They have sold their home and moved into a rental until they can find the right new place to hang their hats.  In addition to the medical bills that continue, their home will need adaptive equipment and possible modifications.  See you there!

Notes from just a few of Bob and Jody’s friends!

The day before I went into surgery for breast cancer, Bob knew I was going to be down and out for quite sometime and it would a very long time before I was back in the saddle. He wanted to make sure I went into surgery with one last good memory. It was a cold December day, but we hauled our horses down to Chatfield (where we were hoping it may be a little warmer) and had one final ride. We froze our butts off, but we had a great ride. It was a moment that meant so much to me and a memory I will remember and cherish always. Bob has a heart of gold and would do anything to help someone out or to put a smile on a sick girls face! I keep a quote on my desk, to keep me going on tough days. “Grit…..Facing challenges with courage and strength, and working through them, no matter how difficult they appear.” Bob has true grit and I am so proud to call this strong, courageous, kind man my friend. – Jessica (Austin) Strain

Those who know Bob are used to seeing him on the back of one of his horses or traveling the state promoting the sport of rodeo and helping aspiring royalty and other young competitors achieve their dreams.  Often he hauls his own horses for these kids to borrow for a contest or attends just to lend his support and advice to nervous young competitors in the warm up arena.  Bob is truly a tireless giver.  Many adults and children alike in our mountain community have been the recipient of his warm and unlimited generosity.  The road to recovery from his accident has been long and arduous and the expenses significant.  Bob has worked day and night to be able to hug his friends and grandchildren and hopefully mount his horse once again.  Please join me in giving back to a man who gives so much to the equine community yet asks for so little in return.  May God bless you in your generosity.  – Mary Tribby

Bob and Jody have been a huge part of my life since I met them back in 2014 when I started my reign as the 2015 Evergreen Rodeo Princess; I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. Bob is selfless, passionate, and the best spokesperson for both the Evergreen Rodeo and our mountain community. He has put so much time and effort into helping and supporting our community over the years that it’s the least we can do to help him and his family in their time of need. – Lauren Hladik