On a sunny day in late September the trail horses and wranglers at Lazy D Resort were waiting for the next group of riders. Heather, the head wrangler, asked one of her assistants, Danny, to give the horses an extra application of fly spray since they were being bothered by bot flies. Danny reported they had used the last of the spray in the morning, so Heather stepped into her office to add it to the supply list.
Rusty, who was repeatedly kicking at his belly in aggravation, suddenly set back and appeared to sit down. The rear cinch swung back toward the rear of Rusty’s belly, as it was not attached to the cinch by a cinch hobble. As Danny moved toward him he realized that Rusty’s near side hind foot was hung in the rear cinch, causing him to be unable to regain his balance and become panicked. Danny felt like the best chance to help Rusty was to unfasten him so he reached for the quick release mechanism, a panic snap on the halter end of a chain attached to the tie rail. Unfortunately, Rusty struck out with his front legs just as Danny reached toward him, breaking Danny’s arm. As Rusty continued to struggle he sustained a severe injury to his hock, ultimately resulting in the need to be put down.
This was a sad episode at Lazy D Resort which resulted in not only the injury of a dedicated employee, but the loss of a valued horse. There were several contributing factors in this loss, so let’s look at each of them. The first step to prevention would have been to have the equipment properly adjusted. The rear cinch was too loose and not properly attached to the cinch-allowing it to slide back and make space for Rusty’s foot to become hung in it. If a rear cinch is to be used it should always be attached to the front cinch and tightened so that no more than two to three fingers can fit between it and the horse. Please visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=NplvOzqXgzU to view a CHA video on correct breast collar and back cinch fit.
Another possible improvement would be to have the quick release mechanism at the rail end of the tie chain instead of the halter end since this would allow for a panicked horse to be unfastened without the handler having to get so close. It is always imperative to have a quick release system when tying horses and if this can be arranged in a way that keeps the staff from close contact with the horse it is a safer arrangement.
Lastly, critical supplies like fly spray should not be allowed to be depleted, especially during the season of especially aggravating pests like bot flies. Even the most settled of horses can become extremely provoked by them, possibly making them dangerous to be close to. As always, prevention is the key to risk reduction. Take the time to analyze every aspect of your operation, thinking through the possible consequences of every facet of your procedures.
SCARY BELL BOOTS!
By Deanna Morono
While on a four-hour trail ride in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Angela’s horse, Cody, lost his front shoe. Without any way to replace the shoe or protect Cody’s feet, Angela was forced to dismount and walk the rest of the way home, a staggering venture of steep hills and paths unsuitable for stiff riding boots. When she finally arrived back at the barn, she called the farrier to schedule a shoeing.
As the farrier nailed the new shoe in place, he asked Angela, “Have you thought about using bell boots when you ride?” Angela shook her head. The Farrier explained how the bell boots would help keep Cody’s back feet from clipping the front feet, thus keeping his shoes on.
The next day, Angela made a trip to her local feed store and bought a pair of bright pink bell boots (the last color available). Hoping Cody wouldn’t be offended to wear such a feminine color, Angela eagerly saddled him for another trail ride. Cody munched on alfalfa and carrots while Angela picked his feet and put on the bell boots in one smooth effort. Cody, completely relaxed—almost snoozing—didn’t seem to mind or notice the boots. Angela bridled and mounted without him moving an inch, a lazy quality she liked about him.
As she squeezed and asked him to move forward, Cody obeyed, but after four steps, he realized that something wasn’t right below him. At first, he picked his feet up higher and more deliberately, but soon his head was cocked down and to the side, and his big brown eyes reflected the pink foreign object around his foot. He balked to the side, ignoring Angela’s soothing voice. The pink object spun around his ankle and he kicked out. Fear pulsating through his body, he bolted, snorting and bucking. Angela wrapped her arms around his neck as he reared. With no relief from the terrifying pink rubber, he did the only thing he knew to do: flee. Angela slipped off and landed on the gravel as Cody raced frantically into the distance.
An hour later, Angela found Cody munching on green clovers in a pasture safe from any roads or cliffs. He seemed at peace with the pink boots and all of his shoes were intact. The boots worked, but Angela learned a valuable lesson about preparing her horse for new equipment.
Angela could have avoided falling off and then the horror of chasing down her horse if she’d taken a few steps in preparation for the foreign object. First, she should have showed the bell boots to Cody and let him sniff them. This would allow him to realize the boots wouldn’t attack him. Second, she should have put the boots on in a secure area, such as a round pen, arena or paddock and allowed him to walk around freely to get used to the feel of boots. The temptation to eat in a pasture might help to override his fear of the boots, and he would become use to them more quickly. Also, after he was tacked, she could have lunged him in a round pen or arena so he could become familiar with the feel of the boots as he moved. As a last step of precaution, she should have ridden him in a secure area, like an arena or round pen, so if he did decide to bolt, he couldn’t escape and put himself or her in danger. Horses learn quickly that new, scary objects won’t kill them, but it’s every owner’s responsibility to prepare them in a safe manner. View http://cha-ahse.org/videos_cha.html to find out how to properly put bell boots, split boots and sports medicine boots on your horse.
About the Author: Deanna Morono is an American Horse Publications intern attending college as a senior at Asbury College. She hails from the foothills of Northern California and hopes to combine her love of horses and writing in her career.
It was the perfect time of year for an extended pack trip into the rugged Rocky Mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Warm sunny days followed by cool crisps nights made trail riding and camping an ideal activity. The abundant wildlife, the high mountain flora and dramatic vistas from high atop the mountain peaks left us in a constant state of awe.
We rode hard the first day to get as far into the wilderness as we could, where we would set up a base camp and day-ride for the rest of the week. There were five of us altogether, with five saddle horses and two pack horses—enough to set a luxurious campsite with practically all the conveniences of home. All the horses were packed heavy that first day, but we knew they would have a lighter loads the following days.
Our trail took us over two passes that first day and up to a high mountain lake, where we could bask in the glory of the wilderness and catch fresh trout for dinner, saving our frozen steaks as a treat for our second night in the mountains. We were rewarded for our long ride by finding the lake completely deserted—no other campers anywhere.
As evening descended, we busied ourselves with setting camp, collecting firewood, pitching tents, rolling out our bedrolls, digging the latrine and building a kitchen where we would spend the next week on rigorous trail rides, leisurely fishing and contemplative chats around the campfire.
As the sun set, we readied the horses for a comfortable night of grazing in the nearby meadow. Each horse was hobbled and the lead mare wore a big cow bell around her neck to make sure the other horses knew where she was and so that we could track her as well. After a hard day of riding, they were content to roll and munch green grass at least that is what we thought. Before bed, we divvied up the night-watch duties, each of us taking a couple hours of responsibility for checking on the herd.
As dawn approached, I awakened in my cozy cocoon to the sound of silence—the joys of true wilderness. I lay still for a while listening to the sounds of nature when I slowly realized it was a little too quiet. No bell, no horse sneezes, no whinnies, nothing equine. Suddenly the spell was broken.
We scrambled out of our tents and began a chaotic search for the horses, but we found nothing but tracks in the immediate area and the tracks were pointed back down the trail we had ridden in. How far could they possibly go in hobbles? Well, as it turns out, pretty far.
After realizing that the horses were not anywhere close, we headed back to camp to regroup. Two of us (the most fit and capable) grabbed water bottles, food and a couple of bridles and headed down the trail in our riding boots, following the tracks of our supposedly restrained horses. Along the way we found bits and pieces of what we thought were unbreakable hobbles.
We hiked all day over the same terrain we were so smug to be riding (and not walking) the day before. As we arrived at the trial head, we were greatly relieved to find the horses loitering around our trailer but our relief faded when we discovered there were only six horses—one was missing. Hopping on two horses, we split up and searched the area for our missing horse, who was the lead mare wearing the bell. As darkness fell, we gave up the search, loaded the horses in the trailer and drove home.
The next morning, we were back at the trail head, ready for the long bareback ride back to our campsite, ponying the extra horses. Although we had bareback pads, it was a long, uncomfortable and difficult ride back to the lake where all our tack and gear was. Along the way we searched diligently for the missing mare and got pretty good ant finding tracks. Not too far from our campsite, we found the bell, but no horse.
Our week-long wilderness vacation was cut short because of the lost mare. What if she stumbled in her hobbles and fell down a cliff? What if she were trapped somewhere, hungry, thirsty and scared? What if she had gone lame and was suffering? We certainly couldn’t enjoy our camping trip knowing the mare was lost and possibly in danger.
That night, our horses stood tied to the high line, taking turns grazing one at a time, staked out in the meadow. The next morning, we broke camp, packed up and headed out. We split up, two of us heading up the trail to the next trail head, to look for the mare farther up the trail. We all searched as we rode in various directions, meeting back at the trail head, loading the horses and driving to the next trail head to pick up the other two.
The next day, and for the rest of the week, we hauled horses to the area to look for our lost mare, but there were no signs of her. We talked to other campers but no one had seen anything. After a week of searching and putting out all kinds of BOLO requests (be on the lookout for), we gave up our search, grieving at the loss of our mare and imagining the worst.
A month later, we got a call from a rancher on the other side of the mountains, asking if we had an Appaloosa mare that had gone missing. It seems that when he went out to the far pasture of his 5,000 acre ranch to move his mares to a different pasture, and he noticed an extra horse. After asking around, he heard about out missing mare, tracked down our number and called.
As it turned out, this was the ranch where our mare was bred and born. From her high mountain escape, while the other horses headed for the trail head, she went down the other side and headed for her long, lost home. She was 12 years old at the time and had not been there since she was a yearling, but it still seemed like home to her. When she arrived, apparently she jumped the fence and took up residency in her long lost herd.
We retrieved our lost mare, fat, happy and totally unscathed, and we never bothered hobbling her again. From this adventure we learned that horses can learn to travel quite well in hobbles, that nothing is really unbreakable when it comes to horses, that some of the horses should always be tied hard and fast so you have an anchor and that in the wee hours of the night, the person on night-watch will really be sleeping. In the end, no harm was done but I’ll never go on a pack trip again without bringing shoes appropriate for hiking.
By Shellie Carmoney, and Todd and Shellie with Chester on a trail ride
It was an unusually wet summer in southeastern Iowa. The Des Moines River had been outside of its banks since May 2010 and it was now the middle of August. Even the past five days of rain felt the need to contribute to the runoff and saturation of the ground.
On August 11, 2010, Todd Renfrew’s cell phone rang. It was friend and neighbor, Chuck Downing, asking for help moving his heifers in from the pasture. Todd never hesitated to help other local cattlemen and farmers, especially since he had an honest ranch horse like Chester. Chester was 21 years young and purchased from the now late Jeff Waln from Parmelee, South Dakota. He was a seasoned veteran of working ranch horses. Todd and Chester had developed quite a reputation all over southeastern Iowa over the past three years gathering wild cows, shagging bulls at rodeo’s and picking up bucking horses at weekend performances. As he made his way out to the catch pen, Todd intended to take a younger horse that evening for some practice, but it was Chester who met him in the yard and at the last moment, Todd changed his mind and loaded the older horse.
The heifers were making their way across the creek and back towards home as Todd followed along on Chester. Quietly, horse and rider made their way along the high bank as Todd’s mind counted cattle and drifted to other parts of his day. Suddenly, the creek bank broke loose from under Chester’s hooves and cascaded into the water below, taking horse and cowboy with it. There was no time to react as they rolled again and again finally coming to a stop only when they splashed into the creek bottom. Todd was half under his horse, bent and pinned against the opposite bank. Chester was cast nearly upside down. He attempted to lift his head, only to catch Todd in the side of the face. They were stuck. If the gelding attempted to roll himself over and find his feet, Todd would be crushed.
Todd tried without success to call for help. He reached for his cell phone only to realize that it was still in the pickup truck. Carefully, the old ranch horse lifted his head and looked back at Todd. Todd began to wiggle his pinned leg in an attempt to free himself, all the while patting Chester and preparing for the bitter end. This went on for well over an hour with Chester upside down and wiggling while Todd used the movement to free himself. His pinned leg had lost circulation long ago and Todd feared the worst. It was a miracle that he was able to undo all of the tack in hopes of helping Chester get to his feet easier.
It was an hour and a half before Chuck came looking. When Chuck found them, he went down the bank to pull Chester’s headstall and place a lariat under Todd’s arm pits so that he could pull him out from under the horse and up the bank. With a history of heart attack in Chuck’s past, Todd pleaded for him to just call their neighbor, Jack Henning. Chuck went for help and Todd continued to wiggle out from under Chester. Finally, he was free and still fearing for Chester’s safety, managed to wedge a log under his horses head in hopes to keep him from drowning. The gelding lay quiet for awhile before struggling one final time to find his feet. There was a mighty sound that reminded Todd of a shotgun going off when Chester got to his feet and fought his way up the opposite bank. Had the gelding broken something while getting up?
The horse was on the opposite side of the creek grazing and Todd had managed to pull himself up to the top of the bank where he lay panting. His voice was gone from screaming for help. Neighbors came in swarms armed with tractors, 4 wheelers and chains when word got out that Todd and Chester were in trouble. Todd’s ankle had been dislocated and he had sustained a puncture wound and severe trauma which resulted in bruises and swelling to one leg. Chester came out in better shape with only body soreness…and three days after the adventure, was back to chasing cattle.
Accidents happen, but what could have been done differently in this situation?
1. Use the Buddy System – In a perfect world, there would always be someone to ride with, but in the event you do have to ride alone, have a plan. Let someone know where you are going, which route you plan to follow and what time you should be back. Once you set a plan, do your best to avoid changing it without communicating with your support system waiting on the other end.
2. Cell Phone – Todd’s argument continues to be that if the cell phone had been in the pocket of his Wranglers, the water would have destroyed it before he could have reached for it. It’s always a good idea to carry a cell phone on your person, not your horse. That way, if you and the horse part ways, you still have the phone. You may even consider placing the phone in the breast pocket of your shirt or slipping it into a zip-lock sandwich bag before deciding where to best carry it on your person.
3. Older Horse vs. Younger Horse – The choice to take the seasoned veteran over the youngster definitely played into Todd’s favor. Had he gone with his first thought and used the time to school the younger horse, the outcome of this crisis would have very different. Time well spent with your horse may help both of you to stay calm during a crisis.
4. Helmet Use – This is an age old conversation between riders, but I must point out, that the use of a helmet in this situation would have saved Todd from the goose egg and sore face.
5. Survey the Scene – Take a look at where you are asking your horse to go. Is the footing solid? Is it safe to proceed? If Todd had not been distracted by his work, would he have chosen a different route? Taking a moment to access the situation before things get out of control proves to be a valuable safety practice.
Every time you come in contact with horses there is risk involved. It only takes seconds for things to go terribly wrong and a crisis to arise. Thinking ahead and developing a general “what if” plan may help you and your horse avoid tragedy. Remember, safety is a lifestyle.
I am thankful that Todd and Chester both lived to share this story. I am forever grateful to the old bay horse for being such an outstanding partner. His role in this situation helped bring Todd home to ride yet another day. When I reached Iowa after hearing the news, Chester came to greet me and after a lengthy hug, I presented him with his favorite brand of horse cookie, sent to him from all of his fans at camp.
Shellie D. Carmoney, CHA Master Instructor, Equestrian Director, Innisfree EQ Center - Howell, Michigan