Herd Improvements

Dog work is like horse work. The more you learn, the more you realize there is so much to learn. Dogs, horses, and humans all benefit from Dwell Time. Read more here.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working with an accomplished herding dog trainer, Ann Chernoff Allan. She’s had great success with her Australian Shepherds in trials and shows around the country. She also uses her dogs daily to move livestock around her Colorado acreage. I was thrilled to meet her and happy that she agreed to volunteer some time to help me with my dogs, using her sheep.

My dogs are Peeko, Monty, and Kip.

  • Peeko is a healer mix with a crippled front leg. Despite her permanent injury, she’s quick, agile and has done a great job helping me move cows. Ann felt, however, that her injury would be too aggravated by working with sheep. She’d have to sit out these sessions.
  • Monty is a young border collie mix. He’s lightning fast (much faster than speedy Kip and Peeko) and seems to have a keen sense of typical border collie strategies when moving stock: he likes to monitor the perimeter and push cows back to the group. Unlike Peeko, he does not like to heel or push the cattle from the rear.
  • Kip is an Australian Shepherd acquired as a puppy in Iowa. I was told she was 100 percent Aussie. When I sized up Ann’s dogs (all purebred Australian Shepherds), I had my doubts. So did Ann. Her dogs are bigger and stockier.

A simple Wisdom Panel DNA sequence test got to the bottom of it:

Kip was no purebred. According to the test, completed by swabbing the inside of her mouth with special brushes, then sending them off to Mars laboratories, Kip was three-quarters Aussie. The remaining quarter of her lineage had lines from terrier, herding, guard, and sporting breeds.

Read more about the Wisdom Panel tests here.

Read Monty’s Wisdom Panel results here.

Read Peeko’s Wisdom Panel results here.

There was one more helpful result in Kip’s findings: like her buddies, Kip tested negative for the Multidrug Sensitivity gene mutation. The genetic variant, which can cause dogs to fall into comas or die when given certain drugs, is especially common among Aussies. Phew.

Now to get to work!

My dogs are enthusiastic herders. They have all-day energy and love to move cows, people, and each other. So it was a shock when they cowered at the sheep. “No way. Take me home,” they seemed to say as they scuttled between my legs.

These were new creatures. These creatures were making eye contact and emitting new sounds.

Like many horsemen and women I admire, Ann values dwell time and giving animals opportunities to think for themselves. She knows that in the moment and after the moment, the dogs are thinking. “Give them time. They will be different next week. You’ll see,” she said.

We returned the following week.

“Oh, yeah, I got this,” the dogs now seemed to say. In an undisciplined, rookie fashion, they now approached the sheep with vigor. Ann’s job would be to help me and my dogs learn how to nurture instinct, retain spirit, and craft sound brains and bodies into something disciplined and effective. All without the least bit of micromanaging.

The dogs would learn quickly. My challenge was to keep up with them. Ann taught me, for instance, that rewarding my herding dogs by letting them reconnect with sheep was far better than any treat. That’s good to know. I’m not much of a treat advocate, anyway. Check out this slideshow on toxic and dangerous foods for dogs.

Stay tuned for ongoing reports.

Hauling Ass, Part II

Editor’s Note: This week, we hear the second installment on pack burro racing from Katrin Silva, an accomplished horsewoman as well as an impressive endurance runner. She writes about the burro races at the Leadville Boom Days celebration in the mountains of Colorado.

Read Part I

The starting gun (true to Boom Days, it was an actual gun) went off for the women’s race. Twenty-five of us and our cute asses took off down Harrison Street at breakneck speed.

Bella and Silver Jack were excited. They trotted so fast we could barely keep up. We turned onto a dirt road and headed up into the mountains. Nathalie showed me how to use an energetic burro for more efficient uphill running: loop the lead rope around your waist and allow the donkey to pull you.

Silver Jack is a great racing burro: he likes being in the lead, and he gets competitive with other animals. He was feeling fresh. Bella likes to follow him, so we kept running. We kept passing other runners whose asses showed less enthusiasm.

Burro racing can be frustrating for speedy runners because you will only be as fast as your ass wants to go. If the burro decides to slow down, so will you.

A good donkey-human relationship is crucial for success. Yelling, crying, pulling, dragging, or excessive pushing will do no good. Burros have strong personalities. You might be able to intimidate a horse or a dog into running, but never a donkey. The more pressure you apply, the more resistance you create. I have a similar pattern in responding to authority, which makes me appreciate this character trait.

Horse people have a saying: “You tell a gelding. You ask a stallion. You discuss it with a mare.” As a horse trainer, I have always gotten along with difficult mares as well as mules. They have taught me patience and persistence. These skills became useful in the burro race.

Meanwhile, Nathalie, Silver Jack, Bella, and I were holding our own somewhere in the middle of the pack.

That changed once we could see no burros in front or behind us. Silver Jack lost his drive. He slowed to a walk. We tried to persuade him to trot:

Nathalie hugged him.

I pushed from the back.

We told him what a good boy he was.

We told him there’d be lots of carrots at the finish.

We begged.

We pleaded.

I pleaded with Bella to show some initiative. She did not see the point.

We shuffled for a bit, then walked again. Bella went ahead for about ten feet at a time, then stopped to let her brother pass. He stopped again. We moved in this leapfrog fashion for miles, until a group of runners and burros caught up to us on the narrow trail around Bald Mountain. Silver Jack pricked up his ears. His ambition returned. We stayed ahead of the pack and soon pulled away.

A woman named Kiki and her adorable miniature burro, Jacob, stayed with us. Kiki tried to break away from us but Jacob, like Bella, prefers following other burros. So, we continued on together.

When we came to a wooden bridge across a river, Silver Jack refused to cross. Donkeys are prey animals, of course, and have evolved to be cautious. It’s impossible to blame them for it, but while trying to convince our two scared-y-asses that the bridge was safe and solid, we lost the lead we had built. The group behind us caught up and passed us.

Donkeys are herd animals, too and finally the instinct to follow overrode their fear. When one of the donkeys stepped on the bridge, they others, including Silver Jack and Bella, soon joined him.

After the bridge, Silver Jack and Bella realized they were moving toward home. We started running again, with Jacob and Kiki close behind. On the long downhill stretch back into Leadville, we struggled to keep up with our burro pair. Little Jacob, measuring 38 inches at the withers, followed at an all-out gallop with Kiki in tow. The six of us turned onto Harrison Street, where cheers and cow bells welcomed us across the finish line. Silver Jack, Bella, and Jacob placed 5th, 6th, and 7th respectively.

Not bad, not bad at all in a competitive field of more than 25 pairs Maple and his grandson were beaming. We hugged our donkeys, and each other. What a way to end the summer!

I made it to work the next day, unprepared and very tired, but basking in the burro race afterglow. This experience was worth every minute of the grueling drive home.

As a horsewoman and ultra runner, pack burro racing is my new favorite sport. It allows me to indulge in my two passions simultaneously.

Thank you, Maple, for your generous offer to share your donkeys. Thank you, Nathalie, for the crash course in burro racing etiquette and a fun day out on the trails. Thank you, Bella, for being such a trooper. I feel so very grateful to have met all of you and hope sincerely it wasn’t the last time.

Boot Review: O My Olathes!

Editor’s Note: We welcome guest columnist Jim Thomas to our pages. The Best Horse Practices Summit presenter runs Bar T Horsemanship in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He has started scores of BLM wild horses, competed in multiple Extreme Mustang Makeovers and travels and conducts clinics year round.

Jim Thomas reviewed a buckaroo boot by Olathe Boots of Mercedes, Texas.

Thomas writes:

Here at the Bar T Ranch, we’re known for our Sunday Mini-Clinics. It’s a time to meet and greet potential clients in a setting of fellowship, horsemanship and good food.
This is our chance to “put on the shine!” For the small price of a covered dish, we welcome anyone to this teaching and sharing experience. For our first Mini Clinic of the year, we had 22 horses and riders signed up, plus an additional 20 or so auditors. I’d need to be on my best behavior and ran through my host-with-the-most list:

  • The facility was looking great
  • The horses were in top shape
  • The homemade ice cream was prepared

It was just me that needed the spit-and-polish look. I considered my new pair of Olathe boots.

But first, let me explain my boot-wearing program:
Upon purchase, all new boots are designated as Sunday boots. Sunday boots are only for church, nighttime dinners, and sterile environments.

Saturday boots are for the sale barn, trips to town, and clinic presentations.

Weekday boots are work horses that have earned the right to be worn every day in dry, dusty, wet, muddy, slimy, manure-y, and snowy conditions. Yet they still have to clean up well.

To earn a spot in the weekday rotation, the boot must fit well, look fantastic before and after a hard day’s work, and hold up under all the stresses. It must be easy on-and-off, easy in-and-out of the stirrup, and comfortable to boot (pun intended).
That’s a tall order. These boots must also fit sized-14, narrow feet. It’s not an easy task, so my weekday boot roster is short.

My current weekday boots are Anderson Bean, which like Olathe is a brand under the umbrella of Rios of Mercedes out of Mercedes, Texas. I know that right out of the box, I have a quality boot with true fit, good looks, durability, and long wear.

That’s what I was looking for in the Olathe, along with the option of a custom design. I’ve been looking for boots that rise above the rest of the boot world, without going the totally unaffordable, custom-made, $1000 route. The Olathe fit the bill and looked to be a contender.

So, here’s where Olathe and the Mini Clinic meet:

  • I wanted to make the best impression for my first mini-clinic of the year.
  • I was going to bring out my newest boot – my Sunday boot, my church boot, my nighttime boot.

Was I ready?

  • Had this boot passed the comfort test?
  • The “What a Great Looking Boot” test?
  • The “Cleans Up Good” test?

The Mini Clinic was not my first wearing, but I promise you, the boots had not seen anything beyond carpet, wood floors, cement, and asphalt. The chance had to be taken. On they went.

The boots were a hit. Compliments flowed faster than a spring run-off.

Here’s what I liked:

  • Good Comfort for a boot not sized by a mold
  • Summertime has me in light socks. The boot fit well with a little room for thicker socks in the winter.
  • Easy on/off without a bootjack.
  • Spur shelf works well. I just drop my spurs over the top without unbuckling and the ledge is prominent enough to hold a loose spur.
  • Buckaroo heel is not my favorite for walking but it’s very stylish and holds the stirrup well.
  • Oil-tanned finish with its deep distressed appearance really gives it a bold look and repels water better than a duck’s back.
  • Made almost entirely of leather except for a rubber heel cap and a thin layer of rubber above the sole for shock absorption.
  • Leather sole for easy slip in-out of the stirrup and smooth gliding on the dance floor.
  • Uppers are a bright Tennessee Orange that peeks just below the cut of my jeans while riding. That’s statement in itself.

I spent the eight hours on my feet and another four in the saddle with no discomfort.
These new Olathes will be my Sunday boots until my old Anderson Bean’s fall off my feet. But rest assured, I have no reservations about these boots making the cut.

Let Your Horse-Owning Voice Be Heard

This just in from Best Horse Practices Summit presenter Dr. Sheryl King:

King writes:

As horse lovers you know that our industry is under-recognized both for its size and its economic impact. In the words of Rodney Dangerfield: “We Don’t Get No Respect.”

We can take steps to change that and preserve and protect what we love. The first step is to be counted.  The American Horse Council is conducting a nationwide Horse Industry Economic Impact Survey. My home state, Illinois, has raised significant funds and will participate as a focus state. Any horse owner in any state is asked to participate.
As an industry, we need to verify our size and our strength.  I am asking you to please complete the survey.
Secondly, I am asking you to please forward this link to every horse lover you know and to every person or business that relies on the horse industry.
The survey will only remain active until July 31, so you need to act fast!
Thank you from the bottom of my horse loving heart.

Dr. Sheryl King

Hauling Ass: My first pack burro race

Editor’s Note: This week, we hear from Katrin Silva, an accomplished horsewoman as well as an impressive endurance runner. She writes about the burro races at the Leadville Boom Days celebration in the mountains of Colorado.

Colorado’s State Sport? Pack burro racing, of course!

By Katrin Silva

Pack Burro Racing is, in fact, a sanctioned sport. It involves running with an ass in tow on mountain trails, for distances between 10 and 30 miles. The rules are specific: burros (not mules, not ponies – asses only) must wear a pack saddle with 33 pounds of mining gear, including a pick, shovel, and gold pan.

Runner and burro must work as a team and cross the finish line together. Runners may push, pull, drag, or carry their ass, but they may not ride it.

Katy, a fellow ultra runner I’d met from Sydney, Australia, found this niche phenomenon particularly fascinating. She had heard that burro racing is not a strictly BYOB sport. It might be possible to rent a burro, she said.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by Bella and her cute keeper?

I was curious, too. I’m a cowgirl at heart and I train horses for a living, but had never worked with a donkey.

Intrigued though I was, I had planned to leave by noon at the latest. I would, of course, resist any temptation to run a burro race all day, then drive back to New Mexico really late. No way, I kept telling myself as Katy and I walked to the pack saddle weigh-in. I’d just to check things out. Really.

Downtown Leadville was teeming with burros of all colors and sizes, tied to horse trailers, to trees, and to lampposts. The ratio of cowboy hats to sun visors and cowboy boots to running shoes was 50/50.

The humans were busy with brushes, hoof picks, ropes, and packs. Donkeys were braying, pawing, and circling.

Two silver grey burros caught my eye. They stood like islands in a storm, while a grey-haired man and a young boy fed them hay and brushed their sleek coats.

I complimented the man on the excellent condition of his animals, and their calm demeanor. I patted the donkeys, a nine-year old brother-sister pair named Silver Jack and Bella. They were clearly the pride and joy of their owner, Maple. “Like a tree,” he said.

Maple couldn’t run today because of an injury, but his friend Nathalie was going to race Silver Jack. I mentioned my background with horses and expressed my interest in burro racing. Maple looked at me thoughtfully.

“No one is running with Bella today. Would you like to?”

He didn’t know, couldn’t know, that he had just offered the equivalent of a whiskey shot to a horse-a-holic. I bit back the enthusiastic “Yes!” that wanted to escape my lips. What was I thinking? The race didn’t start until 11 a.m. and would easily go on until late afternoon, depending on the burro’s mood.

I am a responsible woman. I wanted to get home in time to have dinner with my husband and to get ready for work the next morning.

Katrin and company

“I would love to, but I can’t. I have to be at work in the morning.”

Maple and his grandson looked disappointed.

“Well, we’re going to find some breakfast. You think about it,” said Maple.

Tied to a fence post, Bella munched on some grass. I stroked her exquisite ears. I scratched her neck. She nudged me, which I took to mean “Come on, run with me!”

I walked down the block to the cardboard table that served as burro race headquarters. Katy had found a burro and was signing up for the 15-mile women’s race. Her excitement was contagious. Before I knew it, there was a pen in my hand and a registration form in front of me. Forty dollars and a signature later, Bella and I were signed up as team Number 19.

Maple looked pleased and not surprised. He introduced me to Nathalie, and we proceeded to saddle our race partners. Silver Jack and Bella are inseparable, so our strategy was to keep the four of us together and move at a steady pace.

Maple expertly tied our numbers and all our gear securely to the saddle, then it was time to line up for the start.

Part II coming next week: Stop, Go, Gallop!

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