April/May 2014



Be the leader, not the boss

Spring cleaning
for your horse

My horse is 100!















Longeing in Balance

Virtual Lessons
1, 2 and 3




















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Desert Horse




"There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust."
                                                                            ~ Klaus Balkenhol

Drawing a clear distinction between a boss and a leader clarifies for me why so many training methods and systems fall short of creating productive partnerships between people and their horses. So many horse owners seem to start from the premise that because they are the upright, two-legged members of the pair, they ought automatically to be respected by their four-legged partners. I am the human, therefore I am the boss and you must do what I want you to do whether or not you agree it’s in your best interest or is even physically possible.

Remember in Part I we defined acquiescence as "agreeing to disagree." Not actually agreement, but not arguing, either. Why might a person acquiesce? Many reasons, some of them quite sensible. A timid person might wish to avoid conflict or maybe he doesn’t really care, so the issue isn't serious enough to warrant expending the energy to make his case. Anyone might rightly choose to defer to someone with broader knowledge of the subject at hand or to someone who feels very strongly about his own position.

But what about the other reasons, the times we don’t feel able to exercise choice? People are more likely to feign agreement under some kind of threat. This sort of forced acquiescence happens when one party holds power over the other; for example, a supervisor with the ability to fire someone who dares to disagree. The most extreme of these forced situations would be someone literally holding a gun to your head. You "agree" and live; disagree and die.

Most people loathe being forced, made to do something they don’t understand or agree with. Horses don’t like it much, either, despite all the mumbo-jumbo you’ll hear from some dominance-based animal trainers who focus on simplistic notions about the predator/prey relationship.

The power balance between horses and humans is already skewed. Horses are physically bigger and stronger, their reflexes are faster and senses more acute. But humans decide where they live, what and when they eat, how they are "clothed" and how and when they work. We even have the power of life or death over them.

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Horses that have been blanketed and those living in areas where the temperatures warm up enough to make them sweat in their natural winter coats can be prone to a skin condition commonly known as “rain rot” or “rain scald.”

The true rain rot, which is a bacterial infection that can cause painful lesions as well as hair loss, isn’t very common here in the dry desert. What we tend to get is areas over the back and rump where the coat has trapped sweat next to the skin, leaving behind clumps of loosened hair rooted in greasy areas of skin. This can happen when blankets aren’t removed on warm afternoons or even when the saddle area isn’t brushed out after a ride.

I think of that as a kind of pre-rain rot, an area where trapped sweat creates greasy patches that certainly could become infected with the anaerobic Dermatophilus congolensis. We had the perfect weather in southern Arizona for this situation this spring – above-average temperatures in February and March while horses still had most of their winter coats.

I had skipped grooming my old gelding for a few days, then discovered that he was flinching away from even light pressure soft rubber curry over his back and rump. I started working my fingers into his coat and found moist, greasy patches where he had clearly been sweating and the hair had trapped heat and damp.

I worked as gently as I could to pluck out the loose hair over these spots, then found the best way to loosen the greasy patches was with a fingernail. Even if he would have tolerated a brisk curry, I don’t think that would have worked as well. To finish up, I wet the area and worked a grease-cutting dish soap through the remaining hair all the way to the skin, left it sit while I did some barn chores and then rinsed thoroughly and left him to dry in the sun.

Over the next few days I ran my hands over the area again and found a few more little greasy bits to pick off. I also curried as much as he’d let me to get off the rest of the loose hair to avoid recurrence.

Note: I only used the grease-cutting soap over the affected areas and I wouldn’t likely repeat that treatment too often. To much would only strip the natural oils from the rest of his coat. If one scrub and follow-up currying isn't enough, I'd add a couple of drops of eucalyptus essential oil to the soap to attack the anaerobic bacterium.


Back in the spring of 1997 I spent a weekend on a southern Arizona ranch with a group of horsewomen taking part in a structural anatomy course a friend and colleague was testing. I went expecting to learn something useful; I came home with a new level of curiosity about anatomy and movement and with a horse who would spend the next decade making me learn even more.

That horse, who was 14 when he "followed me home," has now spent more than half his life turning me into a bodyworker, a proponent of holistic healing, and a more thoughtful, skillfull and creative horsewoman than I ever expected to become.

On May 1, Ichobod (registered name Paco Hippie) turns 31. (That's around 100 in human years.) He is retired after being teacher to many people in many ways and lives the good life in a large space with a girlfriend, an old Arab mare he absolutely adores. Thanks for all the good times and great lessons, old man.

I'm hosting a birthday celebration for Ich at his new home on Sunday, May 11. If you're in the area and want to come, send me a message and I'll give you the details.