Monday, March 26, 2012

Fair Trades

ust when I think it can’t get any weirder, something comes along that makes me shake my head and check my ticket for a stop at Silly Town.  Today it was a column in the local paper by Reg Henry, a columnist known for his political rants.  But there was nothing political about it.  He was so taken aback by what he had seen that he wandered off the beaten path and into the realm of “Is This the New Normal”.

What he’d seen and shared was an AP report about a drug bust in the outskirts of Washington, DC.  The cops had been sure they’d find drugs on the premises, and they did.  Cocaine, they found, and lots of it.  But alongside the coke was a stash of 20 or so large jugs of Tide liquid detergent.  In a drug dealer’s house.  In plain sight.

I will admit to a fleeting, gleeful image of drugged-up fun seekers, speeding their butts off and washing everything in sight...but, I digress.

The story, it seems, is that Tide liquid, at about $20 a jug, is the current cash equivalent of Grandma’s diamond ring.  It’s fair trade for drugs.  Druggies are stealing the stuff and trading it for cocaine and other goodies.  The drug dealers turn around and resell the detergent to locals for less than the going rate would be at convenience stores, and everyone goes home happy and clean.

That got me thinking about the current Horse World economy and how we can make use of the concept of bartering goods and services we have for goods and services we want.  It made me think about the neighbor who, in exchange for a load of firewood, brought me a garden’s worth of flowering plants with more to come.  She didn’t steal them.  They came from her garden.  The rest of my payback will follow during appropriate dividing-and-planting season.

This same neighbor gets delirious over bucketfuls of composted manure (“the gut schtuff”, she declares in a thick German accent), and I started thinking about how it might be possible for down-on-their-luck horse owners to come by (legally) the stuff they need to bring their luck back into line with their desire to own a horse.  

Cliff and Zip dig up...uh...treasure in the pasture.
Guess we all have to dig in together on this issue!

What do we have that we can trade?

Manure is a biggie.  It’s hard to imagine that it’s regulated, but to a certain extent it is, so you have to check your local jurisdiction if you intend to sell it in bulk and advertise the fact publicly.  New Jersey has laws (figures, right?) that prohibit farmers from selling it as a farm product (where the hell else does it come from?) and begs the question of what constitutes composting.  A whole industry has evolved from this in my fork of the twigs.  But if you keep it on the down low, you can harvest and distribute your brown gold to friends and neighbors in exchange for….what?

Farm help, for one thing.  I give you my poop; you come help me put back the fence that keeps my horses from making home deliveries to your front lawn.  Garden-grown produce, for another.  I’ll happily take those Amazonian zucchini off your hands in exchange for five gallons of natural fertilizer.

What else do we have to offer?  Try talking an artsy friend into weaving jewelry out of horse hair from your rare-but-efficient grooming efforts.  If you can get her to share the profit, you can feed your horse for a day or so, gratis.  Used baler twine turns out to be perfect in length for bundling cardboard and newspapers for recycling.  If you can’t get anything in trade for the twine, maybe you can get the barn kids to go door-to-door and bundle up neighbor’s stuff for a small price or a head of lettuce.

How about photo ops?  Kid next door is turning six?  Offer to let the whole party stand next to your horse for pics and petting, and charge a nominal fee.  

Of course we could go over to the dark side and hit the blackmail angle.  I could promise to keep my horses off your begonias if you bring me whatever you’ve got on the table for dinner.  Not pretty, but in a pinch….

The most obvious, of course, is the use of your farm equipment and your know-how.   My neighbors are fond of having their overgrown weedy patches mowed down with my big, blue Ford tractor and it’s clanging and clattering flail mower.  And boy, do they love to see me coming with the front-end loader when they’ve had a delivery of something too heavy to shovel and in the wrong spot in the yard.  A few minutes’ time, and I can easily make the price of a bag of grain or four bales of hay.

Think about it.  There must be better ideas than mine floating around out there.  Maybe we need to stop wondering and start bartering.  

Meanwhile, here's a little something to think about.  Can't get any stranger, huh?  Try this:  The Earth is FULL!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Special Edition: Another Rescue Squeaks By and a Caveat is Born

Below is the approved press release for the conclusion of the investigation of the Arabian Rescue Mission, Theresa Figueroa, and her partner, Cynthia ("CJ") Millar.  By way of explanation, what the State found after examining the financial records of the rescue was that the operators had done what by now we all know is a no-no: they commingled funds.  The funds received as donations wound up being mingled with the funds being used to support the boarding business on the same property and the equine supplements business.   Both parties will be repaying the amounts they owe to the legitimate charitable arm of ARM, and as soon as they do,  all will be forgiven.  They may have screwed up, but they have not truly been evildoers on the level of some of the earlier problem rescue groups. 

Bad word, "commingled".  If there's one thing horse people around the country should have learned in the past two years it's that word.  Sharon Crumb of The Horse Angels commingled donations with a personal checking account, a few AC casinos, and a White Supremacist group, bringing the term into the limelight.  How quickly we forget.

Still, Terry and CJ are making it right, and that's a very, very good thing.  Once they do, I'm sure their supporters will once again toss their coffee money into the pot and the rescued horses will benefit.  Questionable accounting practices should, at this point, die a natural death among all rescue groups everywhere.

But there's an additional warning here.  Another "rescue" (and I use that term very lightly and withhold the name for the time being) kinda, sorta borrowed ARM's tax ID number and went about merrily collecting donations without benefit of legal charity status.  Whether this was with or without ARM's knowledge isn't made clear in the Consent Order, so I'll have to get back to you on that.

Really?  An unscrupulous rescue person?  Can it be?  Say it isn't so! [sigh]

With that, I leave you to read the details of the case for yourself and remind you that the State's "Investigate BEFORE You Donate" initiative wasn't supposed to be just a fun phrase to use at parties. 


New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Reaches Settlement
With Sussex County Horse Rescue Charity

NEWARK - The State Division of Consumer Affairs has settled its investigation of an unregistered charity that rescues horses, with two trustees of the organization agreeing to pay $6,000 back to the organization, under terms of the Consent Order.

Therese A. Figueroa, 55, and Cynthia J. Millar, 36, both of Branchville, each have paid $3,000 to The Arabian Rescue Mission, Inc. (“ARM”). Both are trustees of ARM.

ARM, which operates a facility in Wantage Township, has never been registered as a charitable organization with the Division of Consumer Affairs as required. During its investigation, the Division determined that Figueroa and Millar commingled charitable donations with payments made to a for-profit stable operating on the same Wantage Township property as the horse rescue organization.

Additionally, the for-profit stable charged ARM for boarding and feeding horses, but payments records were inconsistent and incomplete.

“Potential donors did not receive, and could not get, the financial transparency from this organization that they are entitled to,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “The Arabian Rescue Mission now is registered and it will annually report financial information required under state law.”

ARM's federal taxpayer identification number was used by other organizations unaffiliated with it, the investigation found.

A $25,000 civil penalty assessed against ARM, Figueroa, and Millar is suspended but can be reinstated if the terms of the Consent Order are not met.

“We've increased the public's focus on how charities use contributions through our ongoing 'Investigate Before You Donate' initiative,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Consumers should always check whether a charity is registered to solicit donations in New Jersey, and how those donations are spent.”

The “Investigate Before You Donate” initiative launched last year includes a bi-monthly report on the 10 most inquired about charities at the Division's Charities Registration Section. The report for each charity details spending on the charitable program's purpose, fundraising, and management/general expenses.

Anna Lascurain, Special Deputy in Litigation, represented the State in this matter. Supervising Investigator Larry Biondo and Investigator Patrick Mullan in the Charities and Fundraising Fraud Unit conducted the investigation.

The Division's Charities Hotline may be reached at 973-504-6215 during regular business hours.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is It Your Goals, or Is Your Mouth Stopping You?

his is an especially interesting video, in my opinion, because it so openly flies in the face of traditional ("conventional") wisdom.  Over the years I've tried (and failed at or abandoned) a bevvy of goals, and have held tight to the self-help theory that the key to success in goal-oriented behavior is to make one's goals public.  Want to lose weight?  Tell everyone you know that you're on a diet so they'll encourage you and avoid force-feeding you Chunky Monkey sundaes.  Quitting smoking?  Share the news so you'll work hard to avoid embarrassment, which leads to feeling incredibly depressed and engaging in terminal self-flagellation if you fail.  Sharing the goal has been Number One (with a bullet) on the self-help hit parade for decades, so who is this guy to tell me that I need to keep it quiet?  What is he, an expert or something?

Well, yes.  And he's got a very impressive history of actual (not virtual, as mine tends to be) success.  

His point, well-taken, is that often once we've verbalized our goal to enough people, we fool ourselves into thinking we're already half-way there.  Or all the way, if we really didn't want to accomplish much in the first place.  This resonated with me, not just as pertains to my unmet riding goals, but in all areas of my life.  Almost really isn't good enough, and lowering expectations to meet accomplishment in the middle of the road is hardly something to write home about.

Gratification from social acknowledgement is likely to become a huge factor in success in the near future.  A recent Huffington Post article about social network fetishism supports my theory on this point.  Say it often enough to a large enough audience, and you reap all of the praise without actually doing much of anything.  The wider the audience (look around you, Facebook denizens) the more impressive the heaping of praise and the less likely you are to move forward.  Facebook, in particular, holds a great deal of power in this regard because, while you're busy counting how many friends "liked" your most recent goal announcement, there's no one actually watching and holding you accountable for completing it.  

I could post right now that I'm going to start working toward new dressage goals with a new trainer and some exciting inner stimulation in the form of new friends who are on the same path.  I can pretty much assume that within minutes the status pronouncement will have a handful of "likes", mostly from people who don't live anywhere near me and so have no clue whether I'm being honest with them...or myself.  When the idea fades into the pile with the rest of my unaccomplished goals ( 1984, for instance, was the year I was going to become a Famous Painter....heard of me yet?) no one will notice.  That status update will have slid down the page by the end of the day and been forgotten before morning by all but maybe one or two nit-picky types who track other people's lies with great intensity.  And they may not bother to mention the lapse, either.  

Let me also posit an addendum to the above:  Sufficient negative feedback, even from total strangers, can cause one to abandon otherwise reasonable goals as being too difficult, too silly, too stupid, or not worthy of the time involved.  This social networking thing has blades all over it that will cut in unexpected directions. 

Over the years I have announced and allowed to slide goals such as dressage testing beyond Training Level, getting back into jumping something higher than six-inch cross-rails, starting a program to use my idle horses to help humans in need of some sort of bonding or therapy or something (that was a very vague goal from the get-go), becoming a Famous Writer, breeding endangered chicken varieties, participating in more clubs and social organizations, and on, and on.  Once labeled, twice counted is my mantra.  

So the next time you decide to proclaim your goal to the world before you've actually done anything constructive to launch the process, at least pick someone nearby who doesn't like you very much and will delight in pointing out how you've failed.  "How's that exotic chicken-ranching thing going for ya'?" is a fair question and one I'm not going to ask of myself because the answer speaks highly of my total lack of commitment. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Saint or Sinner: Your Horse Life Discovered

The Horse | Rollkur: Facts, Fiction, and Horse Health Implications

t’s Dressage Post Week.   Not that every rider in every discipline won’t be able to relate to at least some of what I’ve learned this time around, but the specifics come directly from the dressage world.  DQ’s, join me in a mass Tibo for the horses we are in the process of riding, enjoying, and confusing the hell out of.  Ready….apologize
  I'm going to steal some very important words from a blurb for a really intriguing book (which I have not read, which is part of its intrigue) titled The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage.  

 "The Seven Deadly Sins of Dessage- Ignorance, Timidity, Pride, Fear, Impatience, Anger, and Immoderation- are sadly so commonplace within the horse industry as to often fail to capture our attention. Once acknowledged, weakness can indeed be overcome and thus our dream of riding with honesty, truth, and brilliance will not be in vain."  [Horsebooks, Etc catalog]

You may or may not have already clicked the Rollkur article link.  You might want to do that now, because these two items together make for a very quick lesson on two topics:

1.  Everything you know isn't wrong, but a lot of it might be.
2.  What we do with our horses is equally as important as who they are and what they're capable of.

The discussion regarding Rollkur (the hyperflexion of the horse's head downward in that chin-tucked position that looks both elegant and painful) has been rolling along apace for the past few years.  I own several entire books on the subject, in fact, and I can honestly say I've been on the anti-Rollkur train from the get-go.  How in the world can a horse function with its head tied to its chest?  How can it breathe?   How can it extend?  How can it not be embarrassed in front of its herd mates?  
Nothing up her sleeves, nothing mechanical ever:
Jess and Rat demonstrate that some horses
naturally adopt that "GOSH, I'm gorgeous!" headset
on their own.

Here's where Conventional Wisdom comes a-cropper once again of the realities that actual research seems determined to uncover despite us and our hysterical belief systems.  Keeping in mind that "conventional" has the same etymology as "convenient", and it's pretty obvious why we are endlessly startled by the realities of our world.  

I, like so many others, looked at the horse's head position, read the rants by virtual ranters online and in print, and bought the superficial without looking for the underlying basis.  As the article above states, no one is suggesting that we all start Rollkur-ing with abandon.  The research that shows that the position does not impair breathing, and might actually improve movement and the ability of the horse to lift and carry his back in a safe and comfortable position also indicates that the problem with Rollkur is how we get there.  How we get there, in the mind of an amateur, is, like so many other plans, very badly done. 

Poor training methods that put the end before the means are the downfall of every sport, not just horse-related athletics.  Like crash dieting, crash training is harmful and self-defeating no matter the goal.  This is a particularly poignant problem in two realms:  childhood sports and horseback riding.  In both of these, we adult humans have taken responsibility for setting paths for creatures other than ourselves, and we've done so without all our ducks in a row and with almost no information on which to base our decisions.  We set about to possibly do permanent damage to children or animals who have no say in the matter and are depending on us to have all our marbles in play.  Few of us do.  

Which brings us to the deadly sins:  Ignorance, Timidity, Pride, Fear, Impatience, Anger, and Immoderation.  The only quibble I'm going to offer regarding this list is the "timidity" piece.  In my humble opinion, while timidity may lead some of us to be less than successful in reaching our goals, and we know that horses react skeptically to hesitation by their riders, it's the very lack of timidity in training that is at fault in much of the damage done.  Often we are over-confident in our belief that we've got a lock on the best way to achieve our desired end.  Often we are dead wrong, but we go at it with religious zeal anyway.  

Putting this all together dredged up a memory that I truly dislike but feel I need to revisit when I get cocky.  A friend had a horse--a very nice horse overall, with unexpected talent in a whole bunch of areas, but with some minor orthopedic issues that kept him from being the Perfect Mount--and the past tense is key.  I take the blame for starting this friend on the dressage path, as I was headed there myself and sang the praises of safe and sane horsemanship and the pretty floatiness that can be achieved along the way.  I wish I'd left well-enough alone.  

In her passion (and mania) to turn this nice, middle-of-the-road guy into an instant Dressage Star, she adopted some frightening training methods.  The last image burned into my brain is of that beautiful horse on his knees in the middle of a highway, his rider standing alongside beating him with a dressage whip to convince him to get up.  He wasn't arguing with her; he just couldn't get his legs under him because his chin was tied to his chest with a martingale of a type I'd never seen before.  The battle-worn, bloodied,  and bruised animal finally rose and stood shaking but perfectly still while his rider remounted.  He was on the highway because he'd taken a tumble, butt-0ver-ears, down a steep incline onto the roadbed.  The martingale prevented him from using his head and neck to balance himself.  

He won the battle in the long run and wound up with a wonderful new owner in a nice place where he was loved and understood.   I made sure of that.  And his original owner really  had no idea that she was doing wrong because it was her trainer who taught her to do that.  That trainer's Ignorance, the young rider's Pride, Fear, Impatience, Anger and Immoderation, all added up to a very unhappy, potentially lethal situation.  

Whether to Rollkur or not to Rollkur, the issue remains that whenever we make decisions that may threaten the future functionality of another being, we need to be doubly sure that we've at very least done away with the Ignorance part of the formula for disaster.  

As we in the Teaching biz say, it's all about education, education, education!  

Monday, March 05, 2012

Back Pain: Yours, Mine, Ours

The Horse | Kissing Spines: Common, But Not Career-Ending (AAEP 2011)

reathes there a rider with nerves so dead that never to herself has said, “Oy!  This is killing my back!”?  The article linked above is a report from the AAEP 2011 Convention.  The subject is “kissing” spines—that only-too-common ailment that sends horses bucking and fussing and owners screaming for a time-out to reassess the whole riding thing.  

The article includes excellent illustrations to help one (me) understand once and for all what is meant by the term, which has a certain sweetness that makes it seem less annoying than it actually is, and how it affects your horse.  I won’t try to summarize it all here.  It would be better for readers to actually follow the link.  I can’t make you, but you really should, even if you think you’ve never had a horse with this issue.  Based on the statistics, if you haven’t, you will.

In fact, if my understanding is correct, I do.  When the chiro diagnosed Zips Memory (aka: Moneypit) with a “locked rib”, I did some searching and couldn’t find anything on that condition…until now.  I didn’t make the connection between kissing spines and the rib thing and the poor horse’s body curving slightly to his right until I saw the pictures and read the description.  I’m a visual learner.

When the chiro said that this was not a new problem resulting from the slight trailering incident that precipitated the odd behavior, she was right on.  Kissing spines is genetic.  She surmised that Zip had been suffering from this orthopedic condition most of his life, and that it might have been ameliorated when he was younger if he’d had chiropractic then instead of in full, cranky adulthood (his and mine).  Regardless, I can honestly say that the loud crack!  that made his eyes pop and my head snap around truly did the trick as a starter option.  Two additional corrections, several new saddles and pads, and refraining from severely collected postures for both of us have allowed him to return to his normally fun-loving personality without all the kicking out during a ride and the stopping dead hoping I’ll get off.  

I should also add that none of the additional types of treatment mentioned in the article have been applied to the Zipster, but they should be noted and approached with an open mind and wallet.  There's no price you can put on the sense of betrayal your horse feels when you ride him while he's in pain, and it's a hard thing to overcome.  Betray him badly enough, and he'll betray you in ways more painful than you can imagine.  Penny wise and 1200 pounds foolish just won't cut it.  

That said, there’s more to this article that needs to be addressed, particularly in view of the Monoculture theory I discussed last post.  I’m farther along in that book and have come across a very big Story that is controlling our culture right now.  That story is the crossroads between economics and ethics that says that everything in our lives has stakeholders involved whose needs have to be met in order for us to get them off our backs (no pun intended) and allow us to move forward in meeting our shareholders’ demands.  We are the stakeholders.  It’s us, our horses, our families who deal with us and our horses, our horse professionals, and anyone and everyone else who feels they are impacted by our “business plan”, which is our riding life.
Me and my prime stakeholder
I want to focus on just a couple of points from the article.  

Point One:   Of the 212 horses included in the kissing spines study, the largest number were Thoroughbreds (and crosses), “Quarter Horse types”, and Warmbloods.  That’s important to note because I have a theory about that.  My theory is that these are the athletic breeds most often put to work in demanding jobs because of their willingness and the ease with which we can fantasize Olympic Gold hanging from their bridles.   Natural limberness and a pre-collected build can be seductive, especially to tyros like me who have been known to hoot  loudly at the least sign of talent in our mounts or ourselves.  It’s a lot easier to reach Full Hoot on a horse that’s athletic, willing, and easy to train. 
Zip has it all.  His mom is a TB x Paint off the Paint Horse track.  His daddy is a performance Quarter Horse.  Zip is an athletic "brick shit-house" (the chiro's description) who looks as if the barn could fall on him and he’d brush it off and go back to his lateral work without batting an eye.

A full 40% of the horses in the lame-due-to-back-pain category were in the dressage biz.  

The authors puzzle the question as to whether dressage and other collection work (can we hear from the reiners  out there?) contributes to the problem, or whether picky DQ’s are more likely to notice the effects and report them (to anyone and everyone who will stand still long enough, as my friends who were forced to watch Zip go will attest).  Good question!   More studies will probably turn up an answer, which is good because I don’t have one.  I’m guessing it’s both.  The conclusion of the report states, “After looking at all the data, kissing spines must go with speed or some other trait that we’ve bred the Thoroughbred for.”  Ditto the Quarter Horse.  Double Ditto the Appendix and the Warmblood.  

Point  Two:  Saddle fitting is key.  Not the only key, but an important one. I think we pretty  much guessed that.  In nearly half of the problematic horses, refitting their saddles helped.  Of those, 85% were dressage horses. 

Sure, this is going to be my new excuse for the ridiculous collection of saddles and pads in my tack room.  That’s a given.  But it’s also very important information.  If we are going to insist on using our horses in sports that seemed destined to cause their orthopedic issues to surface, perhaps we need to start thinking about including thermography in the pre-purchase exam.  Only 7% of the horses first chosen due to lameness had the kissing spine situation as an underlying problem, but 68% of horses with back pain did.  I'd say those are stats worthy of pursuing. 

I don’t think any rider will deny that a horse in pain is hard to ride.  If your back hurts from riding him, maybe his back hurts from it as well.  I know  Zip knocked my lower back out of whack with his “get this saddle off me!” gyrations, so maybe that’s an easy clue even if the source of the pain is less than obvious.  Bucking, fussing, running sideways, "girthiness", kicking out…all those things that send a jolt through a rider might be hints that the horse is merely sharing the pain. I'm sure your most vital stakeholder would agree that a checkup for both of you might be in order,  and make sure you include his saddle in the process.  A new or refitted saddle is far cheaper than a new horse or traction for you when he finally decides you are not good for his back.