Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are you really going all the way?

"The Way a Person Does One Thing Is the Way They Do Everything"

This is an intriguing concept.  When I first saw the title, I had a bit of a harrumph! moment.  How dare someone pigeonhole me?  Really!

But I thought it might be wise to set aside my irritation and actually read the piece...because I don't always do that.  Sadly, readers o' mine, my mental thigh muscles bulge with years of conclusion-jumping.  So I read it, and I started to consider the possibility that, not only do I not always give full attention to every task, I often skim, skip, and suppose myself to a place that precludes excellence.

While I was about this massive reconsideration of my own little Self, I thought it would be cool to make Cliff an unwitting accomplice.  He's generally unwitting when it comes to accomplicing with me on my "research" efforts.  If I told him what I was up to, he'd probably stay out nights, as changing his MO is not likely to happen.

Sure enough, there were all the little signs in both of our behavior patterns that supported the premise that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.  Ack!

Of course this is not a rule so firm that there's never an opportunity for a little mold-busting (at least a little mold-testing) in individual situations.  For instance, Cliff, who is Most Likely To Be Killed Jumping Past a Conclusion, is scrupulous when it comes to certain tasks.  His supposition habit is partly a result of having been allowed to borrow my brain for the past 21 years.  Not that I'm some sort of genius (Ahem! ), but that I'm a habitual researcher and truth-seeker, so if anyone in his immediate vicinity is likely to know the answer to some strange question, it's probably going to be me.  I've helped him develop a lazy mind, and I'm paying the price.  There's nothing like being mid-writing-assignment and having someone pop up with vitally important (to him) questions that are completely off-topic for me.  It's multitasking at its least acceptable.  Every now and then I dig in my heels and withdraw his brain-library card.
There's probably a better way....

It was interesting to note, however, that where he used to only query me about spelling, grammar, and maybe the occasional computer problem, he's morphed into a huge, all-encompassing question mark of a thinker.

But give him a car that's making that chunka-whoop-cuh sound, and his supposing is exactly the ticket.  Since cars don't (usually) talk, sussing out the source begins with a supposition based on prior experience.  That's the other reason for his constant leaping to odd conclusions.  Habit breeds more habit, which is precisely the point of the linked article.

I got thinking that if it worked that way for him, it probably worked the same way for me with the horse thing.  My intense need to find the bottom line--The Truth--not only costs me a lot of time online and in treeware searching for information, it also makes me hypersensitive to the little quirks and wobbles that the horses present.  I can't just deal with the what; I also have to find the why and the wherefore.  I can only imagine how the horses feel about this constant scrutiny.  Probably the way Cliff would feel if he knew.  [snorf!]

My thought on this subject is that we all form patterns of behavior.  If one takes the time to reflect, one can easily target where those patterns cause problems in one's life.  If one's boss, for instance, is constantly harping on punctuality issues, is one also late getting to appointments and cutting time short when it comes to working with one's horse?  If one is the type to fly off the handle with one's spousal alternative and assorted junior humans, will one also grab the whip when one's horse is showing hints of recalcitrance (or teeth)?

I've noticed a sudden resurgence of interest in the whole Personality Typing thing that hit social media a few years ago.  One of the question forums where I flaunt my expertise has become a haven for people throwing initials after their names indicating that they are of a particular temperament...presumably as a warning.   I'm an ESTJ.  Just sayin'.  While this is a valuable tool, it is only that.  Because even Keirsey will tell you that there are variations in the norm that are situation-dependent.  I may always look for the facts, but be satisfied in the moment with whatever I have at hand.

Do a little self-searching, and you might find some habits that could stand tweaking before they stand in the way of your relationship with your horse.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

A Teacher's Holiday Tale

 This is a horse-free story.  You've been warned.

I was fooling around with Microsoft Word, trying to follow the eHow instructions for getting ancient .wps files to open properly in Word '10 when I happened to notice a file I'd titled "Bird on a Wire".  I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was about, but it since it was in a folder with a bunch of random articles and stories I hadn't read through in a decade, I figured I'd do a Memory Lane ramble and try opening it. It turned out to be one of only three non-fiction Holiday pieces I'd written...ever.  I'm not generally that kind of writer.  Originally destined for the Chocolate for Women series, it never saw the light of day as the anthology editor stopped anthologizing under that title just after I submitted it.  

That was not my fault.  I swear.  She loved me and loved buying my work.  Honest.

So here is my contribution to your Holiday Joy.  "Bird on a Wire" is a true tale about a student I had back in 1986 in one of my first classes at that school.  I hope you like it as much as I liked living it.

Peace and Good Will!
Bird on a Wire

      Brian*, tall and lanky with a shock of straight black hair brushing his forehead, came to my Resource Center without fanfare.  In fact, he came without any paperwork at all, which, while not unheard of in my school, was the exception to the rule.  He handed me an algebra book and found a seat, legs folded origami-style, knees jutting out, forcing me to wonder as always why the high school furniture is designed for Munchkins.  We exchanged pleasantries, and at the sound of the bell, found ourselves in that unique relationship that crosses traditional boundaries while creating the new ones that are necessary to the process of teaching teenagers.
          A very intense young man, Brian had little to say.  He responded to direct questions, but kept his nose in his book.  He was there to learn algebra.  Period.  In this eclectic group of mixed-level learning disabled math students, it was more than his lanky frame and intense stare that set him apart.  While the others struggled over fractions and decimals, Brian flew through the Algebra I text.  Occasionally I would catch him tossing a look of disdain at a fellow student whose motivational level left something to be desired.
          Days raced into weeks, and Brian proved himself a most faithful student.  He arrived early and seemed loath, at the end of the period, to move on to his next class.  He’d begun to open up a bit, but only to the extent that he shared an occasional muttered epithet regarding his father or the school’s administrators.  Fifteen-year-olds are notoriously poor at eye contact with adults, but his was direct and piercing.  I couldn’t help but feel that he was searching me visually for something I wasn’t sure I had.
          Weeks slipped into months, and Brian became more voluble . . . and more agitated.  Still no paperwork had appeared on my desk to explain his presence, but I was beginning to pick up rumblings about something awful that he’d done.  Schools are notorious rumor mills, so even as a newcomer I distrusted most of what I heard.  But the murmurings were growing louder, and Brian more restless, with each passing day.
          When it seemed as if the walls were dripping with handwriting that I couldn’t read, Brian brought the answer to me himself.  It seemed there’d been a theft of equipment earlier in the year, and he’d been caught red-handed.  His own father had turned him in to the authorities.  The words came in a flood, then stopped as suddenly as they’d begun.  We looked at each other, blinking, silent.  I wanted to ask him why -- why he’d done it, why he’d told me, why he hadn’t told me sooner -- but there was something a little off-putting in the darkness of his eyes.  Instead I asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
          “No.”  The word was a grunt, then he left -- fled -- the room.  The court date came and went; there was a suspension, then he was back.  He seemed calmer.  The year ended without incident.
          The following year there were more problems -- poignant displays of Brian’s desire for attention.  Much fuss and furor ensued, and Brian returned to court.  He never protested his innocence.  He simply lowered his eyes and moved along the path he’d set for himself.  I wondered whether he’d be back; was surprised when he showed up in class, algebra book in hand, and resumed his studies as if nothing had happened.  Time went by, silent forgiveness occurred, and eventually, with much diligence on everyone’s part, brilliant Brian graduated.
          At Christmas the following year, I was surprised to find a gift on my desk.  When children metamorphose into teenagers, the apple-for-the-teacher generosity of their early years fades, and they move towards a peer relationship with the adults in their lives.  I was startled by the gesture, but no more than by the signature on the card:  “Love, Brian.”  I sat musing for a while over the unexpected kindness, then packed up my things to leave.  Winter break would begin the next day, and I was more than ready for the time off.
          The hallway was empty as I locked my room, but as I started toward the parking lot, I heard the sound of footsteps and a voice calling my name.  Brian’s long legs covered the distance in half the time it would have taken me, and I was genuinely pleased to see him.  His smile lit the building.  I turned around and unlocked my room so we could sit in private and talk.  And talk he did.
          “I don’t think . . . well, you probably don’t know . . . umm. . . “
I laughed at his unaccustomed shortage of words and poked fun at him.  He grinned and chuckled.  “Yeah,” he said sheepishly, “I guess I don’t usually have trouble talking to you.  That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
          As he warmed to the subject, the words flowed more smoothly, and I, in turn, was silenced by the power of them.  He spoke of his family -- the distant mother and demanding father -- and of his desire to make someone, anyone, sit up and take notice of him.  He spoke of the theft incident and his other foolishness.  On and on the words rolled.  Then he paused.  “You didn’t know -- couldn’t know -- what you did for me.  When they put me in your class, I was planning on -- you know.  I didn’t figure there was anything left to live for.  I was such a screw-up!  Everything I did turned to shit.  I just wanted them to see me.  That’s all.  They punished me by switching me to your class!”  He laughed.
“But I came in here, and you treated me like I was smart.  You believed in me, in what I could do.  So I didn’t kill myself that weekend, and even though I screwed up again, I knew you’d still like me.”
          I was speechless.  He laughed again.  “I’ll bet you didn’t know that I arranged to be in your class for the next year, did you?  You probably looked at the list and thought, ‘Geez!  Not another year with Brian!’ right?  But I had to be in here.  I had to have someone who liked me.”
          The words drifted off, and through my tears I saw his own.  Brian and I walked out together that day, and each year for several years after that he came to my room the day before Christmas break with a gift and a hug.  When he graduated from college, I wished him well. 
          Just yesterday--some 18 years later-- I ran into him and was treated to his huge smile and a warm hug as he said, “You’re a good person. I love you.”  Brian’s doing fine.  I am thankful that I was privileged to hear his cry for help, and I’ve tried my best to keep an ear open ever since. 
Listen; you’ll hear them too.

*the name has been changed

[copyright 2004 Joanne M. Friedman, all rights reserved]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pasture Puffs

What to Do with a Horse That Can’t Be Ridden

This is a great time to destroy your smiley bubble.  No season of the year is more likely to bring old horses and young riders together than the Holidays, when the gifting frenzy often overwhelms common sense.  Is there anything more precious than a child's bright-eyed wonder when Mom and Dad parade a ribbon-bedecked pony into the yard?  Nope.

Okay, maybe a ribbon-bedecked puppy parade, but that's about all.

So with the risk of ruining your holiday surprise strong upon me, I'm here for the second week in a row to rain on your parade.  Truly, Reality bites.

It happens to the best of them.  Eventually our happy equine partners slow down.  This has lead to an unpleasant game of Hot Potato in horse circles.  Great young horses are  passed around from owner to owner, each new human hoping that the horse will remain sound and healthy through its tenure in that relationship until, inevitably, somebody winds up being the Home of Last Resort.  That's what happens when we engage in a sport that involves other living beings and layer it with emotional yuck.
There's always an undercurrent of tension at low-level show barns and lesson barns as owners listen to the ticking of the clock and watch for signs of lameness, illness, and worn-outedness in their horses.  It's not so evident at the upper levels as the owners of top-flight horses are generally well-heeled and capable of ensuring a long and healthy retirement for their investment horses.  They've earned money enough along the way to make that possible without much pain and suffering.
Cuteness Quotient:   Intolerable

But what about the rest of the horse world?  There may be a few hundred top horses who are safe from the ravages of being the hot potato in the hands of someone unable to afford the luxury of an unrideable partner.  For the others, it's a crap shoot.  Since older, less able horses are generally less expensive and in low demand, they are the ones most likely to wind up in the hands of the non-horsey parents of a brandy-new child rider.  And there they sit, sometimes cared about but not cared for, and sometimes living out their days in peace in a cow pasture or amid a herd of some other livestock.

That last group will be fine.  They may never see the inside of a show arena again, but they'll commune with the goats or sheep or cattle or wildlife until they breathe their last.  As long as the caretaker knows enough to feed them appropriately and can afford the basics of vetting and healthcare, there's nothing sad about a horse standing in a field of grass and non-horse companions.

It's the other group that should concern us.

The linked article offers some great suggestions for retirement plans for folks who can afford to do something as kind as keeping an equine in the conditions to which it has (happily) become accustomed.  Retirement farms where minimal board (or an up-front donation) will allow the horse to be cared for without being a significant drain on family finances are hard to come by, but they do exist.  You might want to start looking now as some have waiting lists.
Smart Mommy opted to lease
the pony instead of buying

Some lesson barns are happy to have "packers" who are long in the tooth as well as in the patience department.  Not all old horses fit that bill.  My old Quarter Horse, coming 30, is wonderful, but as his years have passed, he's become pushy.  If I'm not quick enough saddling up, he'll just walk off to the riding ring without me.  If I don't get the pad on straight, I can be head-butted...hard.  There's no politeness left at that age, to which I can completely relate.  So don't count on your oldster finding a happy place with giggling children aboard.

Handicapped riding facilities, programs that use horses in rehabilitation of emotionally distraught humans...they, too, love the older horses with nothing to prove.  That's as long as they truly have nothing to prove and lots of patience.

What's an owner to do when the horse isn't acceptable for passing on and money for such flourishes as horse ownership has disappeared?  Craigslist, Facebook, and myriad horsey websites are littered with ads as owners cast about feverishly searching for a way out of the bind without letting it appear that that's what they're doing.

This is where the chaff gets beat off the grain of human responsibility.  Before you buy that old horse, ask yourself if you'll have the brave heart it would take to have that horse put humanely to rest.  A lame, sick, sad animal isn't having a good day  no matter how many cookies you feed it.  A horse in a terrible living situation is a sad horse even if it's reasonably sound and healthy.  So think long and hard about your own emotional state and whether you'd be the type to close one eye and pass your old horse off to an unfit home.  Would you be able to risk inadvertently (or purposely) sending your horse to auction and eventually to slaughter?  Or would you be able to make that call to the vet and say good-bye with a clear conscience?

With care, we can ensure to all, a good day and a good night.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Your final gift to the horse world

The Equine Necropsy: A Sensitive but Important Topic |

I get that the majority of horse owners are getting by on a thread and a toothpick when it comes to affording their horses and all those pesky expenses like mortgages, food, healthcare and the like.  I get that many horse owners try to keep their horses' end-of-life expenses down to a minimum:  A bullet and a backhoe for a day will suffice.

But I want to enter a plea on behalf of all of the horses and their owners around the world.  Sure, it's hard enough to deal with losing a companion. And there are many breeders who free-range their horses and are happy if none get eaten by predators before they're big enough to sell.  Still, even those folks rely on their vets to be alert and aware of all the new developments in veterinary medicine and keep on hand the latest medicines when emergency strikes.

I know I'm beating a dead horse (snorf!) when I once again plead for as many owners as can possibly afford it to allow (or even order) a necropsy on their animals when the cause of death isn't immediately apparent.  It's pretty obvious what killed a horse with a bullet hole in it or when the remains are scattered across the ground where predators are known to lurk.  I'm not talking about those horses.  Sorry for the crude imagery, but it's real as real can be.
No necropsy needed to determine
that this beautiful mare had squamous
cell carcinoma.

But when there's any kind of doubt, when the horse has suffered repeated colic episodes or shown symptoms of illness that were difficult to qualify, the extra cost of having the vet do a necropsy (that's an autopsy on an animal) is an amazing and welcome donation to the cause of the advancement of veterinary care for all horses.  Even if the vet thinks s/he knows what diseases the horse may have had, if s/he has any doubt at all or is at all interested in finding possible links between a fatal colic episode and a possibly undiagnosed problem, s/he may request permission to do a little research.  Say yes.

I had a necropsy done on a gelding with a bizarre growth on his face that turned out to be a very rare tooth root tumor.  The tumor was so rare that Cornell University's Veterinary School requested that I have the horse's head shipped to them.  I was happy to let them see something they night never have seen otherwise.  Down the line, that experience might translate into another horse surviving though ours didn't.  It took months and the lucky happenstance of finding a link online to the one person who knew what we were dealing with.  The next owner might not spend as many thousands of dollars as I did to get the same answer.

I also had a necropsy done on my favorite mare.  I asked that they not tell me the results if it turned out I could have cured or prevented what killed her.  Turned out I couldn't. Cancer has its own rules.  It was a small breath of relief in a sea of sadness knowing that I could let my guilt go. And my daughter had one done on her beloved Morgan.  Even though it was inconclusive, at least she was able to rule out some of the worst possible causes to the relief of the barn owner and other boarders where the horse was being kept.
We couldn't have guessed that the
sudden, repeated attacks of colic meant
Fancy's gut was riddled with cancer
lesions without a necropsy.

The mare with the external tumor who'd already had surgeries and necropsy needed there.  But it was thanks to other owners' willingness to make that final donation that she got an additional eight years of happy, pain-free life.  The new treatments that she received were a direct result of research done on other horses like her.

My sole regret is that I did not request that a necropsy be done on the very old horse who suffered an infection the source of which we could only guess at.  I have my theories, but they'll never be confirmed or disproved.  If I'm right, another step forward in equine care might have come from finding that out.

So at the risk of belaboring a topic everyone hates, I'm choosing to bring this up during the holiday season when hearts are more open to giving and minds less closed to the possibilities that generosity can afford.  Give the horse world a gift this year, and set aside the amount of money it costs in your area to have a necropsy done.  If you don't lose a horse yourself, offer to help a friend pay for this incredibly valuable procedure.  You'll be doing more good than you can imagine.  The equine life you save might belong to your next horse.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How's your school looking?

Researchers Evaluate Riding School Horse Health |

This is a great time of year to assess the health and well-being of those long-suffering, (mostly) kind-hearted lesson horses hanging around your barn and pastures.  Read the linked article first, then we'll get to the nitty of your gritty.  This doesn't only apply to school horses, as there are some shoddy-looking privately-owned show horses around here that could use a fresh pair of eyeballs.  So go read.

I'll wait...........................................................................................................................

So the first question is, how old are you?  You needn't lie.  The computer can't hear you, and I really don't care.  If you read the article, you know why I'm asking.  Part of the problem with the failing health of school horses is the failing health of the lesson barn owners that keep them.

I don't mind admitting to being over 30  50......okay, I'm on the dark side of the moon now and fading fast.  Are you happy?  I also am able to say without a doubt that I am not half the caretaker I used to be.  My back hurts.  My arm hurts.  My shoulder hurts.  I sweat more in the heat, and the cold makes my bones ache.  I'm not agile by any stretch (and no matter how much I stretch).  So when the old geezer former school horse in my barn, the ever-patient Leo, didn't get his shoes pulled in time for the recent snow, I wrestled him into boots for turnout just twice before my back gave out.  If you're close to my age, you know that snapping sensation--the silent sound you can feel, not hear--and dread it for the lengthy recovery period that will follow.
Classic case of "the shoer only
had one shoe the right size".
Note the right shoe is set back
behind the toe to compensate.

So by the third day I was leaving Leo in his stall more often and resorting to spraying his feet with cooking spray to make the ice balls fall out.  They didn't.  I've tried that dozens of times over the years with the same dismal result, so I'm fully subscribed to the "doing the same thing and expecting different results" cult of the similarly-aging, gosh dang it!

Then came another back-breaking effort to smear petroleum jelly on his soles while he staunchly refused to pick up his feet.  Whatever back healing had begun ended right then.

But the easy parts I'm right on top of.  Leo's teeth have flat-lined.  The dentist showed me.  It's true. They're still in place, but barely above the gum line.  If you're not clear on how horses' teeth age, here's a link for you.  And while you're at it, here's a nice article on why what we do with horses tends to be bad for their dentition.

I'm sad to confirm that my horses endured a bad dentist for several years because I didn't know better.  Now I do.  Find a good dentist.  The extra cost of a Master Equine Dentist is worth every penny as poor dentition leads to fun endgames like colic, tooth abscesses, and starvation.

Moving out of the horse's mouth, the rest of the problem lies in the age-related laziness (or ignorance, if you're on the very young side) of the barn manager (how old do you have to be before you'd rather sit on the couch than be out in the field poking at horses?) and in the experience (or, more to the point, inexperience) of the trainers and other employees who work with and use the school horses.  I know of several who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near horses, let alone in charge of their well-being.  Nothing wears out a school horse like overwork and a lack of consideration for his needs.  I've recently seen photos of smiling trainers and students with school horses bearing the scars and sad, worried expressions of animals on the edge of abuse and smack in the middle of neglect.  If the horse looks bad, the trainer looks bad and the barn manager looks worse.
Good dentistry makes
happy horses!

So with the holidays upon us and students taking a hiatus to participate in pageants and family stuff, this is a great time to pull out those school horses and look them over carefully.  The thin ones can be carefully brought back into condition with a judicious application of supplements.  They can all get a once-over from the vet and the equine dentist. And don't forget the farrier.  I've seen school horses with shoes twisted, the wrong size, worn so badly they could slice cheese, and even one or more missing.  If you're in a 4-seasons part of the world, pulling shoes for the winter is a big plus as by spring those feet will look gorgeous and ready for a new season of schlepping beginners over bad footing.

And how about that footing?  And those stalls?  And that pasture?  It's not the season for a lot of groundwork, but spread some seed just ahead of the next snow, and that will perk up your pastures when the thaw comes with little more effort on your part.  Just toss it out there by hand, no equipment necessary.  Use pasture blend (Tractor Supply has one that works fine) so they get the mix of grasses and legumes and woody plants that horses love to pick through.

Your school horses deserve the best you can manage.  Go forth and manage it!
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be Careful What You Teach (and you're always teaching something)

Understanding behavioral momentum and its applications | Stale Cheerios

You know all about behavioral momentum.  Really.  If you have children, you're practically a certified expert.  If you live with animals, you've seen it in action and developed whole, often rude vocabularies around it.  And you've stunned family and friends with the amazing tricks you've taught to whatever species surround you.

Behavioral momentum is also called "habit strength", and the bottom line is that learning is the instillation of habits, good, bad, and indifferent.  That makes it pretty dull, doesn't it?  When you watch a demo on TV or at a horse conference by a trainer who has managed to instill in an equine some habits that are so unnatural that you gasp in awe that he even thought of doing that, you're witnessing the artful application of reinforcement in service to habit strength development.

I was crossing the lawn on the way to the pasture to nab my equine du jour for a ride, and in the pen next to me, the mini, Duke came trotting to the fence with a smile. He was hoping for a cookie, and he got one, because that's how I roll.  They don't call me Cookie Pockets for nothing.  The reason I'm bringing this up is that he will do that identical behavior every time I cross the lawn whether or not he gets a cookie.  And it's not just the trot to the fence.  He first walks to a spot where his pen adjoins the riding ring.  He'll look at the horses in the pasture.  He'll make a quick, curving left turn.  And he'll wind up in exactly the same spot every time with the same nicker, head toss, and smile as punctuation.

Obviously, I taught him that he'd get a cookie if he approached me politely.  The rest of the routine he created on his own, and that's what we need to discuss.
Two Learners Learning

I didn't teach him where to stand, how fast to trot, where to turn, or which behaviors I consider polite.  He figured those out on his own.  In fact, I'm not actively rewarding anything other than his appearance at the fence and the smile, which I did teach him.  The rest is all him.

When we teach an animal (of any species) to learn, we also teach them to freelance a little.  We teach them to chain behaviors in a string that, because reinforcement (reward) follows the entire chain, will continue to be linked as one behavior in their minds.  Reward a toddler for picking up his blocks and putting them in a bin, and he'll eventually do that with a fair amount of certainty.  You may or may not notice that somewhere along the line he started dragging his blanket (or bottle, or the cat) behind him on this journey.  Or that he makes the same vocalizations every time he performs the task.  But because the reward ("That was awesome, Billy!  Good job!") follows the entire chain, he doesn't discriminate among the pieces of the process.

So it is with horses.  In the Stale Cheerios blog linked above, Mary mentions learning about superstitious behavior.  This has nothing to do with hauntings or throwing a handful of grain over your horse's shoulder when you spill his ration.  It has to do with his ("the learner's") belief that things that occur together are related in a causal fashion.  The learner will see and hear and sense things that the teacher may not be attending to.  When synchronicity comes into play, the learner attaches meaning to meaningless coincidence, and adds that to the behavior chain.  You didn't intentionally teach Furball to side pass away from the gate.  The gate did that when the wind made it rattle on one pass.  Furball firmly believes that it was his proximity to the gate that made it rattle.  So a proximal behavior was born!

Your best efforts to teach Fuzz Butt to side pass will be thwarted at every turn if you allow too many distractions to be introduced into the instructional setting before the habit strength of that behavior is set in stone.  With humans (even wee, little ones), it may take only one or two trials for the behavior to become permanent.  Just watch a parent-child interaction in the toy aisle during the holidays when the displays are attention-grabbing in the extreme to see how fast a kid can develop an overwhelming behavior pattern heretofore untried.  With some animals it can take ten or twenty trials.  With horses the rule of thumb is more like 100 perfect repetitions in a distraction-free setting before we can say learning has, indeed, taken place.

The good news is that those superstitious behaviors are easier to unteach.  The bad news is you can't actually "unteach" anything.  You can only replace unwanted behaviors with entirely new ones that, by their very nature, eliminate the possibility of performing the original obnoxiousness.  The baby can't throw cereal on the dog if the baby's hands are full of Magic Blanket.
This behavior is in Zip's
bag like flies on manure.

As you work with your animals and your humans, try to avoid "losing your bird".  If the behavior isn't being repeated with 100% certainty over time, then don't let the learner try his wings in public with lots of noise and other intervening stimuli that may suddenly become part of the behavior chain, embarrassing you and frustrating your attempts to look cool in front of the rest of the humans. Clicker training is best begun with the horse in his stall with only the top of the door open, no halter, no other horses, and you alone standing in front of the stall with the target and the treat bag.  You don't want to start in the middle of the warm-up pen before a beginner costume class.  You don't try to teach your child to spell  standing in the cereal aisle at the supermarket for the same reason.

Dial back the enthusiasm and the distractions, resort to the most detailed task analysis you can muster, and go forth and teach!
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Derangement of the Equine Kind

When Horses Act Dangerously

I'm sure this article [By Brenda Forsythe Sappington, M.S., Ph.D | October 2001]  will trigger some discussions in barn lounges and owners' kitchens.  Be sure to read the entire thing before you launch a diatribe.  Yes, it's an old article, but the reprinting is worthy of note.

The worthiness lies in this sentence:

 And unfortunately, these horses often end up with novices in search of affordable horses, who don't yet know how to evaluate a horse's training.

 I get chills whenever someone sends me pictures or articles about rescued horses or horses seen at auction in dire need of a home.  The most frightening are the ones with long, sobby descriptions of how beautiful and lovely and warm and friendly the needy horse appears to be.  Having been caught up myself in the Facebook Rescue Mania of 2008-2011, I'm familiar with the distant sound of sanity breathing its last.
A rescue horse properly handled by volunteers at
Mylestone Equine Rescue in NJ.

There are many thousands of horses in need of homes, of that there is no doubt.  There are far more of them than there are homes to house them.  That's the sad truth of our Boomer obsession with making horses our lives without an endgame for when our numbers dwindled and the economy could no longer foot the bill.  There are many, many legitimate, reliable, trustworthy rescues (see the photos on this page for examples) doing their best to cull the herd and re-home the horses that can be re-homed without causing trauma to their new owners.  Many of them charge little or nothing for the horses in their care once they have assured themselves that the new home is suitable.  The best offer a return policy either limited or permanent.

But there will always be horse folks who think they know how to fix a horse that has been damaged either by nature or by unhappy contact with Humanity.  I'm talking to those people.

I've seen more than I'd like of commentors on discussion forums who castigate some poor horse owner who is housing a troubled equine and having problems serious enough to warrant asking a bunch of nut-job strangers for help.  That the person is asking is to their credit.  That they're asking strangers leaves their sanity open to question.  That the last thing they need to hear is "You can fix this poor furbaby if you will just..."

Sorry, but most damaged equines are well beyond the ability of a backyard amateur to fix.  Biophilia gives us the "wanna" without the "how to" piece.  

Yes, there are success stories even in that setting.  The right combination of horse and owner can be magical, flying in the face of conventional wisdom (and every other kind).  But the fact that those stories are shared repeatedly only points out how rare they are.  

Once upon a time, my daughter, an experienced horseman with trainer training under her belt, got hold of a horse with an issue. The issue didn't appear immediately.  It waited seven months.  The horse arrived in September, and he was a gem all winter.  It wasn't till spring that he lost his mind.  

Now, neither of us had anything to prove, so we agreed that the horse needed 1) a solid vet check to rule out pain or illness, and 2) passing that, he needed to go back to the dealer whence he came.  Long story short, the horse turned out to have a sensitivity to the spring grass here.  We didn't have a dry paddock for him.  He was sold twice more only to be returned after injuring an owner.  The dealer finally kept him, as he loved her and she could house him safely.  

This brief episode cost my daughter a jaw broken in three places and two very expensive reconstructive surgeries that will keep her seeking pain management forever.  Imagine if a beginner had gotten that horse.
Radiohead, an OTTB, received Tildren therapy courtesy of
Rerun Thoroughbred Rescue.
[photo via by Rerun via Facebook]
That was still a better situation than the girl who brought a young mare for training, having purchased her online with only a video (and a price in three digits) to her credit.  The girl was clueless, had already suffered a broken collarbone from her effort to do-it-herself, and even after training was injured by the horse shortly after they left here.

Or the beginner riders who were sold a truly loose cannon of a horse of whom we were all afraid for the brief period she was here.  Those girls survived, but the horse had to be moved from farm to farm because of the damage she did before she was finally put down.

My point today is not to belabor that horses can be very dangerous or to suggest that every dangerous horse needs to be put down immediately without benefit of professional assessment.  I'm not here to suggest that all horses found at auction or at rescues are a hazard.  I'm here to belabor the professional assessment idea.  There are lots of pros around who specialize in this sort of thing.  I know one lovely, tiny woman who can take one look at a horse, know immediately what he needs, and be merciless in sharing with the owner the errors of his/her ways regarding management.  I know a young man and his mom who are amazing at dealing with horses other folks would consider hopeless.  And I've watched Buck, the Buck Brannaman documentary, and seen that brilliant horseman ask that a horse be destroyed because his mishandling had rendered him beyond help and too dangerous for human contact.  Watching that stallion attack Brannaman's assistant with teeth bared and raking across the man's skull was a mind-blower.  This wasn't staged.  This wasn't a movie like The Horse Whisperer.  This was a raging, spoiled, ruined horse trying to kill any human in his reach.

If you honestly think you can rehab a seriously damaged horse on your own, watch that movie first.  If you still think you can handle it, check your health insurance, life insurance, and check in with your ICE person.  Sign up for Long-Term Care Insurance, and then have at it.  

Or you can call a pro before you even get that horse into your barn.  Have the animal assessed medically, physiologically, and psychologically, and then reconsider what you can do.  Just a handful of cookies isn't going to make a pocket pony out of a horse out for vengeance.  

Be sane out there.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Whose Job is This?

Not All Horses Are Created Equal

I love Denny Emerson.  If he were a horse, I'd have already bought him and bred him to some spectacular mare.  But now and then I have a bone to pick with him, and this is one of those times.

When did competition--any athletic competition--become a "job"?  And why does "athlete" have to mean top-echelon competitor?  I'm an athlete in all my saggy, aging glory.  My horses are athletes despite not all being blue-ribbon stars.  Riding isn't our "job", it's our sport.  That's all it is and that's enough.

It definitely happened.  As far back as I can remember, there have been professional whatevers in the sports arena for whom a sport was their raison d'etre, their career and lifeblood.  Anyone with an ear and at least one eye knows that pro sports figures are the idols young children want to emulate and old children want to pretend they could have been (if only...).  It's a nice source of pride and entertainment, the whole pro sports thing.  But a job..?

So you decided to go pro as a horse rider (I'm excluding trainers, breeders, and other support professionals), and naturally your horse, without a vote in the deal, had to go pro with you.  Now you've got a job you love, and he's got...well...a job.  Love it or not, you've handed it to him as a fait accompli.  A done deal.  Your choice, not his.
If anything could be wrong about a horse's
conformation, Fancy embraced it.  But
she loved her job as a low-level show horse.

To add insult to injury, you might also, by default, be on board with the idea that breeding for additional subjugated athletes is not only a good thing, but a must, an absolute imperative, because without suitable equine athlete partners, the human athlete who's chosen riding as his career, has no career.  At least not at the current levels of expectation.

I agree to the extent that careful breeding (since we humans can't resist monkeying with nature) is a good thing no matter the type of horse being bred.  I've seen in person some particularly bizarre offspring of backyard horse pairings that would never have survived in their natural environment.  Choosing stallions and mares wisely before allowing them dinner and drinks and privacy is always preferable to throwing caution to the wind just to make a few dollars or to maintain farm status for your property or out of some emotional blinding of the sense of reality.  But to say that finding homes for horses that are never going to be top-flight competitors is a waste of time and money, and that breeding for the competitive qualities somehow makes right the throwaways that happen as a by-product is to toss aspersions on an entire, huge segment of the equine and equestrian populations.

Should a horse have a "job"?  Sure.  It behooves all of us to find something for our horses to do to earn the ridiculous cost of their upkeep, even if their job is to be petted by the neighborhood kids.  And the more horses we give jobs to, the fewer unwanted horses there will be.  But does a horse have to be perfect in every way in order to be of value?  And does that value have to include the by-product horses that are "probably only good for, say, a 4-H kid's project"?  I hate hearing equestrisnobs say, that, but there it is.

Sorry, but no.  All kids can learn to love a horse with a hinky gallop or the one with the head that isn't quite the model of its breed, and so can 90% of the riding class of adult folks.  Most of us can enjoy a nice hack along a gorgeous road without having to feel that we're less than worthy because our mount isn't papered.  I definitely believe that when we stop trying to force animals without innate ability to try disciplines at which they'll fail and which  might be injurious to their bodies, we're making Mr. Emerson's point in spades.  Horses are not created equal.  They're created horses.

Mr. Emerson needs a high-end, hyper-talented mount.  No doubt.  He gets paid to need that.  His horse doesn't get anything other than the same rations the rest of us feed and maybe a little better vet care. As far as I know, horses aren't impressed by brass finials on their stall doors, not nearly as much as they are by having play time with their buddies whenever they want it.

Working horses
deserve respect

To those of you aspiring to go pro, good luck with that.  I wish you great horses and all the ribbons you can find room to hang.  And if you're lucky, you'll take in some hefty purses along the way to justify giving up your day job.  Or, like some of my favorites, you'll pocket those purses on the weekends and keep your day job to keep you grounded.  I hope it all turns out the way you expected and your dreams are fulfilled.

Your horses, meanwhile, no matter who their Daddy was, want nothing more than a good scratch under the chin (even Olypians get fly bites) and maybe a flake of that expensive alfalfa mix. Mostly they want to be out running around, not breeding, not working, not facing a hefty regimen of exercise when they're not stall-bound.

I'm sure some of my readers are seething right now with anger at my ignorance and my ability to overlook how vitally important it is for our kids to have someone to look up to and goals to which to aspire.  How about giving them that?  Show them that kindness and mercy and hard work and realistic expectations are what makes the world go 'round.  If the high-end competitions were to stop dead tomorrow, we'd still have a fine crop up humans around us to fill the space with joy and compassion.
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Saturday, November 01, 2014

There's Connection and there's connection

Lately I've been a little taken aback--nonplussed, as it were--by how many otherwise rational (one hopes) horse owners feel comfy taking to the Interwebs and all their Wikiness for advice on subjects that would be better addressed with a professional.  In person. In the Real World (IRL, for you trendy geeks).  On the [choke!] telephone or face-to-face.

I'm going to gloss over the folks on one particular site who feel completely at ease asking strangers to diagnose their own, sometimes frightening, symptoms of disease and offer cures.  Legal advice when the cops are dragging you out the door falls into the same category.  I'm going to stick to the horse world, which is curious enough by itself.
"You promised me internet in the barn.
You lied."

I was particularly intrigued by some of the queries on a particular social networking platform (I'm on nearly all of them, including one no one has ever heard of, so don't bother guessing).  Somewhere along the way, we horse folks stopped embracing the fresh-air, fuzzy-noses, real world of our animals and moved indoors to our lairs.  There we put together videos and long, complicated explanations and questions about our horses' conditions and issues, real or imagined.  Then we push them out through the mysterious cyber-place to where other horse folks are sitting around waiting to jump all over us for our silliness.  We do this over, and over, and over.

The ones that strike me as oddest are the queries in which the problem being studied is so odd and complicated that even an in-person, on-site vet, dentist, shoer, or psychic experience would likely come up empty.  So why in the world, when an animal's (and often a human's) life may be at stake would anyone take to the Web for advice from a gaggle of strangers whose credentials are only hearsay?

Take a moment and read this article about real connection, the kind between a human and his equine partner, then we'll move on.

Some Horses and Riders Have Co-Being Relationships

This became particularly weird when I found that some horse people of my acquaintance have been not only going high-tech and distant with their horsiness, but have been triangulating their horse pros into the relationship.

At what point does it become okay to email, or text or PM (that's "private message" for my less-techy readers),  or attempt a "Hangout" (Googlespeak for "annoying group exercise in non-communication akin to a family funeral gathering") with one's equine professional?  Huh?  When did that happen?

I know the answer.  The answer is NEVER!  No matter how much you love your equine pros, their probably not vitally interested in what shows you're planning to attend, or the details of the costume your kid and her pony will be donning for the Fair.  They're certainly not interested enough to enjoy your interruption of their private time to share that.  The Internet has made us all feel communal.  We're not.  We could stand to regain a little of that professional/client distance.

Here's the thing.  If you've got a problem with your horse, you've got a bunch of options.  It it's a health issue, a hoof issue, or a mouth issue, picking up the phone and calling the vet, dentist, or farrier makes perfect sense.  Many of them have emergency numbers.  You can leave a message, and about 90% of them will call back as soon as they're finished with the emergency they're working on at the moment.  Many have alternate numbers where there are people who will pick up the phone immediately.  It's amazing!  They are actually willing to talk to you, and might even have the solution to your problem at hand!  Whoa!
Duke and Dillon, co-being ridiculously cute

If it's a training issue, it's most likely an emergency only in your mind, so call and make an appointment with your trainer or one you think might be willing to work with you.  Or ask the best horseman in your barn for help.  Even these folks can't possibly do you any good via text, believe me.

And to take it one step farther, at what point is any level of non-emergency contact welcome by most professionals during their dinner hour or while they're on vacation?  I know the answer to that one, too:  If the horse is in danger of dying right this minute.  Not if you think there might be a problem soon. Not if there's been an ongoing problem for a few days and you just now got around to doing something about it.  Not if someone happened to see your horse and told you s/he might or might not be suffering from some exotic ailment.  Call; don't text.

When is the time to go online and open your discussion to a bunch of strangers with a huge array of agendas none of which are yours?  When you have nothing better to do for an hour and only if you can control your urge to scream at the monitor.

Recently on one of the less crazy of the question-and-answer sites, someone asked me why trolls troll.  The answer to that is about the same as the answer to why people feel at ease among anonymous strangers whose qualifications are obvious only to themselves.  Here's a good synopsis:

Why We Love Social Media

We've been lured into believing that strangers are our community.  We develop relationships with them that would never exist in the real world, and we cut through red tape and save time (and money) by just throwing our stuff out there for a free consult.  It's something to think about the next time you need advice about your horse.  If all you want is to chat with fellow sufferers, then have at it.  But if you want real advice and help, pick up the phone.  It's a much better option.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Is your horse a go-er or a pusher?

Talent vs. Work Ethic | Horse Collaborative

The article above isn't about the horse.  It's about the rider.  And it asks and answers an excellent question:  Is it better to be a low-talent, hard-working type-A rider or a high-talent slacker?  Which is more likely to achieve success in the upper levels of competition (or even the lower levels of backyard fake competition)?  Only you know where you fit on the continuum, so I'm not going to guess.

As I read the article, of course my thoughts went to my own riding and to my horses.  I'm by no stretch any kind of competitor anymore, and I never went beyond local competition.  I did, however, amass 64 ribbons and a bunch of plaques and trophies, so my medium-talent was goosed by my work ethic and the luck of having at least a few horses with the same level of desire.  And here's the thing that messes up my world.  I have two horses that are "go-ers".  Like my Trans Am GTA with the Corvette engine, there's no need to step on the gas on those two.  Just taking my foot off the brake is sufficient for launch.

A Go-er if ever there was one,
Dolly needs no incentive.  She could
probably use new brakes.
But I also have two horses that are "pushers".  They're the ones for which I spend hours working out my leg muscles, because without a consistent hug around the girth line, they'll pretty much stop.  Dead.  No movement other than breathing and blinking.  Oh, they've gotten used to me, and they know that they're better off just giving me what I want so they don't have to listen to me whine or feel that hug turn into a death grip (because dirty stops are not my fave thing).  But left to their own devices, they'd bring home the blue in the Aimless Amble Under Saddle class every time, both English and Western.

So what happens when a Type-A, medium-talent (ahem) like myself is faced with workaholic horses and slackers in the same game?  Frustration comes to mind.  And I find that depending on my mood, I'm far more likely to pick one of the go-ers for a ride on any given day.  The pushers I reserve for days when I've got a Whole New Plan for their workouts and can't wait to give it a try.

Does it affect my own talent vs. work ethic balance?  Heck yeah!  Nothing makes me feel less talented than sitting on a horse that's standing stock-still, looking back at me over his shoulder instead of enthusiastically attacking the project I've invented to keep him engaged.  And if I let my work ethic get the better of me, the number of curse words I can growl out is stunning.

My question, then, is what is a high-work-ethic type to do about a situation where the horse simply isn't on the same page?

The answer:  Change your expectations.

Note, I didn't say "lower"; I said "change".

On the other end of the scale, it took
months to convince Dakota that there
are gaits other than the lumber-about.
Fortunately, that's Cliff's favorite gait.
In my case, this has meant that I need to read the moody boys' attitudes first thing in the morning and decide whether it's a day for pushing under saddle or a day for doing something different. Different can be ground work, or it can be obstacles under saddle, or it can be something weird I read about in this month's horse mag.  It doesn't have to end badly.  It only has to be guilt-free.  Hopping aboard a confirmed slacker when you're in high gear is not necessarily the best thing to do, so it's in everyone's best interests for you, as rider, to not take it personally if the under-saddle piece of the workout ends quickly.  Have an alternate plan, and be prepared to switch gears without feeling as if the decision amounts to a loss.

Of course the obvious option is to find a horse that meets your needs.  But that's too simple.  Every horse has its own personality, and none of them is as perfect as you'd like them to be.  Neither are you.  Get over it.

There are no winners or losers in a partnership.  The relationship between horse and rider is a specialized one that needs to be reassessed regularly.  If your horse isn't happy in his job, then give him a new job.  You're the one with thumbs and the keys to the kingdom.  Do what needs to be done to create harmony instead of putting your goals in the forefront.  Leave your ego at the barn door, or go find a sport that doesn't involve interacting with another living being.  Bowling comes to mind.  Whatever.  Just be realistic and judge your work-in-progress with an open mind and a caring attitude.  You'll be happier in the end.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting Older or Getting Better?

Senior Horses: Aged to Perfection

One day a barn hand came by to help with chores and instead of cash, he wanted a ride on a horse.  It was a second childhood thing, not a bucket list thing, so I happily gave him the reins on my 29-year-old Quarter Horse, Leo.  Dodging the flaming arrows of Leo's angry gaze--no one has ridden him but me in about eight years because he's My Guy--I sent the pair off for a jolly half-hour play date.  At the end, Ricardo, flushed with joy and excitement and not a little love, asked how much I thought Leo would be worth.  What would someone pay for a 29-year-old horse with all the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger animal, family- (and Ricardo-) safe, and smooth as silk at all gaits?
Ricardo and Leo,
Perfect Together

My answer:  Nothing.

Ricardo was surprised, and he he asked me why I thought the horse wasn't worth anything.  I told him that wasn't the case.  Leo is worth more than money to me, and he has already made a great beginner lesson horse for actual students and for my baby grandson who piloted him around solo at the tender age of 22 months.  He's worth keeping until he dies.  That's how much he's worth.

But in cash money, I explained, I'd probably find it hard to find a home for him.  Why?  Because he's 29.

That's about Grandpa plus Grandma in human years.  That's ten years of joint supplements for his arthritis.  That's the recently added cost of having him tq'd for the dentist so that his remaining four molars can be floated to perfection as eating is key.  That's three times the feed of any other horse in the barn--twice the complete feed and a healthy scoop of hay stretcher to make up for those flat-lining teeth.  That's extra care about temperature, blanketing more than most when the thermometer shows single digits and those nasty negative numbers.  That's shoes on his front feet all summer because he's got tender soles.  That's the little twinge of worry every morning that he might not be okay.  That's giving him access to the barn all day with fans in the summer and heat in the winter and a buddy who challenges him just enough but not too much.  That's at least twice a week under saddle come hell or cold weather to keep his muscles and joints working.
Leo at 23, Dillon at 2 months
A fine first horse experience

And that's not knowing how many years he has left.

Most buyers want a horse they can count on to recoup their investment, not just in purchase costs, but in the rest of the expenses of horse keeping.  If the horse is boarded out, there has to be a very understanding and experienced manager keeping watch over a senior of that age.  And there's the very real chance that six months down the line he could easily become a pasture puff, to be supported into his dotage and beyond.

For some of us--me, for instance--it's worth it.  All of my horses are seniors now, ranging in age from 29 down to 16.  I've owned this boy for 14 years, and he's seen me through some very trying times. That smoothness and open-hearted attitude was what I needed after each surgery and major disaster.  Of all the horses in the herd, he's the one I trusted not to be stupid under saddle when I had one eye bandaged or staples down my midline or whatever.  So for me, he's irreplaceable, and if I could find another exactly like him, even at his age, I'd happily take him (or her--some of my best horses have been mares) home with me.

Leo, 29, hangin' after a round of barrels
poles, dressage, and hacking out.
Old doesn't have to mean finished.
The trick is, I can afford it.  I own the farm.  I know how to deal with old horses.  And I am okay with the endpoint, preferring not to keep horses alive for my sake instead of theirs.

So my advice is that you should seriously consider the older horses available to you.  They're usually nice.  Very nice.  Bad horses don't often survive to be pensioners. The survivors have nothing left to prove.  They've seen it and done it all, or if they haven't, they're willing to give it a shot.  They get along with pretty much everyone with the usual exceptions.  They seem to understand that you get what they're about, and they like that.

But while you're considering the highly-trained, well-mannered, kindly old guy, make sure you can afford to keep him beyond the limited time when he might be in shape for whatever you intend to do with him.  The unfairness of taking an old horse and neglecting him when his usefulness wanes is unconscionable.  Take him with the intention of paying back what he's earned, even if he didn't earn it all with you.  Get that you'll learn a lot about vet care, first aid, and diagnosing on the fly.  You'll make a huge investment in things to keep him comfy and in the best possible health, and much of that will be in the wind.  But in return you'll get a peaceful soul to share your low moments and a happy heart to share the highs.  He may not be the jumping, running, snorting, electric pony of your childhood dreams.  Instead he'll be the soulmate.  The old friend happy to see you whenever you show up, ready to cadge a cookie or two and give kisses and hugs in return, and willing to give your latest plan a shot...or to walk away with a smirk if your plan is excessively stupid.  Old horses do that.  It keeps us humble.

If you can find a young old horse--say 15 to 20 years old--and the price is right and he (sort of) passes a vet check, snap him up!  You can easily have another 15 years of fun ahead and you're buying a buddy who will keep you moving in your dotage.  I can't recommend highly enough an old horse for an old rider.  Or a very young rider.  Leave the babies to the teenagers, and find the peace you really want in your horse life aboard a smooth older gentleman or gentlewoman.  You'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Horsey or Hoarder?

How Many Horses Makes a Hoarder? |

What a great question!  I've engaged in a lot of conversation lately with horse owners at various levels, and have been surprised, given the descriptions of some of the boarding situations and "I have a friend who..." comments that not once has the term "hoarder" come up.  So I read the linked article with great interest.  It would appear that the definition of a hoarder has been so vague that it's been difficult to pin down the actual description of that beast.

I decided to start with a google search for the definition.  I laughed out loud that the first link that popped up was this:

  1. a person who hoards things.
    "I'm a bit of a hoarder"

So I wandered the results for a bit until I settled on this one from the Mayo Clinic:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.
Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can't care for them properly.
Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. In some cases, hoarding may not have much impact on your life, while in other cases it seriously affects your functioning on a daily basis.
People with hoarding disorder often don't see it as a problem, making treatment challenging. But intensive treatment can help people with hoarding disorder understand their compulsions and live safer, more enjoyable lives
That, in a nutshell, describes what I've seen far too much of.  The key point is that hoarders don't see it as a problem and think they're saving whatever it is either because they think they'll need it themselves some time or from a fate worse than...well...being hoarded.
How many horses does it take to screw up a hoarder?
One more than s/he can afford to keep without suffering on either side of the balance sheet.
I've been within spitting range of a hoarder who did her best to suck me into the program and pretty much succeeded.  The complex care system she instituted to permit her to keep as many as 25 horses in a space perfectly suited to 3 was astounding (though it didn't compare to what was done to keep the other species she also packed in like sardines).  I arrived with three horses.  I left with six.  The last ones she was charging me so little to keep it was pretty much my pocket to the feed store cash drawer.  She'd have done anything to bring more ponies into the space, and she did.
These are chickens.  A 4' x 4' coop with nesting
boxes and a fenced run can house about a dozen.
Look down.  Do you have 40 of them in a 10' x 10' space?
That's not "saving" anything.
Was she worse than the folks who had 50 acres and 52 horses, all but 18 of them fed outdoors in an all-day ballet of bucket brigade insanity?  Nope.  Ironically, all of the horses at both places were in good condition.  Only the facility and the owner/manager suffered, and they suffered greatly.  Insanity isn't pretty from any angle.  You can't Photoshop a filter on the sort of nutsiness that has people taking horse meds for their own ailments because seeing a doctor is just too expensive, or eating animal food.  Yeah.  That.  
Were either of those people worse than the guy who had only one horse penned up in a melange of gates and fence panels on an empty lot with a tool shed for shelter?  No hay, no water, knee-deep muck, and a ribby, lice-ridden equine that hadn't seen a vet or dentist or farrier in years would shout "No!"
"But what will happen to them if I'm not taking care of them?"
Why do people do this?  Hoarding is often related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  When the sufferer moves from lining up pencils on the desk in perfect symmetry because to leave one out of order is too stressful to lining the house with dog crates or the backyard with horses, there's been a massive step upward into an area requiring professional help.  It looks funny on TV.  It doesn't look funny in the real world.  The important factor is the negative effect on the hoarder and his/her hoardees.
Don't bother shrieking at your favorite hoarder.  It won't help.  Withdrawing something they love can sometimes tip the balance to force them to seek help.  The local animal warden is very good at that, assuming there's a place to put the excess critters.  The threat of losing even one piece of the puzzle that is the hoard can sometimes be sufficient.
Stuff doesn't have to eat and breathe to be the subject of
hoarding.  This is not my whole bit collection.  My
theory is that I might need one of them one
day.  Uh...sure.
If you know a horse hoarder, you can start by talking (gently) about possibly finding homes for some of the animals.  Feel the temperature of the water and decide if there's any receptivity.  Sometimes the hoarder is really desperate for help getting out from under, so offer it.  Not criticism.  Just help.  Not an influx of cash to support the hoarding activity, help lessening it.  And if you can't, or the person isn't receptive, then call someone who can.  The Hooved Animal Humane Society, SPCA, and whatever local groups in your area are able to step in with some authority are a good place to start.  Sometimes just making people aware of the situation is a big step forward.  Hoarders are very good at hiding their activities from any but their closest cohort, so bringing it all into the light can be life-altering...and scary.  
Often hoarding is the result of a smidge of emotional disturbance exacerbated by circumstances like the death of a spouse, loss of employment, or the inability to accept that the horse business venture is a bust and needs to be abandoned.  So tread lightly.  There's enough blood in the water already.
If you are hoarding, and you're a novice at the craft, it's time to sit down with pen and paper, do up a (realistic) budget of finances and time, and see if you can't sort yourself out before you dig a hole to deep for you to climb out of without help.  You're not saving the horses if you can't save yourself.