Friday, April 19, 2013

"Feature Friday-Friends of Sound Horses- FOSH"

Howdy Folks,

I had the pleasure of interviewing the President of Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), Teresa Bippen this week for a story that will appear in the June issue of Trail Blazer and knew I had to feature them here today. FOSH was founded by Cherie Beatty with a vision to end "soring" in the Tennessee Walking Horse world. Soring is a horrible practice that employs such despicable techniques as smearing chemicals on horses' legs so heavy flopping chains wrapped on their legs will hurt when they rub the tender, chemically sored skin above the hoof causing them to fling their leg high to relieve the pain with each exaggerated step. Other techniques include shoeing with nails up into the foot causing terrible pain and forcing the horse to try to carry itself more on the back legs. There are other, and just as gruesome techniques, but that's the general idea of the "soring" style, or insanity, of training.

Cheri had a vision of not only fighting to end soring, but to open new venues for Tennessee Walking Horse owners to showcase their horses. Creating FOSH would make possible both those dreams. FOSH has come a long way in shining the light on the horrible soring practice by keeping pressure on legislatures to pass bills to protect the horses and informing the public. Much has been accomplished on that front, but sadly much is still needed. (At the most revered, Tennessee Walking Horse show, the "National Celebration" in Shelbyville, TN, this past August, the USDA swabbed 190 horses and 145 tested positive (76%) for foreign substances including caustic agents and numbing substances.) One way of informing the public has been FOSH's creation of a website that provides 57 year's worth of history on soring including thousands of violations and violaters
 The second and third approaches to helping horses is that FOSH employs education, and creating fun. In the show venue their rule book and judges have been used nationwide for owners of all gaited horses to show sound horses. FOSH defines a sound horse as "one that has not been sored." FOSH will only support flat shod or barefoot horses and will never endorse any event that allows any artificial means to modify the natural gait of the horse.
First Gaited Dressage Competition-1986 Red Deer, Alberta Canada-TWH Shaker's Royal and Diane Sept
FOSH is the fastest growing gaited horse organization in the country and has become an umbrella group for all gaited breeds. Showcasing the agility, naturally beautiful gaits, fun and greatness of all the gaited breeds is their mission. They've created the "Gaited Sport Horse Program" with opportunities for owners of all gaited breeds to compete, play and learn. Check out the "The Gaited Sport Horse Program," here  ... You'll find the "Gaited Distance Program," and their "Equine Agility Program." And the "Gaited Dressage" program which FOSH has been on the forefront of promoting. In fact they've developed and written a non-specific gaited breed Dressage Test that makes it possible for riders and owners of any gaited breed to join in the fun, excitement and rewards of Dressage.
 Visit the FOSH website to learn how you can help them help.

Be sure to watch for my full article in the June issue of Trail Blazer to learn even more about FOSH whose motto is, "The Horse Comes First."

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Bird Watching With Kessy- What a Ride!"

Howdy Folks,

We paused on the ridge. Far below a Great Blue Heron stood frozen, head cocked, watching the still water. Kessy stood quietly as I peered through the budding Mountain Laurel to watch the grand bird. Suddenly behind us the woods erupted with the "rat-tat-tat-tat" of a drumming woodpecker. The hammering sound seemed to cover the air above and behind us. I could almost feel it. Backing Kessy along the ridge with my eyes searching the tree tops I searched for the bird I was sure would prove to be a Hairy Woodpecker.
Great Blue Heron

Over and over the hammering sounded. I kept moving Kessy this way and that along the trail bank as I sought a glimpse of the busy bird. Finally high on a dead branch I spied him. To my surprise it was the much smaller Downy Woodpecker. All that noise from such a little bird!
Downy Woodpecker

Kessy has become quite the bird-watching-trail-horse. It took her quite a while to learn to stand quietly and move gently every which way, up and down banks, into brush, over logs, all while I'm leaning sideways and stretching back searching for my feathered treasure. But she's a champion at it now. I'm even convinced sometimes she searching too!

We set off up the trail in Kessy's beautiful barefoot running walk shuffle, Saturday trotting with us. The trails we ride wind through the woods, tree walls on each side, and in many places a closed canopy above. We had already seen several Yellow Swallow Tailed butterflies but I was not prepared for what we rode into next. As we rounded the bend we road into a blizzard of Yellow Tails, perhaps as many as fifty, floated ahead of us, filling the air with soft black stripped yellow wings. It was like riding into a magical forest. One even brushed my face as we rode among them.
On both sides of the trail the woods were alive with birdsong. All along the trail we heard Indigo Buntings. They will be regulars for the next few months. Rufus Sided Towhees called, "Drink Your Tea," and Oven Birds called, "Teacher, Teacher, Teacher." With Kessy's deftness at sneaking into the woods we did manage to spot a Towhee, but the emphatic and elusive Ovenbird evaded our prying eyes.
Eastern or Rufus Sided Towhee
Back into the sunlight we gaited, then we stopped at large patch of tiny blue flowers appropriately named Bluetts. Scattered among them were the equally dainty pink Spring Beauties. I was still admiring the wild bouquet when a Common Yellowthroat Warbler shattered the silence with his excited "Witchity, witchity, witchity." They are usually fairly easy to spot, and Kessy did her best, but the sun was bright and while we heard more than one Common Yellowthroat, we never found one.
Common Yellowthroat Warbler
Time to move on again, I asked Kessy for a little speed, and away we sailed. I watched our shadow as she glided along, sure footed, never stumbling. Bird song filled the air above us and around us. The sun warmed my back. Saturday trotted alongside. Then a new songster joined in the concert. A familiar tune it was, but try as I might I could not place it.
Yellow Warbler
Following the sound I moved Kessy up the bank and scoured the trees. The song drifted out from a patch of wild Dogwood and we inched closer. One tiptoed step at a time through the brush. The Dogwoods were thick here, but their leaves still tiny green swatches, and white flowers just beginning to unfurl. I asked Kessy to back into the sun so it would be on our backs just as the tiny yellow bird flitted to a higher branch only a few feet away. He thrust his beak skyward and let go his melody, a sweet shrill, "Tsee-tsee-tsee-titi-weet." Over and over he called. The sun sparkled on his yellow feathers and rusty streaked breast. A Yellow Warbler! We were so close I could see his beak open and close with each note! What a sight! … What a horse!
Pileated Woodpecker
We were still to see two more birds on our way home. A Pileated woodpecker flew directly over us as we sat counting the Yellow Swallowtails on a blooming olive bush. Over 20! And a Black and White Warbler flew across the trail in front of us. What a perfect bird watching ride! What great bird watching partners are Saturday and Kessy!
Black-and-white Warbler
Kessy, Saturday and I hope you enjoyed this ride as much as we did!

Check out more birds and their songs here at Cornell Lab of Ornithology - -

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Songs and Flowers of a Spring Morning"

Howdy Folks,
Not so many days ago we were wondering if Spring would ever arrive, weren't we? I'm happy to report it has. At least here in Appomattox VA we are enjoying the bird songs, flowers and budding trees that make Spring mornings splendid.

A pleasant gray sky held the bird song low and somehow added ringing vibrancy to each note. And by golly there was a symphony this morning. Two Cardinals greeted Saturday and me as we strode to the barn. Kessy's sweet nicker even seemed to acknowledge the floating notes.

Chores done I settled into my Coffee Clutch chair, Tigger in my lap. Saturday, Zoe and Miss Kitty by my side, Kessy munched her hay, I poured a cup of coffee and took in the show. The Cardinals were still the main attraction, but they had plenty of backup singers. In the brush by the barn a Carolina Wren belted out his frantic chatter. Higher in the trees a Bluebird added his beautiful song. In the distance an Indigo Bunting offered his tune of sliding scales. A Titmouse called, "Peter, Peter, Peter." A red Eyed Vireo declared, "Here I am … Where are you?" … The breath taking moment came when a lone Wood Thrush sang one verse of his most splendid flute solo ... I did notice this morning the Juncos are nearly gone.

The Bloodroot along the fence line is nearly finished blooming, but the Bluettes and Spring Beauties are in full glory. Our Dogwoods, Fringe trees and Red Buds are simply bursting with flowers ... I'm getting anxious for our Spring Wildflower drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Phoebes have finished their nest on their shelf in the barn rafters; probably have started laying their first clutch. Mrs. Bluebird nesting in the front yard is already sitting on 4 sky blue eggs.

Ravishin' Robbie's Hummingbirds haven't said howdy yet, but their feeders are up and waiting. They usually arrive between the tenth and twentieth of April here, so any day now. We did have a treat last night, when I went out to tuck Kessy in, I heard our first Whippoorwill call of the Spring.

Ah yes, what a glorious way to start the day. Hope you all have a perfect day! God Bless!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Fun While Finding Neutral Position in the Saddle. A Diane Sept Clinic."

Howdy Folks,

Saturday I attended a fun gathering of good friends and fine horses at Marianne and Joe Jolley's, Stars and Stripes Farm in Finecastle VA on Saturday. The Jolley's breed, show and sell Rocky Mountain Horses.  The reason for the get-together was trainer extraordinaire Diane Sept's clinic on Connected Riding®, the main focus on Saturday was helping riders find their "Neutral Position."

Neutral Position, or Neutral Pelvis, is the position a rider assumes where they are free from bracing, resisting or restricting the horse's ability to move in its most natural and healthy state. It is a healthy and comfortable state for both the horse and rider. It is both very important, and not very difficult. It does require a bit of thinking and practice, but everyone can do it with a little practice. Riding in "Neutral Position" allows your horse to be off her forehand, lift her back and engage her hind legs.
Gathering at the barn
The day started with coffee and visiting on the patio at the barn, a few laughs and lots of chatter as friends caught up on old and new news. Diane started the lessons with a talk on the importance for your horse's long term health and of a rider's responsibility to learn the "Neutral Position" in the saddle. "Horses don't break down overnight, but years of dealing with riders who slouch, sit too ridged, too stiff or leaning front or back causing the horse to forever compensate, does take its toll, and eventually we begin to see health issues." Diane explained.
Martha Chatten balancing a rider in the saddle to demonstrate "Neutral Position"
It was then time for everyone to mount up and be "balanced," in the saddle, on the saddle stand. It was important for each participant to be balanced so they could learn the feeling of "neutral" on a stationary saddle, and understand how that can take away "resistance" in ourselves which allows the horse to move freely and healthily. There were lots of great comments from riders becoming aware of their posture, breathing and tightness, and finding the "lightness and release" of "neutral." (If you read my novel, "We'll Have The Summer" you might remember the scene when Sam brings all the guests to the corral to ride "Woody" the stationary horse. That scene came from Diane's teachings.) I was tickled to find that I was still really close to neutral having not been ''balanced" for a number of years. Proof that when you learn it you can maintain it. It's my belief your horse will help coach you.

Then it was time to mount up and practice "neutral in motion." Some mighty fine Rocky Mountain and Tennessee Walking Horses took center stage. I felt like I was at a first rate Parade of Gaited Breeds, as they strutted into the arena. I was in Heaven! They all looked beautiful as they took the rail. This happened to be an all gaited day, but the lessons learned here apply to riders and horses of all breeds and disciplines.
Diane coaching as riders discovered "Neutral"
Diane did her thing and began to offer suggestions and guidance to the riders, helping them to find "neutral" now in their saddle, on their horse. Now these were all accomplished riders on great horses who looked wonderful. Little by little, step by step each rider and horse began to change. The riders softened, the horses evened their strides and lengthened their bodies. The changes in the riders' and horses' postures was absolutely amazing.
Diane walks alongside helping riders find their "Neutral Posture"
After lunch Diane divided the attendee's into two groups, so each rider could have a bit more of one on one time to really fine tune what they had learned in the morning sessions. By the end of the day the transformations were simply amazing in both the riders and the horses. It was plain to see each participant learned something of great value they could take away and not only enhance their riding pleasure, but their horses' health too. And I had a terrific refresher too!

Thanks for putting this all together, Marianne and Diane! And thanks for the invite! If you'd like to learn more about the importance of finding "Neutral Position" check in with Diane Sept on facebook here -

You can also read all about it in Peggy Cummings lastest book "Connected with Your Horse From The Ground Up" you can order on her website -

Check out Stars and Stipes Farm and some beautiful Rocky Mountain Horses here – 

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry