Friday, October 25, 2013

Ginger Kathrens – The Cloud Foundation -

Howdy Folks,

This story was published in my Holistic Hall of Fame column in Natural Horse Magazine in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2013 issue. Of course it looks better there, and includes a side-bar written by Ginger Kathrens ... NHM is a wonderful magazine and I encourage you to subscribe ... Ginger's work, and the efforts of  The Cloud Foundation she founded to save our wild horses, make her story a perfect Feature Friday ... Please enjoy "They Taught Her What It Means To Be a Wild Horse." When Ginger proofed it she said, "You told my pre-Cloud story beautifully."

They Taught Her What It Means To Be a Wild Horse

Why is there a Cloud Foundation? Many people believe the spirit of the horse can touch us, guide us. Ginger Kathrens is one of those people. She also believes we owe it to them to help them remain free to be horses and roam their ancestral lands.
Ginger Kathrens in the Pryer Mountains - credit-Mario Benazzi
Her first experience with horses was a pony. Ginger Kathrens was about 5 when her parents brought her the little fellow. She admits she doesn't remember much about him. Next they gave her an ex rodeo horse who she does remember as being very quick. When Ginger was in 7th grade they gave her a palomino Quarter Horse, Sonny. He was a beautiful horse but totally green and many of their adventures left Ginger bouncing on the ground. She chuckles when she thinks about those days and wonders what her parents, who were in the registered Hereford business, were trying to tell her about horses. Looking back she realizes what she hadn't learned, because she had each of those childhood equine friends separately, was that horses have a remarkably tight family bond. A fact that would later influence her life on a grand scale.
As a young adult Ginger created her own small film business and was busy doing what a young entrepreneur needs to do to survive. She was happily going along making films and great friends. She even had the pleasure of filming for the United States Olympic Committee. Always being an outdoor person, and lover of nature, she began to miss the natural world, so when Marty Stauffer invited her to join his team at Wild America, Ginger jumped at the opportunity. Marty hired her to do research, writing and editing for the show. For the first time Ginger was able to combine her work and her love of the outdoors and animals, which made a tremendous difference in the quality of her work, and the intensity with which she applied herself. But he never allowed her to film.

Marty's worry was not the quality of her filming; rather it was his concern for her safety. She might get lost, cold or injured he told her. For more than 6 years Ginger stayed safe indoors writing and researching, but always her heart tugged her outside. During this time Ginger did venture forth, on her own, and filmed her award winning "Spirits of the Rainforest." Traveling to the Manu preserve in upper Amazon, she was the first to film a wild Jaguar! When Marty saw the film at Jackson International Wildlife Film Festival he called Ginger from the festival to congratulate her. He told Ginger she would always be remembered for this beautiful work.

Shortly after that Marty asked Ginger to do the research, writing and the filming of a show for Wild America about Mustangs. Thrilled with anticipation and excitement Ginger agreed. But when she hung up she worried that it would be a huge task to create a half hour show about a bunch of horses standing around. Armed with apprehension and excitement she set out to discover what she'd need to know about wild horses. She'd only known her three horses as a youth, and based on that, there wasn't much that would fill a show.

She dug into researching the behavior characteristics of wild horses, and was amazed she could find virtually nothing. She found a bit about history, and a study done about horses in the Great Basin, another on Sable Island, a bit about the ponies of Chincoteague and Assateague, but really nothing about their behavior. How would she begin to make a show about wild horses if there was nothing interesting enough to have ever caused anyone to write anything about them? So far she had nothing to build from.

Ginger headed out West on a location scouting trip to discover the best places to film wild horses, still troubled that she had no resources about behavior. Wild America shows were all about showing behavior. Her plan at the time was to load the show up with history, because obviously wild horses had no interesting behavior for if they did, someone would have written about it.

She and her sister, Marian, traveled together to remote places in Oregon to see the Kiger Mustangs, and to Nevada, and McCullough Peaks in Wyoming. They did find wild horses, but all they ever saw were horses running away in great clouds of dust when their vehicle was spotted. They would not even stand to be photographed, nothing interesting about that. Ginger became very discouraged and worried for her show.

By chance she got a tip from major wild horse advocate, Karen Sussman, about a great place to see wild horses called Pryor Mountains. Karen told her a paved road ran there and the horses had become used to seeing vehicles. Karen introduced Ginger to a retired minister, Floyd Schweiger, who knew the area, and the horses.

Ginger and her sister, Marian, met Rev. Schweiger who took them on the paved road where he introduced them to their first good look at wild horses. Ginger was surprised to see Duns, Grullas, such primitive and striped Spanish looking horses. This was becoming more interesting she thought. On the way back to the motel Rev. Schweiger told them he'd heard one of the stallions he called Raven, had just had a foal born 3 days ago, and after church in the morning he could take them to see it. Rev. Schweiger loved the wild horses in the Pryor Mountain; he knew and loved their history. He told Ginger that genetic studies were coming back proving they were perhaps the most Spanish of all the wild horses remaining in the U.S.

The sisters decided to head out on their own early, after all it's only 40 thousand acres and folks at the motel gave them directions to Tillet Ridge, the place where Raven ran with his band. Key to locating Tillet Ridge was, after hours of dirt roads, turn right at the old tractor. Imagine Ginger and her sister's glee when they actually spied the tractor. A good omen indeed. Confident and excited they continued on along the red road, the sun now rising above the buttes.

A patch of snow at the base of a butte drew her attention. In front of the snow stood a majestic black stallion. Carefully Ginger set up her camera and began filming the stallion eating snow. She noticed, out of the corner of her eye, her sister who was wearing a white jacket had begun walking down the road. The stallion saw the shimmering white jacket too, and began prancing towards her. His forelock reached the end of his nose, as he pranced it floated in the breeze. He stopped just 50 yards from Marian, shook his head, snorted and pivoted. At that snort the sage surrounding the butte became alive with fleeing horses, and Ginger spied the tiny foal leaping the sage as it dashed alongside its mother. They had found the newborn foal and Raven. Ginger had also experienced her first taste of wild horse family behavior.

She didn't realize it then, but she'd also felt the first tug on her heart to do all she could to keep these noble horses free.

Back at the office she included filming at the Pryor Mountain Mustangs range in her outline for the upcoming Wild America show. She returned to Pryor Mountain for more filming several times, and each time Raven would appear, and with him his band. She began to recognize the mares and foals, and named them. But still she did not understand the basics of the wild horse behavior and she relied on what she learned filming in the Manu preserve, if she was going to get great shots, she'd need to hide.

Seeking the best possible footage, one day atop the Pryor Mountain she set up in the rocks at a snow fed water hole, meticulously camouflaged. Eventually a beautiful dun stallion, not Raven, and his three mares picked their way to the water hole. The mares began to drink, but the stallion looked right at her. He let go a tremendous snort, the mares exploded from the water sending water flying high. Within seconds even the horses she'd spied earlier were gone. She pondered the moment and realized hiding didn't work. She decided she would try the opposite. Sitting in plain sight to film.

So she began to sit in the open and even wave to be sure they saw her. Accepted her. That summer of 1994 she learned to understand more and more, and Raven and his band served as her teachers. But she watched many other bands too. She watched and learned as the mares guided the foals with gentle discipline. She began to understand their behavior. She began to recognize their snorts, nickers, whinnies and postures. She learned the band was a family. She learned there was a pecking order within a band and even between the bands. They leaned on, and needed each other for survival ... They were teaching Ginger what it means to be a wild horse

As she filmed the beautiful flowers, birds and other wildlife, Ginger also learned how important the wild horses are to the tapestry of life on their range. It was a glorious summer for Ginger, and the beautiful, full of life wild horses.

That beautiful world was shattered when she returned just a few months later in the fall. She witnessed her first BLM round-up. It was a horrible sight. Two of the new foals in Raven's band were killed. She had never witnessed such horror. She kept her camera rolling, in the hopes that perhaps her presence might shield the horses. The men doing the round-up on horseback showed no mercy, not even for Ginger, and they threatened her and lied to her. They also told her they would call Marty Stauffer, and she advised them to do just that. They drove her away, she called Marty, crying as she drove and told him they're killing the horses. He told her to go back and film it, including the dead bodies.
The "cover up" colt - One of Raven's mares was rounded up without her foal - BLM told her the colt had run away - later Ginger found out they had driven him over a cliff, and shot him ... Credit Ginger Katherns
She did go back, and found a foal in the trash. She also found Raven in a corral desperately trying to protect his mares and foals. They had told Ginger they would not round-up Raven. First of many lies. They had also brought in mares without their foals and other foals without their mothers ... Over the next months, throughout the fall Ginger watched as young horses tried in vain to find their mothers.

She spent many hours crying through her camera lens.

On a beautiful spring day, Raven brought his band out in full sight as Ginger filmed and she spied two new foals. She immediately named them Smokey and Mahogany. Those two fillies made her feel whole again.

Ginger returned with a friend to the Pryor Mountain on Labor Day weekend. To film, to show this beautiful land, and these marvelous horses to her friend. They were absorbed by the splendor and serenity of the moment when Raven and his band appeared, and with them a Palomino mare and her brand new pale palomino colt. Ginger named him ... Cloud.
Cloud - born May 29, 1995- credit Ginger Kathrens
In those 14 months from March of 1994 to May 29, 1995 Ginger had learned so much from the wild horses. She learned that they have strong family bonds, they are proud and are important to the lands they roam. And the wild horses should be allowed to roam free. On that day began the lifelong documentation of one very noble wild horse.

Later, Ginger founded the Cloud Foundation, a non-profit which is dedicated to preventing the extinction of Cloud's herd through education and media events. The Cloud Foundation is also committed to protecting other wild herds on public lands. Raven, his and other bands taught Ginger what it means to be a wild horse ... She is committed to keeping them that way.
Cloud today - credit Ginger Katherens
To learn all about how the Cloud Foundation is working to help keep wild horses free to run wild please visit their website

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lilly's Surprise

Howdy Folks,
"I noticed as Marissa led Lilly, her footfalls and placement improved with almost every stride."

Lilly is a Quarter Horse. She's a seven year old beautiful black and white paint who loves her job working with children at Verde View Equestrian Center. She's a Therapy Horse. I had the honor of playing with Lilly, and her teammates this past weekend while I was there conducting my "Therapy For Therapy Horses," clinic. Like all the horse partners there she receives the best of care. The owner Lori Piccirilli, her daughter Marissa, and the volunteers make sure Verde View is a wonderful, fun and happy place for the children who come for healing, smiles and giggles, and for the horses too. They understand therapy horses need a little therapy too.
Lilly and me just goofin' around early in the morning - I was massaging her gums here to help her relax - Doesn't she stand beautifully?
Our "Therapy For Therapy Horses," clinics are an all day affair, the volunteers learn a lot of new things, and the horses do too. The clinic is designed to teach and promote exercises that help the horse release, relax and maintain proper posture, and clear their minds. This was my second visit Verde View, so we added a few more fun exercises to the mix, and for me it was a delight to see what they'd learned in May had been incorporates into the routine care of all the therapy horses. As Lori says, "Without our horses we can't have equine assisted therapy, they are the heart of what we do."

"Lilly's surprise?" You might be asking.

Just as hard as the volunteers work to understand and master the techniques and exercises, so do the horses. It is honestly a lot to throw at them in just a day or two so I'm careful to space out the layers of learning and allow for plenty of time for the horses to process the new feelings, releases and posture.

Near the end of the day I noticed Lilly was a little overwhelmed. Her volunteer had worked hard to master an exercise I call the "one step," and while Lilly stood quietly after numerous repetitions, I noticed she was clearly asking for a break, so I asked Marissa to simply lead her around the arena at a walk to help her relax and process. I thought they could just walk while I explained a bit more.

The other horses and volunteers stood quietly, and as I spoke I asked them to watch Lilly and Marissa. This was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how, while a horse might be cooperating and doing a great job, they might be internalizing confusion, stress or worry and I was hopeful by watching Lilly relax as Marissa led her, the volunteers would see the transition as she softened and lengthened. The reason I was pretty sure Lilly would be a good example is unless you looked really close it was hard to notice she needed a break. She's a very good girl.

I noticed as Marissa led Lilly, her footfalls and placement improved with almost every stride. And I pointed out how she stepped perfectly heel to toe. How her hind feet came forward nicely to her front feet.

I asked Marissa to walk on a bit more quickly. Lilly began a soft half-a-hoof overstride with her hind feet under her and falling exactly on the track of her front foot. Her neck lengthened, her body lengthened and softened. In another lap Lilly had a full hoof overstride and her carriage was beautiful, soft and rhythmic. I thought I knew what I was seeing and had to tease, "If I take Lilly home for a few months I'll bring you back a Quarter Horse with a running walk." We all laughed a bit and Marissa kept up the pace.

I encouraged Marissa to walk just a little faster as I explained a bit what was going on, then I turned to Lori and said, "Lilly's gonna get it right here, right now." 

Everybody understood what we were trying for by now and having a grand time as we watched.

I instructed to Marissa to go just a little faster, keep Lilly at a walk, but move on just short of a trot. A few times Lilly did go to a trot, but Marissa is really, really good, and soft, and she brought Lilly back to a brisk walk. This was all being done on a loose lead.
Marissa and Lilly walkin' on (sorry, we don't have a better picture) but you can see here Lilly's great soft posture and good foot placement ... One of the things we work on in the clinic is something I call "ReConnecting Your Horse To Her Feet" so Lilly has had those exercises by this time - You can read about them on my blog (HERE) -
Then, on the third lap, Lilly stepped into a running walk! – WOW! – She could only hold it a few strides, but everyone saw it and burst into a cheer! It was soft and beautiful! Lilly and Marissa got it two more times, just a few strides each time, but it's there and simply delightful.

Then we just knew we had to try it under saddle. And since this post is already long I'll just tell you, after a few laps around they got the running walk under saddle. Again just a few strides, but perfect and sweet.

Now to help Lilly build the muscles to maintain that sweet, soft running walk, Marissa will ride her on the trail for miles and miles at a walk. And of course continue to do our release and relax exercises. Yes Lilly can and will still trot, canter and gallop, her new running walk is just another new gait she'll have. And folks this was done barefoot, on a loose rein, soft and easy. Simply beautiful!

My mentor, Diane Sept often said she believed most horses can do the running walk and since this is not the first time with horses of other breeds I witnessed it, I sure believe it too!

What a wonderful surprise Lilly shared with us and I'm so tickled to have been there to be part of the fun when she discovered her new gait!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch