Source: The Naturally Healthy Horse Blog by Casie Bazay
Don’t get me wrong, I believe modern Western medicine has made some remarkable advances in our health. Many of the drugs that have been developed in recent decades have helped people and animals tremendously and saved many lives, no doubt. But it seems we, Westerners have a tendency to go overboard sometimes–and I believe that includes the use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicine. I’m a proponent of a holistic approach to health. And to me, that means being proactive, looking at the whole picture, and using a balanced approach to treatment.
Many drugs are overused in the horse industry, in my opinion–with the popular non-steroidal anti-inflamatory (NSAID), phenylbutazone, or bute as it’s commonly referred to, being one of them. It seems to be the common ‘pill for the equine ill’– with owners giving bute to their horses for a vast array of reasons.
Now, I’m not afraid to give bute occasionally. In fact, I gave my horse, Bob, a dose (as advised by my vet) to relieve swelling and pain related to pigeon fever recently. Bute is often prescribed for inflammation, soft tissue injuries, and musculo-skeletal conditions. When used appropriately and for some acute (short-term) conditions, I think bute can be helpful.
But, we have to keep in mind that bute is a pain reliever– it doesn’t cure the source of the pain–it merely masks it for a while. The pain is there for a reason. It sends a message to the horse (and hopefully to the owner!) that something is wrong and healing needs to occur. Pain tells the horse to slow down, to rest, and to protect the injury. If we numb that pain and continue to use the horse for for the sake of our own enjoyment, we’re likely going to make the problem worse.
When we’re dealing with chronic conditions, like arthritis, bute or other NSAIDs aren’t a good choice. There are documented negative side effects to long-term use of bute, including:
right dorsal colitis (ulcers in the colon); and
For long term or more frequent use, there are some generally safe and natural alternatives to bute or NSAIDs (keep in mind that any horse could possibly have a reaction to any substance though, incuding natural herbs). The following are a few natural alternatives to bute–they all have natural pain relieving and/ or anti-inflammatory effects:
Physical Therapy (such as cold/heat therapy, stretching, massage, etc);
Herbs such as Devil’s Claw, White Willow Bark, Turmeric, or Meadowsweet; and
Joint Nutraceuticals (such as glucosamine and chondroitin).
I have used most of these natural alternatives with good results. When my mare, LeeLee, suffered a suspensory ligament injury several years ago, I put her on Devil’s Claw for several months. Believe it or not, the injury was so bad at first, I had considered putting her down. I saw a remarkable difference in her within the first week of putting her on Devil’s Claw though.
Although I’ve never had Bob’s hocks x-rayed, I suspect he has arthritis in his left hock. He will occasionally be gimpy on it. Twice, I’ve put him on a round of glucosamine chondroitin, and again, noticed results within a short amount of time. If you’re not convinced about glucosamine and/or chondroitin’s effectiveness, especially on equine osteoarthritis, I suggest reading my study-based article that was published in The Horse last year. Dr. Eleanor Kellon has also performed quite a few studies on nutraceuticals. Her book, Horse Journal: Guide to Equine Supplements and Nutraceuticals is a great reference book to have on hand.
As with any injury or illness with your horse, you should always seek veterinary advice. Some severe and acute conditions may call for the use of drugs, including the temporary use of bute. For chronic conditions or more minor injuries, talk with your vet about these bute alternatives though. Many vets may recommend them.
For more information on bute alternatives, I recommend this article, by Dr. Christine King.
Take a look at the interview below given by our very own Lisa Ross-Williams.
Thank you to Case Bazay, freelance writer and founder of The Naturally Healthy Horse Blog.
You can check out her blog at: http://thenaturallyhealthyhorse.com/
January 22, 2014 Horse Care,
Interviews Lisa Ross-Williams, natural horse care, natural horse care expert, Natural Horse Magazine
Lisa Ross-Williams is a natural horse care consultant and host of the If Your Horse Could Talk webcast available at www.naturalhorsetalk.com. She has completed the Basic Veterinary Homeopathy course through the British Institute of Homeopathy, holds a degree in Environmental Plant Science, and is an Equine Iridology Technician. Lisa is the Publisher/Editor-In-Chief of Natural Horse Magazine and the author of the award-winning book, Down-To-Earth Natural Horse Care available at www.down-to-earthnhc.com. Lisa is also the co-creator of Equi-Spirit Toys & Tools, www.equi-spirit-toys.com.
When and how did you get your start in natural horse care?
Although I had a childhood horse friend, upon re-entering the equine world as an adult in 1997, I was totally unprepared for what was to come, namely a spirited Arabian named Rebel.
My work with Rebel sent me on a journey that would change the path of my life and his. As I began looking for horse handling information to deal with his special issues, I realized all the normal care practices seemed so ‘unnatural’ for horses. Why only feed a flake of alfalfa twice a day? Why do horses need metal shoes? Why are people chemically deworming their horses every 8 weeks, etc. Unable to find a solution, I began a personal quest to find a better approach.
I dedicated myself to extensive research, as well as an exploration of hands-on experiences which included clinics, seminars and courses covering natural horsemanship, hoof care, dentistry, bodywork, homeopathy, iridology, essential oils and nutrition. I earned my degree in Environmental Plant Science, completed the Basic Homeopathy Veterinary course through the British Institute of Homeopathy, completed the Reiki 1/Equine Reiki course and am certified as an Equine Iridology technician. I have been involved with natural horsemanship since 1997. Each horse that came into my life became my teacher, and each had a different lesson for me to learn.
It became very clear that not only did I owe it to my horses to continue to educate myself, but that it was my responsibility to share this information with other horse lovers–to be the voice of the horse to the best of my ability. Our company, If Your Horse Could Talk, LLC was founded in 1998 to help promote natural horse care through knowledge. In addition to building that informational website, I started the If Your Horse Could Talk show in 2001; initially on an AM radio station and then as an internet website. The show features holistic people in all facets of equine care. Although I did stop producing the show a number years ago, there are over 130 audio interviews available on the website. www.naturalhorsetalk.com
My book, Down-To-Earth Natural Horse Care; Keeping Your Horse as Best Suits his Mind, Body and Soul was published in the fall of 2010 (www.down-to-earthNHC.com) . In August of 2012, Kenny, my husband and I took over Natural Horse Magazine, and I am extremely proud of the quality of information we share on holistic horse care in that quarterly journal.
What do you believe are the key ingredients to a natural, healthy lifestyle for horses?
It is essential to fulfill their basic biological and psychological needs as a whole or holistically. The way they are kept, fed, cared for, worked with, and related to needs to align with their equine nature as much as possible.
The main elements of a natural horse care approach:
* Environment which consists of a horse’s natural living area, with a herd or companion, allowing them to adapt to environmental changes naturally, and special seasonal considerations.
* Nutrition/Feeding; formulating a species appropriate way of feeding, beneficial natural sources for feedstuffs, reading feed labels, and special considerations for metabolically challenged horses.
* Equine health covering general health, equine dentistry, parasite control, colic, what manure can tell you, special needs of young and senior horses, traveling with your horse and how to be a great client for your equine veterinarian. Also complementary care options; homeopathy, essential oils, flower essences, iridology and alternatives to chemical use.
* Natural hoof care. Drawbacks of shoeing and why barefoot is beneficial, barefoot basics, what to expect from a natural trimmer and dealing with laminitis naturally.
* Natural horsemanship basics, bringing emotionally shut-down horses back to life, and building communication, trust and fun with toys and tools.
Many people are interested in feeding their horses more naturally—what does that mean to you?
See answer above.
Principles of a natural feeding program-To devise a natural way of feeding our domestic horses, we can simply look at their feral cousins, the wild ones, for some basic feeding guidelines, even though their diet may have various limitations.
Basic principles of wild horse diets:
Have continuous availability of roughage
Get little to no concentrated feeds/grains
Receive a variety of vegetation
Have access to natural mineral sources
Are grazers, foragers, and ground feeders per evolution
Natural feeding guidelines for domestic horses:
Feed appropriate hay at frequent intervals or provide free-choice
Avoid detrimental starches and sugars
Understand the importance of balancing minerals
Add flaxseed for added benefits
Offer a variety of feedstuff such as nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits
Feed at ground level.
I know that you’ve been trained in iridology. Can you tell us just a little bit about what iridology is and how you use it with horses?
Iridology is the reading of the iris (colored part of the eye) for imbalances in the body. Essentially, the iris is a “blueprint” of the tissues and organs and can demonstrate areas and stages of inflammation as well as the healing process. Each part of the iris correlates to areas of the body with the left eye corresponding with the left-side and the right eye with the right.
Issues show up as spots, flecks, streaks, lines and texture changes in various colors and shades.
Iridologists believe these signs are formed due to the thousands of nerve endings attached to the optic nerve as well as the base of the brain and every tissue and organ in the body. The iridologist then uses a specialized grid to correlate the markings to the location in the body. It should be noted that iridology is not a true diagnostic technique in that it cannot determine specific diseases, only imbalance within the body and changes to those conditions.
Although iridology is a valuable tool used to detect underlying signs of imbalance, often before physical signs show up, it is then up to the caregiver to take appropriate actions to correct the issues. According to Naturopath, Mercedes Colburn (who pioneered Equine Iridology), “the main issues seen in horses today is in regards to improper worming and feeding practices as well as continuing to work a horse before injuries have been corrected or healed.” Even non-physical problems such as stress, which can lead to physical issues, can be seen in the horse’s iris. Therefore, it is especially important to follow a holistic approach to correct any imbalance found and support the horse in every aspect of his life. This includes his nutrition, environment, handling, and even the discipline he is being used for.
For more information on Equine Iridology and courses offered by Dr Colburn visit his website.
Do you believe a horse can be shod and still be completely healthy?
No, I don’t. We know that shoes inhibit natural function and cause adverse consequences. Some of these include:
* Decreased shock absorption: Shoes decrease the hoof’s ability to absorb shock by 70-80% by not allowing the hoof to expand properly upon weight-bearing. In 1983, a study at the University of Zurich found “a shod horse walking on pavement receives three times the impact force as an unshod horse trotting on that surface.” The excess force must then be taken up by the legs damaging joints, tendons, and even the lungs which were not designed to deal with this force.
* Metal vibration damages tissue: A doctorial thesis at the University of Zurich found that metal horseshoes vibrate at about 800 Hz, a frequency damaging to living tissue. This type of circulation and neural condition in humans is called Raynaud’s Syndrome. We must realize that every step a shod horse takes is damaging tissues throughout the body, setting him up for chronic conditions such as arthritis, ringbone or sidebone.
* Decreased blood circulation: Each hoof is actually a secondary circulatory pump which supports the heart in circulating blood throughout the body. When the natural expansion and contraction of the hoof is diminished by shoes or unbalanced hooves, this important blood flow is hindered, putting the horse at a disadvantage not only in his hooves but his whole body.
* Decreased traction: Metal shoes do not give the amount of traction on slippery ground, pavement, or rocks as an unshod hoof. A natural barefoot uses the skid-break action of the bars, suction-cup effect upon weight-bearing, and the ability to “feel” the ground as an all-terrain tool.
* Damage by nails: Nails weaken the hoof wall in addition to contributing to tissue damage from the vibrational frequency. Since old nail holes do not close-up, they leave the hoof vulnerable to bacteria as well as temperature extremes.
* Hoof contraction: When a hoof grows, it does so not only in length but also in diameter. Since the metal shoe doesn’t become wider, it contracts the growing hoof in a squeezed position. Remember that shoes are applied when the hoof is off the ground and in its contracted state. Proper hoof function (contracting and expanding) is hindered and the hoof is forced into the all too narrow hoof shape. Contracted hooves are oval rather than round and have very narrow frogs and heel bulbs.
* Prevents development of young horse’s feet: A horse’s coffin bone grows and develops until they are about five years old. If a horse is shod before that age, the constricting influence of the shoe prevents normal growth of this all important bone, predisposing the horse to lifetime hoof problems.
If you could convince someone to make just one change towards a more natural lifestyle for their horse, what would it be and why?
Since I believe in the holistic (or whole) horse approach, this is a really hard question to answer…..But, if I HAD to pick just one, it would be a tossup between Environment-creating a natural living area or a more natural feeding program.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a few quick tips for caring for your horse naturally-
* Take the process one step at a time. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
* Follow your intuition and stay true to your beliefs.
* Share the information you have learned but understand there will always be people who want to continue on the conventional path.
* Finally, enjoy the process of creating a natural horse paradise. Your equine partner will be right with your through the journey.
It wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdale horses, who have done everything from spoof the Rocky training montage to join the circus. This year Anheuser-Busch is forgoing laughs in favor of a more heartfelt spot. In the commercial, a puppy escapes from an animal shelter and strikes up a friendship with a neighboring Clydesdale. Though the horse’s owner keeps returning the dog to his shelter, the feisty puppy won’t be denied—he keeps venturing to the Clydesdale ranch. The ad reaches its climax when a team of Clydesdales block a car on the road to keep the driver from taking the puppy away again. “Let Her Go” by Passenger serves as the poignant music for the ad.
Copy and paste this link into your browser and watch for yourself!
And the Freedom Family Bands
Dear Friends of Cloud:
Winter is not for the faint of heart in the Pryor Mountains. The wild horses that live here are some of the toughest in the West and very difficult to find at this time of year. Our most important pieces of equipment are without a doubt spotting scopes, binoculars, and on this particular trip, shovels.
December 26. On the day after Christmas, my long-time friend, Ann Evans, her son Matt (visiting from Alaska), and I park at the base of the mountains and begin scanning the snowy landscape. It is white from top to bottom.
When we see suspicious looking dots through our binoculars, we set up the spotting scope to get a closer view. Many times the dots are “bush” horses, “rock” horses, “tree” horses and, if we’re lucky, real wild horses.
We park the Durango at the bottom of Tillett Ridge Road, load our gear into our UTV, and head toward the Range. Cloud was just two weeks old when Matt and his mother first visited the Pryor Mountains with me in June of 1995. Today I hope to show them Cloud’s newest additions, his little look-alike daughter, Encore, and his yearling son Mato Ska, which means silver bear in the Lakota Sioux language.
Before we even get to the cattle guard boundary of the range we nearly get stuck in deep drifts. “This is not good,” I tell Ann and Matt. Seconds later, three feet after we cross the cattle guard, we grind to a halt, jump out and start shoveling. This scenario repeated itself at least a dozen times. “Look on the bright side,” Ann reminded us days later, “We’re getting great arm exercise.”
We fight our way up the road, breaking trail through the dense snow. A mile below the mines hill we start glassing. Matt hikes up the ridge to our left. Eventually Ann and I follow his tracks. As we crest the hill we see Matt, and beyond him on the next ridge, horses! Two black stallions, a dun roan and a bay eye us for a second before continuing to forage. The blacks are nearly a head taller than their younger buddies, Knight and London. To their right, we spot another Forest Service horse, Garay and his mares, Quelle Couleur, and her three-year old daughter, the beautiful Kohl.
From this exceptional vantage point, we continue to glass. Looking behind us we spot a band on a distant mesa. Through the scope, I can see Cloud’s palomino sister, Mariah. It’s great to have a unique, “signature” animal in a band. In this case, she helps us identify Casper’s family. “Wait a minute,” I whisper, counting the members. Rather than six horses, we are looking at eight. Who are the extras? They’re so backlit that seeing markings or even color is difficult. They just look dark to me. It was only on our final day on the mountain that a little light bulb went off in my head, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We spot Electra, Galaxy, and the band to the east on a windswept hill, and our next and only other discovery is a thriller. Bathed in light on the distant hill to the west of the mines is a small, dark horse in the snow. When he turns his head I can see his blaze. It is Cloud’s blue roan son, Mato Ska.
Then I notice the rock colored horse to his right. It’s Cloud! Matt, Ann and I hike back down to the UTV, descend into a narrow valley and climb sharply upward on a steep red hill that will take us to a 1950’s uranium mining area---we hope.
Each drift we burst through gets us one step closer to Cloud. I put the UTV into four low and gun it. We make it up the red hill but it isn’t pretty. Our tracks must look like a drunk swerving from one edge of the trail to the next. We dig out four times before reaching the mines and another three times around the mines hill.
Then fifty yards of drifted snow stops us cold. From this angle can we see Cloud? Where are they? Not seeing anything close, we begin glassing farther out. In the Hell ‘n Gone, we can see a big band. It is Duke, Madonna and the entire family.
Matt hikes to the very top of the mines hill and returns to tell us he heard a horse snorting. We start up the hill, breaking through the drifts. In time I can see Cloud’s mares, Ingrid and the Black, near the band stallion Mescalero with his mares, Polaris and Rosarita. Has Cloud lost them, or are just on a winter walk-about?
After watching them for a while I conclude they are not really part of Mescalero’s band. They seem to be just hanging out in the same general area. The Black keeps looking downhill. I follow the line of her gaze and start walking. Below the road I hike downhill on ridges that give me a different vantage point. By this time, the sun is dipping low in the southwest and I know we only have a half hour or so before sunset.
Then I see Cloud on the side of a canyon with Encore and Mato Ska and below them, Feldspar. I suppress the urge to cheer. In front of Cloud is Trace’s mother, War Bonnet. She’s standing still as a statue, sleeping in the last few minutes of warm sunlight. Is she with Cloud?, I think to myself.
I notice Missoula moving in to stand beside his buddy, Mato Ska. The rest of Diamond’s band must be just out of sight below the lip of the canyon wall. I keep watching and eventually Diamond walks into view, then Phoenix and Missoula’s mother, Half Moon. All are within a few yards of Cloud. I have to remind myself that during winter the boundary lines between bands are less rigidly enforced. And where is Aztec? Cloud’s pretty grulla mare may still be with their daughter Jasmine. When Jasmine joined Jackson’s band several years ago, Aztec would go visit her. The mother-daughter bond can be very strong, particularly if the mare does not have another, younger offspring to care for. Aztec’s younger daughter, Breeze, was removed during bait trapping in 2012 and lives with our friend, Rachel Reeves.
Phoenix, Diamond, Mato Ska and Missoula forage together
After the sun sets, we leave the mountain, relieved that every horse we have seen appears in good health, including 18 year-old Cloud.
December 27. We travel to visit our two Freedom Family bands north of Livingston. It is a warm and sunny, picture perfect day. The Crazy Mountains are gleaming above the beautiful snowy meadows we lease in the Shields River country. All the horses look fabulous, including the matriarch, Grumpy Grulla in Shane’s band. She will turn 26 in the spring and although she is clearly a senior animal, she is in great flesh.
Her stallion Shane is a lovely dun, not only in looks, but also in temperament. I watch Trigger’s son, three year-old Pistol, approach his mother, Evita. Although he is bigger than his mother, she clearly welcomes his attentions and lets him nurse. I’m reminded of Cloud’s grandson Echo. The pale palomino son of Bolder and Cascade will turn four this spring but still nurses his mother, who dotes on her only offspring.
December 28. Ann, Matt and I head up Tillett. Again. Travel is easier this time because we follow our own tracks to the mines hill, hoping to see Cloud’s family near the place we’d seen them two days before. Hiking produces no sightings nearby but we do see a few distant anonymous horses in the Hell ‘n Gone. In the early afternoon we head back down the road to get a different angle on the hills and canyons below the mines.
When we glass back up toward the mines hill we see a light-colored horse. It is without a doubt little Encore and just below her is her mother, Feldspar. To their right are Cloud and Mato Ska.
“I know how to get up there,” I say to Matt and Ann. The band is above the enormous mineral lick I found only last May when Encore was just 5 days old. “If you’re game we can hike around the mountain in front of them and cross over the coulee where it isn’t too deep and climb the hill they’re on.” Never in our forty year friendship has Ann been unwilling to take up a challenge.
Breaking through the crusty drifts we make our way toward the band. Feldspar trots uphill when she sees us coming. We stop immediately, hoping she won’t travel too far. I wave so she will know it’s me, but I’m too late. Ann and Matt wait as I hike the place we last saw her. She and Encore come into view again. They seem calm, standing on the far side of Cloud who barely looks up. I think he recognizes me by sight and surely by smell after all these years. I slowly set up my camera while Feldspar goes back to foraging. Then I signal Ann and Matt to come up. We all stay a respectful distance from the band, watching them forage on the little bits of grass buried under the sage.
The late light shines on Encore as she walks to her big brother. They stare at Matt who is taking pictures about 50 feet to our left. Then bother and sister rejoin their parents and continue to eat. After an hour of watching, we hike back down to the UTV well after sunset. I marvel as I always do at the peace I feel in their presence. What a gift!
December 29. The weather is blustery with a brisk wind out of the east but the sun is breaking through the cloud cover so we decide to give Sykes Ridge a try. As always, I stop the UTV beside the Red Buttes. Between the hills to the west, we can see portions of an area of the desert country called Turkey Flat. Horses! Two of them. The bay with the T-bone blaze is clearly Jesse James and the black is likely Inniq. I saw them together in October when just Quinn and I visited the range.
We start to climb and pull over on the steep hill several times to glass out on the big flat below us. When we start back up we notice a black back just above the line of a distant mesa. My guess, based on the location, is Cecelia, Sitting Bull’s only mare.
When we climb higher she looks up and I can see her distinctive facial markings. It is Cecilia with her grulla son, Mato (not to be confused with Mato Ska) and Sitting Bull.
We watch the yearling walk and note how lame he is on the right rear. When he was just a little guy in late 2012, I saw him near Cottonwood Spring and again last November. All three times he has been lame. I asked Ann what she thought: not only is Ann a horse person, she is a noted medical one as well. She wondered if he had broken his leg and pointed out how small the right leg is in relation to the left. This is so sad. He is such a stylish Spanish colt. I wonder if he can survive?
We climb higher and get stuck several times in the process. By this time, we are an experienced team of snow diggers. At a big overlook we stop and begin glassing. Below and beyond us is the vast expanse of lower Sykes Ridge and beyond the lizard-like ridge itself.
When we spot dots that are horses, we set up the scopes. Hidatsa, the most striped up horse in the Pryors except for the remarkable mare, Topper, is alone in a snowy valley. Beyond him and to the west we identify the Fool’s Crow Band and north of them, Cloud’s brother, Red Raven and his band. Even in the scope they are distant dots but we can see that all are accounted for.
I make the decision to turn back at this point. The long hill to descend into lower Sykes is tricky when dry, but in drifted snow, it would be foolish to try. As we descend to the Red Buttes we spot Jesse and Inniq again and hike to them.
How can horses in a place that looks like there is virtually nothing to eat but weeds looks like fluffy butterballs? The remarkable Pryor wild horses have lived here for centuries and they have co-evolved with the scant vegetation and harsh weather. When nature is allowed to call the shots, it clearly works to select only the strongest in both mind and body. We hike back to the UTV while Matt takes a few more pictures and I wonder if he identifies with these young bachelors?
Because we still have some daylight left, I drive the UTV back to the base of Tillett while Ann and Matt follow with the Durango and the trailer. Then we all pile in together and drive off. Not a mile up the road we see a band heading toward us. Colorful Electra is leading her family into the desert. Cloud’s sister and her daughter Limerick are both looking incredible, as is the rest of this band.
The light is fading so we turn around, looking for Electra and her family on the way to the bottom of Tillett but see only their tracks leading to the east and the lowlands of Turkey Flat. Why has Electra chosen to lead them down? Is bad weather coming?
December 30. Our Tillett trail is well beaten by now. At the mines we begin scoping. For the first time in months, we see Jackson. I notice that Cloud’s daughter Jasmine and her mother, Aztec, are not with the band. Remember that light bulb I mentioned earlier and the two “extra” members of Casper’s band? Well, I now believe we saw Jasmine and Aztec with Casper. The horses are moving all around. We saw Red Raven’s band on Sykes, then all the way down in near the mouth of Big Coulee the next day. We sight Bolder way out in the Hell ‘n Gone. Bolder, in the Hell ‘n Gone?! This is a first. And where had Jackson been for so long? Matt begins hiking higher around the mines and I follow him. Atop the mines we see Cloud!
I go back for the camera and Ann carries the tripod (as she has a hundred times or more throughout my filmmaking career) to the very top of the mines ridge. It is a breathtaking view. Encore is rubbing and eating on a dead juniper.
We sit in the snow, soaking in the scenery and eat our lunch. Cloud and his family move back down near the completely drifted in road and eventually we follow.
As the sun drops low in the west above the Beartooth Mountains, Cloud moves downhill through a snow-free zone in the shelter of the limber pines and Mato Ska follows, then Encore, and finally Feldspar. It is hard to leave the little family. Stay safe, dear friends, I whisper. As darkness falls we drive out of Cloud’s sacred wilderness home.
To view the live newsletter with photos click here!
P.S. Thanks to so many of you who remembered our wild horse families during the holidays, and donated to our quest to keep them roaming free! We value your commitment to the cause more than you know.
by Anne Beggs
Wild about horses? Want a challenge? Did the movie The Hunger Games leave you aching for more archery?
What is more aesthetic than the noble horse, one of the most magnificent animals in creation? And what could be more exhilarating than cantering your glorious steed, wind in your face as you fly, lifting above the ground, instinctively one with your horse? Thwack. The musical sound as your arrow hits the target. Your life may never be the same. This is mounted archery!
From the Cradle of Civilization, Africa and Mongolia, through Asia and across Europe to the Americas, brave and enduring equines of every size and color have carried their riders into savage battles or thundering herds of dangerous prey animals. This extensive and far reaching culture was replaced with firearms and technology, and nearly lost to us.
Today's mounted archer rides a variety of courses: straight, circular, serpentine, and with obstacles, shooting at a variety of targets - stationary, moving, and even 30 feet high! A Mogu ball is another level entirely, where one horse and rider pull a large ball, and two more chase and shoot at the ball. Traditional costumes and tack are part of the shared splendor of National and International competitions.
Many horseback archers train bareback. Still others ride with only a rope halter or bitless bridle because communication is through the body. Imagine the trust and bonding achieved through training and practice, as you guide your horse onto the course, then drop those reins and ride by the seat of your pants, as you nock, draw, and shoot your arrows. “Shooting and hitting a flying target was such an adrenaline rush! I need to do this,” said Diana Troyk, of Scottsdale, Arizona at her first clinic, ten years ago. If you have a willing and free spirit and wish to take your partnership with your horse to a whole new level, mounted archery may be the sport for you.
The Mounted Archery Bow
You know your horse has a soul, but did you know the bow has a soul? Archery has its own magic. Maurice Thompson’s 1878 book, The Witchery of Archery, captured the instinctive nature of traditional archery for a post-civil war America that still resonates today.
Horse bows are generally smaller and lighter than field bows. An exception to this is the long, asymmetrical bow used in the stylized and elegant Japanese form of archery, Yabusame. Draw weight varies from 15 pounds to 85 or more, if hunting is involved. Whether made of modern composite materials or time-honored wood, horn, sinew and bone by a master bowyer, each bow is unique. Each bow has a soul.
Mounted Archery is a team effort between horse and rider (even rider and rider)
Horseback archery demands instinctive skills. Trust, training, and teamwork are the core of all equestrian activities. Mounted archery is a martial art and a sport. Our equines are partners, not tools. Mounted archery is not breed specific; any equine - horse, mule, or pony - may participate with proper desensitization and training. Your horse must be ridden hands free, able to rate speed by body cues or voice, be calm, smooth, and desensitized not only to a bow and whizzing arrows, but to the targets, other horses, and perhaps an audience. If you have never ridden hands free… once you’ve let go, you’ll never go back!
Most of us spend hours, months and years bonding and playing with our beloved horses. Olympians, reiners, and professional rodeo riders transport their well-honed horses across the country and around the world. But the core of mounted archery is small globally, with no financial backing. Most riders cannot afford to transport their equine partners and some riders do not own their own horses, but depend on friends and instructors. Unless you bring your horse to mounted archery clinics and competitions, you are assigned an equine partner. Often we share that partner with another competitor. How is that for team work above and beyond competition? This is our opportunity, not just as riders, but as horsemen, to meet, greet, and form a relationship with a new horse. Like us, this trusting horse shows up, “punches a time card” and is expected to canter his or her heart out for us. What does that say about the soul of a horse?
There is such spirit and camaraderie at competitions and clinics. Not only do competitors share the responsibility for watering, walking down, and offering a healthy snack to their horses, they often share equipment or gear if something breaks or is forgotten. Instead of a rigid, competitive air of proprietary information or “secret weapons,” competitors readily exchange tips and techniques for improved shooting or riding - elevating the quality and caliber of mounted archery for all. Horseback archers are passionate people
Competitions and Clinics - A Family Affair
Clinics and competitions are divided into junior and senior classes, and novice, intermediate, and advanced. Women and men compete head to head. The whole family can participate in mounted archery, with riders ranging in age from 73 years young to 11 years old. Spouses and parents eagerly watching their family members in a clinic often find themselves swept up in the enthusiasm. Remember, horseback archers are passionate, so don’t be surprised if one of us puts a bow in your hand and encourages you to try. Even if you haven’t drawn a bow since summer camp, it isn’t too late. And if you thought summer camp was just for kids - now there is Bow Camp for the whole family.
Ten years ago, lifelong equestrian Diana Troyk saw a Japanese woman at the barn practicing Yabusame and wanted to try it. Her quest took her to Fort Dodge, Iowa for a clinic with Lukas Novotny and Dana Hotko. Deeply committed to mounted archery, she started a club in Arizona, The Desert Warriors of the Southwest, and has built courses and holds clinics for mounted archery. Diana has been earning medals internationally. In 2010 and 2011 she won Bronze and Gold in Korea and 3rd place in the first United States Mounted Archery Competition in Redmond, Oregon. In 2011 she traveled to Texas and Poland. This year she is in Japan and Mongolia.
Not all of us have international or Olympic aspirations, but we share the passion. We are part of the global tribe of horseback archers.
Stop sitting in the bleachers; quit hanging on the fence post. Unleash your inner Amazon. Be Robin Hood reborn. Whether you are a novice rider like many of us, or a lifelong horseperson, mounted archery is not only a link to our past histories, but a new beginning for you, your horse, and perhaps your family. Thwack!
For more information on this thrilling and thriving activity, or to find a tribe near you, please contact Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself, Anne M. Beggs, email@example.com or Mounted Archery of the Americas (http://mountedarchery.org)
For more information:
Mounted Archery in the Americas, By David Gray and Lukas Novotny
About the author:
Anne M. Beggs lives in California with her husband, two grown kids, two seniors, three cats and three horses. Anne is living her three “R’s”- reading, ‘riting and riding, in varying order. Please contact Anne at http://www.dahlquin.com, LinkedIn or Twitter.