Millen, Tania Articles

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There are no shortcuts - “Riding is like digging a swimming pool with a spoon,” says John Madden. “It’s really hard work and takes a long time.” On July 6, 2022, the Canadian Sport Horse Association (CSHA) hosted The Madden Method Symposium at Eventyre Farms, southwest of Calgary, Alberta. “This was a one-off event,” says Marie MacAuley, the symposium chair. “It will never happen again.”

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An Explainer - “In sport horses, we see a lot of injuries,” says Dr. Sarah Malenchak, who owns Westhills Equine Veterinary Services in Stony Plain, Alberta. “But we want the horses feeling as good as possible as soon as possible so they can go back into work. Plus, we want them to heal properly, so they don’t reinjure themselves,” she says.

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Working and Playing Together - Operating family farms and ranches can be challenging, but according to these three Canadian families, there are plenty of benefits, too.

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Most horses aren’t simply pasture pets — they provide some sort of active service to their owners. But many horses are not totally sound, and most horse sports don’t allow lame horses to compete. Lameness generally means a horse is in pain; hence, it’s not acceptable to ride lame horses. So, what can owners and riders do? Gerard Laverty says many horses that are less than 100 percent sound are living comfortable lives as “serviceably sound” partners. “It’s most horses that have saddles on,” he says. Laverty teaches the farrier science program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia and has his own farrier business.

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The 21st Century Rider - Many Canadian riders are throwing their leg over horses well beyond the age when others are pursuing more sedentary activities. For example, about 19 percent of Alberta Equestrian Federation members were over the age of 56 from 2015 to 2018. In British Columbia, approximately 19 percent of active Horse Council BC members were over age 60 in 2018. Meanwhile, in Quebec last year, about 12 percent of Cheval Quebec members were age 60 and over. Nationally, approximately 22 percent of Equestrian Canada sport licence holders were older than 50 in 2018, and 10 percent were older than 60.

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Polocrosse players in Alberta and Saskatchewan are gearing up for a full season of competition in 2022. “We’ve got an active group here. Last weekend, we had 10 people playing 10 horses,” says Gayle Smith, the secretary of Bridge City Polocrosse Association (BCPA) near Saskatoon. She says there are also eight kids learning the game and “they’re really doing well with their little cow horses.”

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Twenty years ago, the Oregon Horse Center in Eugene, Oregon held an indoor trail competition using log obstacles, water ponds, and dirt embankments to transform their arena into mountain trails. That event was the beginning of competitive mountain trail, where neatly dressed riders navigate an untimed, subjectively-judged course of obstacles typically found on wilderness mountain trails. In Canada, two organizations promote the sport — International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) Canada and the British Columbia Mountain Trail Association (BCMTA)— and each has their own rules, judging criteria, and obstacles.

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Satisfying the horse-specific needs of stallions is imperative for their mental and physical health. However, it can be challenging to provide living arrangements where stallions aren’t just surviving — but thriving. Kelly Brook Allen is one stallion owner who is adamant about her horse’s welfare. “He gets to live a normal life,” she says. Allen owns Canoa Farms in Merritt, British Columbia with her husband, Ron Stolp.

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Across Canada, non-veterinarians offer a potpourri of services, including massage, chiropractic, farrier work, homeopathy, and more. But these non-veterinarian service providers may be practicing veterinary medicine illegally under provincial veterinarian acts. Also, few regulatory organizations oversee non-veterinarian practitioner training, certify expertise, or offer recourse if horses suffer, and provincial veterinary organizations only pursue non-veterinarian service providers when horse owners complain.

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Our group of 17 horses and riders had taken shelter from the brutal midday sun beneath a massive overhang created thousands of years ago when water roared through the valley, and our chosen lunch spot was also home to several rattlesnakes.

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The horse will teach you if you listen - Spanish cowboys (vaqueros) who came to North America over 500 years ago left a lasting legacy — not only in words such as chaps (from chaparreras) and rodeo (rodear) which are engrained in today’s Western lifestyle — but in their riding and horse training skills, too. In the early 1500s when Spanish cows and horses were imported into what is now Mexico, cattle ranching and bridle horses were introduced to North America. Vaquero bridle horses were highly trained, handy stock horses that worked as partners out on the range and were in tune with their riders’ every aid. Making a bridle horse was and is a multi-year process whereby horses are started in a hackamore (bosal), then advanced through a two-rein bridle (small diameter hackamore beneath a spade bit bridle each with a set of reins) until they are ready to be ridden “straight up in the bridle” in a spade bit.

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As property values increase and everyday equine management expenses go up, keeping horses on your own property is becoming more costly. All across Canada, horse and property owners are undertaking myriad activities to make money from their farms and acreages without operating commercial boarding stables or becoming professional coaches. While every potentially money-making activity has benefits and drawbacks depending on the property’s size, layout, and infrastructure, as well as the owner’s interests and talents, there are many options for creating additional income. By implementing a few of the 24 innovative ideas summarized below, owners can start earning additional income from their property to help pay the bills.

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Sooner or later, most horse owners have the unfortunate experience of dealing with an injured horse. It’s common sense to have a veterinarian assess what’s wrong as soon as your horse becomes injured, but a vet will also help create a rehabilitation plan, advise how long the recovery period will be, and provide post-recovery expectations.

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Spending all day with your horse, visiting with friends, and riding a variety of trails pretty much describes horse camping, so it’s no surprise that many riders consider horse camping to be the ultimate adventure. Although performance riders often haul to a different facility for a clinic or competition, put their horse in a stall, and camp out in their rig, trail rider-style horse camping is a bit different.

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Every spring, mare owners get excited about choosing a stallion for their mare, but many decisions need to be made before selecting the stud and breeding the mare. “Breeding is not for the faint of heart,” says Lisa Longtin. She owns Merrington Warmbloods in Kindersley, Saskatchewan and has been breeding warmblood horses for the dressage and hunter rings for 25 years. “When things go well, it’s great. But there are so many things that can go wrong.”

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Holidays on Horseback - Sven, the Haflinger pack pony, jerked his head up and snorted. I looked uphill towards our camp and caught a humpy flash of beige ducking behind a stunted fir tree. Grizzly, I thought. I was hand-grazing Sven and my paint mare, Jewel, on a frosty July morning in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia during a solo pack trip. When Sven jerked his head up again, a beige grizzly bear shambled downhill towards us. Just 20 metres uphill from the first bear, a second bear rose up on its hind legs out of the brush before dropping down onto all fours and following the frontrunner. As the two bears lumbered towards us, Sven danced around on his lead line while Jewel kept grazing, and my heart beat a little quicker. As I considered what to do, a third bear trundled out of the trees and followed the first two. They were all grizzlies, all full size, and all coming straight at us. I started to sweat.

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Climate change is substantially impacting Canadian horses, horse properties, and their owners. Almost 90 percent of Canadians in recent surveys say they’ve already seen climate change effects in their communities. Horses are increasingly affected by respiratory diseases from wildfire smoke and dust; skin disease and damaged hooves from variable weather; and unforeseen parasites and diseases. Horse owners are struggling to purchase hay, treat unexpected health issues, and adapt to weather-related riding limitations. Meanwhile, property owners are repairing damage from sudden storms, drought, excess water, and wind. So, it’s worth understanding how climate change will affect horses and properties into the future, and what you can do to prepare for these changes.

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Are They Good, Bad, or a Bit of Both? Colt starting competitions are wildly popular with audiences, imbuing a sense of wonder at what trainers can do with previously unhandled three-year-old horses (colts) in just a few hours. They’re judged events, where each trainer is paired with an unbroke horse and has just a few hours to start it under saddle. While the trainers work with their horses, they explain their training methods to the audience. On the third and final day of the competition, the trainers show off their horse’s skills over an obstacle course. The young horses are started by top-notch trainers, the spectators are entertained, and the trainers win prizes and kudos for their skills. So, what’s not to like?

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Sharing Costs, Spreading Risks - Racehorse syndicates have been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last 20 years that sport horse syndicates have become more common. In the horse world, a syndicate is generally a group of people who pool their funds to invest in a horse together and share the horse’s annual costs. Everyone who “buys in” is a shareholder and owns a portion of the horse for a set period of time, or until the horse is resyndicated or sold.

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For generations, riders and horse lovers have been enthralled by the mystique of horsemen (and women), but many struggle to define what a “horseman” actually is. Is a horseman someone with a laundry list of skills such as starting young horses, nailing on shoes, being knowledgeable about horse care, and having the ability to train horses to the highest levels? Or is a horseman someone who lives in the moment, has mastered their emotions, and understands a horse’s mind? Perhaps a horseman embraces all of these attributes; perhaps none.

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