Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

Wipeout: How the battle over the Big Lick Walking horses changed access to information on the welfare of all animals

By Fran Jurga,
February 09, 2017
John Watson photo, via
Credit: John Watson photo, via
Walking horses are in the news again--or still. The US Department of Agriculture's removal of publicly-accessible violation and inspection notices related to the Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act is creating furor in Washington and far beyond. 


Article by Fran Jurga, © Equus Magazine | AIM Equine Network

How many Tennessee Walker show horses are there in the United States? Not very many. And of all the Walking horses competing at shows, even fewer wear pad stacks and action devices. This most American of horse breeds was cultivated for its unique lateral gait, its most treasured characteristic. You don't see that many of them around.

But how they roar.

Enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, which was passed in 1970 to stop the abuse of these horses, has been nigh impossible all these years. The Act has been amended, the inspection procedures have changed, the courts have spoken, and still the show horse owners, trainers and fans of the breed are at an impasse with the government inspection system, in spite of both sides saying that they are dead-set against the practice of soring, or illegally using painful methods to enhance the horse's gait for show advantage.

Big Lick Walking horses are the tiny stub of a tail wagging the big dog of federal enforcement budgets. They operate in the shadow of mountains of papers and court judgments. 

American horselovers have little choice but to know these horses, even if they have never seen one in the flesh, since this tiny sector of show horses has been shaking up the equine industry for decades, This week a new chapter began and the breed's shake is being felt much deeper into the US Department of Agriculture. It is being felt by the USDA’s efforts to enforce federal Animal Welfare Act violations against all animals--from pets to circuses and all the way to laboratory research animals.

The lead-up

Last month, as officials in Washington were moving into and out of federal offices, a shock wave went through the horse industry when news came down that the executive action announced (and widely celebrated as a done deal) by the Obama administration in its final days had not been completed before the inauguration of President Trump.

The Horse Protection Act's golden coach of reform turned into a pumpkin right before our eyes.

And while President Trump probably has neither seen a Walking horse nor knows (yet) what the Horse Protection Act is or does, the Obama “Hail Mary” pass on Inauguration Eve would have made it just about impossible to show Big Lick horses, since the rule took away the hoof pads and ankle chains that the horses need for their action.

Instead, President Trump’s team at the White House wanted to clean up the hanging threads of all the Obama executive changes, and it declared a moratorium on their enactment. The Horse Protection Act was one of the casualties of a stomping foot on federal brake pedals.

But that was just the beginning.

Something's missing

Within two weeks of the inauguration, the USDA edited its website. It removed an entire section, the records of violations to the Horse Protection Act and, with it, records of all welfare violations and facility inspections related to animal welfare. USDA suggests that if you want the information formerly published there, you need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The problem is that, in the time it takes to file and receive that information, animals lives may have been lost, or suffering prolonged.

You probably never even knew they were there. Their presence online was an act of transparency on the part of the federal government, partly attributable to a court order resulting from a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States. The problem was that the records posted there, as required by the suit judgment,  were potentially damaging to the people mentioned in the charges.


HSUS reaction

HSUS  wasted little time sending a letter to the US Department of Justice, charging USDA with being in violation of court orders--and threatening to sue all over again.

“Like every federal agency, the USDA operates thanks to the generosity of taxpayers, and it must be accountable to them,” HSUS wrote. “The USDA is changing the equation for the worse for animals and the public with this action.”

In response to the USDA action last week, a petition from HSUS was posted online with a goal of 95,000 signatures. As this article goes to press, it had collected 94,503 in under a week.


AVMA reaction

The fact that they were published at all has been lauded in a news release today by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which has opposed the soring abuse of Walking horses, but has a much larger stake in the matter with the removal of all animal records. “AVMA has utilized USDA-APHIS online records to obtain information and also to evaluate information shared with us by others related to the welfare of animals used in activities covered under these acts. As such, we are concerned that this information will no longer be as readily available to us,” the organization wrote. 

AVMA went on to acknowledge that enforcement of the HPA and AHA can possibly be in direct contradiction of the privacy laws designed to protect individual people.

“Achieving the intents of these laws means a balance must be struck among transparency, accuracy, and privacy when sharing information related to regulatory activity,” AVMA continued. “Furthermore, laws are subject to statutory interpretation, so final decisions are often reached as a result of long and complicated court proceedings. Thus, the AVMA appreciates the challenges that USDA-APHIS faces when determining how to best share the information that it collects in association with its enforcement of the AWA and HPA.”

One comment on the AVMA website suggested that animal welfare violations and inspection reports are akin to restaurant or food safety inspection reports, which are readily available to the public in their best interest. The AVMA is suggesting a sort of “fast track” FOIA process be instated for accessing the information.


USDA clarification

On Monday, the USDA published a slight clarification and rationale for its decision “…to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information covered by the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts or guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding them. These documents include inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), lists of regulated entities, and enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication.”

Keep in mind that the USDA is operating without a Secretary. Georgia's Sonny Perdue has been nominated for the position by President Trump but he has not been appreo



Walking horse lawsuit

What may have changed is that the new USDA leadership is acutely aware of a potential lawsuit by some Walking horse owners who are targeting the posting of the violations in court documents. The Washington Post revealed today that two Walking horse owners in Texas, Lee and Mike McGartland, are mounting the challenge.

The McGartlands have been charged with several violations of the Horse Protection Act in the past; these were posted on the USDA website, along with all the other violation notices. But the McGartlands claim that doing that violates the federal Privacy Act, designed to control the publication of personal information by federal agencies. 

Karin Brulliard of the Washington Post connected the dots. The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, in February 2015-----almost two years ago--asks the agency to remove the documents from its website. 



Obama administration status quo

The Obama administration never removed the documents, even though they certainly knew of the suit. In the Post article, former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged that the agency had been considering removal of the documents, but said that no decision to do so had been completed before he left the office. The new administration chose to pull them almost immediately, and without warning.


HSUS enters the courtroom

On Friday, HSUS issued a commentary that the USDA's transition team is being led by Brian Klippenstein, a man HSUS described as undertaking a "full time job is to thwart animal protection goals on behalf of Forrest Lucas’ 'Protect the Harvest'.” HSUS states that there is no court order requiring USDA to remove the records.

The objections of HSUS to USDA actions culminated in direct legal action to intervene in the court case against USDA "to prevent the horse soring proponents and the USDA transition team from cutting any sweetheart deals behind closed doors."

A surprise interception

A previous article by this author described the final-days filing by the Obama USDA as a “Hail Mary” pass. In football, such a pass is thrown, along with a prayer, in the final seconds of a game by the losing team. The quarterback is doing the only thing he can, and just hopes the receiver is in the end zone to catch it.

In keeping with the football metaphors, here’s another one. Someone is running interference on behalf of the AHA and HPA documents.

Or, you could say, she’s pulled off a grand interception and galloped over the goal line.

Former law professor Delcianna J. Winders, now Academic Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program, simply downloaded the entire archive of documents from a cached version of the USDA website (or used an Internet tool like the Wayback Machine). 

She reposted them as a mirror set of documents on the nonprofit websites, There they are, plain as day. If you know what you’re looking for, you are likely to be able to find it there.

Not surprisingly, Winders announced her covert action on Twitter.

Perhaps the game isn’t over, quite yet.

• • • • • 

To learn more: 

Hail Mary: USDA proceeds with last-ditch effort to end soring by imposing bans on Walking horse pads, action devices

USDA's new Horse Protection Act rules withdrawn from federal enactment

HSUS article and response to the scrubbing of USDA’s website

Delcianna Winders’ archive of USDA AHA and HPA documents

HSUS letter of complaint to Department of Justice (PDF download)

Washington Post: "USDA removed animal welfare reports from its site. A show horse lawsuit may be why" by Karin Brulliard

HSUS petition to protest USDA removal of documents

AVMA response to USDA-APHIS action on release of animal welfare data

Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

The Humane Thing To Do: When Horse Blankets Were the Law

By Fran Jurga,
February 06, 2017

Should you blanket your horse? We could argue about that question all day. But a hundred years ago, you would not have had a choice.

Owners today have a wide selection of blanket fabrics, sizes and weights. We have electric clippers. We have stable blankets and turnout blankets and summer sheets and post-workout coolers. Owners can also choose whether or not to subject their horses to the extreme elements of winter cold, how long to leave them out, and whether or not to heat their barns. 

But back in 1917, humane society activists believed that every horse should wear a blanket unless it was moving--and they convinced city governments to write horse blankets into the law. Enforcement was rigid. Fines were high. 

And in some places, the laws are still on the books today.

• • • • •

Why did the horse put on a blanket?

He was a little colt...

One hundred years ago, the horses working our city streets had a hard life. Some were better treated than others. Some lived much longer than others. But any horse that ventured out onto the street was risking its life. It might slip and fall on pavement, be electrocuted by a downed wire, fall into a manhole on the street, or be beaten by its owner. 

Yet these horses were on the radar of city humane society observers who were determined to improve their care and make life better and safer for all horses. They were also determined to mandate better horse care not an option: they wanted to make it the law.

In northern cities, where horses worked all winter regardless of the weather, horse blankets became the  cause célèbre of horse activists during the winter months. And in most cities, their use wasn’t a sign of kindness. Drivers blanketed their horses because they were required to do it. An unblanketed horse could send a driver to jail, or force a large fine to be paid.

Cut-to-fit horse blankets were first manufactured in 1857 by the pioneering Troy Woolen Mills in Troy, New Hampshire.  But those early fitted horse blankets woven on New England looms were more likely to end up on the fine harness and riding horses of wealthy Americans than on city dray horses.

Every old magazine in the archives seems to feature an advertisement for the famous Baker 5A line, and many others. The blankets required surcingles, when worn in the stable, or used giant blanket pins that are very collectible today. The ads make horses look proud to be wearing the blankets, and praise owners who make sure their horses wear stable blankets. Those horse owners weren't worried about breaking the law.

The laws were aimed at the lowest class of horses, the urban working class. Thousands of freight, coal delivery, and other working horses clogged the streets of the cities. Their hard work was obvious; they kept the city moving.  Equally obvvious was the fact that so many were poorly groomed, unclipped, badly shod, and generally neglected. The humane societies wanted to change that.

Drivers were responsible for the horses out on the street, but their welfare was the provenance of the owners, usually large corporations or livery stables that rented out a horse and wagon by the day or week. 

So when the humane societies lobbied lawmakers to require horses to wear blankets, the drivers had to do the work of blanketing, unblanketing and reblanketing the horses.

Since work horses weren't clipped in winter the way that a field hunter or a fine driving horse might be, sweat and rain clung to them in the winter while they worked. Steam often rose from their bodies as they pulled up hills. 

The theory was that the sweat would and should evaporate into the air as long as the horse was expending energy. Putting a blanket on the sweating horse was designed to protect it from developing a chill while standing still, since its body produced less heat at rest. It was against the law for a blanket to be on a moving horse.

Horse blankets of past days didn’t have liners like today’s blankets. They were a major chore to wash and mend. 

But the biggest problem seems to have been motivating the drivers to put the blankets on properly and remove them.

In order to put a blanket on a horse, the driver needed to get down from the seat, get the blanket out, and unfold it over the horse. When he was ready to be underway again, he had to remove the blanket and stow it away. Team drivers had to do this twice, once for each horse.

Some laws also stated how much of the horse must be covered, but they didn’t specify what the blanket should be made of or what to do if the blanket was wet., So, the same blanket might be used in wet weather as dry weather. And a still-wet blanket from the previous day might be put on a horse on a dry day.

Blankets could be shared between different horses from the same stable, leading to the spread of disease and skin irritations. 

A common use for a horse blanket was for it to be laid down on the street when a horse slipped and fell on ice, in the hope it would offer some traction when he tried to rise. Since the horses wore sharp calks on their shoes, it wasn’t uncommon for holes to be ripped through a blanket as a horse scrambled to its feet, if it could.

How cold did it need to be to bring out the blankets? In Philadelphia, it was forty. In 1915 in that humane-minded city,  agents of the Pennsylvania SPCA said that they placed 1,227 blankets on horses where none had been provided. They issued warnings to drivers who didn't blanket their horses or who were driving "smooth shod" horses when calks should have been required for more secure footing.

The agents cruised Philadelphia's streets in a society-owned car, looking for unblanketed and smooth shod horses. Three agents were in the car, which was stocked with chain overshoes, cloth slippers and blankets. 


Boston Public Library, Leslie Collection
The idyllic vision of humane treatment of horses 100 years ago was a horse wearing blankets and eating on the job, thanks to a caring, educated horseman at the reins. The law of the day required a resting horse to wear a blanket. But nothing in the law said the blanket had to be dry. This photo is from an amazing archive of working horses in Boston maintained by the Boston Public Library and taken by photographer Leslie Jones. Many of the horses are city DPW horses on plowing duty. Was it a PR motive that so many of them were photographed with metal feed pails strapped on? 

Missoula, Montana sounds like the wild west, but the zeal of the humane societies extended there, as well. Instead of covering standing horses, the law there was that no horse could be left unblanketed for more than six hours at a time. The Missoula Humane Society reported that nearly every horse in the city was blanketed and noted in 1915 that, to their delight, "the Indians are covering up their horses, using bed comforts and shawls when horse blankets are not available."

It wasn’t just horses who were subject to blankets. An unusual law in Pennsylvania--which may still be on the books--was written when cars were very new, and scared horses to death. The law required motorists to pull over if they saw a  horse approaching, and to cover the car with a blanket so it wouldn’t frighten the horse! And in 1911, one large city’s human society wrote an article in its journals about a new trend in New Zealand, where cows also needed blankets, they said.

Today, we are more circumspect about when, where and even if a horse should wear a blanket. The weather, the age of the horse, the breed of the horse, the general health of the horse, and many other factors are considered, along with the practice that if a horse is to wear a blanket throughout the winter, it should start wearing it in the fall so its coat stops growing.  Some horses wear stable blankets or turnout rugs all day and all night. Others wear none at all.

Humane society agents erected signs in multiple languages reminding drivers to blanket their horses. Failing to blanket your horse could send you to jail for 25 days in the case of Buffalo, New York or incur a large fine. Buffalo claimed 100 percent compliance in 1914, perhaps because of the heavy penalties of not blanketing. A judge in Burlington, Vermont sentenced a huckster to 90 days in jail that year for not blanketing his horse.

In Kansas, horse blanketing was a state law.

Baker 5A horse blanket advertisement
Baker horse blankets were widely advertised--and used. Color ads like this were quite extravagant.

An article in the Chicago Tribune that year complained that drivers had been issued blankets for their horses but were too lazy to use them. The article was especially critical of the treatment of coal delivery horses, who stop and go often. According to the report, the horses often have blankets that are doubled and draped over their rumps, giving no protection to the chest and withers.

Today,  cities with carriage horse businesses still have ordinances requiring blankets on horses. In New York City, the current rule reads:

From November through April, heavy winter blankets must be available in cold weather to cover a carriage horse from crest to rump. Additionally waterproof blankets of lighter material shall always be available when it is raining and the temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

The law does not specify what “heavy” means, that the blankets be in good repair or that the blankets be removed when the horse is underway. Shreveport, Louisiana’s carriage laws do specify that the blankets be repaired, and forbids owners from sharing blankets, or any tack, between horses.

But can we legislate kindness? We know that helmets don't prevent head injuries unless they are properly fit and the chin strap is fastened. Horse blankets might seem to be a sign that the owner cares about the horse, but the blankets might also be hiding rain rot, protruding ribs or untreated wounds. 

Who can forget the massive horse abuse raid at Spindle Farm in Amersham in England in 2008, when horses were found dead in their stalls, but wearing winter blankets?

A warm blanket is a wonderful thing for a horse who needs one. But like everything, it is one spoke of a wheel of kindness that must include many facets of care all year round, along with good nutrition and healthcare. 

To look out across a city square and see blankets on all the horses on a cold winter day must have been a great victory for the humane societies, but they also knew it was the tip of an iceberg, one that we are still chipping away at today.

To learn more:

Equine Welfare's Shining Hour: The Work Horse Parade

New York City carriage horse regulation on blanketing





Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

After the Fall: How pink is your concussion? (What women riders need to know.)

By Fran Jurga,
January 23, 2017


The veterinarian didn't know what hit her. What she did know, when she woke up, was that her head had hit the concrete barn aisle floor when the horse she was treating spooked. She struggled to sit up. 

Days later, after being checked out at a local hospital, the incident still haunted her. And as if having a head injury wasn't enough, her life became complicated with doctor appointments, missed days from work, and nagging concerns that the injury might have longer-term repercussions for her health and her career. Or, it might have been so mild that there was no need to worry at all.

She didn’t know what was ahead of her. And she didn’t know how long it would take to know if she was going to be all right. 

• • • • • 

Raise your hand if you're ever suffered a concussion--whether from riding a horse or a car accident or any type of mishap.

If you didn't raise your hand, how do you know you've never had a concussion?

And did anyone ever mention to you that men and women react differently to head injuries?

No, we didn't think so. But that's about to change.

Sport and medical science have exploded in recent years with new statistics on traumatic head injuries and the mechanical engineering properties of helmets designed to prevent them. Much of the information centers on or is sourced from football, and most of the data has been collected from tests on helmets made for and worn by men in contact sports--or from crash test dummies and anvil drop tests.

Meanwhile, much of the data on traumatic brain injuries in women is coming from a very different source: by studying women who are victims of domestic violence. Women athletes tend to be bypassed in the research, but there's hope that that will be changing soon--and that equestrians can play a role in that change.

According to one analysis of equestrian sports, concussions comprise from 9.7% to 15% of all horse-related injuries seen in hospitals for evaluation. Those injuries range from common sprains and dislocated fingers on up. But since many more victims with minor symptoms of a head injury never bother to go to a hospital to be treated after they fall off a horse, their injuries don’t make it into statistics. Only the more serious injuries get counted. 

What we do know is that equestrian sports hold the dubious honor of having the highest mortality of any sport. More riders are injured than skiers and football players and race car drivers combined.

If you're a number-cruncher or a dataholic, here's a treat for you. A study published in 2015 in the journal World Neurology presented an across-the-board analysis of relevant studies of equestrian injuries. Compiled primarily by neurological surgeons at Vanderbilt University's Sports Concussion Center, the study looked for data on both functional traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, and less common (but even more debilitating) structural traumatic brain injuries in equestrian sports, such as fractured skulls and hemorrhage in and around the brain.

Gender and statistics in equestrian sports injury data

The researchers regretted that gender data was lacking in most of the studies they reviewed. While data may seem to suggest that female riders receive head injuries more often than males, arguments can be made for the fact that women generally outnumber men in horse sports anyway, and that women may be less resistant than men to the suggestion that they go to the hospital to be checked out. Women may also be more likely to wear helmets than men and sometimes take fewer risks. On the other hand, women often don’t like to complain, and may have compelling reasons to want to avoid hospitalization so they can care for children (or horses). As a result, they may refuse medical attention.

The injured people in the study were also not all riders; in one study from Kentucky, one third of patients had been bystanders, including spectators at horse events. In another study, 29% of injuries were from horse kicks rather than falls from the saddle. Who was most likely to be injured? Amateurs, young females, and older male professionals, depending on the study criteria, had the highest risk.

While gender data may have been lacking or inclusive in these tallies of equestrian brain injury, what happens after the fall or kick is influenced by gender. And that is really where today’s story begins.

• • • • •

Pink Concussions

Of significant importance to equestrian sports is compelling evidence that women experience concussions differently from men, and that they have different recovery times and different severity or duration of symptoms, such as headache or blurred vision. 

Based on this new body of research, a new organization is dedicating itself to educating women to both prevent brain injuries and to cope with the after effects when one occurs. 

Meet Pink Concussions, an educational organization that hopes its information will benefit equestrian sports, and that equestrians, in turn, will bring them their stories of what it means to suffer head injuries, whether mild or severe, as a result of contact with horses or participation in equestrian sports.

Headquartered in Connecticut, Pink Concussions, hosted the first medical conference dedicated solely to traumatic brain injuries in women in 2016. While the organization is deep into medical research, it also has a practical side, and offers three key points to make us all think differently about concussions:

  • Women concuss at high rates than males in sports with similar rules;
  • Women report a higher number and more severe symptoms than males in both civilian and military research; and
  • Women have longer recovery periods than males including higher rates of Post Concussive Syndrome (PCS).

Given those three facts, one would assume that there is plenty of information available to women and girls on how to avoid concussions, what to do if you think you have one, what to do if you are present when a woman receives a brain injury, and what the aftercare for a woman with a head injury might be.

However, that is not the case. Concussion is an example of a brain injury with a gender difference, and yet reference material and medical guidelines do not specify gender differences. 

Right now, Pink Concussions executive director Katherine Snedaker is assembling an equestrian advisory committee, and hopes to host an equestrian sports panel at the organization’s next conference, the PINK Concussions Symposium at the World Brain Injury Congress 2017 in New Orleans. 

Snedaker said that women need to be aware of the cumulative effects related to concussions, as well. Repeated head injuries, even mild, may build up. 

Pink Concussions supports women with traumatic brain injuries with three support groups on Facebook, including one for caregivers.

Sometimes it seems like horse industry organizations prefer to focus on overall safety and injury prevention rather than to report their statistics--if they even have them.

Equestri emptor.

In their defense, when a rider parts company with a saddle, he or she becomes the concern of the medical community, and the outcome of an injury--major or minor--may never be reported back to the horse show organizer or the sport governing body. 

Equestrian sports organizations that do want to know are forced to consult medical statistics, rather than sport statistics, often by way of admission stats for hospital trauma units. If an injured rider isn't admitted as a patient, little or no information about the diagnosis, let alone the long-term followup, ever finds its way to a data set.

Until recently, safety around horses centered on the panacea of wearing a helmet. A false equivalency developed: If riders would just wear helmets, the sport would have a better image and fewer accidents would happen.

But a funny thing happened around the same time that helmets became mandatory for many sports, and in common use by many more riders.

More attention has been given to the injuries suffered on the ground, especially by professionals like veterinarians, grooms and farriers. In addition, "jockey science" has come into its own to record the health problems and job-related injuries of professional race riders.

Do we need to wear helmets on the ground? Professional emergency response educator Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, recently conducted an exploratory survey for veterinarians and vet technicians. As director of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, she is concerned about veterinarians who don’t wear helmets when trying to free horses from entrapment. 

“Emergency responders show up and put on their helmets,” she said, bemoaning the fact that veterinarians rarely even have one available, if they wanted to put one on.

What can we do?

While it may be early days, awareness can pay off. What most women don't know is that their gender means that they experience concussions differently from men, so spread the word. And, that it's not enough to feel safe in the saddle under your helmet, given the high number of horse-related injuries that occur when people lead, bathe, load, handle, treat, shoe and just watch horses.

We’ve never had so many resources to keep us informed, but sometimes the information we need is hard to find. Congratulations to Pink Concussions and the medical community around it for seeing a need and responding to it. 

To learn more:

The study mentioned in the text is:

Functional and Structural Traumatic Brain Injury in Equestrian Sports: A Review of the Literature
Scott L. Zuckerman, Clinton D. Morgan, Stephen Burks, Jonathan A. Forbes, Lola B. Chambless, Gary S. Solomon, Allen K. Sills
World Neurosurg. (2015) 83, 6:1098-1113.

That paper lists more than 60 references, primarily related to injury in equestrian sports.

Read more about equestrian safety, helmets and brain injury on The Jurga Report:

Neurologists' New Guidelines for Sports Head Injuries; Georgina Bloomberg Falls at Syracuse, Seeks Treatment Later

Not Just Natasha: Florida Accident Another Reminder to Wear Your Helmet

Strap It All On: Protecting Your Head Requires More Than a Helmet (But That's a Start)

New Connecticut Legislation Would Require Riding Instructors to Be Certified in CPR, First Aid and Concussions

Are Equestrian Safety Issues Riding Between the Lines of PBS' Frontline "League of Denial" Exposes on Head Injuries?

New York State's Equestrian Helmet Law Amended to Age 18

Risky Business: British Horse Vets Injured More Often than Firefighters, Study Shows

Equestrian Injury: A Trauma Surgeon Shares His Stats

Should veterinarians wear helmets?

Equestrian safety research: What kind of rider falls and doesn't feel it?

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer The Thinking Rider
by Jennifer Forsberg Meyer
By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer
Insights and resources to improve your riding life and demystify your horse’s behavior. Horse&Rider's senior editor shares facts, quotes, tips, trivia, and other fun stuff.
View more blogs

The Right Horse = A Good Match

By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer,
January 20, 2017

Photo illustration by Carol Ybarra from an Alana Harrison image
Credit: Photo illustration by Carol Ybarra from an Alana Harrison image
It’s what we all want, but a great working relationship with a horse depends on a solid match between certain key qualities of his and yours.
How important is a good match between you and your horse? Extremely. In fact, it’s THE essential starting point of a mutually rewarding relationship between the two of you.

In a feature I wrote last summer with “trainer of trainers” Don Murphy (on how to ride better right now), the veteran coach cautioned against trying to make do with an unsuitable mount.

“If it turns out the ‘horse you have’ doesn’t fit your program or personality, let him go someplace where he will fit,” he advises. “Sometimes it’s a good horse and a decent rider, but they just don’t match, and neither is to blame.”

If you disregard this principle, things can go bad in a hurry. For example, you might wind up trying to get something from your horse that he just doesn’t have to give. And this predictably backfires, says Don, especially in the show pen.

“If God made your horse a 68 and you try to make him a 74, you’ll wind up with a 62,” he cautions. “You’ve got to work the horse you have.” Which is why having the right horse for your goals is so important.

Obviously, a key part of assuring a good match involves your riding ability and level of experience versus your horse’s level of training. But clinician Clinton Anderson believes another match is equally crucial: the one between the horse’s energy needs and your typical riding schedule.

“This one is often overlooked,” he says in a feature on choosing the right horse. “You buy a horse that’s in a six-day-a-week program, and he’s just as nice and quiet and well-mannered as can be. You bring him home and put him on your schedule—that is, three days a week when you can manage it, and often just weekends. In a month’s time, the nice, quiet horse has turned into a nervous, high-powered wreck.”

And no one wants that.

In his article on horse-buying mistakes, world champion trainer Bob Avila warns you can carry the match-seeking too far—if you apply it to areas where it doesn’t matter, like color.

“I can’t tell you how many people call me looking for a horse, and their first criterion is color. ‘I’m looking for a palomino…’ they’ll start, when they should start with what the horse can do and how his abilities match up with their skills and goals.

“It’s the same for other superficial characteristics,” he adds. “I’ve seen people look past a horse because they didn’t like his mane. Just as you can put custom wheels on a car, you can grow a mane.”

The bottom line? Mind the right parts of the match, make sure the horse meets your needs, and enjoy a great relationship with him.


Assessing a horse’s temperament.

What to do when it’s not a good match.

Adjusting your energy level to your horse’s.

Using cowlicks as clues to temperament.

Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
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Free Range in Paradise: The “Wild” Horses of the Caribbean Attract Tourists and Research

By Fran Jurga,
January 16, 2017
Sarah Richter photo
Credit: Sarah Richter photo
A "wild" mare and her foal on the Caribbean island of Vieques.

Wild horses are supposed to be in the wild west, scampering up and down mountainsides or galloping across the desert, right? That’s what most of us have always thought. But as support for the preservation of feral horses in the western rangeland of the United States has grown, so has the awareness and appreciation of large and small herds of feral horses around the world.

Feral horses are those who live in the wild but are descended from domestic horses. The only true "wild" horses live in Mongolia.

When The Humane Society of the United States announced it was heading to a place called "Vieques" (pronounced "vee-AAAY-kez") to help wild horses there, many followers just scratched their heads.

Feral horses show up in unusual places. They live on the remote Canadian sandbar known as Sable Island, off Nova Scotia. They live in the Balkan nations of eastern Europe, the south of France, and the mountains of Spain. You’ll find the largest concentration of free-roaming horses thriving in the extreme wilderness of Australia’s Outback. Horse herds live in the brutal desert of Namibia in Africa.

The island of Vieques from the air, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Vieques is about eight miles off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea.

Feral and wild horses are a key part of the ecotourism industry. People are willing to travel to places where they can see horses in their wild, natural state, as evidenced by feral horse advocate Madeleine Pickens' landmark Mustang Monument ecotourism resort in Nevada.

One of the most unusual herds lives on the U.S. territory of Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea. Much of Vieques was once a bombing practice range for the U.S. Navy, but when the bombs stopped falling, and the military base was converted to a wildlife refuge, tourists from around the world took it as an “all clear” to visit.

Some came for the beaches. Some came for the quiet. And some came to see the "wild" horses. Over decades, hundreds of domestic horses, many of Paso Fino blood, had been turned loose to roam by their owners. They gradually spread out over the island, reproduced, and learned to live among the citizenry. Now they are not only part of landscape, they are also part of the island's allure.

Here's a short tourist video from showing a herd near Sun Beach on the island:


Over the years, the island has become more settled and widely-known not for its highrise hotel resorts but for the peace and quiet and, yes, the horses. They have helped put the island on the map, as a wildlife feature that sets the island apart. Their presence makes a hike to the beach an adventure, when you realize that you might frolic in the surf next to a mare and her foal.

These horses may not be very wild, given the way they have been fed by locals and tourists alike for generations. "Free ranging" might be a better description. Tourists enjoy “capturing” them on film, cell phone cameras, and video, and the herds don’t seem to mind being a little bit famous. Many are approachable, up to a point, and some are claimed as the unfenced property of local residents, as evidenced by their brands.

Lately, it’s not only tourists who are seeking the horses on Vieques. Researchers, animal advocates, photographers, filmmakers, and even a veterinarian are looking for hoofprints in the sand, as well. 

The off-islanders' interest in this fascinating home turf for free ranging equids extended to an equine contraceptive mission led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on the island last week. 

International show jumper Georgina Bloomberg was a guest of HSUS on Vieques last weekend. Here she is getting to know one of the feral horses. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)


Back in 2015, HSUS announced a strategic partnership with the island’s government to improve all animal welfare on the island. The programs have ranged from educating law officials about animal abuse to schoolroom programs and vaccination/spay/neuter clinics for small animals. 

But you can’t go to Vieques and not be aware of the horses. Who was looking out for their welfare? And who was working to insure their future? While the island has plenty of wild terrain, its natural vegetation can only sustain so many horses. And the herds were growing larger each year.

Last year, the mayor of the island, Victor Emiric, asked HSUS what could be done to improve welfare and simultaneously control the growth of the horse herds on the island. Whether tourists are motivated to visit the island because of the horses or not, the public image of the island will not be enhanced if the ubiquitous horses don’t look like they are healthy and happy.

Contraceptive vaccines are delivered to mares via a dart gun. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)


First things came first, in the HSUS program. Fresh water access is a problem for the horses; many of the herds moving around the island are motivated to meander by their search for fresh water sources. HSUS has begun to install water troughs closer to unpopulated areas, to lure horses away from congested town areas with a guarantee of clean, unsalty water. 

Key to the HSUS involvement is a program to administer the contraceptive known as Porcine zona pellucida (PZP), which has been used on many different types of wildlife, including wild horse mares in the American West. HSUS planned to inoculate more than 150 mares during this initial program.

HSUS guest Ariana Rockefeller posted on Twitter and Instagram about her weekend with the "wild" horses of Vieques during contraception clinic last weekend. 

According to a comment by HSUS President Wayne Pacelle in his blog recently, PZP “has been studied extensively for more than 20 years, and it has been proven to be more than 90 percent effective and safe.” HSUS, in fact, was involved with its development.

“Treated mares will see increased health benefits and will lead longer and healthier lives without the stress of repeated pregnancy and lactation in an environment with few basic resources,” Pacelle wrote. “In the long term, the competition for scarce resources will decrease as the population stabilizes and declines to sustainable levels.”

PZP has been used on Assateague pony mares on federal land in Maryland since 1988. According to HSUS,  last month the National Park Service declared the wild horse fertility control program on Assateague such a success that the herd will be allowed to reproduce again for the first time in six years.

According to Liz Davis, education coordinator for Assateague Island, "The Maryland herd of wild horses currently contains a large proportion of mares aged 20 to 33," she told the website "These older mares are unlikely to foal again, so in order to refresh the reproductive population in the near future, an increase in foaling among the younger mares needs to occur."

When tourists come to see the horses, they love to see foals romping around. The decrease in foals caused by the PZP program will need to be explained to the tourists.

The medication is not without its critics. Friends of Animals is one organization opposed to the use of PZP.

Wild horses wander through town on the island of Vieques in the Caribbean. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)

The HSUS program last week, which centered on “darting” mares with the contraceptive vaccine, included a visit to the island by an equine practitioner. Dickie Vest, DVM, staff veterinarian for the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, had the honor of being the island’s first-ever horse doc during his stay.

According to HSUS, Vieques will serve as a positive model for large-scale horse population management. They suggest that their Vieques program can be replicated by other municipalities, as well as state, federal and tribal agencies that are actively searching for ways to manage feral horse populations.

Special guests enjoying the wild horses last weekend were celebrity supporters of HSUS (and equestrians), such as Georgina Bloomberg, Stephanie Riggio Bulger and Ariana Rockefeller. Tourists and HSUS staff and guests alike had an unusual opportunity to see the horses up close during the clinic. 


Most of the horses didn't mind posing for photos with the celebrities and staff. Then they just wandered off, as if nothing was going on. It was just another day in paradise, for them.


by Fran Jurga


Learn more:


Europe Plans for Eco-Friendly (Re)wild Horses on the Edge of the Landscape


Where the Wild Horses Are (Australian Geographic Society): Australia is home to a million wild horses.


Whither the wild horses of Louisiana? 


Is PZP Safe? Immunocontraceptive Vaccines and Their Regulation  (HSUS document)


Critique of PZP from Friends of Animals website 




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