Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Horses and Donkeys and Mules and More


My molly mule, Delta Dawn

If you don't occupy the world where a "frog" is found in a horse's hoof or "brain surgery" means castration of a male horse, you might not know the ins and outs of horse hybrid terminology. Most people know a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey, but it's not exactly that simple. Let's dive into the lexicon of horse hybridization.

The humble, utilitarian donkey goes by a few different names. There's the humble burro, a donkey with a Spanish accent: small, tough little critters brought to North America as beasts of burden for prospectors. The burro is the long-eared equine that runs feral in many parts of the southwestern US. 

My sweet burro, Odelia. Note the white markings on the side of her neck. This is her BLM freeze brand, identifying her as having been adopted from feral BLM herds.

There are other types of donkeys. There are onagers, the wild asses of Asia (aka the Asiatic ass); mammoth jacks, which are large donkeys often used as bloodstock for mule-production or as riding donkeys; Sicilian donkeys from Italy, also known as miniature donkeys; the Baudet du Poitou, which is a fancy-sounding name for a type of donkey with a distinctive long coat; Corsican donkeys; and plenty of other donkeys, each with their own unique history and type. Donkeys are all equines, but they aren't horses. They have long ears, short manes, fairly straight backs, distinctive angles to their shoulders and hips, and tails that can't decide if they're long haired or short. 

A female donkey is referred to as a "jenny" and a male donkey is a "jack," (hence the name "jackass.") Now, if you take a jenny donkey and cross her with a male horse (stallion), do you get a mule? Nope. You get a hinny. It's a horse-donkey hybrid, and has plenty of the benefits of hybrid vigor, but it's not a mule, and in many ways it differs from a mule physically. A hinny is smaller than the mule equivalent would be, and sports the limbs and head of a horse and the body and torso of a donkey. It still has long ears and a generally mule-like appearance, but an experienced mulero will be able to tell the difference. 

Take a jackass, though, and cross him with a female horse (mare), and you'll get a mule. Its head and legs will look more donkey-like, but its body will favor the horse. Mules are generally preferred to hinnies, and are much more common (not only because of that preference, but because breeding a larger and more - ahem! - well-endowed stallion to a small jenny is not without risk to the jenny). Mules and hinnies, being hybrids, are rarely fertile, and (officially, at least) there have been documented (but exceedingly rare) cases of female mules producing foals but not of male mules fathering any. (This all doesn't preclude mules and hinnies from having the parts AND the inclination to breed unless neutered, but it does prevent them from being successful.)

Now, your female mule (and hinny, too) is referred to as a molly mule, and the male mule / hinny is a john mule. 

Jasper, of uncertain parentage. Although sold to me as a mule, based on his full mane and tail, the clean lines of his legs, his short neck and his facial features, I suspect him to be a hinny. Either way, Jasper's a john.

Often I’ll run across historical photos depicting mules that are mis-captioned as donkeys or burros, and similarly, uninformed writers will too often refer to mules as donkeys. If you are writing about one or the other, it behooves you (yes, I did that on purpose) to know the difference. For the record, the Democrat mascot is the donkey, not a mule, and sloppy PR and marketing people get the images confused. 

In addition to mules and hinnies, horses can be crossed with zebras to produce get called "zorses." Although they are interesting looking and tough, and *sometimes* trainable, they're often dangerous and challenging even for the most experienced mule trainer. They don't have the benefit of fully-domesticated parentage on both sides. If they are the product of a female horse and a male zebra, they will have the advantage of being raised by a domestic mother, who will pass on much of her general attitude about humans to the foal, whereas a zebra mother will pass on her own wild inclinations to the baby. 

A zebra can also be bred to a donkey, and the resulting foal will be - you guessed it - a zonkey. Calmer and more pragmatic than a zorse, they can still be a handful. Zebras themselves are notoriously cantankerous souls, even if raised in captivity, and if not handled consistently and regularly they can revert back to wild very easily. This time last year, tragically, a zebra in Ohio bit its owner's arm nearly completely off. They're quick to bite and quick to kick, and savage when they do either. Remember - these are the creatures that fight off lions and hyenas and other predators in their native lands. 

For comparison's sake, here's Julie, a horse. Compare ear length, tail, angle of hip and shoulder, brow prominence, legs, neck length, and arch of the crest. 

So there you have it: mollies and johns and hinnies and jennies and jacks and mules and more. 

Copyright (c) 2024 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be copied or published without the express written permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, emailing, and otherwise helping grow my readership, and most of all, thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

What Horsemen Want Artists to Know About Horses


"Draw me like one of your French mules"

Since primitive men first scratched on the walls of caves, they’ve been inspired to draw and paint horses. These beautiful, spirited, useful beasts have occupied our creative inclinations ever since. Whether rendered in ink, paint, charcoal, marble, or wood, they graze in pastoral scenes, carry cowboys across western canvases, and ignite the dreams of little girls in children’s books. Walk into a “decorator outlet” and you’re sure to see huge paintings of horses, or just parts of them. Some are lovely. Some are perfectly appropriate for hanging on the wall behind the sofa. Some are downright scary.

Now, perhaps more than ever in the history of man-painting-horses, a lot of the artists producing horses have spent little time around them. The average urbanite might not notice the cowboy on a horse without a cinch to hold the saddle in place, or with a shanked bit and no curb strap, but your average horse person will immediately zone in on that little detail and be either amused, aghast, or annoyed. Some of us even take pictures of the offending piece and share them with our fellow horsey friends. I’m here to help you avoid being the target of our mockery.

Creative license is all well and good, but authenticity matters. Paint your horse blue and fuchsia, that’s creative license. Paint your horse with exaggerated features and ridiculously long manes and tails, and you’re the typical Arabian horse artist. Paint them blue, give them human eyes, and remove their leg joints and give them bodacious blue horse booty, and you might be Marc Chagall. But try to paint a realistic horse and put its eye on the front of its face, or give it a too-short back and too-long legs and a neck the length of a hamster’s, and you’re going to be in the “Point and Laugh” school of painting.

So, speaking here as a lifelong horsewoman, I want to share a few tips with you, my tenderfoot artist friends, that may help you out. Although I do dabble in watercolor and pencil, I’m neither a trained artist nor an art teacher; however, I’m confident in my knowledge of things horsey, and I share this in hopes it will be useful information to other dabblers. 

Study great horse illustrators. Some of my favorite artists as a child were breathtakingly skillful - and wonderfully authentic - illustrators. Take a look at the work of Wesley Dennis, Sam Savitt, Robert Lougheed. All of them illustrated books by Marguerite Henry, that gifted and versatile writer whose horse books so many of us grew up on. The illustrations were reliably correct in their depiction of horses, ponies, and donkeys. Another illustrator I loved, Ross Santee, is of an entirely different type. His pen and ink work was minimalistic, sparse, and yet so perfectly captured the horse or, perhaps more often, Indian pony - and he knew, and could convey, the difference. For detailed, exquisitely rendered authenticity, look at the simplest sketches or the most elaborate paintings of Frederic Remington. Arguably, no one can compete with his ability to capture type and form-to-function of the western horse. Look at the horses done by Olaf Wieghorst, Charles M. Russell, and Charlie Dye. I look back happily at my childhood memories of the thrill of seeing those perfectly-painted western horses. Wieghorst was, for a time, a mounted police officer (as I was) and his horses were among the most expressive of the western artists. 

Choose an appealing angle. My mother was an artist, though not a horsewoman, and in the few paintings she did with horses present, she handled them capably. One thing she told me when I was a child was “Horses aren’t attractive when painted directly head-on.” There are, of course, many exceptions, but overall it has proven true: it’s particularly difficult to attractively render a horse facing directly at the viewer. Tilt the head slightly, and you’ll get a much more attractive angle. Compositionally, they’re much more attractive from the side or at an angle. Challenge yourself, of course, but choose a pose that is attractive. 

Know the importance of Eadward Muybridge. Muybridge, a 19th century photographer, changed the way horses were portrayed in art. Look at early - say, revolutionary-era paintings of horses on the battlefield, and British sporting prints of horses and hounds - and you’ll see a couple of dominant poses. You’ll soon recognize the traditional galloping horse with front legs sprawling forward and rear legs sprawling just as far to the rear, or combat scenes with the hero on a horse that is balanced on one hind leg with both forelegs extended grandly above the battlefield. Horses don’t move that way. Muybridge was the first to debunk, as it were, the old myths of horse motion. In 1878 he completed a series of photographs of a racehorse in motion. The publication of those images was controversial; people were shocked to see that horses didn’t move as they’d always believed they did. For the first time, people understood gait and equine locomotion. Equestrian art would never be the same.

The impossibly leggy, impossibly posed, ubiquitous horse from British hunt scenes prior to Muybridge.

Know basic horse conformation. When horsemen assess horses, they look at the way the horse is put together. It’s an art and a skill. They develop an eye for good, straight legs that won’t break down under stress. They look at the height of the withers, and the angle of the shoulder, and the angle of the hip. All these things, and so many more, comprise conformation. If I could offer one helpful concept to the burgeoning equine artist, it’d be the concept of the trapezoid. Performance horsemen know the best horses have a good trapezoid: a long underline (the line between front and hind legs); a shorter top line (the line between the point of the shoulders and the upper point of the hip); and equal slope to the shoulder and hip. A third of the trapezoid will be in front of the girth line (armpit!); a third in the middle; and a third from the flank (rear armpit!) to the lower point of the butt. It’s best to look at the diagram here and start applying the trapezoid to horses you depict from the side. If you have a horse with a too-straight shoulder, it will be uncomfortable to ride and its front legs will often be set under its body too much. Now, you’re not going to ride the horse you paint, but a horseman will recognize the faults. Worse, if you depict a horse with a too-long back or a too-short hip, it will look off. You might find it easier to draw a horse by sketching out the trapezoid first, and then fleshing out the rest of it. Note: Mules and donkeys have significantly different conformation than horses, with different angles to the shoulder and hip.

A sample trapezoid showing its application to shoulder and hip lengths and angles.

Understand the vast variation in horses based on breed and type. Horses have been bred for hundreds of years to meet certain performance standards. Draft horses are bred to be powerful, large, and patient. Warmbloods - a type of horse with some blood and qualities from draft horse stock, and some blood and characteristics from “hot” blood horses of Arabian descent - were bred to be war horses, and now are largely bred to be capable sport horses. Light horses - from thoroughbreds to American Quarter Horses - are bred for just about every function. Within these three basic types are hundreds of breeds that are more specific in form and function. Then, of course, we can add in the ponies and donkeys and the lovable, utilitarian hybrids, the mules and hinnies. There’s a lot to know. If you’re painting a horse in a specific role or setting, know what type or breed you’re depicting. A Shetland pony, bred to work in the mines, might be appropriate wearing a harness and hauling coal. A showy Arabian or a Clydesdale or an Akhal-Teke? Not so much! A jockey in his brightly-colored silks is not going to be on a draft horse, but the outrider next to him leading his horse to the gate might be on an Appaloosa or a Quarter Horse or any calm, reliable, confident mount. A rider can certainly run barrels on an Arabian horse, but it’s not common in the more competitive events, and a bronc rider in a rodeo won’t be on one. You don’t have to be an expert, but you have to know what you are painting. Again, I refer you to Frederic Remington, or Guericault, or Wesley Dennis. When Wesley Dennis painted Misty of Chincoteague, you knew he was painting a pony with its short legs, longer coat, and shorter, heavier head than, say, a thoroughbred. 

Use negative space to your advantage. Art is about seeing, but often what we see is overridden by the pre-determined context we have in our head. I used to see this in witnesses to crime scenes. They’d sometimes mentally fill in the blanks based on past experience / perception rather than be an objective witness. Our minds just do that. If you show someone an inverted “V” instead of an “A” in, say, the word “RAT”, they’ll read it as an “A.” It’s a mental auto-correct function of sorts. Similarly, when we look at an image, our minds do these amazing acrobatics and yield things we don’t actually see. So, to circumvent and foil this process, learn to look at negative space - the space outside the image you’re actually drawing. Your mind’s eye might see a horse a certain way; but it may not be accurate. When looking at an actual horse or a photo reference of a horse, look at the lines outside and around the horse itself. You’ll be better able to capture the lines of the ears, or the legs, or the tail carriage. Pay particular attention to the shape of the negative space between the ears, the throatlatch (the narrow point the cuts in where the horse’s neck connects to the head), the shape between the horse’s legs. This will help you get the proportions and angles correct.

Note the guidelines I added between the ears, where the ears attach to the neck and face, under the chin (throatlatch), and where the neck meets the chest. These, like the legs, are areas where focusing on negative space will help you out.

Know something about tack. If you’re painting a horse under saddle, or in harness, or wearing a pack, either study a bit about tack or artistically obscure it, or you may end up failing much as AI currently does when depicting tack. Honestly, I’ve seen artists who have painted weirdly-attached reins or saddle strings capable of competing with even the weirdest AI renditions, and let’s not forget the ridiculous journalists who were outraged over the image of the Border Patrol rider whose reins were flying in the air because they interpreted it as a “whip” being used on illegal immigrants. I’ve seen paintings where artists stuck bits or brow bands on halters, or left off critical pieces of bridles, and lord, some of you people get creative with where reins are attached. Harnesses? They can be complicated even to the savviest horsemen, because like horses themselves, harnesses are built form-to-function. A driving horse might have a breast-collar type harness or one with a collar. A wheel horse in a six-horse team will have different rigging than the lead horses, and a single horse pulling a simple cart will be harnessed completely differently than half of a two-horse hitch. Use your photo references! Also: in general, riders hold the reins in their LEFT hand, people!

AI (this one courtesy of Bing) has gotten better in recent weeks, but this is an example of the hot mess that is still AI-generated tack. A non-horseman might think this is all copacetic, but it's not even close. AI also doesn't understand horse gaits. This horse is pacing (legs on each side moving in unison).

Understand horse condition. By this I mean know how a young horse differs from an old horse, and how a skinny, unhealthy horse looks different from one in peak show condition. If you want your horse to look tired, broken-down, or old, like Don Quixote’s Rosinante, give it a concave neck (the crest, meaning the topline of the neck - hence the word “crestfallen”); a depression above the eye; a lowered, dejected headset; swollen fetlocks and pasterns in the hind legs; lower lip jutting out; a swayed back; a dejected pose - such as standing with front legs slightly under, and resting one hind leg on its toe; lack of muscle definition; a low tail position; and a lackluster coat. To give your horse vitality and youth, show it with an arched neck (the degree varies based on breed); a high or moderately-high head; well-defined legs; sinewy, defined musculature; a high, proud, tail position; and a glossy coat. You can convey a certain amount of energy in your painted or sculpted horse by understanding the horse’s emotional state and condition. 

Finally, let’s look at everyone’s favorite subject: anatomical correctness. Stallions have balls and a penis. Geldings have no balls, but still have a penis.The latter is discreetly tucked into its sheath unless it’s in a state of arousal, or is peeing, or is doped up, or - in rare situations - is suffering a health disorder. This saves you, gentle artist, from having to depict Wilbur’s Johnson. However, you must often still depict Wilbur’s sheath if the horse is positioned thusly. Yes, you will have the inevitable adolescent viewer comment on it, but a gelding or a stallion will have a visible sheath. It is shaped something like a somewhat rounded square-root symbol, or an inverted asymmetrical mound. Mares, which are female horses, have two teats, but unless they are about to give birth or are nursing their foal, these will not be visible from the side. So if you are squeamish about making your horses anatomically correct, you can always choose to paint mares. 

The sheath in all its glory. Do not fear the sheath. 

So there you have it: a few things I wish more artists would understand about horses. This is much longer than I’d intended, and could perhaps end up being a booklet or book, but may it help you in your quest to paint, or sculpt, or otherwise depict a lovely, lifelike horse. Reach out to me if you have a specific question about this content. (No, I will not evaluate your own artistic efforts!)

For further reading:

Reference book on horse anatomy (affiliate link)

Copyright (c) 2024 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including pictures, may be used without the written permission of the author * Links to this post, however, may be freely shared, and are appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, November 4, 2023

We Need to Talk About Horse Rescues

 Can we talk? Here goes my unpopular opinion: Animal rescues are fertile territory for scammers and hoarders. A few weeks back, a person and her dog whom I knew from Twitter made local news for the dozens of special-needs dogs she was hoarding in horrific conditions and using to gain social media clout and money via her "rescue." As the owner of a special needs dog myself, many people sent me links to the woman's videos of Clyde, her wobbly husky, who has (like my Little Chevy dog) a neurological condition. Those videos, promptly picked up by the Dodo and other large accounts, made her famous. She parlayed that into one of those famous "raising awareness" careers, which soon fulfilled whatever was missing in her life so fully that she began bringing home more and more unfortunate dogs with mobility issues - wheelie dogs. Soon her small home on the east side of the Phoenix metropolitan area was filled with these dogs - dogs in crates, dogs in their own feces, dogs in misery, dead dogs in her freezer - all while her "rescue" pages were filled with lies about them being adopted, and while her stroke-ridden elderly mother slept on a couch in air so filthy hazmat suits were donned by responders. The people who kept sending these dogs (and money) to the woman were ... other rescues. They bought into her excuses as to why they weren't allowed in the home to see her dogs and the conditions they were in. There's no excuse for any of this. 

This week, another rescue made the news. A horse rescue also on the east side of the valley is seeking more donations, but there's a twist. The woman who founded and ran this ill-fated rescue died recently, and she left the entire set-up to another woman, who is now having to deal with the utter mess. When she inherited the property, it included sixty (SIXTY!) horses on a ... get this ... 2.5 acre property. SIXTY horses on a two and a half acre property. People have been funding this debacle for years. There's simply no excuse for this. It's no more humane to rescue an aging, crippled, neglected horse from slaughter only to send them to a cramped, manure-filled, run-down postage-stamp of a stable than it is to euthanize it. The stalls are bent, mismatched, damaged pipe tied together - literally - with baling twine. How can a horse run, or so much as trot around, when packed together as tightly as a trailer full of beef cattle on their way to market? How can they get any of the care they need? 

The heiress of this shambolic "rescue" is, to her credit, openly addressing the issues. She's acknowledged that the deceased owner was hoarding horses, and that two dozen horses need immediate placement, and that the entire "facility" needs immediate repair and a makeover. The city where this mess resides is working with her (to their credit) as she tries to resolve the issues, but there's the threat of dozens of code citations hanging over her head. She has spent $13,000 in veterinary bills in the past five weeks since taking over. Gee, thanks for remembering me in your will, lady. I can't imagine the stress and worry she will contend with as she makes some very difficult-but-necessary decisions on behalf of the animals on the property. On the rescue website (which predates the new owner), numerous horses are listed as "not available for adoption" because they are either A) "sponsored", B) "in training", or C) "rescue ambassador." Sixty horses, but no one is allowed to adopt most of them because the owner had opted to remove that option.

I don't think the majority of people get into the "rescue" business because they intend to scam or hoard. They start out with genuine compassion, in most cases. I think they, like Munchausen by Proxy parents, happen upon the attention it generates for them initially and thrive on it. They become addicted to it. They stand in front of cameras wailing about the cruelty perpetrated upon a certain animal, and the attention - and money - flows their way. Too often they're middle-aged blue-eyed women who are missing the attention they once had when young - let's face it, middle-aged femaleness is a time when most of lose the attention and influence we once enjoyed - and they use their "rescues" as a means of exerting control over their on self-image. They feel needed, they feel useful, and they have the fringe benefits of having someone else fund their horse ownership. 

Yes, this is harsh, and admittedly so. I'm not, obviously, talking about everyone in the rescue business, and in no way do I want to diminish the efforts of those who run good, practical, sensible, humane rescues. There are many such good people and reliable rescues and I've known several absolute saints in the business. But again and again I see the Munchausen by Rescue profile pop up - and every damned time, the animals suffer as much, or more, than they did in their original neglectful conditions. Worse, the second-time-around for these second-chance animals is exploited for the material and emotional needs of humans who, themselves, need rescue of sorts. 

For every one of these Munchausen by Rescue owners, there are dozens if not hundreds of kindhearted "useful idiots" enabling them. These are the people bringing animals to them; volunteering to clean the stalls; donating dollars; training the horses; donating items for the big annual fundraising party; running the social media accounts, or amplifying the bandwidth of them; or otherwise allowing themselves to be exploited for the benefit of animal exploitation. And they're good people, and they're being taken advantage of.

So how do we determine if a rescue is legitimate? How do we avoid being used, manipulated, and exploited? How do we know if our dollars are helping a legitimate cause? How do we know, most of all, that the animals are being provided safe, compassionate, and reasonable shelter and care?

First, SEE the facility. Look at their social media pages and website. Tour the facility. So what if they don't want to let you, because (pick an excuse)? There are humane societies and shelters just about everywhere. It's not hard to find one that will let you see the conditions the animals are kept in. Heck, it's impossible to avoid getting those nice address stickers from a lot of them. 

Second, do some background on the owners. The gal who was reaping a living off her exploitation of special needs dogs was using many, many different names. Why? You don't need to dox someone, or publicly shame them - just do a little basic web sleuthing and find out what you can, and make an informed decision. You can check to see how much litigation a person has been involved in on some county sites. If everyone is suing a particular rescue owner, or they've been arrested dozens of times for fraud schemes, can you trust your donations of time or money are going to the intended purpose? 

Third, ask about local reputation. Does the "rescue" pay its bills? Do the horseshoers donate their time? How long have they been shoeing for the rescue? Does the hay broker on the corner have a long list of unpaid deliveries? One "rescue" I knew of had the kindest old hay seller deliver and stack hundreds of dollars of feed, only to go unpaid. If the rescue isn't kind to the people who serve them, are they kind to the voiceless animals? Another "rescue" I knew was owned by a man who cursed out the employees of a local business in front of me because the line was too long at checkout. He humiliated them, yelled profanities, obstructed business, and then drove away in his "horse sanctuary" truck. No way in hell I'd donate money to a rescue where the owner treats other human beings that way. 

Fourth, are the owners making a living off the rescue? Are they driving a shiny new truck with the rescue name and logo emblazoned on the side - as their own personal vehicle? Are they paying themselves a salary from donations? Because if they are, they aren't volunteers, they're staff and / or business owners. And if they're staff, are they paying the stall cleaners and horse trainers and people who come groom the animals? Or are THOSE people expected to work for free? 

Fifth, HOW BIG IS THE FACILITY? If it's a horse rescue and it's on less than five acres, reconsider your donations. Horses are large animals and they need room to move around. If they're locked into tiny stalls with tarps for shade and have no turnout space, move on. Do not enable the people who bring horses home from auction only to live in soul-stifling mind-numbing warehouse conditions.

Sixth, how controlling is the owner? Look at the "adoption" application. Are they asking for thousands of dollars to adopt a horse? Are they mandating that you feed what they tell you to, or that - if you must re-home the horse - that you have to bring it back to them? Are they denying adoption to people based on overly-restrictive criteria? Are they denying adoption of many of the animals because the animal is "sponsored," or "in training," or "an ambassador" for the rescue? If it's a rescue, and not a sanctuary where animals are intentionally kept for the duration of their natural lives, they should be adopting out animals. Not selling them for thousands; not denying them to owners; not keeping them as ambassadors - but finding them good, loving homes. And once the animal goes to the home, that owner - if they're a loving owner - should have the right to make decisions for the animal from that point forward. 

Many years ago, I would donate money regularly to a certain small animal rescue near my home at the time. I toured the facility; I met the owner; I followed their efforts in the news and through their newsletter. I stopped my support the day I found out they denied adopting animals out to senior citizens. Why? Because the adoptive owner might die. Well, none of us come with warranties or expiration dates. How awful to deny an elderly man the joy of a companion animal because he's elderly. How horrible to keep animals in CAGES at a shelter because they wouldn't let an elderly person take those animals home. At the time, 43,000 dogs and cats were being euthanized annually at the county pound, yet ... they denied adoption to a person based on age. Hideous. 

Another rescue - a horse rescue - I was familiar with was wrapped up in litigation over ownership of one of the rescue's horses. The money spent on lawyers could have done so much for more animal care, but nah. Two of the people involved with control of the rescue were vying for the ownership of one horse. They were too interested in fighting for control of the animal rather than in seeing the stall open up to potentially care for another horse. Hey, if you own a rescue and someone is willing to take and provide care for one of the horses - absent allegations / suspicion of cruelty - let the animal go! If the rescue owner is that committed to keeping an animal, aren't you really just funding their private animal ownership? 

Seventh, HOW MANY ANIMALS ARE ON SITE? Are animals actually being moved out to homes? Are there documents to show records of adoption, deaths, veterinary care, and so on? There were so many red flags involved in the case of the woman running the special-needs dog rescue, it's absurd she wasn't found out. Posting "adopted!" on the animal's profile on her website was apparently a euphemism for "dead and in the freezer" or "living in a tiny cage on a stack of other cages in my storage room." 

Eighth, how is your donated money being used? How transparent is the rescue, and can you see their financial statements? Are you funding a new truck for the rescue chairman to drive as his POV? Is the rescue sending unsolicited "gifts" to try to recruit donors? (It's okay if they do - but is that how you want your money spent?) Are you paying for salaries of staffers? (Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing - but shouldn't you know?) 

Ninth, are animals who've suffered great cruelty being kept alive for the sake of news broadcasts that lead to more donations, when the compassionate thing to do would be to euthanize them? Is it kinder to keep an animal alive in great pain while healthy, adoptable animals are being euthanized? I can't really answer this one; I just encourage donors to think about it. Certainly animals have a survival instinct and the fact they have pain doesn't mean they should be put down. Giving an animal a chance at a joyful life after they've suffered is an honorable and kind thing. But there are sometimes animals displayed on news / social media that are truly suffering - but they're worth their weight in gold to the rescue / shelter. Those sad faces of horribly abused animals on the mailers sent to potential donors are cruelty porn. I quit donating to any facility that engages in cruelty porn. I don't need to see photos of abused animals to know that abuse exists. I'm not judging you for choosing to donate every time you see a story of a grossly abused animal; that's compassionate. I'm not saying I'm right here. I'm just encouraging you to think about whether it's kind or fair to keep a suffering animal alive to exploit the public's compassion for sure-fire donations. 

Tenth, is the rescue a registered non-profit? And if they claim to be, have you checked it out to be sure? Being registered as such offers certain compliance requirements - and it also allows you to write off your donations. If they claim non-profit status, and they are NOT a registered non-profit, realize you are not accurately claiming your deduction - and the IRS doesn't like that. 

In summation ... I think it's amazing and wonderful that people want to donate to help the animals. None of this is intended to discourage you from doing so - or to discourage you from wanting to run your own animal rescue. I'm just encouraging you to make informed decisions and, if you're a rescuer, to make ethical ones. If you're an animal hoarder, contact your local humane society and seek their help. There's no shame in realizing you have an issue and in addressing it. If, however, you're hoarding animals because you make a lot of money in donated funds - well, rot in hell.

A final point: A lot of times I hear people say, "Someone abused this animal and people just suck. People are awful. I hate the world!" Think about this: Let's say you've just read an article about a person abusing an animal in a horrifying way, and the animal is rescued by the local humane society. There was, indeed, a horrible human being who did the abuse - but look at the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people involved in rescuing the animal. The person who made the initial call; the law enforcement officers responding; the humane society who sent out a team to pick up the animal/s; the veterinarians at the shelter; the volunteers who care for the animal as it recovers; the thousands of people who - like you - saw the article and are horrified and want to help with their donations of time or money - all these people grossly outnumber the sick twist who abused the animal. There are more caring people than there are abusive people. Go walk the aisles at Petsmart and look at the everyday people buying toys and treats and silly sweaters for their animals. Look at the people in the lobby of your local veterinary clinic, getting the best of care for their beloved companion - or sobbing as they say goodbye in the most compassionate possible way. There are more caring people than there are abusive people. And this is certainly true of animal rescuers. But informed is forewarned; help keep the rescues honest and compassionate by making your own informed decisions.

Copyright (c) 2023 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author * Thank you for sharing links to this page.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Practical End-of-Life Considerations for Your Equine Companion

My beloved horse Buck at 26 years of age. Best horse that ever drew air. Most trustworthy and reliable of riding partners; kindest of heart; and with the sweetest neigh of any horse I've known.

Let's talk about it. Your beloved horse is mortal. Despite the long lives contemporary horses may have with proper care and good fortune, eventually he's going to pass. Setting aside the inevitable sadness and grief, let's talk some practical considerations and some advance planning.

Horses aren't goldfish. They're not easily disposed of and there are some unique logistical concerns involved. Although you can't prepare for every contingency, even when stable planning there are some things in advance you can do to make the final passage more manageable. The person who comes out to remove your horse will have to drag the body at some point and winch it onto a truck or trailer. When I built my dream stable a few years ago (one I left behind in search of more acreage, sadly) I had six-foot wide gates on each side of the over-sized stalls. Why? Because if a horse passes in a stall, it makes removing their body so, so much easier and gentler. If you have portable pipe panel fencing, that makes the job easier as well. If you're planning a facility, consider the final exit of the animals that will reside there. It'll make your life easier at a very difficult time. Ensure a truck and trailer or a tractor can access the turn-outs and stall area at a distance and trajectory that animal removal is simplified. 

Now, about those remains. Some owners are very sentimental about the post-mortem status of the remains; others, more practically inclined. Your budget may well play a part. Again, some advance planning can help you out when you're grieving. Think about how much importance you place on the final resting place or your horse and whether or not you'll realistically be able to achieve that goal; if you can't, look at what compromise you can make that will answer to your feelings as well as your checkbook. If you want to ensure your horse is cremated, you may be looking at the expense of the veterinary visit for euthanasia; the removal service; and the cost of cremation. If it's important enough to you to want these services, set aside the necessary amount (even if you must put a few dollars away monthly until the time comes) in a savings account so you needn't think about them when your horse passes. Even if cremation isn't an option, at minimum you'll have removal service expenses and, very likely, associated veterinary costs.

On-Site Burial

If you own a large property and may legally do so, you can consider burial of your horse on your own property. Although you won't have to pay for removal services, you'll need the use of a tractor with a backhoe. If you already have a rig of your own, you can dig your horse's grave. If you know the end is imminent, it's wise to dig or have the grave dug in advance, and then lead him to the site to say goodbye. A sloping entrance to the grave will allow you to lead your horse precisely to his place of rest without any unpleasant dragging or rough handling of a body, if this is important to you. Your veterinarian can meet you there to perform a humane euthanasia. If you have a padded moving blanket (the type used for shipping furniture) or a horse blanket you can let your horse lie down upon as he is sedated, that will make it gentler for him and easier on you. The moving blankets are inexpensive and if you wish to, you can cover him with it as necessary. From there, the burial is easy; make sure the remains are fully covered and the ground packed well to prevent coyotes from digging at the site. You may be surprised how persistent they can be about digging.

When planning ahead for a site for a horse burial, consider the area required for the earth-moving vehicles to maneuver. They need space to move back and forth and laterally as well as room to put all the dirt until the process is complete; they then have to be able to push the dirt back in. With a larger commercial backhoe I recently required nearly an 80 x 80 foot clearing to allow safe ingress and egress for the digger.


If you do not have a facility where burying a horse is possible, legal, or practical, you have several options and considerations. Do you have a friend or neighbor with a facility where it's a possibility? If so, take the horse there for euthanasia and final arrangements. If not, you may require the use and expense of a byproducts service or a horse-removal specialist. Your local veterinarian can recommend those companies. You may also wish to take your horse to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia; you then need not be present to have the body removed, and your veterinarian can make the arrangements for you and add them to the euthanasia bill. Some companies will offer cremation services; if this is important to you, you will pay more to have the ashes returned to you.

Wildlife Parks

There are even more options. If your horse is healthy but euthanasia is a necessity due to other concerns - an old injury, for example, or aggression / behavioral issues - you may consider donating him to a zoo /wildlife sanctuary / safari park / wildlife rehab center. They will offer humane euthanasia and the horse's body will benefit the facility by feeding predators. Those animals need to eat and they are carnivores, so do not feel guilty about this choice. Your donation will provide food for the animals and will save other animal lives by doing so. However, there are things in advance you must know and do for this option. A contract with the wildlife park is necessary; you must agree not to give your horse pharmaceuticals or medications for a specific period prior to the donation; you must, in all probability, deliver the animal within certain specified times; and he must be freshly and thoroughly washed prior to the delivery. 

Veterinary Colleges

Should you be fortunate enough to have a veterinary college in your area, you may have other options. I had a sweet mare who required euthanasia for severe founder. She had an unusual medical history and I reached out to a local veterinary school to see if they could use her for post-mortem study or medical research. They didn't accept donations, per se, but they did offer me an affordable and humane end of life for her. I found this to be ultimately one of the gentlest, most delicate end-of-life events my horses have undergone. The staff at the college was tremendous and kind. They had a grassy square near the clinic barn where they suggested I spend time saying goodbye to my mare and letting her graze. They had a specially-made heavily-padded anesthesia stall that "embraced" the horse as the sedation took effect, allowing a controlled drop to the padded floor. From there I turned everything else over to them; they took care of the removal, and in addition they were able to use her hock joints as a teaching aid. It made me feel better knowing the mare was able to benefit future veterinary students. The school did charge for the services, but it was far less expensive than having a veterinary call-out plus removal services, and again, providing the money to the veterinary school was well in line with my own preferences.

(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller 


Now let's talk sentimental / memorial considerations. When you lose a horse, you may wish to save a large swatch of their tail to have a craft item made to remember him by. You can have an artisan craft the tail into a hitched-horsehair item such as a bridle, a tassel or shoo-fly, or you can consider finding a potter to make a thrown-horsehair item. The latter is a craft long practiced by indigenous people; when the clay pot or bowl is fired in the kiln, horsehair (tail hair) is "thrown" on the pot while it is still hot, fusing it beautifully and permanently into the glaze. It is a distinctive and lovely art and makes for an elegant "memory pot" to memorialize your horse. I once had the misfortune of being the "on-call" neighbor for a friend who was out of town. Their petsitter called me when their elderly and very-much-loved horse suffered colic. Sadly, the horse's stomach had ruptured by the time the vet arrived and euthanasia was the only option. I made the arrangements for the horse's burial, but before doing so I saved a section of his tail and secretly had a thrown-horsehair vase made for them. They were overwhelmed with gratitude when I took it to them a few weeks later. The potter made a braided "collar" for the neck of the vase of the remaining tail hairs. You can find artisans who practice hitched-horsehair and thrown-horsehair crafts online via Etsy or their own websites.

If you have saved a horseshoe from your horse, you can also incorporate that either with or without some tail or mane hair to make a rustic frame for a photograph of him. Alternately, you may opt to have a local artist paint him from a photograph and frame that instead. One of my traditions with the many horses I've lost is to buy myself a memorial piece of jewelry on their passing. When I lost Oscar (much too young,) to melanoma, I bought a handcrafted silver necklace with running horses on it. Invariably every time I pull it from my jewelry box I think of that stunning, sweet, funny horse and when someone compliments the necklace, I share a memory of him with them.

Advance Directives

Another aspect of advance planning is to document your preferences for the disposition of your horse's remains for any boarding facility, trainer, shipping service, or horse-sitter you use. Be reasonable, and recognize the impact on the involved parties; keep in mind this is likely not easy on them, either. Prior guidance may well be appreciated and make their job easier should the worst happen when you aren't present or available.

Regardless of how you choose to dispose of your horse's remains, it is your choice. If you have a close relationship to your horse and it's important for you to give him a particularly dignified final disposition, that's your decision. If you're pragmatic or simply can't afford certain options, that's your business. We all have our own sensitivities and viewpoints involving end-of-life issues. You needn't feel guilty for how spending as little as possible, nor need you feel guilty for giving him a human-grade memorial service. One of the most challenging things about losing beloved pets is we don't have a cultural avenue for grieving; sometimes I think an animal funeral would be a wise custom so we can process our grief and move past it. That part isn't for them; it's for us, and as loving and compassionate horse owners, we deserve such compassion ourselves. 

If you are reading this because your horse has recently passed, please accept my condolences. 

(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including images, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for stopping by!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Some Songs About Horses

My sweet ol' Dad always had the dusty a.m. radio in his workshop tuned to the local country station, KNIX. In the house, he'd often have Johnny Cash or Marty Robbins on the record player. As his faithful sidekick, I loved listening to the ballads he favored - and as a horse-crazy kid, I particularly loved the ones featuring horses. I still do. Here are some songs featuring horses, starting with those early favorites. Most of them, of course, have been covered by a plethora of different artists over the years, but I'm defaulting to the artist I most closely associate with the song.  I've attached Amazon links to some of the albums, so you, too, can keep playing your favorites on loop while hauling your horses. (Please note that I may make a commission on purchases through these links, which is greatly appreciated and helps keep my own horses, mules, and donkeys in hay, and me in music!) 

Yes, I do sing to my horses. Call PETA!

The Strawberry Roan, Marty Robbins. Off Marty's Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album, the one with the hot pink cover and Marty in gunfighter garb ready to clear leather and beat you to the draw, this is one of my earliest favorites (along with every other song on that album). The strawberry roan is an ugly ol' pig-eyed bronc who can toss the cockiest of cowboys. Some cowboys just need to be throwed. Buy it here on CD: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

The Tennessee Stud, by Eddy Arnold. The beautiful, flawless voice of the artist who performed Cattle Call to perfection captivated me as a child with a song I never tired of singing along to - and perhaps one of the reasons I always had an affinity for dun horses. "The Tennessee Stud was long and lean, the color of the sun but his eyes were green ... He had the color and he had the blood, and there never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud!" I can't hear the words without smelling the sawdust of Dad's woodshop.  Johnny Cash also covered the song admirably. Eddy Arnold Boxed Set

Comanche (the Brave Horse), Johnny Horton. The man who gave us the epic battle ballads, like The Battle of New Orleans and The Sinking of the Bismarck, also gave us a tribute to Comanche, the surviving horse of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Comanche was quite the equine celebrity at the time. Fun fact: Comanche was stuffed after his death at age 29, and remains intact at the University of Kansas even today. Johnny Horton Greatest Hits

Wildfire, Michael Martin Murphey. I'm going to throw some shade here. I have a love-hate relationship with this schmaltzy sentimental ear worm song about the girl who runs calling "Wildfire." The Best of Michael Martin Murphey

Goodbye Old Paint, Michael Martin Murphey. Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers both contributed to the modern-day popularization of this song, but even back in the 1880s it was a trail song crooned by cattle herders on the American frontier. I choose Murphey's version, though, for quality: Michael Martin Murphey, Cowboy Songs

Cowgirl's Prayer, Emmylou Harris. What's NOT to love about this spectacular, poignant song about a cowgirl whose horse ran away? Oh, Emmylou, you killed it here! And I am going to admit I get a knot in my throat when I listen to this song, which is another one I hit the "back / play" on the truck CD player every darned time it comes back around. Emmylou Harris, Cowgirl's Prayer

Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, K. T. Tunstall. Okay, I love this song. It's one of the songs I can, and do, listen to again and again. Catchy tune, a bit of mystery, and that magical vocal loop she uses - and a horse, of course! K. T. Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope

Horse with No Name, America. Name the damned horse, people. Name the horse! America, A Horse with No Name

Don't Forget the Asses!

Two of our donkeys-in-residence, well-deserving of their own songs.

Dominick the Donkey, Lou Monte. It's just not Christmas here at Rancho Chupacabra without rousing renditions of Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey. Here's a link to the video with lyrics:  Dominick the Donkey Video. Admit it: It's adorable. 

One of my first records as a child was a "singalong with Burl Ives," and I have to give an honorable mention to his Mairzy Doats  (mares eat oats) even though that's pretty much the extent of the horse reference in the lyrics. My best friend and riding buddy when I was eleven had a horse named Mairzy Doats in honor of the song. Burl also performed a song called "There's a Mule Up in Tombstone Arizona" which I want to love, having mules and living in Tombstone as I do, but I'll spare you. Five-year-old singalong me would've loved it, though! 

There isn't nearly enough mule music out there, and the best one is so sad I don't recommend listening to it if you have mules and love them as I do mine. It's by the amazing singer Ken Curtis, best known to most of us as mule-riding Festus on Gunsmoke. The husband-person called me to his computer one day to play this for me. I may never forgive him. I don't read dog books where the dog dies because they make me cry my eyes out, and my objection to this song is for the same reason! Here's a link to the Youtube video: Ode to a Mule, Ken Curtis

Copyright (c) 2022 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Thank you for sharing links, however!

Friday, December 18, 2020

We're All Ears Here at Rancho Chupacabra!

Old-timers and long-timers of Scottsdale may recall Yale Siminoff Stables, in its latter years situated on the east side of Scottsdale Road in the area of today's airpark industrial and shopping centers. I first took riding lessons at Yale's place when I was a five-year-old horse-crazy kid. Yale and his wife, a trick rider herself, often had horses on the ranch that had been used in western films; I learned on many of those horses, from albino "Uncle Al" to plain ol' "Brownie." It was at Yale's place that I first rode a mule. Yale had a trail course set up north of the riding arena, and on the day I was introduced to mules I rode the trail course. 

Unless something's slipping my memory, it was many years before I had the opportunity to ride another mule. That one was Michelle McGorky's impressive mule Wilma. She let me spend some time on her while we were on the Billy the Kid's Last Ride in New Mexico. Wilma was stout, tall, and had a "big engine," as Michelle put it. She performed impeccably on the ride, 150 miles of often-aggressive trail pounding from ranch to ranch across the plains. Michelle pointed out how Wilma's ears moved back and forth when she was happy. Wilma, sadly, recently passed away. 

And that was it for my mule-back experience. Having the donkey gang here, though, reignited my interest in creatures long of ear and large of brain. Having recently retired the best riding horse I've ever had, my very much-loved Buck, and finding myself constantly annoyed at the antics of very-marey Sassypants whom I've been trying to turn into a trail horse for some years now, I determined to find a couple of solid, well-trained trail mules - one for myself and one for my husband-person. Weeks of poring over internet ads, borrowing a book on mules from my neighbors, reading up on mule sites, and watching mule videos didn't dissuade me. I settled on two mules from Lindsey Goode in North Carolina and, after satisfying myself that Lindsey represented her mules honestly and accurately, ordered them sight unseen. I could barely contain myself waiting for those mules to get here! Thanks to the outstanding staff at Equine Express, they arrived safely, happily, and in fantastic condition via a rather posh big rig. 

Above, on the day of her arrival, is my mule (now known as "Delta Dawn.")  She's seven years old, 15 H, and gaited.  Below is Russ on his sweet, steady, good-natured 12-year-old mule, Jasper Jeep.

Here's another shot of Delta Dawn, after taking a couple of days to get to know each other and deciding, "Damn, I love this mule."

Delta Dawn is a bit edgier and hotter than Jasper Jeep, but she's neither mean nor crazy. Today we took the mules on their first trail ride out in the desert. They've never seen open spaces like the desert before, being from the more lushly landscaped south, but they were sensible about the newness of it and the sometimes scary-looking saguaros. Delta wasn't too sure about Terror Rock - a boulder that every horse I've ridden out there thinks is some sort of Deathasaurus Rex crouching down and waiting to strike - but she handled it well and with a little encouragement passed by it reasonably. She definitely wanted to go into third gear on the way home and required plenty of half-halts and stop-and-breathe moments, but that's fixable. Jasper Jeep was solid throughout our ride. 

Both of the mules are strong, fast forward mules, well-matched to each other's speed. I was surprised at the ground they covered. They handled the rocks well (although Delta Dawn picked one up in her right rear foot and brought it all the way home, never indicating she had a stone wedged into her shoe). I have to say it again ... I love that mule. When we got home and after I'd dug the stone out of the hoof, I hopped back on her and rode her across the tarp I'd stretched out on the ground. She looked at it for a moment, sized it up, and without any hesitation walked willingly across it. Heck, I'd still be out there on Sassy if I'd wanted that sort of calm approach to an obstacle. 

I know there will be challenges ahead as we encounter new things on these mules, but so far our mule journey is an enjoyable experience. They arrived here just nine days ago and have settled in as smoothly as we could have hoped. Delta Dawn, heavy in the bridle on my first couple of rides, has lightened up tremendously already. The brief moments I've put her into a trot have been a treat; the kind of smooth gait I could ride for hours, and probably never spill my coffee. Things to work on? Standing politely when I mount; standing quietly when stopped on the trail; and calming down on the return trip home. I'll take it.