Thursday, February 13, 2014

Horses of our own

Horses of Our Own


It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any horse work.  We’ve shifted our focus to our upcoming move to the Philippines.  We have a house full of furnishings and such to sell off prior to selling the house itself.  Many of our smaller items can be shipped over, saving us the expense and trouble of locating and acquiring suitable replacements.  Included in this category is a quantity of horse and cattle related supplies and equipment. 
Much of this, as it relates to horses, is largely a mental exercise.  We are thinking on and planning just how to build our horse herd.  The easy portion of this is something every prospective horse owner should do before acquiring a horse.  That is to know just what you intend to do with the horse once you have it.  It does no good to buy an expensive and voracious animal, only to find that it is not suited for the job you want it to do.  The horse’s disposition and physical capabilities need to match the job it is expected to perform.  In our case, we need sturdy animals that can carry us safely along the mountain roads and trails of the Cordilleras.  They must be calm enough to safely negotiate through traffic in the barangays, or small villages that lie near our ranch.  At least one of them needs to have enough pep and intelligence to work with small bunches of cattle.  This makes it fairly simple for us.  We don’t need to look for an expensive, imported breed of horse.  The small, tough, “native” horses of the Philippines should work well for us.
These “native” horses are of no particular breed.  They are descended from the Asian, Spanish, American, and more recently, Australian horses brought to the islands over many hundreds of years.  Similar to wild or feral horses in other parts of the world, these horses are mostly small, tough, and able to thrive on coarse and varied forage.  Although the tendency is toward small bodied animals, there is some variation in size.  We will be looking for horses on the tall end of the spectrum, at least 14 hands (about 56 inches) tall.  If we get many visits from our European and American friends, we’ll have to consider adding some stouter, taller horses to the mix.
Another thing to consider is hoof care.  No matter what, a horse is only as good as the feet it stands on.  So far, the calesa horses in a couple of tourist spots are the only ones I’ve seen up close in the Philippines.  Some of the animals seem well cared for.  Others, not so much.  For the most part, the farriery seemed clumsy.  Rather than heating and shaping the shoes to fit the hooves, the hooves were trimmed and filed to fit narrow, mule like shoes.  The hooves seemed elongated and artificially shaped, as if the horses were walking on blocks of wood. 

There are competent farriers in the Philippines.  There is a well-established racing industry.  There are also many stables that cater to well to do equestrians.  Many of these folks are involved in show jumping, hunter-jumper equitation, or the high form of horsemanship called dressage.  These athletic horses can perform as they do partly because skilled and knowledgeable farriers keep their hooves in good condition.
In our location, we are an inconvenient distance away from any experienced farrier.    I have decided to keep our horses barefoot.  This involves allowing the sole of the hoof to grow out and become tough.  The hoof walls must be trimmed and shaped by both natural wear and with hoof nippers and rasp.  I can do some of this myself, but I have to remember that I’m getting old.  I’ll need to train someone locally to help out and eventually take over the job. 

Except for sending our saddles and other assorted tack ahead, most of this is just mental preparation.  Even though we’ve been making improvements on our ranch during our annual visits, it’s not practical for us to own livestock until we arrive there permanently.  In the meantime, I’m studying how these things are done in the Philippines and working out how I can fit into the mix.