Learning was in abundance at this year's Big Wyoming Horse Expo as participants learned everything from how to get their horse used to a trail course, to starting a colt, to classroom topics like equine acupuncture, equine behavior and equine dentistry. This year's Expo was held in Douglas, Wyo., April 20-22.
A variety of horse trainers, veterinarians and equine specialists were on hand to share their knowledge on a variety of topics. Amy McLean, equine specialist with the University of Wyoming, held a horse judging clinic for 4-H, FFA and college youth. McLean, and three members of the University of Wyoming champion horse judging team, Lacey Teigen, Corinna Slingerland and Stephanie Schroeder, worked with the students to make them more comfortable judging horses and giving reasons. During the judging clinic, the students placed four classes - stock-type geldings, stock-type mares, western pleasure and western horsemanship.
After the actual judging contest, McLean directed a classroom session mainly focused on giving compelling reasons to defend a class placing. "Everyone is different, and everyone gives reasons differently," McLean told the group. "The important thing is to stick with the format, and find what works for you."
Dr. Brenda Unrein, a veterinarian with Laramie Peak Veterinary Associates in Wheatland, Wyo., talked about dental health and how regular dental exams should be a part of a horse's health regimen. Unrein encourages horse owners to have their horse's teeth examined by the time they are 2-years-old. "Usually the first dental problems in a horse develop around two to four years of age," Dr. Unrein explained. As the erupting adult teeth come through, they push out the baby teeth. "Usually, this poses no problems, but sometimes the cap of the baby tooth will be retained. You may notice this if your horse is trying to use its tongue to flip that cap loose. The cap can also get hung up in the gum tissue, so it is swinging back and forth. You may hear a clicking sound when they are eating from that cap moving around," she said.
In older horses, owners should watch for signs of dental issues like dropping feed, losing body condition for no apparent reason, shaking or holding their head funny, or even ringing their tail. "The biggest fallacy I hear is my horse doesn't need a dental because its fat," she stated. "Usually, that horse will need a dental exam as much as a skinnier horse. It may have a different metabolism where it can still eat a smaller amount of feed, and keep the weight on where a slimmer horse can't," she explained.
When Dr. Unrein sedates a horse for a dental exam and puts the speculum in the horse's mouth to hold it open, the horse owner is usually surprised at what they see. "A lot of the time, you will see lots of sores and ulcers on the tongue and gums from misalignment or lack of dental care," she said. After she finishes an exam, Dr. Unrein likes to move the jaws to make sure the teeth are aligned and the mouth moves freely. "A horse grinds its teeth similar to a cow," she explained. "If the horse can't grind its teeth correctly, then I haven't done my job," she said.
Rick Gaudreault instructed students on ranch horse versatility, trail challenges and obstacles. "You can never be prepared enough to compete in trail," he told the group. "It is important to use your imagination at home, because they will try you at these competitions any way they can," he said.
Most ranch horse competitions involve some form of trail riding, he said. The more common obstacles are crossing a bridge, opening, passing through and closing a gate, opening and closing a mailbox, pulling a log in a figure eight, and loading the horse into a trailer. However, every association will have different obstacles. "In one competition, I had to pull a Christmas tree with a teddy bear on top," Gaudreault said. "To prepare yourself and your horse for these competitions, go home and use your imagination. Come up with any obstacle you can think of, and get your horse used to it. There is no limit to what they might make you do. Don't be afraid to try new challenges," he recommended.
Dr. Bruce Connally, DVM with Wyoming Equine discussed equine behavior and the scientific studies behind why what good trainers do works. Many characteristics horses have are not shared by other animals. One of the most notable characteristics is their ability to rapidly desensitize to something that scares them.
Horses are also quick learners of both good and bad habits. "It doesn't take too much repetition for them to learn either way," he explained. "That is what helps make them so easy to train," he explained.
The more horses are around a person, the more they learn to recognize them. In his veterinary practice, Connally said some of his equine clients know him by the smell of his clothing, the medicines he carries, and the sound of the pickup he drives. "If I do something bad to that horse, do you think he will remember me the next time he sees me?" Connally questioned the crowd. "You bet he will. That is why I always try to leave things with the horses on a positive note. If I had to do something bad to him, I always try to pet and talk to him, and even get treats from the owners to bribe him. It is really important that that horse's last moments with you are positive, from personal point of view as a veterinarian," he said.
Connally also shared the fact that horses are herd animals, and the whole herd never sleeps at once. If a horse is by itself, it has no one to stand guard while it sleeps, Connally said. "Isolation stalls are like jail to a horse. It really screws with their mind, and it will make the horse more dangerous to work around," he said. He recommended giving the horse a friend, whether it is another animal like a goat or another horse for companionship.
Glenn Ryan with the U.S. Forest Service returned for a second year to teach participants how to pack mules for trips into the forest. His popular presentations have become quite a draw for participants who like to watch his unique style of packing mules with everything from poles and lumber to the traditional packs for a stay in the forest.
First year presenter Steve Mantle with the BLM drew quite a crowd for his presentations on starting a wild horse. With help from his sons, Mantle, was able to show different stages of training as he and his sons worked with the horses. The audience watched intently as Mantle started a colt, then moved on to a well-started yearling, and progressed to a saddle horse, while giving the audience tips and hints of how to handle the animals. At the end of his Sunday presentation, Mantle offered all three colts he used during his presentations for adoption to qualified homes. All three horses were adopted.
Participants in this year's Expo were treated to a variety of disciplines from Western to English riding, and from barrel racing to hunter/jumpers. A stallion parade, private treaty horse sales, and special demonstrations were also held.
For information about next year's Expo, Sam and Patty Hales, who help coordinate the event, can be reached at (307) 266-4922. Also see their website at www.BigWYHE.com.