You can Lead a Horse to Water

The tradition of shrimp fishing dates back to the 13th century, but it is an art that almost died out. Not long ago, only three mounted shrimp fisherman remained. That number has grown to 19 as people in the Belgian village of Oostduinkerke work to sustain their cultural heritage.

Mounted shrimp fisherman
Mounted shrimp fisherman in Oostduinkerke. Photo credit: Gigi Embrechts

“The strong Brabant horses walk breast-deep in the surf in Oostduinkerke, parallel to the coastline, pulling funnel-shaped nets held open by two wooden boards. A chain dragged over the sand creates vibrations, causing the shrimp to jump into the net. Shrimpers place the catch (which is later cooked and eaten) in baskets hanging at the horses’ sides.”

— Unesco

Fishing does not come naturally to the horses. The strong Brabant draft horses needed to pull the heavy nets must be trained to enter the ocean, where they are guided by their riders to the areas populated by grey shrimp. Once a horse is found, it stays with the fisherman for life.

“The first time a horse sees the sea and the waves, you can see it running back,” said d’Hulster. “They don’t like it.”

“There is such a love story between the horse and the fisherman,” he said. “Once he has a horse that works, he is married to the horse. Sometimes we say we like our horses more than our wife.”

New York Times – Horseback Shrimp fishing fades in Belgium

Shrimp fishing takes place twice a week during the season, and each horse brings back between 22 and 44 pounds of fish per day. Gone are the days when mounted fisherman used their catch to fertilize their fields; today the gray shrimp they catch are boiled and served up to tourists, sometimes right on the beach.

For a longer video and a profile of another of the fishing families, please watch the video from Unesco, below.


Are the days of the Big Lick Walkers numbered?

Fran Jurga reports in her Hoof Blog that the USDA has taken action to restrict the use of Pads and Action Devices.
Fran Jurga reports in her Hoof Blog that the USDA has taken action to restrict the use of pads and action devices. Read her article here.

My first reaction when I saw Fran’s article was, it’s about time! Big Lick Walking Horses have been (in my opinion) subjected to an unusually perverted form of torture under the auspices of “performance” for many years. Who, after all, actually wants their horse to have gaits like this so badly that they use keg shoes, chains and soring?

Compare this to the more traditional Tennessee Walking horse below.

Obviously, the exaggerated gait achieved in the show ring, is not exactly natural. The sad part is how it is achieved. The video below is from an investigation undertaken by the Humane Society.

According to the Hoof Blog article:

The out-of-the-ordinary rule will strip hoof equipment off show ring “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking and racking horses, once and for all. While pads, shoe bands, weighted shoes and action devices (“chains”) may not directly “sore” the horse, they have been implicated as part-and-parcel of the decades-long soring debacle.

Walking horses will be forbidden to wear their trademark pad stacks and pastern chains, beginning 30 days from the filing, which may be today or early next week. Beginning January 1, 2018, a horse may wear a pad or pads only if it is prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a specific condition.

The new rule does not impose a shoe weight limit or a toe length limit, but does limit use to a “keg or similar conventional horseshoe”.

Note that the ban doesn’t prevent horses from being shod in pads, rather it bans the use of pads that raise the heel over 1″. And even then, they can be used for medical purposes.

Let’s just hope that this makes a difference for those Big Lick horses, because despite years of exposure, the practice is still going strong.

Chincoteague Pony Auction Raises $151,575.00

Pony Auction
Hannah Ceppaluni kisses the nose of a Chincoteague Pony foal she won at the 91st annual Chincoteague Pony Auction with the help of The Chincoteague Legacy Group on Thursday, July 28, 2016.(Photo: Jay Diem)

Today a few kids had their dreams come true and they left the annual Pony Auction the proud owner of a genuine Chincoteague pony foal. Nine year old Emily Kemper even got some help from a stranger in the crowd, who contributed the extra $100 she needed for her winning bid. And two lucky kids were given ponies through the Feather Fund — Click through to read about Carollynn Suplee. It’s a great story.

The Feather Fund continues work begun by Carollynn Suplee, assisting deserving children with the purchase of Chincoteague Ponies. We believe raising a foal teaches children  life lessons, including responsibility, good care, love, and ethics, as well as the concept of giving back to others through the care and training of his or her animal.

The auction is run by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. Each year the department picks one “buy back” pony to be auctioned off for charity. This year it was the Virginia Special Olympics and the 3-month old pinto filly brought in $8,100 for the cause.

In total 59 ponies were sold, bringing in a total of $151,575. The highest selling pony went for $11,000; the lowest for $550. The money raised helps support the ponies and will go toward building a new fire station.

So, you might ask, what’s a buyback? Buyback ponies are auctioned off but are returned to Assateague Island to replenish the herd. The are pre-selected by the Fire Department. This year there were six buyback ponies auctioned off for a total of $45,800. They included the two of the highest priced ponies — two three month old fillies who sold for $11,000 and $10,000, purchased by the Chincoteague Legacy Group, which was founded as a way to unite lovers of Chincoteague ponies.

The average age of the foals sold was 2.9 months. The youngest of them will not be available for pick up by their new owners until they’ve gotten a bit older.  As for the ponies that didn’t get sold? The herd (and the buybacks) will be swimming back to Assateague tomorrow.

These are photos from the 2014 auction. As you can see, some of those ponies are feisty!





he results of the pony auction are in.
The total this year was $151,575.00
We sold 59 ponies.
The average price was $2659.00
The high price was $11,000.00
The lowest price was $550.00.
We would like to thank everyone who made this possible, from the auctioneer to the buyers, saltwater Cowboys and girls, and all the volunteers. This money will be used to sustain the ponies and the building our new fire station. Thanks again

Unbranded – The Ultimate Road Trip?

I watched this documentary last night on Netflix. Four recent college graduates of Texas A&M decide to do the “ultimate road trip” and ride mustangs from the Mexican boarder all the way to Canada. The trip had the added benefit of calling attention to the plight of the 50,000 wild mustangs and burros that have been a lightening rod of contention between the Bureau of Land Management and mustang activists.

The ride was funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised $170,000. Trip coordinator Ben Masters spent two years planning the route and then raised $170,000 on Kickstarter.

The adventure starts when the boys adopt the mustangs. These are feral horses that get three months of training before they set out on the 3,000 mile journey, but they still have some kinks to work out. It is safe to say that by the end of the trip, they are pretty well broke. One was even auctioned off for charity after the event for $25,000.

Okay. Sign me up. If I don’t have to ride down the steep mountain trails, I will definitely ride a mustang 3,000 miles.

The team crossed five states –Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana and traveled with a small video crew. The result was both a documentary and a book.

The cinematography is amazing. The views are spectacular and there are some trails that kept me on the edge of my sofa as hoped the horses all made it down in one piece.

According to this article in Men’s Journal, there were some scenes that didn’t make it into the film — like the time a moose charged the horses as they passed through Glacier National Park. “This angry bull moose had a temper tantrum that was comical until he charged and almost destroyed our $30,000 camera setup,” Masters says. “We scrambled up the trees.” Definitely click on the link because the photos are incredible.

But it’s not just an adventure story or beautiful scenery. There are interviews with the BLM, ranchers, veterinarians and activists. The result is deeper understanding of the problem of land management in the West — too many horses grazing year round on too little land. It’s a grim picture that will require better management by all involved (late in 2015 it was revealed that the BLM illegally sold thousands of mustangs and burros to slaughter in Mexico). It’s a terrible situation because the number of mustangs adopted every year is dropping, while at the same time the population continues to increase. I can only hope that this stunning film will help educate more people about the

In addition to the documentary, there is a book that includes photos and stories, and you can purchase photography taken on the ride. Visit for more information.


The Shame of Big Lick Walking Horses

While PETA horrified the world with video from the shedrow at Steve Asmussen’s racing barn, the abuse that Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH) suffer has mostly gone under the radar, even though, by most accounts, it’s far more pervasive and far more severe. Many of the top show horses olive lives wracked by pain so severe that they don’t want to stand up and are beaten in their stalls.

Last week the Humane Society has released a report that shows that soring techniques are rampant among the trainers of Big Lick Walkers to encourage the highly exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick” even though the practice was banned in 1970 when the Horse Protection Act (HPA) was passed to protect the horse from intentional soring.

The soring of TWH started in the late 1940s and early 1950s when a few horses with more animation to their gaits started winning championships. While breeding and training created horses with more extravagant gaits, more nefarious methods were soon introduced. Soring involves the application of caustic liquids to the horses legs — commonly used are mustard oil, diesel fuel or kerosene — often with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) to increase the chemicals’ absorption. Then the legs are wrapped in plastic wrap and left to “cook” until the legs are tender.

In addition to the soring, performance TWHs wear ankle chains and weighted shoes. The combination results in an animated gait where the horses lift their front legs higher and flick them out in front of their bodies, while at the same time the horse crouches on its hind legs to avoid the pain in front. To my eyes, the gait looks both artificial and painful, not beautiful.

The video below is a longer program that talks more about the history of the Tennessee Walking Horse and how the industry could be channeled back toward the breed’s natural gaits. It’s hard to watch at times. One of the saddest statements is when a nationally recognized trainer, who now opposes soring, says that his father taught him how to sore a horse when he was 13 and that for many years he just accepted the practice without understanding that a pain-based gait was wrong. Maybe this time the attention give to the Tennessee Walking Horse will finally help break the cycle of pain for this lovely breed.


Meet Big Jake – the World’s Tallest Horse

Big Jake
12-year old Big Jake stands 6’10 at the withers!

Meet Big Jake, a 12-year old Belgian Draft Horse, who was named the World’s Tallest Living Horse in 2010 and appears in the 2011 AND 2013 Book of World Records. Jake stands at 20 hands 2 3/4″ without shoes and weighs 2600 pounds. He is owned by Jerry Gilbert of Smokey Hollow Farm in Poynette, Wisconson. Remington, the previous record holder was a mere 20 hands.

Jake was big right from the start: He weighed 240 pounds at birth, about 50 pounds more than is typical for his breed

Big Jake
Big Jake is described as being very gentle. It’s a good thing he doesn’t take advantage of his size!

and he just kept getting bigger. In 2010, his owner decided to see if he was more than just big and obtained the guidelines from Guinness World Records needed to compete for this record.

Jake lives large. His stall is 20’x20′, he travels in a semi trailer and he eats 1.5 bales of hay and 40 quarts of oats per day.

Jake doesn’t rest on his laurels. He helps to raise money on behalf of the Ronald McDonald House Charity and to stay in shape, Jake is the wheel horse for the Smokey Hollow Farm Show hitch and is driven every other day with another horse to keep in shape.