Meet Al Dunning

We have put together a brief snapshot of regular contributor Al Dunning, an incredible horseman with a strong belief in the power of coaching.

What has been your best ride?

I have been fortunate to have some great rides. One was at the 1981 All-American Congress Open Reining on Expensive Hobby. I scored  a 234 which was the highest in the NRHA at the time. We won!

How did you get started in western?

My family moved to Arizona in 1958. I wanted to be a cowboy after growing up watching Westerns on TV. So I got a hat and spurs, and the story began!

Who has inspired you?

I was around some great horsemen. Jim Paul, John Hoyt, and Don Dodge are Hall of Fame trainers that mentored me.

What is typical day for you at your ranch?

Work, ride a lot, lessons, office work, exercise, answer phone, critique videos for Team AD, go to bed and start over. We rein, cut cows, and rope.

What is your horse training philosophy in a nutshell?

No stone unturned. Make a horse anyone can ride that is truly broke and light.

Al Dunning

Al Dunning

In your experience, what makes a great rider?

Great riders are natural, then they learn constantly to be better and they find a great mentor.

Explain why you believe coaching is so important in today’s western riding

If you continue to practice the same mistakes you will get frustrated. By having a quality coach watching, you will progress and have fun.

Describe the power of coaching

All great riders have a coach. They take constructive feedback and put it to use. The coach will encourage the rider to excel!

What bit of your knowledge do you wish all your students would apply?

Patience and the willingness to listen and learn.

How do you relax?

I like to golf and fly fish. I also steer rope. I love being with my family and granddaughter, Gracie.

If you weren’t training horses what would you like to do?

I like fixing and building things. I also like consulting. Maybe fish, golf, and work part-time at a hardware store.

What are your goals for the future?

Ride, teach, win, and love life!

Gaited Horse Shopping

Having read Beverly Whittington’s gaited horse columns since the launch of the magazine you may well be inspired to experience the world aboard a luxury mover. This buyer’s guide will set you on your way to finding a perfect partner. If you have never owned a gaited horse before you will want to spend some time educating yourself as to the various characteristics of the many breeds prior to starting your search. To determine which breed is right for you ask yourself some questions as to how you intend to use your new mount, the style of horse you have a preference or need for and any faults that would be unacceptable. The answer to those questions will determine in large measure which breed is right for you.

Gaited-Morgan-Horse

Gaited-Morgan-Horse

GET EDUCATED

See and ride as many horses as possible to give yourself a feel for the different breeds. Once one has caught your attention, you should familiarise yourself with the terminology used to refer to it and its specific gaits in order to determine which individual is best for your needs. Learn not only what the different gaits of the breed are but also be able to recognise and differentiate between these gaits when you see them performed. Have an idea of what your selected breed is all about, both in appearance and movement. Having at least a general knowledge of the breed will make conversation between you and the breeder/seller much easier. Find out when it is common for the breed to start a horse to saddle. In breeds that mature later a five year old may only be green or just started to saddle. You should take advantage of any chance at education, looking at several horses before selecting one.

HOW MUCH?

Prices of horses will vary depending on the horse's age, breeding, level of training, competitive ability and overall quality as a representative of their breed. Prices will also vary slightly depending on geographic location. Once you have a clear determination of your specific needs, stick to your selected criteria and, when you find the right horse, be willing to pay just a little bit more if you can. You will not regret it. Remember you often get what you pay for!

BE HONEST

To select the horse that is right for you, it is important that you are realistic with yourself as to your own equine skills. What is your experience level - beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, or expert? It is best to be as truthful as possible about one's goals and abilities in order to find a suitable horse. If you are already an experienced rider, most likely you have a clear idea about the level of training and ability your new horse already should have. If you do not have much horse experience, consider taking some lessons with a qualified trainer to assess your skill level. It can prove to be very frustrating to own a horse you cannot enjoy because it is too advanced for your skill level.

BE STRONG

A horse is more than just a pretty colour or a cute face. Temperament, age, size, gender, training level, and suitability for your use are just a few of the other things to consider when selecting the right horse for you. In addition to this, make a list of the five most important attributes or characteristics the horse must have for you to purchase it. Whatever matters most to you. This list will be the basis of your search for that ‘perfect’ horse.

AGE

A young horse maybe tempting but be realistic about how much time, money and skill it will take to produce what you want. Do not overlook the teenage horse. Gaited horses generally live long and useful lives and some of the best buys are the teenagers. If you are considering an older horse, make the effort to determine what kind of mileage your prospective purchase has had, as it will help you evaluate how much stress was involved.

SIZE

Gaited breeds come in all different sizes. One of the most common scenarios is American riders with John Wayne Syndrome. You know, ‘There is no such thing as a good small horse.’ Well these folks are missing out on many horses that could be the perfect match for them! Most gaited horses are strong and durable, and capable of carrying riders of larger proportions. Size should be a consideration but it should not be of high priority on your search list.

Gaited-Horse-Shopping

Gaited-Horse-Shopping

SUITABILITY

If you are going to trail ride the horse, then it is important that he has experience on the trails and not just in the show ring. The reverse is also true - do not expect to have an instant show ring star out of the trail horse of many years. If you are purchasing an older gaited horse do not underestimate the value of the training it may already have had in a discipline or two. The better and more extensive its training, the greater enjoyment and versatility that horse will have for you. Additionally, if you need to sell your horse, your opportunities for securing a good home are far better.

TRAINING

If you have determined that you want a ‘trained’ horse you need to know what that means to you. To most people a trained horse is one that knows all basic work which includes stop, go, turn, backup, stand for mounting, stand for saddling, tie, load, clip, turn on the fore, turn on the hind, disengage hindquarters, trailer load etc. The trained horse will give you proper responses for proper cues 99.99% of the time. If you are unsure it is a good idea to employ the services of a more experienced individual to help you ascertain these things before you buy to help avoid disappointments in the future.

Seeds of Success

In this Q&A Clarice Cooper explains about artificial insemination and how importing semen from abroad can open up a wealth of champion bloodlines.Q What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial insemination?

A There are many advantages to AI; the main advantage being a large number of stallions to choose from to improve the quality of the breed. You no longer have to go to the expense of shipping your mare to the stud farm, risking injury in transport or in the breeding shed, due to and aggressive stud or mare. The ability to breed multiple mares with one ejaculate increases the longevity of the breeding stallion and, with the advancements of freezing semen, mares can be bred long after the stallion has passed on. Mares that have difficulty becoming pregnant can now be inseminated by ‘deep uterine insemination’, possibly reducing the incidences of post breeding Endometritis and allowing a great stud with poor semen quality to be utilised.

As for the disadvantages, some stallions’ semen just does not ship well. There are major advances in equine reproductive techniques and technology today which vastly improves on semen quality but there are a few stallions out there that have a much better conception rate by live cover.

Dont Skip Zip

Dont Skip Zip

Q What is the difference between frozen and chilled semen?

A Chilled semen is semen that can be used within 24 to 48 hours post collection of the stallion. Frozen semen has, to our knowledge today, an indefinite life span. Frozen semen can also be shipped any time to the mare owner’s vet clinic and be on hand to breed your mare.

Q What is the extra cost / risk associated with importing semen from the USA?

A The costs lay highly on the stallion owner. It costs them a lot more money to have their stallion’s semen frozen and exported abroad. They make a bigger profit from breedings sold in the country the stallion is standing.

Q Shouldn’t I be supporting the ‘home’ market and using a domestic stallion?

A In any type of breeding arena, whether it be dogs, cattle or horses, the objective is to produce a fantastic individual thereby improving the breed. When you limit your genetic options, you inhibit the possibility of improving the breed. Introducing new blood lines into a limited gene pool can only improve the quality of the ‘home’ stock, putting it on the map and driving  the industry to being competitive in markets other than the US. For Western Pleasure and Hunter horses in particular, it is worth remembering that there aren’t many stallions standing in the UK and most of those that are standing were imported from the US themselves.

Q I have an all round mare. She is nothing special but I love her. She is getting older now and I want to breed the ‘next generation.’ Am I kidding myself by going for a really good stallion?

A You could pair the top mare with the top stallion in the industry and that wouldn’t guarantee a top foal. There are exceptions to every rule and by carefully matching your mare to a stallion that will potentially improve her weaknesses, you greatly improve the chance of producing a great foal. When a customer calls Cooper Quarter Horses to ask which stallion to choose, I ask them which traits their mare has that they would like to improve. All stallions have certain strengths or traits they pass on to their foals and it is important for the mare owner to know the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the potential mate for their horse. Some crosses work and some don’t.

Q Does it make a difference mentally to the mare that she isn’t actually covered?

A Far be it for me to claim to know what goes on in the mind of a mare but I can tell you for the handlers it’s a whole lot less stressful and dangerous. Some matings can be lively to say the least!

Semen storage

Semen storage

Q Apart from the advertised stud fee, what other costs are involved in AI?

A Breeding fees can often confuse mare owners as the terminology can be confusing. The breeding fee is normally what the stallion owner will end up getting paid. The chute fee or booking fee is used as a down payment to make the contract legal and normally gets paid to the breeding farm or the manager of the semen. For frozen semen you would then have a storage prep fee; this is what the vet clinic that stores the semen charges to prepare the frozen semen shipper with liquid nitrogen, count the number of straws needed for shipment and then load them into the container for the breeder.

Q What are stallion owners and managers talking about when they say ‘we need paperwork?'

A Stallion owners that have their semen stored overseas require the broker to provide them with detailed paperwork on each mare bred. Breed associations will require stallion owners to file appropriate paperwork so mare owners can register their foals the following year. Each shipment of semen that is sent out has Breed Society insemination certificates accompanying them. It is imperative that this paperwork be returned to the appropriate places. If the mare owner does not send this paperwork back to the broker, there is no way the stallion owner can fill out the breeder’s report at the end of the year. If this is not done the breed societies will have no record of foals when they are born.

Q What kind of assurances should I ask for from an agent or stallion owner?

A Every contract from a stallion owner offers a different live foal guarantee so make sure you have a contract and read it over carefully. Normally the stallion owner will extend the breeding fee for two years in a row. It’s also important to have a good report with the stallion manager; usually they have been in the business of breeding a long time and can give you help and tips for higher conception rates. If they offer you a verbal reassurance that is not on the contract, ask for it in writing. Most breeding farms will have no problem with this and if they do, walk away. Remember there is a high cost for the stallion owners to freeze semen so do your part by educating yourself and making sure you have knowledgeable veterinary help.

Q I have heard some bad stories about shipped semen not turning up in time or being poor quality. How do I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?

A Semen, whether fresh, cooled or frozen, can arrive in poor condition. We are dealing with Mother Nature and some things are beyond our control. However, you can and should request a report from the stallion manager on the stallion’s ‘progressive motility post thaw’ for frozen semen and ‘progressive motility after 48 hours’ for cooled semen. This report will tell you the percentage of semen moving forward after it has been warmed and will let you know what to expect when your shipment arrives.

Cooled semen is a little trickier when relying on shipping. The optimum insemination time is six hours before or after ovulation. Your odds of conception wane after that window. Cool semen will not live to match your mare’s time clock if she decides she needs more time.

With frozen semen, you can closely monitor your mare’s follicle development and only thaw the semen exactly when you need it. So when using frozen semen you might want to plan ahead and request your shipment arrive a little ahead of time, that way if your postman is late you will still be OK! If your veterinarian follows strict protocol included with every frozen semen shipment you should have no problem conceiving.

Clarice Cooper is the manager of Cooper Quarter Horses and Camelot Stallion and Embryo Transfer Station in Georgia, USA. Visit her website here.

Gaited Conformation

Breeding and conformation predispositions an animal to gait. Here Beverly Whittington looks at the gaits that require a ventroflexed back. One of the main truisms of the gaited community is that gait is made in the breeding shed. Gait is inherited and conformation is a key ingredient of this inheritance. It is important to look hard at your horse’s conformation and work your horse for a gait he is physically able to perform. Asking a horse to perform a gait he is built to do will make the task of training (polishing what nature has provided) easier on both of you.

Gaited horse conformation

Gaited horse conformation

Gait falls within three basic spectrums, gaits that require a level back, a ventroflexed (hollow) back or a slightly dorsiflexed (rounded) back. Here we will concentrate on the gaits performed using a ventroflexed back – the pace, stepping pace, sobreandondo, skeith-tolt, amble, ‘saddle’ or stepped rack, rack, tolt, marcha picada, corto, single-foot and largo.

Ventroflexed back - conformation tendencies

  • A horse with a neck that ties in higher, with extra development in the upper half of the neck, has been ridden in and/or is predispositioned to a gait that requires a more upright carriage of the head and neck such as the lateral gaits.

  • A steeper shoulder angle and a humerus that is a bit shorter than half of the length of the shoulder blade allows the horse to have a higher action of the front limbs - one of the signs of a racking gait because it allows the most lift and fold of the front limbs

  • The Lumbosacral joint (where the loins meet the hip) being lined up behind the point of the hip can cause a horse to go more toward a lateral (ventroflexed) gait

  • A horse longer in the cannons and with short gaskins will lift the hocks higher before reaching forward - again a trait of ventroflexed gaited horses

  • Horses with rear ends with short femurs and long tibia/fibulas are less likely to be able to round their backs and step strongly under themselves, and so are inclined to more lateral gaits, usually with a shorter, higher step behind

  • A horse with short hips (less than a quarter of their body length) and steep pelvic angles (more than 45 degrees) will lend itself to the ventroflexed gaits

Gaited foal

Gaited foal

The influence of condition The appearance of the neck and shoulder of a horse can be influenced by the way it is ridden. The shoulder is not attached skeletally to the horse, so the angle of the shoulder can be modified slightly when a horse is caused to maintain a specific frame while being ridden. Development of the neck will differ with how a horse is ridden, and can mislead the eye as to the true base conformation of the horse.

Since we are interested in what nature and breeding have influenced, we need to exclude these influences. Therefore, let us turn our attention to gaited foals. Foals will only exhibit the conformation influenced by their natural carriage since birth. The examples shown here are natural, strongly gaited foals. They are all performing gaits in the ventroflexed gait spectrum and are not old enough for any influence, except that which they have inherited.

Gaited molly mule

Gaited molly mule

Conformation is only one of the elements that contributes to a naturally well-gaited horse. It will not guarantee gait. However, it is important to remember that if the conformation is there, the other attributes are more likely to fall in place.

The foals pictured were raised by Beverly Whittington from stock bred for generations for gait - atigradoacres.com