Welcome to our inaugural Robert M. Miller, DVM Newsletter, which will be published bi-monthlyWelcome to our inaugural Robert M. Miller, DVM Newsletter, which will be published bi-monthly. Each edition will feature a new topic or theme, and an introduction from Dr. Miller. Upcoming newsletters will focus on imprint training, shoeing, medical care necessities, nutrition, and working with the green horse. Also look for interviews with the equine industry’s top clinicians, saddlemakers, equine non-profits, and innovators of horse-related products. We’ll also include a Q & A with Dr. Miller to answer your questions, as well as offering his cartoons, video clips, book excerpts, and short essays on topics inspired by his lectures, the work of his colleagues, or his recent travels (see our “Paniolos” piece below, on Hawaii’s cowboy culture). We appreciate your feedback and suggestions for future newsletters at newsletter@robertmmiller.com.

A Message From Dr. Miller

If you didn’t already know, Dr. Miller is a gifted and acclaimed veterinary and Western lifestyle cartoonist. His new RMM Cartoon Website is now live. Go to www.rmmcartoons.com for more.

In August, I traveled to the Big Island for the annual Hawaii Horse Expo, where I did a lecture called, “Stay Safe.” Whether you’re a novice or seasoned professional, practicing safe horsemanship is something we need to do every time we’re around equines, no matter how well we might know them. I’d like to dedicate this, our first newsletter, to the topic of Horse Safety, to help you, your horse, and other riders stay safe in and out of the saddle.

Horse Safety: Working on the Ground

Horse Safety: Working on the GroundDid you know that most people are injured by horses not while mounted, but on the ground? Or that most of these injuries are caused by gentle horses instead of known-to-be- difficult ones?

Most people are hurt when horses respond from fear, rather than malice or anger, so desensitizing horses to as many potentially frightening stimuli as possible is very important. We must also- whether we are a casual rider, novice owner, or seasoned professional- work around horses in a way to minimize intimidation and provocation of fearful reactions.

There are two places we can place ourselves physically in order to be safe from injury from a horse. One is very far away, the other is very close. Think about it: If a horse bucks with us while we’re in the saddle, we don’t get hurt. We get hurt if we leave the saddle. When we work with horses, we want to be close to the horse. Grooming, saddling, bridling, cleaning feet, or treating the horse should all be done while maintaining close body contact. Even a small horse is stronger than we are. They can also move faster, a quality necessary for survival in the wild.

Those of you who are engineers and architects will understand Dr. Miller's "Three Points of Contact” concept. Three points of contact form a triangle; a geometrically stable form. When working with horses, always try to keep three or more points of contact. Many people work at arm’s length cleaning feet, taking a horse’s temperature, haltering, or grooming, sometimes to prevent soiling their clothes. It also makes them feel safer, but it’s not. If you’re at arm’s length, you’re within a horse’s kicking range.

Press your body against the horse, so you can feel him, and he can feel you. With your hip, hands, arms, elbows, and shoulders, keep at least three points of contact with the animal. It reassures him, because he worries about what you are doing, and can only see you with the peripheral vision of one eye (an attribute of all prey animals- predators have vision that allows them to look ahead in order to spot prey).

Close contact also provides you with stability. As a vet, Dr. Miller wants close contact when he is injecting or palpating, doing dentistry or treating an eye. The same principle applies to you for everyday activities such as grooming, foot care, saddling, or worming. Always remember these key points when working with a horse on the ground:

  • Work close to the horse.
  • Maintain several points of contact.
  • Rub the animal to provide reassurance.
  • Dirty clothes are easier to fix than a fracture.

Winter is just around the corner; click here to watch a clip from Dr. Miller’s Safer Horsemanship DVD on desensitizing your horse to a rain slicker or jacket

To order DVD, click here.

Paniolos: A Brief History of the Hawaiian Cowboy

Paniolos: A Brief History of the Hawaiian CowboyFew people associate Hawaii with cowboys, but the state—the Big Island in particular- have a rich Western heritage. Typical of Hawaii’s melting pot culture, its long history of cattle ranching has its roots in England, Spain, Mexico, and California.

The first five cattle were brought to the islands in the late 1700’s by Captain George Vancouver as a gift to King Kamehmeha I. Under the king’s orders, the cattle were kapu, forbidden, and therefore untouchable.

Unfortunately, like other creatures introduced to Hawaii with the best of intentions (read: Goats, wild pigs, cats, mongoose), the feral cattle proliferated, causing considerable damage to the habitat and posing danger to the islanders. The King finally hired someone to cull the wayward cattle (using imported muskets); a former ship’s purser named John Palmer Parker. Parker had jumped ship as a teenager, and settled in Hawaii. He became its pioneering rancher, developing prime breeding stock for the King. He married a Hawaiian woman, which entitled him to land ownership, and in 1847, the Parker Ranch was born. It is still a working ranch today (at 150,000 acres, one of the largest privately-owned ranches in the U.S.), and a vital component of the Big Island’s culture, tourism, and economy.

The word paniolo is the Hawaiian language corruption of “español,” or “Spanish.” Once Parker began ranching, Mexican vaqueros and Californios were brought to Hawaii to teach the islanders how to ride, rope, work with cattle, air-dry beef (today a popular snack known as “pipikaula,” pipi being the word for cattle), and cure leather.

Special saddles were needed to withstand Hawaii’s dangerous and varied climatic and geographical conditions, as well stand up to the ocean, since the paniolos swam their herds out to ships for delivery to the outer islands and Mainland.Special saddles were needed to withstand Hawaii’s dangerous and varied climatic and geographical conditions, as well stand up to the ocean, since the paniolos swam their herds out to ships for delivery to the outer islands and Mainland. The Hawaiian Tree Saddle was developed for this purpose. It has a minimal amount of leather, and instead has a reinforced tree made of rawhide to allow for saltwater drainage, with skirts made of leather and rawhide instead of fleece, nails, and screws.

The remaining traditional tack and attire of the paniolo is similar to that of the vaqueros and cowboys of the American West, with the exception of the palaka. This short-sleeved, blue-and-white checkered denim shirt was favored amongst plantation workers beginning in the late 19th century, and provided protection and ventilation in Hawaii’s mercurial sub-tropical climate.

If you’d like to learn more about paniolo culture or the Parker Ranch’s history, their online store offers books, DVD’s and music CD’s, www.parkerranch.com. The Ranch also offers horseback and jeep tours for visitors. www.paniolo-country.com is an excellent site for anyone wanting more in-depth background on paniolo history, tack, and culture.

For information on the 2010 Hawaii Horse Expo, go to www.hawaiihorseexpo.com.

For visitors info., go to www.bigisland.org.

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s lectures? Fall and winter schedule:

  • Oct. 14-17, Reno, NV: Wild West Veterinary Conference.
  • Oct. 17-20, Banff, Canada: Can West Veterinary Conference
  • Nov. 14-22nd, Hungary and Poland: Dr. Miller will be speaking in Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Budapest.
  • Dec. 7, Las Vegas, NV: AAEP Conference.