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
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.
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.
WORKING ON THE GROUND
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
- Rub the animal to provide
- Dirty clothes are easier
to fix than a fracture.
Winter is just around
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,
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HAWAIIAN COWBOY
Few 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.
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
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,
The Ranch also offers horseback and jeep tours for visitors.
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
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
Hungary and Poland: Dr. Miller will be speaking in Warsaw, Wroclaw,
Dec. 7, Las Vegas,
NV: AAEP Conference.
- Mark your calendars!
Dr. Miller’s Light Hands Horsemanship clinic
will be held May 20-23 in Santa Ynez, CA. For details,
information on appearances and other dates and locations,
Coming in our
“To Shoe, or Not to Shoe?,” and “Winter Care for your Horse.”
Interested in placing
an ad in our newsletter or booking Dr. Miller for a lecture, demonstration,
or book signing? Contact