Recommended reading, but grab the Kleenex: Last Chain on Billie

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Written by Jennifer O’Connor | July 23, 2014

If you can finish a book after going through a box of tissues and still love it, the author has done something very right. Carol Bradley is such an author, and her book is titled Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top. Even for those who already know about the desperate plight of captive elephants, this bookis a gut-wrenching account of how profoundly elephants suffer in captivity. Yet after reading about how these animals can recover if given the chance, you close the book ready to take action in order to make that happen.

Last Chain on Billie Book CoverThe contents alternate between chapters about modern-day elephant exploitation and historical accounts of how we started using elephants in entertainment, including how they’re captured in the wild, their grueling transport to the U.S., their high mortality rates, and the public’s fascination with these gigantic beings.

Although the book details the grim existence of Billie (a female Asian elephant), its overall theme concerns all elephants in the zoo and circus industries. Bradley tells us about the habits, histories, and personalities of many other individual elephants. Billie’s history is particularly abysmal, but she also represents all the elephants who have known nothing but misery in captivity.

In addition, the book focuses on the entrenched histories of the circus families. The people PETA protests against today are the descendants of the families of old that founded Carson & Barnes Circus, the Hawthorn Corporation, Kelly Miller Circus, Tarzan Zerbini Circus, and, of course, Ringling Bros. Little—if anything—has changed. These circus clans are still beating and chaining elephants and staunchly defending it, just as their ancestors did.

Over and over again, elephant trainers are quoted talking about their use of sheer force to break the animals. Bradley describes PETA’s video that shows notorious trainer Tim Frisco as he beats shrieking elephants and tells other trainers, “Make ‘em scream!”

Bradley also pulls back the curtain on how inept the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is at imposing meaningful penalties and punishments, using John Cuneo and his Hawthorn Corporation as the case study.

Elephants at Hawthorn were beaten and housed in filthy, dark barns. Many were sick with tuberculosis and life-threatening foot problems. They were chained, front and back, for months on end—and in many cases, the USDA just kept delaying any kind of meaningful action. Cuneo was completely uninterested in why Billie was “hostile” and aggressive and attributed it to her “not being a pleasant elephant” instead of her life of beatings and captivity. After Billie rebelled and attacked a trainer, she was taken off the road and lived in chains in a dark Hawthorn barn for 10 years.

Even when Cuneo was finally forced to relinquish 15 elephants, including Billie, he was still allowed to keep his exhibitor’s license and to continue to torment 87 tigers and one lion. He is still in business, renting out big cats, to this day.

Last Chain on Billie is ultimately a book with a happy ending for some elephants. Billie, for example, is retired to The Elephant Sanctuary, where after she spends a considerable amount of time adjusting, she at last allows the chain attached to her leg to be removed.

This book is a wake-up call about how many elephants have suffered profoundly in captivity and how many still suffer. And it’s a call to action.

Order your copy of ‘Last Chain on Billie’

Take action against the Hawthorn Corporation

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LITTLE MISS MUFFITT review by reader

by Rose Miller


Heartfelt and therapeutic for this reader, January 6, 2015

By katphoti “Sore No More – Gaited Horse Enthusiast” (Apache Junction, AZ United States)

This review is from: Little Miss Muffitt: Guardian of My Heart: A Tribute to All Those Special Dogs Who Capture Our Hearts and Stay Forever (Paperback)

I own and have read all of Rose’s books, and I think this one might just be my favorite. What I love about Rose’s books is her conversational writing, as if she is sitting right next to you telling her stories. She is honest and forthright, which makes her stories more interesting and heartfelt. It was very educational to learn more about breeds I don’t have a lot of experience in. As a child, there was a very friendly and beautiful Doberman female that lived next door to us. Her name was Duchess, and she would come and stand with her front paws on the fence for us to pet her and love on her. So it was great to learn more about a breed I’ve always admired. I also really appreciated how much she delved into the K9s in her life. It was great to hear such amazing stories about K9s and how they do–or sometimes don’t–work with their handlers. Another part of this book was very important to me. I am currently dealing with an old dog and an old cat who aren’t doing too well. Both of these pets we’ve had for many years, and while they are having a hard time, they are still bright eyed and want attention. Rose’s stories about losing her dogs due to illness or just plain old age really helped me make the right decision for my own pets. For now, we will keep caring for them as long as they act happy and well. They will let me know when it’s time to let them go, and Rose’s book helped confirm that for me. I needed that confirmation so I can make sure I’m doing what’s right for my own pets and not to be selfish. I have met Rose over the Internet due to our mutual work to help save the Tennessee Walking Horse from illegal cruelty that continues within the show ring (see her book, The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot). I am so glad that she shares her stories to the public. She gives us a much-needed reprieve from negativity in the world, and her books always leave me with a true happiness is my heart.

Reposting of Conformation article by Rose Miller

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I realized I should have reposted this article/post by starting at the end, so the beginning would start with the beginning instead of the end. duh. Anyway, I would recommend that you start reading this blog by beginning with the previous one and read backwards. I know this does really make sense, right? I wanted to repost because I continue to be asked by many walking horse owners why their horse doesn’t gait correctly, and how to fix  it. I think the following articles will help answer those questions. Sadly, with improper conformation, a walking horse cannot really walk correctly. If he walks SMOOTHLY, he is a winner at least for enjoyment’s sake..

This is the LAST part of the article

To continue with our discussion on shoulder conformation and how it relates to “action” or elevation and what uses we might have in mind for our horse:

The humerus with a low angle of 30 degrees or less has several disadvantages. If the angle between humerus and scapula are to be kept at 90 degrees, the shoulder will have to be quite steep, closer to 60 degrees. The shoulder will be long in order to join with the low humerus and this will push the elbow back too far. This results in the horse being “pigeon breasted” with two much of the horses sternum being visible in a side view. This makes the horse heavy in front and he definitely will have trouble going in a balanced way. He will feel like he is traveling downhill, and no training method will be able to get him to pick up his front feet like a show horse. A horse with this conformation will have a humerus angle of around 30 degrees or less. If the shoulder is less than 60 degrees or more sloping, he is in even more trouble because his shoulder isn’t open 90 degrees and his range of movement is further constricted.
By looking at the resting angle of the humerus, you can get an excellent idea of how the horse will carry his head. Low humerus, low head, high humerus, high head. By studying the angle of the shoulder or scapula, you can get an idea of how much the horse will extend his front legs. A line drawn from the point of withers through the point of shoulders and on to the ground will show the farthest a horse can extend. This is seen easily in a trotting horse at the extended trot and in a galloping stride. In a walking horse it is harder to see since he uses a more up-and-down front leg movement, but it works the same way – a steeper shoulder, the less forward movement, a more sloped shoulder the more extension.
We see that there are many variations of the shoulder construction, and the resulting movement of the horse. In order to have a very good horse, both the front and the back of the horse need to work in a balanced manner. A horse can stride in front only as far as his hindquarters are capable of pushing him, but a short reach in front will limit a powerful thrust from behind.

By applying these principles of conformation, you can choose the horse you want for the purpose you have and avoid the horse with conformation likely to be unsound and cause him to travel in an unbalanced manner.

This bay mare has a low angle humerus of about 33 degrees. It is fairly long. Her scapula is moderately steep with an angle of about 55 degrees. She does not have a lot of forward extension because of the straight shoulder, and she does not pick her feet up very high because of the low humerus. She would not respond to wearing heavier shoes by showing much increased front leg action. She is moderately low headed. Her hind quarters do not make up a full third of body length. Her femur is of moderate length, but her gaskin is too long in relatinship to her femur and her hocks are too high because of a long cannon bone. Her femur angles more straight down than forward toward her belly. She lacks power from her pelvic area to coil or round her back, and her total hind lemb length is too long. These two factors make it physically difficult for her to bring her hing legs underneat herself and she travels with her hind legs strung out behind. She can do a four beat flat wark, but at a faster speed, she wants to foxtrot.

This stallion has the shoulder conformation to have natural lift to his front legs. The humerus is long (75% of the lenght of the scapula) and moderately upright with an angle of 40 degrees. His shoulder or scapula is moderately sloping with an angle of 50 degrees. This will enable him to have good natural elevation and heavier shoeing can enhance his elevation. His body divides into thirds. He has a strong and powerful pelvis. His femur is long and properly angulated forward, not down as in the above bay mare. His gaskin is only slightly longer than his long femur and his cannon bones are the shortest of all the horses shown, setting his hocks the closest to the ground. With his powerful pelvis and properly angulated femur, he can thrust his moderately long hind limb under with ease. He can carry his head in an elevated position because his humerus angulation allows his neck to come out of his shoulders fairly high and his powerful hind quarters allow him to balance his body weight back and elevate the front. He has a true rocking chair canter that is easy and natural for him to perform. It would be possible to teach him flying lead changes and canter pirouettes. His conformation shows no extremes. He can win at horse shows yet has the balance and strenght to jump or do ranch work.

The original inspiration for writing these conformation articles came from owing a horse that had awesome talent, and wondering why he was so superb in in his gaits when many other Tennessee Walking Horses I had owned and saw were not as good. Also, for several years I had the local 4-H judging teams come to our farm to teach them how to judge the Tennessee Walkers they would find in their competitions. I showed them different walking horses in our barn, explained their conformation and how they gaited. One of my goals was to impress upon them that walkers had different conformation than  trotting horses. One cannot judge a walking horse as a quarter horse!

Sources include information from “Principles of Conformation Analysis” by Deb Bennett, PhD, Charles Sherman, Three Day Event and Dressage instructor and competitor,Loren Weaver DVM, specializing in lameness problems, Harley Yoder, Standardbred trainer and my very, very special horse, Praise Hallelujah.

This series of conformation articles would not be complete without adding the caveat that there are no definites in nature. One can see a horse with postitively perfect conformation that does not seem able to be able to “get it together.” On the flip side, one can see a horse that appears that it couldn’t do anything right, be a star. Training and conditioning can make or break any horse/rider team.

Above all, love and appreciate your horse and he will do his utmost for you!

Half the failures of this world arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.”
— Augustus W. Hare (1792-1834)


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The front half of a walking horse has the same problems, faults and good points as our trotting friends. Here again, the use we have planned for our horses makes a difference in what we look for in conformation. A horse has two bones in his shoulder.  The scapula runs from the point of the withers to point of the shoulders. The humerus or arm bone goes from the point of the shoulders to point of the elbow. How these bones relate to each other determines how a horse moves in front. In talking about how a walker “moves out of the shoulder” we are most familiar with the scapula, or shoulder blade. However, the humerus is very important and seldom talked about. It is capable of side to side movement, and also swings from back to front, raising or lowering the elbow. It determines the way a horse will fold or unfold the elbow, knee and fetlock joints. It determines the style or way of going of the front end of the horse. The longer the humerus the more scope the horse will have. Scope is defined as the ability to move the elbow away from the body, either toward the front or to the side. Scope is a very desirable characteristic. To be considered long, the humerus must be at least 50% of the length of the scaupla. Better motion is seen with the length closer to 75%. The shorter the humerus, the more short gaited the horse will be, moving with short, stiff, choppy strides. In our walkers we must have this length to allow the forearm to extend forward. No matter what the length or angle of the shoulder, without a long humerus the horse can’t roll out of the shoulders.

The steeper the resting angle of the humerus, the higher the horse can raise his knees. This is of obvious importance to those of us who want to show our horses. The most spectacular natural action is shown by horses with a moderately upright shoulder, around 55 degrees, and a long steep humerus. Hackneys and park horses are good examples. Since we like our walkers to have reach forward as well as natural upward action, the walker’s shoulders should be more sloping, between a 45 and 50 degree angle. A very sloping angle of around 45 degrees is found in racing thoroughbreds and dressage stars who need great forward extension, but little knee action. A long upright humerus with a moderately sloping shoulder is what we need if we want natural elevation with as little fuss as possible.
A horse with a more horizontal humerus will have less natural ability for high action or tight folding. He will move with little elevation of his front legs and will have difficulty in raising his forearms to level and may hang his knees.

In order to have a rolling shoulder, the angle between the scapula and the humerus must be at least 90 degrees. Less shortens the forward movement of the whole shoulder. A shoulder slope of 45 degrees needs a humerus angle of 45 degrees to keep a 90 degree angle between. A shoulder angle of 50 degrees needs a 40 degree angle of the humerus.

Many walkers seem to fall into the category of medium angle of the humerus. They may not make high stepping show horses; but their movement will be pleasant. They would probably show well in western, trail pleasure classes and be wonderful riding horses. Their shoulder angles are probably between 51 to 55 degrees with a humerus angle of between 39 to 35 degrees. Heavier shoes and other training methods will have less of an elevating effect on these horses.

 The gray gelding shows an extremely low angle of the humerus and consequently also is low headed. He also has a very straight shoulder and “travels downhill.” He is hard to collect and it is structurally impossible for him to elevate his front end. Heavier shoes would have no effect on his gait. He is moderately straight legged behind with high cannon bones. His gaskin and femur are nearly equal in lenght. He does a proper flat walk, but cannot “go on.” He breaks into a trot when pushed too fast. He has a marvelous canter.

The black mare has a wonderful shoulder. It is open a full 90 degrees. Her long uprigh humerus is a full 75% of the scapula in length and her shoulder is long and sloping with an angle of 45 degrees. This combination gives her great extension of the forelegs. She is high headed. She has less natural elevation than a horse with a slightly more upright shoulder, but she would respond to heavier shoes and training with more elevation. She has a powerful pelvis with a good sloping angle. Her loin area where the back joins the pelvis is smooth and strong. Her femur is long and she has a moderately long gaskin. ( If I could improve her, I would like to see her hind cannon bones just a little shorter to lower her hocks.) She has the power of her hindquarters to coil or round her back and push her legs under her body at the flat and running walk. Her gaskin length is more in proportion to the femur length, being only moderately longer. She has a wonderful flatwalk and a running wark with speed. She has good extension in front and a big overstride behind. The hardest gait for her is the canter. Her longer hind limbs with cannons longer than perfect make it difficult for her to extend her hind legs under her and instead they push her rump up at the canter. It will take more work to teach her to round or coil her back at this gait. She makes a good show mare and trail horse, but she would not be as good at ranch work.

Reposting of previous Conformation article by rose miller

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Conformation Part 3

Now let’s look at hind limb construction  from the hip down to the foot, and see how it works.
The horse’s pelvic length is measured from the hip joint to the point of the buttock. The larger the pelvis is, the larger can be the propulsive musculature and the more power the horse can produce. An old rule of thumb in conformation judging is that you should be able to divide the horse into thirds. The front one-third is from the point of the shoulder back to the elbow and withers; the back from the withers to the point of the hip another one-third, and from the point of hip to point of buttock is the other one-third. A horse with less than one-third of his body length in the pelvic area won’t have the power to push the longer lower hind limbs under the horse as far or as easily as one with greater length and musculature. We also need to look at the pelvic slope. It should be moderately sloped, not tending toward flat, or the horse will “leave his hocks behind” as he travels, again not allowing our walker to stride up under himself.
The next area to look at is the femur, or thighbone. This is an extremely important link in the hind leg assembly. Think of the hind leg as a series of rod like links. First the femur, then the gaskin bone, then the cannon bone and pasterns. If these bones were hanging by themselves and set swinging, they would behave like a chain pendulum in which whatever the uppermost governing link does the rest of the links follow in the same manner. A long first link, or femur would therefore set the leg in the slower, longer swing. This is part of what can give the walking horse the long slow ground covering stride that we all appreciate. This does not mean that a walking horse with lesser length of the femur won’t gait, but it will be a shorter more rapid stride suitable for rougher riding or ranch work. Shorter femurs are desirable in trotting horses that are used in speed events or sprint racing. In a sprinter, long hind limbs prevent the thrust generated by the rump muscles from being delivered to the ground and is a disadvantage. Having a longer femur gives the walking horse longer hamstring muscles which should tie in low to the Achilles tendon. In a profile view of the rear legs, the hamstring muscles should flow down, making that part of the leg appear long. If it appears rounded and the notch in the profile from buttocks to hocks is deeply indented, he ties on high, the femur is short and so is the hamstring muscle. This will limit the forward movement of the hind leg.

The next link on the chain is the gaskin bone and muscle. The pelvic and femur length is often hard to see because of the muscles of the rear quarters, but the gaskin length is easy to see. This is the bone from the stifle to the hock. Most walkers have longer gaskins. However, we need to remember that if the femur isn’t also long, the swinging leg pendulum won’t produce the long slow stride we desire. If rightly proportioned, the longer gaskin and the long femur are desirable in our walkers. A long gaskin in most trotters is a disadvantage, some exceptions being horses used for dressage requiring extension of rear legs and saddlebreds. Walkers being used as trail horses in rough terrain or working ranch horses won’t find a very long gaskin of benefit. These horses will do better having a gaskin and femur more near equal in length. Ideally, in the trotting pleasure horse, the femur is longer than the gaskin in length.

Next is the cannon bone. This bone should be short, so the horse’s hocks are close to the ground. High hocks predispose the horse to “travel downhill” especially if they are quite a bit higher than his knees and he will have trouble getting his hocks up under himself, a very important thing to remember with our running walk. A good way to judge the length of cannon bone length is to compare it with the front cannon length. The hock should appear only a little higher than the knee. In the front leg, the upper arm should be longer than the cannon. It is considered good conformation to have low hocks in any riding horse. In a visit to a standardbred training facility, I noticed that the pacers had gaskins longer or equal in length to long femurs; but in all the ones I saw, the hocks were set high, with relatively long cannon bones. It makes sense when you remember that for racing the pacers need a fast swinging of the hind legs, easier when the leg below the femur is more equally divided in length. This is not the long slow sweeping stride we desire in the walking horse.
In review of the Tennessee walker’s long hind limb conformation, we see that the most correct way is to have one third of the horse’s body length in pelvic length for power with a moderate slope, a long femur with it’s accompanying long thigh and hamstring muscles to provide the long slow swing of his leg pendulum, a moderately long gaskin to give more overreach and short cannon bones enabling him to set his hocks under himself.
This gelding has a fairly nice shoulder. The length of the humerus is not quite as long as some of the other horses to be shown, but it is adequate. (shoulder conformation discussed later) His problems are all in the rear third. He is extremely straight legged for a walker. His hind legs are actually type #2 with nearly all his leg in front of a line drawn from his buttocks to the ground, yet he does not stand excessively rump high as would a longer legged walking horse when stood in this same position. His stifle is almost dirrectly below his hip. His exceptionally straight legs put strain on the stifle joints and he does have stifle problems. His pelvis is short. He actually does a 4 beat flat walk, with about a 4 inch overstride, but he cannot do it with any speed. When he goes faster he sort of makes up his own gait. This horse is a good example of a horse being able to stride in front only as far as his hind quarters are capable of pushing him.

Conformation Part 2

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Let’s see how these hind leg differences might work. Basically the shorter, and therefore straighter the hind limb, the more easily it can deliver the thrust of the hind muscles downward to the ground. The horse with the longer, crooked or Z shaped limbs, can more easily bring his hocks forward and track up, or overstride. A walker with less length to his hind legs or less angulation will have less overstride; but he will perhaps be more functional as a horse used in ranch work, jumping, or speed and action events. The walker with the longer, more angulated hind legs can excel in the show ring or on park trails. This difference is seen in trotting breeds as well. The dressage athletes have longer hind limbs so they can extend at the trot, and an overstride at the walk is of value. The jumpers, however, have shorter hind limbs so they can dig in, thrust, and jump. If you watched the Olympics, you likely noticed that the three day event horses did not perform the dressage patterns as smoothly or as excitingly as did the dressage horses. This is because the dressage stars have conformation conducive to forward stride and fluid movements, not the power necessary for three day eventing.

Conformation differences in gaited vs trotting horses by Rose Miller

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Because this is rather timeless information, and I have repeatedly been asked by walking horse owners why their horse won’t gait correctly, I am going to repost these articles I wrote years ago.

Anything Equine & Canine

Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited breeds do possess one rather unique difference from most other horses. Stated simply. . . they have longer hind limbs than most horses that trot. I say “most” because we will see that some trotters have long hind limbs, some to their disadvantage, and some to their advantage, but not with the regularity of the gaited  horse. Because I was a Tennessee Walking Horse breeder, exhibitor, judge and pleasure horse trainer, I will be mainly speaking about this breed.

First, let’s look at the three different types of hind limbs found on horses. Type 1 is considered to be the best for most uses. When the horse is posed with his hind cannon vertical, a line dropped from his buttock to the ground should graze his hock and the hind cannon bone. Type 2 has the vertical line dropped behind the vertical cannon bone. This type…

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