Oh dear… More to come on this topic… And Ryan, you also have your hat on backwards…
Are politicians familiar with horse manure? Or… are they full of — it?
Greg Gianforte, the tech billionaire who lost the 2016 Montana gubernatorial race in a year that otherwise went well for the GOP, is well on his way to becoming a perpetual candidate as the Republican nominee for the May 25th special election to fill Ryan Zinke’s seat in Congress. Sadly, like Zinke, Gianforte seems to think that he can put on a pseudo-western persona to win Montana votes. So here is my plea to politicians: please do not fake it; most of us know the difference.
Here’s the Gianforte installment: Following a 2016 Gianforte TV ad, the Montana AFL-CIO created the following image, comparing Gianforte’s clean new farm cleanup togs to those of Senator Jon Tester, who is from Big Sandy, Montana, photographed in his obviously-real work clothes.
Gianforte, originally from Pennsylvania by way of New Jersey, is posing in a horse corral with a shovel, implying, apparently, that he was going to clean up . . . something. Aside from the clean white shirt, there was one other problem: he didn’t have the right tool for the job. Gianforte was holding a small scoop shovel, usually used for heavy, loose material such as gravel — useless for horse manure.1 Once again, a politician—or his PR team— waded into a subject where they . . . well . . . don’t know their equine excrement.
Under normal circumstances, this story would have ended with Gianforte’s loss last November. Except he’s ba-a-a-ck, this time challenging Rob Quist. Quist is a Cut Bank native and University of Montana alum who lives up the Flathead, famous as a member of Montana’s iconic Mission Mountain Wood Band.
So Gianforte is running TV ads to portray Quist, a liberal Democrat, as “out of touch” with Montana. This while “Jersey G” has no idea how clean up horse manure. Of course, as a tech billionaire, he probably hasn’t had to clean up his own messes for a long time. I’ll let the pundits debate political issues—I’m going to discuss the real stuff.
This, Greg, is horse manure:
Here are tools to pick it up. These are called “manure forks”:
And here is how they work:
I wish the political mess in Washington could be cleaned up in as straightforward a fashion as a messy pile of horse manure. But, just like some manure-cleaning jobs, many political messes are just too big for hand tools. When you are greeted with a lot of horse manure, there is only one real solution: Get out the skidsteer (horse people really like skidsteers).
It might take even more work to dig through the morass in Washington, but the place to start is at the ballot box, starting with Montana’s May 25th special election: Pick Quist.
The moral of this story is simple: Vote for the candidate who knows how to clean up a mess, avoid the one who doesn’t. When it comes to phony political ads claiming a candidate knows horse pucky when he sees it, well, call him on his, um, crap. That goes double when a candidate tries to duck his own positions on the issues and uses proxies to blow dog whistles and take cheap shots at his opponent.
Gianforte needs to be told that he fools no one and that he can’t buy an election.
I guess we can at least be grateful Gianforte didn’t try to ride horses. Here he is last year riding some sort of cross between a jackalope and a mechanical bull. He’s curling into the fetal position; perhaps a typical response for someone who has never ridden anything except other politicos’ coattails.
1. For those who care about the technical details of rural life, a square scoop shovel is good for loose material that is not stuck to the ground. Manure is sticky and often mixed with straw, shavings, or other bedding material, so a square shovel can’t get under it very easily—if at all. The shovel Gianforte was holding was also too small to pick up a pile of manure. For removing manure and soiled bedding from a non-porous surface, some folk use a much larger aluminum shovel designed to move lighter weight material, like this one:
Copyright 2017, Brenda Wahler
Please read disclaimer
The rear view. I rest my case.
(and I’m not referring to The Big Lebowski)
It is said that the most dangerous place in Washington DC is between a politician and a microphone. In the case of Montana’s former Congressman and now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, I suspect it’s between him and a camera. But when he’s on a horse, that’s a mistake. Zinke rides like the guy who comes to a guest ranch once a year to pretend he’s a cowboy. Likewise, he might also be pretending to be a “Teddy Roosevelt-style” conservationist.
Zinke decided to make his presence known in Washington by arriving at his new job at the Department of the Interior on horseback, complete with cowboy hat, accompanied by members of the National Park Police. I was initially amused; I’m all for horses getting good publicity. I’m also a fan of National Parks. But the side of me that is a lifelong horsewoman and a Montanan—that part cringed—for both Montana and the horse.
Teddy Roosevelt was the original “trust buster” who dismantled monopolies, a man who believed that our public lands should be managed for sustainability, not ravaged for short term profit. So far, Zinke’s record suggests that his rhetoric of admiring TR doesn’t match the reality of what Roosevelt actually stood for.
To be fair, I think it’s kind of cool that a Montanan finally holds a Cabinet post (Montana senator Thomas J. Walsh was asked to be Attorney General under FDR in 1933, but died under mysterious conditions before he could take the oath of office). I also must acknowledge that for a Trump appointee, so far Zinke is less embroiled in controversy than most.
But in spite of claiming his “first priority” was to “prioritize the estimated 12.5 billion dollars in backlog of maintenance and repair in our National Parks,” the very first thing he did was repeal Interior Department regulations banning lead in birdshot and fishing tackle, thus contributing to further pollution of our waterways. Even though the hunting and fishing industry has largely come around to non-toxic alternatives (if grudgingly), Zinke’s real priority was not National Parks. Instead, he stepped backwards 30 years to appease the reactionaries.1
But back to horses. Self-aggrandizement and posturing has been Zinke’s political style, and his riding reflects his character: Image over substance.
Here, he rode a horse as a publicity stunt, but Zinke isn’t much of a rider. Being a Montanan doesn’t always mean you are born on horseback, and Zinke is a self-admitted son of a plumber. I don’t expect championship equitation from a casual outdoorsman, but Zinke looks like the guy who hires an outfitter once a year to take him into the mountains. More to the point, the guy who is packed onto the biggest, most unflappable horse in the string is the dude who doesn’t know which end to face, won’t take advice, and needs a horse who is wiser than the passenger. Does this sound like Zinke? I stoutly maintain that how someone interacts with a horse reflects their character. So let’s analyze the photos. First off, sure enough, Zinke’s on the biggest horse in the string. Tonto2 is a 17-hand Irish Sport Horse. Not to put too fine a point on it, these are generally a draft horse/warmblood cross, and this gelding looks it. He’s big, he’s strong, and I’ll bet “phlegmatic” could be his middle name. Kudos to the Park Police for keeping Mr. Secretary safe.
Next, Zinke is sitting lopsided. (Leaning to his right, appropriately enough.) His saddle is so crooked that his stirrups look a good six inches different in length. Careless, and not good for Tonto.
Posing for photos with his head cocked and a slightly off-kilter stance is a Zinke trademark, (see adjacent photo) but crooked riders are hard on a horse’s back. I question if he even notices his mount.3 Oh wait, Zinke sees a camera.
As we continue our examination of Secreatary Zinke’s riding, note that Tonto is glancing around more than any other horse in the group. Zinke is clearly oblivious to what the animal is doing. Perhaps because. . . cameras?
Now, let’s look at Zinke from another angle:
Here he might be trying to channel the Marlboro Man. He’s even got on his official “Helmville Rodeo” jacket. Zinke’s been on a horse a few times, judging by how he rests his free hand on his leg and his relaxed seat. I’ve seen riders with worse leg position. But he’s still riding like a dude: his pants are riding up, his heels aren’t down, his toes are barely in the stirrups, and he is riding one-handed, Western-style—in an English saddle. Not only that, but he’s also using the wrong hand. Riders carry their reins in their non-dominant hand when riding one-handed. Zinke is right-handed, so he should hold his reins in his left. Even cowboys usually ride with two hands when they have a snaffle bit on the horse, as here.4
But what’s even worse about his hands, he’s hanging onto the horse’s mouth with his hand pulled off to the right, tightening Tonto’s left rein and turning the horse’s head. Zinke’s obliviousness to the horse again shows itself. He doesn’t just look like a beginner, he’s a passenger who is getting in the way of his own horse. Tonto-the-horse is a saint.
In the next photo, it gets worse, especially when contrasted with the rider next to him:
Once again, he’s holding on tight to Tonto’s mouth, but now we see that his reining hand is braced on the saddle; he’s hanging on by the reins AND wishing he could pull leather. Sorry Ryan, it’s an English saddle, there’s no saddle horn to grab! And he’s slouching—even dudes know the Marlboro Man sits “tall in the saddle”:
OK. So a lot of people aren’t regular riders, and I can hear folks saying that I’m being too persnickety about poor Ryan’s style. But his penchant for image over substance extends beyond horsemanship. Let’s look at Secretary Zinke enjoying another outdoor activity: Fly fishing. If any picture is worth 1000 words, this one begins by screaming PHOTO OP!
Really Ryan? You actually fly fish in a brand spanking new cowboy hat? When one gust of wind will blow it into the river? And there’s not a speck of dirt on it? And a perfect crease? AND—how ’bout those brand-new waders? Duuuuude! Let me say no more: Here is a photograph of a real fly fisherman.
Sorry Mr. Secretary, but the cowboy schtick just isn’t you. As we say out west, it’s a case of “all hat, no cattle.” Stick with the Navy SEAL thing; you wore that uniform.
While I hope Ryan Zinke is a better cabinet official than most other Trump appointees, I fear that his track record of form over substance will be a disaster for our environment. And you know, Tonto may yet have his revenge: as more than one wag has quipped, there is a working theory that “Khemosabe” actually means “idiot.”
Copyright 2017 Brenda Wahler
Please read disclaimer
- For more on Zinke’s record, Tuesday’s Horse has a good overview.
- Yes, according to press reports, the horse really was named “Tonto”. The racism towards Indian* people inherent in naming a horse “Tonto” appears to have been overlooked by the national press, and perhaps even by the National Park Service (one hopes they meant to reference the National Monument, which predates the TV series, but still, the name is problematic). The issue is complicated to explain in a short blog post, so I won’t, but a discussion can be found here.
*Under United States Law, “Indian” has a specific legal meaning, as in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, hence my choice of “Indian” in this context.
- True, some of the Park service riders also need to fix their stirrups and can be faulted for their equitation, but they are at least trying to sit straight and keep their horses standing square. Because we mount horses from the left, over time, the left stirrup leather of a saddle will stretch to be longer than the right. Many people don’t realize this is happening. On an English saddle, this can be minimized by swapping the leathers from right to left when the saddle is cleaned.
- A finished western horse has learned to neck rein and can be ridden one-handed with a curb bit. Classical dressage riders also occasionally use a rein hold where both curb reins are held in the left hand. A snaffle bit is generally used two-handed; this allows for more lateral control of the gentler mouthpiece. In this case, they probably put a snaffle on Tonto so that Zinke didn’t have to deal with four reins (pelham bits appear to be standard for the Park Police) and so that his obviously bad hands didn’t trouble the horse as much. Also notice that Zinke always had riders on either side of him.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Henry IV, part 2, William Shakespeare
“Miss Teen America had her driving privileges reined in during her reign after she was caught speeding in the rain.” — Me
Confusing “reign” for “rein” is my pet peeve.
So many phrases are linked to our equestrian history, yet the modern writer may be unaware of how the horse influenced language.1 When we are able to do whatever we want, we have a “free rein.” When we cannot, we are “reined in.” There is no such thing as a “
free reign.” (I hate to write it down, even with strikethrough.) Shakespeare noted the philosophical impossibility of power without responsibility, but “ free reign” is also just plain dreadful, horrible, depressingly common—and incorrect—English. Likewise, we may want someone who abuses power to not reign at all, but they have to be “reined in,” not “ reigned in.”
My handy dictionary2 explains that to reign, as a verb, indicates holding a title or a royal office, to predominate or prevail, or perhaps to simply be the best.3 The noun reign is the time when one holds office, or predominates, or is the champion. We speak of the reign of Henry VIII, Miss America, or the winning Superbowl team. The word originates from Middle English by way of Old French back to the Latin regnum, related to reg or rex, the word for king.
More to the point, the dictionary also notes that “
free reign” is incorrect use of the idiom describing freedom from direction or control.
Rein is another word that comes to us by way of Old French and Middle English: it derives from the Latin rentinere, to retain. As a verb, it refers to directing or controlling things. As a noun, even non-horse people know that an actual rein is a long strap, usually of leather, that attaches to the bit that goes into a horse’s mouth.* Usually there are two, one on each side. Reins are held by a person and used to guide a horse (or mule, or other animal). Used colloquially, “free rein” means to be free of control and is an idiom that was directly derived from equestrianism.
So when we give a horse a free rein, we are allowing the animal to act without our guidance. We apply the same concept to human action.
Sometimes this is a good idea. When asking a horse to climb a steep hill it allows for maximum effort without interference. A free rein when standing at ease allows rest and relaxation. But other times a free rein is a very bad idea. Giving a horse a free rein without a preexisting understanding between horse and rider of the behavior expected may result in an out of control disaster—a horse could wander off, run away, or get into a spat with another horse. Horses and trouble are often very good friends.
The same is true of humans. If we understand the norms and rules of society, we wind up with the most freedom. If we misuse our freedom, we often face consequences. For example, we do not “reign” over the highway; we cannot drive at any speed we want4 or on the wrong side of the road. But within the parameters of traffic laws, we have “free rein” go to any destination we choose.
Riding is a metaphor for life in many ways. Horsemanship is an art that requires us to learn when to take control and when to let it go. When we pick up our reins, we ask a horse to respond to our signals—and the more clear our communication, the better the result. When we relax the reins, we are engaging in an act of trust—that the horse will not take advantage of this freedom to dump us in the dirt and run off!
So, the moral to the story is that the “free rein” is not only proper use of an English idiom, but a good reminder for life. When we “pick up the reins,” we take control—of a horse, of ourselves or of life circumstances. When we “relax the reins,” freedom of action is allowed, but generally within a set of unspoken rules everyone involved is supposed to understand.
Copyright 2017 Brenda Wahler
*Yes, reins can also be used with non-bitted headgear, such as hackamores.
- For more on the topic of how horse domestication influenced the Indo-European language group and the progress of civilization itself, I recommend: Anthony, David W. (2010) The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press. isbn 978-0691148182.
- Definitions paraphrased by the author from “reign” and “rein,” New Oxford American Dictionary, Mac OSX 10.11.6 edition, accessed February 15, 2017
- Yes, sometimes I split infinitives. I blame Star Trek.
- Legal note: Contrary to popular rumor, Montana does have a speed limit. We lacked a numerical speed limit for a few years when the national 55 mph speed limit was repealed. But after law enforcement begged the Montana legislature for relief from the constant arguments they endured from NASCAR wannabees on I-90 and from our friendly Canadian visitors on I-15, we put numbers back on our highway signs.
“I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form/Come in, she said/I’ll give you shelter from the storm” —Bob Dylan
The horse evolved to survive in cold, dry climates during the Ice Age. But, Stephen Budiansky, in his wonderful book, The Nature of Horses, argues that if the horse had not been domesticated in the Eurasian steppes, (which occurred roughly 6,000 years ago), the species would have become extinct due to the lethal combination of a warming climate and human predation—a formula that doomed other Ice Age animals such as the mammoth, the aurochs, and even the ancient wild horse subspecies that roamed the Americas.1
Modern horses are still well-equipped to survive harsh weather, but some of our management practices keep horses from using their natural instincts and the protection biology gave them. So we need to provide a substitute for what we have taken away.
Ancient wild horses and modern feral landrace breeds that live in truly wild conditions combine biology and instinct to survive the winter. They can move freely in their environment to find shelter from wind and snow. They grow a heavy winter coat with both long guard hairs and hair follicles can raise the coat almost upright in cold weather, creating additional insulation. They build up a layer of fat during the summer and fall that adds another layer of protection against cold. They can locate free-flowing water sources and use their hooves to paw through snow to uncover forage. But animals in the wild are also vulnerable to extreme conditions and in general have shorter lives than they would in captivity.
Domesticated horses often lack access to the advantages nature provides. Nearly all horses today are confined, whether to a box stall, a pen, or a small pasture. They rely on humans to provide food and water. Many do not have a winter hair coat due to being blanketed and clipped for show; others have their winter coats partially clipped for ease of drying sweat during cold-weather workouts. In exchange for restricting a horse’s natural freedom, we need to consciously provide appropriate substitutes for what we take away from our horses. With adequate food, water, shelter, and insulation from the elements, the end result is an animal that lives a long, healthy life.
Unfortunately, humans often make one of two assumptions about horse management; either that horses are more durable than they really are, or that they are as fragile as humans or housepets. Both extremes present health risks to the horse.
The first group might claim that leaving a horse out in the pasture “as nature intended” means that the horse needs little care. I’ve heard people argue that horses don’t need shelter, they can just turn their tail to the wind and “they’ll be fine.” They often point to examples of horses that have access to a shelter and ignore it while snow piles up on their backs.
But these folks forget that a 10-acre open field on flat land without a single tree or gully to break the wind is not a “natural” habitat for a horse. Wild horses can seek natural shelter in their environment; domesticated horses are stuck where we put them. Wind and wet can overwhelm a horse’s natural hair coat. A healthy horse with a good winter coat may sometimes ignore a shelter, but the owner might not notice that the horse still uses a wall or an overhang as a windbreak. While a winter coat insulates from snow, and even some moisture rolls off and doesn’t penetrate to the skin, wind-driven rain or snow can leave a horse shivering and under stress. Studies have shown that horses seek shelter from a combination of wind and precipitation, especially if the wind speed is above 11 mph.2
Horse blankets are not a substitute for shelter. A good blanket can reduce wind chill and provide insulation, but an inadequate blanket can be worse than no blanket at all. Blankets flatten a horse’s hair coat, limiting its insulating abilities; to be effective, the blanket must compensate for the natural insulation it takes away by having enough fill material.3 Further, a blanket only covers the core of the horse, and wind chill remains a factor, so offering shelter is still a better option. A healthy horse with a full winter coat and a good shelter is often warmer than if the horse is kept with just a blanket and without any shelter.**
Even a windbreak helps. Not long ago, I noticed some neighbor’s horses, who live in an open field without shelter of any kind, doing something unusual. The owner feeds well and blankets them in the worst weather, but I did a double-take one morning during a recent cold snap with a severe wind chill: I saw three alert horse heads—sticking up at ground level! Somehow, the horses had deliberately found their way into a dried-out irrigation canal in their pasture. It was about 6–8 feet deep with very steep sides and they were happily peeking out of the top. I am not sure how they got down there, but they clearly were seeking a windbreak. Yes, they wanted shelter.
Some people go so far as to argue that they don’t have to provide water or food because horses can eat snow for moisture and paw through the snow to dried pasture grass. These beliefs can shorten a horse’s lifespan and, in extreme cases of neglect, lead to death.
Horses average 10 to 12 gallons of water consumption per day. Water must be clean, free choice and unfrozen. For what it’s worth, I am a fan of the Nelson line of horse waterers; the one at my place is now about 9 or 10 years old. We also had a Ritchie that lasted for decades at a previous location, and a number of Montana farm equipment dealers do a good business with the Miraco line.*
The “horses can eat snow” argument is dangerously persuasive. The reality is that, just like people in survival situations, horses forced to eat snow will not get enough water. They have to eat a great deal of snow to match their normal fluid intake, they may become dehydrated, and the energy needed to melt snow in their bodies increases their calorie requirements.4 The consequences can include impaction colic, reduced appetite and weight loss.5 Although a study in Norway in 2005 found that horses kept without water for nine days did not appear stressed from having to eat snow, the researchers also noted that it was a short period of time and that other factors may have delayed the onset of signs of dehydration. A 1973 study in Alaska found that horses who were cut off from any care at all were able to adapt over time to utilizing snow for moisture. The researchers concluded that horses have “remarkable stamina.” But again, the incident was time-limited to a single winter. When you talk to the old-timers, the most candid will admit that they expected old ranch horses that “wintered out” to last until about age 15 or so. They’ll say, “after that, they were all worn out.”
Inadequate feed quickly leads to visible weight loss and little more needs to be said on that topic. But to the “horses can paw through snow” crowd, note that even domesticated horses confined to a large pasture do not have food-seeking freedom. In the wild, horses can travel dozens of miles to find sheltered places where grass remains under the snow. And even then, most wild horses are pretty thin come spring and the old or sick often don’t make it.
Another common myth is that grain, particularly corn (that’s “maize” to my friends in the UK) creates “heat” in the winter. That is incorrect. Grain provides energy; we say it makes horses “hot”, but by that we mean temperament. It is forage — hay— that provides warmth. Horses are “hindgut fermenters”; the roughage they eat is digested in the cecum, where the bacterial process that breaks down cellulose also generates heat. When hay alone, even offered free-choice, is inadequate to keep weight on a horse, the next step is not feeding more energy in the form of grain, but to add fat or forage-based calories with more concentrated feeds such as beet pulp, stabilized flaxseed, or rice bran. Most “senior” feeds, such as those made by Triple Crown, Purina and Nutrena, contain these ingredients (along with other goodies) and can add the necessary calories and nutrition in a highly digestible form. These manufacturers all also sell rice bran or flaxseed-based concentrates of various sorts.*
Thus, winter feeing programs start with good forage. The colder it gets, the more hay you feed. Grain intake does not need to be increased in cold weather, and it can even give the horse too much excess energy. But horses with weight issues benefit from concentrates that provide fat rather than starch or excess protein.
The other extreme are the folks who think horses need to be kept in hothouse conditions. They put on a blanket when it is 50ºF, seal up the barn until humidity drips from the roof, and feed “hot” grains until the horse is kicking the walls down. Remember: the horse evolved during the Ice Age! Now, clearly, if a horse has no winter coat because is clipped for show or shipped in from a warmer climate, blanketing may very well be needed. But horses can develop respiratory problems from living in an enclosed area with poor ventilation, they do not need grain for “heat,” and in most cases, given a choice, they are happier and warmer with plenty of hay plus access to turnout for natural exercise.
My own experience with several decades of horse ownership during Montana winters is that horses seem happiest with access to shelter and turnout. A simple 12 x 24 shed provides adequate shelter from the elements if properly built to block the prevailing winds. It is best to place a shelter well away from fences so the horses can stand on the back side for a windbreak should there be an unusual wind pattern. Barns need ventilation to avoid humidity buildup, but even then, owners also need to be cognizant of wind direction; an open door in the wrong place can create an arctic vortex and uncomfortable horses.
Water, food and shelter are not optional for horses in severe weather. The wild horse could roam for miles to find what was needed; our modern horses rely on us to provide for their needs today.
—Copyright 2016, Brenda Wahler
Please read disclaimer
*As of this writing, no one is paying me to promote or endorse any of these products; I am only expressing my own opinions based on personal experience.
**Obviously, a horse with a warm blanket and a shelter is quite cozy, and blanketing is appropriate for any horse stressed by sickness, injury or age. But healthy horses need blankets less often than is popularly thought.
- Budiansky, Stephen. (1997) The Nature of Horses. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684827681, pp. 40-42.
- Hathaway, Marcia and Krishona Martinson, “Equine winter care.” University of Minnesota, Horse Extension. Accessed December 16, 2016 at
- Marteniuk, Judith, “Winter Dehydration in Horses.” My Horse University. Accessed December 16, 2016 at http://myhorseuniversity.com/resources/eTips/January_2011/Didyouknow
- Chastine, M. Nanette. (October 9, 2009) “You Can Lead a Horse to Water…”, Horse Health. American Association of Equine Practitioners. Accessed December 16, 2016 at http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=867
- Hammer, Carrie; Ellen Crawford, ed. (2008) “Keep Your Horse Warm This Winter” North Dakota State University Extension Service. Accessed December 16, 2016 at
With the intensity of the national election in 2016, many local “down ballot” issues are forgotten. One of the most important in my community is asking the voters to fund a major remodel of the local jail. It has the scintillating title, “General obligation bonds to design, remodel, equip, and furnish the county detention center facility.” On top of the $6.5 million ask, there is a second ballot measure, a 15-year mill levy to raise another $4 million for operations and maintenance. The owner of a $200,000 home will see almost a $100 increase in annual property taxes if the bond and mill levy pass.1
But pass they must. The Lewis and Clark County Detention Center is in crisis.
I’m a family law attorney; the county jail is not a place I visit as often as do our public defenders and attorneys who specialize in criminal law. But sometimes I have clients who are involuntarily housed there, so I do visit from time to time. And I have seen, beyond question, that the people in the building—both guards and inmates—need a better situation. Built over 30 years ago to hold 58 people, and now officially said to average 82,2 the number of people actually in the jail every day sometimes exceeds 100.3 The overflow goes to jails in nearby communities, and our county picks up the extra tab.
There is no workable alternative to adding more space at the jail. This bond issue is not a complete or long-term solution, but the previous ballot issue asking for an entire new building failed. As long as the public insists on longer sentences and mandatory minimums, the voters must remember that if this inn is full but people keep coming, public safety is compromised—both inside the facility and out. According to the National Institute of Corrections of the Department of Justice, “A crowded jail can result in the loss of system integrity.”4
Today, the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center is overcrowded and asked to do too much with insufficient resources. While it is not yet Bedlam, it is closer than we should be in the 21st century. Perhaps it sounds as if I am engaging in editorial hyperbole, but if anything, I am understating the situation.
Behind the Scenes
Jails are not happy places. Few people other than inmates and law enforcement staff see behind the scenes. But when attorneys visit clients who land behind bars and need our help, we get a snapshot of the problems facing both the incarcerated and those who work with them. And our view is the tip of the iceberg.
The staff is overworked, underpaid, and always at risk of injury from people who choose to violently express their displeasure at being involuntarily housed at county expense. Inmates are also at risk from one another: even separated by mandatory classifications (men from women, youths from adults), a group of inmates housed together might run the gamut from the 18-year-old first-time DUI offender serving her mandatory 24 hours to a hardened felon awaiting a new sentence. Nationally, 60% of jail inmates are pretrial detainees, not yet tried, let alone convicted.5 If a person cannot make bail and cannot get the court to grant a bond reduction, they have to stay behind bars; both they and the jail have limited options.
Even when you aren’t an inmate, a visit to the jail is disconcerting: hearing the sound of an electronic lock engaging behind you is chilling. The building smells funny; there’s a unique odor combining not-quite-clean bodies, dust, and institutional food. It settles in your nostrils for hours after you leave and taints your saliva until your next meal. Jails are either overheated or have too much A/C. There are no soft surfaces, no escape from dull overhead fluorescent light. A county jail, even at its best, is “hard time”: too little to do, not enough privacy, poor ventilation. It’s a place with few windows. In many areas inside, you cannot tell day from night. The world is a palette of various shades of gray and brown accented by people in bright orange clothing. Except the holding cells. They’re pink, kind of.
The Real Bedlam
By the early 15th century, the Bethlam Royal Hospital in London, housing the mentally ill and other unfortunate indigents, became known as “Bedlam” and became a byword for “a scene of uproar and confusion.” People from the outside world visited Bedlam for entertainment, to gape at the mentally ill as if attending a sideshow. People were chained to walls or locked in cells. Medical care was scarce and primitive. Treatment was non-existent. For too many of the people committed there, the only exit was death itself.
We are more enlightened today, but enlightenment is fragile. While we have long since stopped chaining people to walls, “a scene of uproar and confusion” lurks close to the surface of an overcrowded modern jail: The staff in an overcrowded facility cannot follow the safest protocols and may risk injury themselves. Insufficient funding for mental health services and addiction treatment puts law enforcement on the front lines of care for some people in crisis. Our local jail manages to keep inmates fed, clean, healthy, and—when needed—on suicide watch with access to mental health providers. But without places to properly house the many different types of people who are not allowed to freely walk the streets, the most vulnerable can be harmed—or harm themselves.
Our local jail is so crowded that people with short sentences to serve are sometimes asked to schedule their detention—to serve their time on days with a low census—almost as if they were reserving a room at a popular hotel. On arrival, some are “clocked in” so their time served begins while they are waiting for another inmate to be discharged to free up a spot. They might arrive at 8:00 a.m. and wait for several hours before jail space is available. Some detainees who have pled guilty to a crime are given a presentence release, allowed to live and home and work so long as they check in with the probation office on a daily or near-daily basis. That’s asking for a lot good faith behavior on the part of a person convicted of a crime, but what’s amazing about Montana is how many people actually follow through.
On a recent visit on a day when the county jail roster exceeded 100, I cooled my own heels for a half hour in the waiting area while the Detention Center shuffled inmates, rearranged visiting rooms, and tried to make it safe for me to visit an incarcerated client. Bless them. While I waited, I shared the space with two men who were waiting to “check in” to the jail. They mostly looked at their phones while sitting in hard plastic chairs.
Once admitted inside, I walked past the booking cells, all full—and not all with the recently arrested; they double as space to separate certain people: One young man, clearly psychotic, was yelling and arguing with the voices inside his head. His window was covered with brown paper except for a small opening a few inches square, mostly for privacy, but as I walked by, he was looking through the gap, saw me and pounded violently on the door while his debate with his voices rose to a scream. The pink walls didn’t help much. Bedlam indeed.
As I signed in at the desk, another inmate began shouting through the plexiglass: “ARE YOU A LAWYER? I NEED A LAWYER!” I made the mistake of briefly glancing in his direction, and he shouted to me that he had been waiting—and waiting—for a bed at a mental health facility, could I help him get there? When I visited again a couple days later that man was still in the same holding cell, now on a first-name basis with the staff. Still wanting both a lawyer and an institutional bed.
Bedlam can be loud.
It can also be filled with quiet desperation.
People on suicide watch at our local jail are also housed in holding cells near the front desk. Again, brown paper covers all but a fraction of the windows. In those cases it provides a modicum of privacy for people in crisis. Some are the far-too-many addicted and brokenhearted young women busted for drugs, coming down off of methamphetamine, some knowing their children are now in foster care. Ashamed, hating themselves, wanting to die.
Some visits, I have tripped over the bedding and foam mattresses left in hallways—placed on the floor in order to house one or two more people. Sometimes, the only place I can visit with a client is in that same hallway, sitting on a short bench, side by side, or with one of us sitting cross-legged on the floor. Sometimes that client outweighs me by 100 pounds or more and is not in a good mood. I may be able to hold a semi-private conversation, but I have to be cautious about delivering bad news or expressing disagreement with their point of view. There is no table to lay out papers, the light is poor. It’s a challenge to advise people under these conditions and attorney-client privilege is seriously compromised.
But why should law-abiding citizens care about any of this? Because an overcrowded jail cannot meet the needs of the community for safety, it puts our friends and neighbors who work there at risk, and it cannot provide the services needed to help keep troubled people away from the revolving door of the system. It might also be your friend or relative who is locked up in there.
When the previous ballot measure failed, opponents fell into two camps. Both groups opposed, but for near-opposite reasons: One group believed that we incarcerate too many people, that community release and more generous bail conditions would alleviate overcrowding. I’m sorry, my friends, but every effort is already made to avoid putting people in jail. Deferred and suspended sentences in exchange for plea deals are routine. Minor offenders are offered ankle bracelets and house arrest if they can afford it, and the detention center staff not-so-subtly reminds the courts and the prosecutors of the daily jail census. People are not sent to jail if any reason can be found to avoid it. Some people who should be behind bars won’t be until they’ve commited multiple felonies.
On the other side, some opponents to jail expansion think that a “fancy jail” means that “criminals are coddled,” that miserable jails are appropriate punishment, and that society just needs to “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” That’s also unrealistic. Most offenses that land people in jail are misdemeanors or low-level felonies; theft, assaults, drug possession, or assorted misbehavior while intoxicated. People will get out—and relatively soon. Further, that “criminal” might be your kid, who went along with the lemmings in their trip over the cliff because it sounded like fun at the time. That “criminal” could even be you—in the wrong place at the wrong time, guilty or not.
I urge my fellow local voters to support the jail expansion ballot issues. Vote yes for the bond and the mill levy, folks. Our community needs it.
Copyright 2016, Brenda Wahler
FOLLOW UP December 16, 2016: Sadly, the bond issue passed, but the mill levy failed. People don’t seem to understand that if you build it, you also have to staff and maintain it. Local officials are scrambling to see if they can use some of the bond money to at least create a temporary fix. Jail census was at 118 this week.
Please read disclaimer.
Bennett, David M. and Donna Lattin. Jail Capacity Planning Guide: A Systems Approach. National Institute of Corrections, United States Department of Justice, 2009, page xii. Accessed 10/21/2016 at http://static.nicic.gov/Library/022722.pdf
- $12.44 for the bond issue and $85.72 for the mill levy. Source: “General Election Publication Ballot.” Accessed online 10/21/2016.
- “Welcome to the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center”. Lewis and Clark County, Montana. Accessed online 10/21/ 2016.
- This should not be a surprise when you combine a natural population increase with the “get tough on crime” approach of the past 30 years. In 1990, the first decennial census completed after the jail was built, the population of Lewis and Clark County was 47,495. In the 2010 census it was 63, 395, and today is estimated at 66,418. (Source: https://www.census.gov) Between then and now, longer sentences and more mandatory minimum sentences have become part of the criminal justice landscape. (Source: Bennett, page v.)
- Bennett, page xii.
- Bennett, page xiii.
Every horse needs a halter and every halter needs a lead rope. We use a lead rope for two basic purposes: leading the horse and tying the horse. Again, what seems like a simple piece of equipment has many nuances. If you only led your horse and never tied it, a flat lead line, as seen in the show ring, is more compact in your hand (though if a horse is difficult to handle, there is an injury risk, as I will explain below) . But when we use our everyday working halter, we both lead and tie horses, so a sturdy rope is used. Selection of a good lead rope enhances safety for both horse and handler. But what do you buy?
A few basics: Most mass-manufactured lead ropes in the US today are about 3/4″ (± 2 cm) in diameter. A thicker rope is stronger, but harder to hold, especially for young people, and it is more cumbersome to tie. A thinner lead rope is not recommended; if a horse pulls back while tied, a thinner rope breaks easily, and a thin rope is also more likely to cause a rope burn to human hands. (Yes, some folks advocate always wearing gloves while handling horses. It’s a good idea, but in reality, most people don’t.) Flat lead shanks are generally made of nylon web or leather, and vary from about 1/2-inch wide to about 1 inch wide.
Standard manufactured ropes are generally about 9 to 10 feet long, which is adequate for most daily use. The 12-foot ropes common with the natural horsemanship crowd are nice for ponying a single horse, but can be too bulky to gather in your hand for ordinary leading and handling. People who are into packing make their lead ropes even longer, usually 15 feet, as the pack string usually travels head to tail and each animal needs a bit of maneuvering room. A longe line needs to be about 25 feet.*
Most lead ropes are made of cotton or a soft, flexible synthetic, usually described as poly or nylon. I prefer cotton. Why?
- It is easier to hold onto a cotton lead rope, you have a better grip.
- Cotton rope is flexible, it stays soft longer.
- For tying, cotton rope is strong enough to hold a horse that sets back on a rope under normal conditions and easier to cut in an emergency situation.
- Cotton rope is less likely to give you rope burns. Go to a tack store, grab a round poly lead rope and a cotton one, then have a friend yank each through your hands. Which one can you hold on to and which one slides in a streak of heat across your palm? Not only can you get a rope burn if things get into a tangle, so could your horse.
- It’s spliceable; which is good for three reasons: 1) they can be attached to a snap or halter without a need for a metal clamp 2) a broken rope or loosened end can be put back together. 3) They can be custom made by ordinary people.
- Cotton ropes are durable and last a long time if hung up and kept out of the weather.
The main disadvantage to cotton ropes are that they weather and wear faster than synthetics under heavy use. Once there is significant weathering or fraying, a cotton rope should be replaced. That said, if kept dry and unfrayed by use, they last a long time; I’ve pulled old cotton lead ropes out of a tack trunk that had sat unused for 15 years and found them perfectly serviceable. Nylon often stiffens with age.
Soft poly rope does have some advantages:
- In ropes of equivalent diameter, the synthetics are a bit stronger.
- Synthetic materials do not rot as fast if they are left out in the weather.
- They can take dye better than cotton and can be made in brighter colors.
- Poly ropes generally have no splice on the loose end, the end of the rope passes smoother through a tie ring, particularly if you like blocker tie rings (which actually are pretty cool gadgets in certain situations).
The primary disadvantage to poly or nylon rope has already been mentioned: Worse rope burns. Another disadvantage to a nylon rope is that most types cannot be spliced, so they are generally attached to the snap with a metal clamp, which is a weak point, it can bend and rust, and it is a point at which the rope might break. A metal clamp poses an injury risk to your hand if you grab the lead rope there and the horse jerks back. While poly lasts longer if left out in extreme conditions over the short term, older poly ropes I’ve had do get stiff with age and once they begin to disintegrate in this fashion, they can fail quickly.
I like a lead rope that attaches with a “bull” snap. Why use a bull snap on the lead rope? I do have standard “trigger” or bolt” snaps on show halter lead shanks, longe lines, and other equipment not used to tie up a horse. But on my everyday halter, the bull snap is safer and more durable.** For starters, a bull snap is smoother on the outside, you won’t as easily injure your hand if you accidentally grab it. Most other types of snaps have an outside trigger for easy release, but that’s a mixed blessing.
Though you may need two hands to open a bull snap, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I’ve seen more than one lead rope with a standard bolt snap come off a halter because the snap trigger was pulled accidentally when someone grabbed the lead rope by the snap (no, we aren’t supposed to, but yes, we all know it happens). The trigger may also catch on things—including your skin! The bolt snap is not as durable: triggers break, the latch segment is thin, it loosens up and some part often breaks after a few years. That said, bolt snaps are definitely more common, mostly due to their one-handed convenience.
There are a few other snap designs, most are weaker and not likely to hold up if you are going to tie your horse. Panic snaps, spring snaps and most carabiners can bend or break under pressure from a horse setting back on a rope. About the only new design that has some potential is a brass twist snap that can, in theory, be undone under pressure but is stronger than the panic snap. The hardware is thinner than a bull snap and they require two hands to attach, so though I own a rope with one, I don’t think they are a superior design.
Some lead ropes attach to a halter with a loop or tie and have no metal parts at all. Basically, there is a place for a permanently-attached lead rope with no metal parts, including safety and strength, but there are also a lot of reasons you might want to take off the lead rope. Even the rope halter advocates often use lead ropes with a metal snap for this reason. As seen in the above set of images, a snapless rope either attaches to a rope halter with a sheet bend knot or with a loop spliced into the end of the rope.
What about a flat lead shank? Flat leads are generally too flimsy for tying. Flat web is common for longe lines, where bulk is an issue, and leather lead shanks, usually with a chain, are standard for show and certain training uses. Flat leads without a chain shank are not common, though they can be found (often they are seen at some 4-H shows). If I have a need for a flat lead shank, I prefer to use leather, but for longe lines, leather is not practical in terms of weight, cost, strength or maintenance. Cotton or nylon web for longe lines is near-universal.
Be aware that flat web presents a greater rope burn risk than even a round nylon rope. Any flat lead, of any material, has an edge that can give you a very nasty hand injury if a horse jerks it through your hand. I will discuss safety in a future post, but for now, simply remember that if you work around horses, they are bigger than humans, stronger than humans, and as a result, rope burns are a very common injury. Cotton has less burn risk compared to nylon and offers a slightly better grip, but for longe lines, it’s almost a tossup—and nylon is both stronger and lasts quite a bit longer than cotton when in flat web style. (My favorite longe line is decades old and still perfectly usable; it’s helped that I’ve always stored it indoors and kept it clean of mud and manure)
By the way, leads with a chain shank, whether you use the chain or not, are never intended for tying. The chain will break under pressure, and if you had it run over the horse’s head in any manner, jerking back on it would subject the horse to extreme pain, and as I have discussed previously, pain increases panic.
We have many choices in lead ropes and how to attach them. The particular combination you choose, along with your preference in style of halter, is based on many factors. That said, for the ordinary lead rope in everyday use, I vote for cotton rope with a bull snap.
Copyright 2016, Brenda Wahler
Please read disclaimer.
*Longeing with a short line is stressful on a horse’s joints, plus, you run some risk of being kicked. Running a horse around on a short line as a disciplinary tactic is advocated by some, but I find it generally less effective that other approaches.
**I have a bunch of bull snaps saved from a 40-plus-year accumulation of old lead ropes (yes, I’m a horse tack pack rat), and most of them are still usable.
Not long ago, Montana newspapers reported on a Montana Supreme Court case involving a woman who was allegedly riding while intoxicated.
Except she wasn’t.
In spite of sensationalistic headlines describing the case as a “drunken horse ride,” police actually encountered the woman leading her horse and attempting to get on the animal, but failing. The news reports also stated that the officers let her go “because she was on foot,” implying that they might have arrested her if she had been riding.
Except they probably wouldn’t have done so.
Here we have a great example of how most journalists aren’t legal experts. The woman wasn’t arrested for riding under the influence; she wasn’t even on the horse. The Montana Supreme Court stated that—at 7:15 in the morning— the police “observed that [the woman] was stumbling and had difficulty maintaining her balance.” But, “because she was not committing a crime, they allowed her to leave the area. The officers observed that she was physically unable to mount her horse, and after repeated unsuccessful attempts to stay on the horse, she led it away from the area.” State v. Ellis-Peterson, 2016 MT 159N, ¶2. So the police let her go, not because she dismounted, but because she was not breaking the law—yet. It had nothing to do with riding the horse.
In Montana, you cannot be arrested solely for public intoxication. That said, the police can still pick you up and either take you home or hold you to be sure you are not a risk to yourself or to others. MCA §§ 53-24-107, -303. (But see below—you can still be arrested in Montana if you are disorderly while drunk, and in some other states, you can be arrested for riding while under the influence.)
The woman got home safely, somehow, but then called 911 to complain that she should be allowed to ride her horse without being “pulled over.” As a result of her call, the police visited her to do a welfare check.* After a long and convoluted series of events, she told the police she was “just drunk” and had opened the door—naked—to yell at them. They still were not ready to arrest her. (Note that all of this happened before noon.) The actual DUI charge came when the woman decided—only 20 minutes after the police finished their welfare check—to drive off in her pickup. Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol was the reason for her arrest. Not riding a horse. 2016 MT 159N ¶4-6.
In short, in spite of the clickbait headline, this individual was not arrested for any of her shenanigans: not for riding a horse while intoxicated—or even for yelling at the police while standing naked in her own doorway. She was arrested because she got behind the wheel of a pickup and drove off.
The crux of the Montana Supreme Court decision was that, because of all her prior behavior, the police had probable cause to arrest her, and the Court upheld her conviction even though she had not been given a standard field sobriety test. 2016 MT 159N at ¶9-10.
So does this case stand for the proposition that it is illegal in Montana to ride a horse while intoxicated? No. The headlines were attention-getting (but wrong), newspaper explanations of the court’s holding were generally “overbroad” (hence, wrong), and in short we have a great example of a misleading headline leading the reader to an erroneous conclusion.
On the other hand, in 2010, the Montana Department of Transportation’s Plan2Live campaign aired an ad showing a horse acting as a “friend” and being a “designated driver”of sorts for an intoxicated young man. Many people questioned if this ad meant it was OK to ride a horse if you were drunk, and it generated a story in USA Today that quoted a colleague of mine, Luke Berger, who is now a District Court Judge, saying, “I wouldn’t recommend that anyone does that, but . . . you can ride your horse after drinking.”
So, it is not illegal to ride a horse while intoxicated in Montana. MCA § 61-8-401 states that you have to be in control of a “vehicle”.1 The definitions statute, MCA §61-1-101 (90) defines a “vehicle” to specifically exempt “devices moved by animal power,” which, implicitly, includes horses, both ridden and driven.
But is it a really bad idea to ride while under the influence? Yes. Is it dangerous? Yes! I’ll go a bit farther than the honorable Judge Berger and state, unequivocally, just don’t do it!
First off, it’s dangerous for you. You are not in control of the horse, the horse will think for itself, and not necessarily on your behalf. You can fall off, get bucked off, or have the horse run off. You can be stepped on, kicked, and any number of other disasters can occur. As the woman in the court case discovered, even getting on and staying on a perfectly well-behaved horse can be fraught with hazards if you are inebriated. The horse might know its way home; but it also may decide the grass is greener elsewhere. The horse might take pity on you, but he or she might also decide it’s a good time to dispose of your sorry self and head for the back 80.
Second, it’s bad for the horse. Your coordination —and your common sense —is impaired. You could bump, hit, or kick your horse, jerk its mouth, yell at it, or just make a lot of confusing noises and movements. Quite possibly, you’ll be abusive. At the very worst, your actions could get both you and the horse injured.
Even in Montana, if you ride while intoxicated, you could find yourself arrested for other things, such as disorderly conduct. MCA §45-8-101. In some states and jurisdictions, such as Louisiana, you can be arrested for public intoxication, or, as happened in a Florida case, be charged with cruelty to animals. And in any state, if your horse has to be impounded while you are hauled off in a vehicle with flashing lights, the horse could wind up boarded at public expense. If you don’t pay up, you could be subject to an agister’s lien for the boarding fees—the person boarding your horse could sell it to pay the board bill! MCA §71-3-1211.
So, yes, it may be legal to ride under the influence in Montana, but for you and your horse’s sake, please don’t. And for your own safety and the safety of all the rest of us, never, ever, get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you aren’t 100% sober. That is life-threatening for you and others, even if you’re under the legal limit. Have a designated (human) driver. Be safe.
*By and large, police in Montana do spend a lot of time doing “welfare checks” on people when worried friends or neighbors call in. We’re still a small enough state that people are still seen as unique individuals. It’s one of the nice things about living here.
- MCA § 61-8-401 (3)(b) also excludes bicycles, for those who are interested.
Copyright 2016, Brenda Wahler
This article is premised solely upon Montana law. If you do not live in Montana, some of the material contained in this article may not be applicable in your jurisdiction. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for personal legal advice. Please read my general disclaimer. (Also, I do not practice in the area of DUI defense.)