Interview with Joe Camp, Author of ‘The Soul of a Horse’
I recently had the opportunity to chat with famed author and film writer/producer of the Benji movies, Joe Camp, about natural horse care. Although Joe is fairly new to having horses, his passion for learning all he possibly can, as well as his deep love and sense of awe for horses was immediately apparent in our conversation. Joe and I are alike in the
respect that we both constantly question why? The common phrase, because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t sit well with either of us. This constant questioning and the search for what is best for the horse has led Joe to become a true advocate for the horse.
Joe has written multiple books on the subject of natural horse care, including the best sellers, The Soul of the Horse and its sequel, Born Wild. You can find all of Joe’s books, as well as his articles on natural horse care at his website, www.thesoulofahorse.com.
Here are the questions I asked Joe, and his answers. Enjoy.
What is the key to ‘training horses’ in your opinion?
The primary component of relationship with a horse is trust. What I refer to as relationship can be achieved many different ways. But the two key elements with any of them is trust and the fact that the horse makes the choice to trust you of his own free will. When the horse makes the choice to say I trust you to be my leader, literally everything changes. Then he will never stop trying for you. I believe this relationship should come first, before anything else. Because, as we all know, the horse is a prey animal, a flight animal, and until you have his complete trust, by his choice, he will always be looking at you through fearful eyes.
We use what I call No Agenda Time. Essentially, we sit in the paddock, alone with the horse, place hay around our feet to draw the horse in, but completely ignore the horse. I don’t touch the horse until he decides of his own free will to tell me that he trusts me to be his leader.
After Kathleen and I adopted Saffron, a pregnant mustang, we did No Agenda Time for over a month. She would not allow anyone to touch her and we had to be sitting or she wouldn’t get near us. But she would let her new baby play with us and get rubs and scratches. On the 35th day, it was as if she had flipped a switch. From zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye. She was suddenly all over us, sniffing, blowing in my ear, sleeping on my shoulder, and I could rub and scratch literally anywhere; belly, butt, feet, ears–it was just amazing. We had given her time to more or less clean her plate of previous human experiences and start fresh. And now, two years later, she continues to completely trust us. No matter what the training event might be, it’s a non-event. She is all in. That’s the kind of relationship I think we are all looking for.
All of our beginning training utilizes their language of the herd, the language they understand. But once they understand that I understand their language, I start using my language: words, hand signals, gestures, and even treats. Whatever is at my disposal to make communication quicker and clearer. Because when a horses trusts like Saffy does, the only barrier to progress is my ability to communicate what I would like for her to do. If I can communicate it in a way that she can understand, she will do it. Treats help tremendously with that.
All eight of our horses have been trained this way. The relationship, the trust, came first, then a bit of basic ground work, then words, gestures, and treats. Horses have incredible memories and they can build quite extensive vocabularies. And for the past several years we’ve done it all at liberty. Our halters and lead ropes are pretty much all hanging around getting dusty.
Who have been your biggest influences in the natural horse care world?
Jaime Jackson got me started into natural horse care. Also, Pete Ramey. When I learned about what Pete was doing, I decided I needed to get to know him. I have a lot of respect for him. I also have sought to learn from Dr. Mark DePaulo, a holistic veterinarian as well as Dr. Robert Bowker, a researcher well-known for his hoof studies.
But probably more than any one person, I’ve depended on doing my own research about horses. I use google all the time! Shortly after I brought my first horse, Cash, home, I joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in order to learn about equine genetics and how they are designed to live. It was through this association that I learned the truth about genetics and horse hooves. So many people think we’ve bred the feet right off our horses, but the truth is, it takes thousands of years for genetic changes such as these to take place.
What are your thoughts on feeding horses?
Currently, I feed my own horses about a cup of Triple Crown 30 (a pelleted ration balancer) divided into two portions a day along with Red Cal (a mineral supplement) and Calcium-balanced rice bran for any who need a bit of added weight.
My horses have grass forage available 24/7–this is very important! When I lived in California and my horses lived in a Paddock Paradise (track system), they had grass hay available at all times. Now that we live in Tennessee, the horses are on about 22 acres of pasture with a variety of grasses. Prior to moving here, I was told that horses can’t be out 24/7 on the rich grasses of middle Tennessee. They referred to the area as “Founder Valley”.
After doing the research, I found that most pasture setups down here have only one choice of grass to eat, usually a cool season grass like fescue (higher in sugar). Horses in the wild have lots of choices and so do our horses. Multiple kinds of both warm and cool season grasses, weeds, brambles, berries, tress, etc. If horses have the choices they need, they are very capable of balancing themselves. This year marks the fifth year that my horses have been out 24/7 on grass with no problems or issues whatsoever.
We also like to feed Bermuda hay (a warm-season grass) year-round for variety as well and to ensure lots of movement. In the winter, we feed about four bales a day (with 8 horses) and in the summer, we usually feed about one bale. I spread it in long hay trails along the pasture so they have to move in order to eat it.
I think overall, a diet that has no grain, no molasses, and is otherwise very low in sugar is very important for horses.
What about deworming? How do you manage parasites in your horses?
I feed food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) all year-long and do my own fecal egg counts about every three months. The amount of DE each horse gets depends on the results of their FECs. I have some horses that get about 1 ½ cups a week and some that get two cups a day, every day.
What I like about DE is that it goes out the way it comes in—it’s a natural form of silica. This helps with control of fly larva as well as other parasites in manure.
Only if there’s a serious problem will I use chemical de-worming. This has only happened twice with one horse. The first time, the vet tube wormed her and the second time, I gave her a paste wormer. I will only use chemicals as a last resort though. And never on a regular schedule without knowing whether they need the poison or not. Otherwise, I believe parasites can be managed more naturally.
To read more about DE and how I manage parasites in my horses, see my article, No More Poison.
The important thing to remember about de-worming is that you need to treat each horse individually. Using fecal egg counts is about the only reliable way to do this.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
No matter what I do with my horses, it all boils down to this one question: What’s in it for the horse? This is the only question which should be asked. We need to put ourselves in their position. Horses are living, breathing creatures that have so much to offer. I’ve done the research I have in order to give my horses the best life possible and because I care.
Always start at the horse’s end of the lead rope. And no matter what, relationship should come first.