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.

 

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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.

Casie

Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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13 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    In reading the paragraph about “Founder Valley”, I wondered how Mr. Camp adjusted his new 22 acres of pasture so his horses would continue their good health (without rich grasses)????

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Susan,

      I don’t know if Joe will respond here or not, but he told me that he planted several different warm season grasses to provide variety and that he also feeds Bermuda hay all year as well. That way they don’t just have one choice (of the cool season, high sugar grasses) to graze on.

      • Jean Maloney says:

        I am interested in the fact that Joe feeds Bermuda hay. I have heard so many opinions, speculations, and outright accusations that Bermuda hay causes impaction colic, that I am now afraid to feed Bermuda. I wish I could get to the absolute truth concerning this matter, because I know that Bermuda is a balanced, nutritional hay.

        • Lois says:

          We all have to form our own opinions on Hay. I live in NW Fl. Here Bermuda Coastal is a horse staple. They eat the grass in the Summer and the hay in the winter. Never saw colic from it. My last two mares have lived to be 32 and 36 eating coastal

          • Jean Maloney says:

            Thank you for that. I heard of a study also, which implicated coastal Bermuda in ileal impaction colics. But who knows how thorough the study, or what other factors may have been involved? Therefore, I think I feel more confident, after your reply, to go ahead and add Bermuda to my horses’ diet. It is, after all, a balanced and nutritious hay. Thanks again.

    • Joe Camp says:

      Hi Susan… God was looking out for us. When we bought the property in Tennessee the pastures had not been used for at least eight years. Just left, allowed to grow multi varieties of grasses, weeds, brambles, berries, trees, etc. And it had not been fertilized or poisoned for at least the same period. We just bush hogged and were ready to go. We did plant some Bermuda and crab grass, both warm season grasses to help counter the cool season fescue and orchard already there. For a summary of what we did read this article, Horses Need Choices, at this link: http://thesoulofahorse.com/blog/horses-need-choices/

      For the whole story and all the research go to the book Horses Were Born to Be On Grass which is only 99 cents on Kindle, or Nook, or iBooks. Paperback a bit more 🙂

  2. Vicki L Ciepiela says:

    Casie, Thank you so much for this interview with Joe Camp. I really like his outlook and the way he interacts with his horses. I signed up for his blog and look forward to more articles from him. Thank you, Vicki

  3. Susan says:

    I wish I knew exactly what to plant. We have a couple of TBs with weak feet and some ponies that eat like little piggies! If they had the right stuff in front of them, we wouldn’t have to keep them on dry lots!

  4. Susan says:

    Hello Joe!

    Thank you so much for your response! I read your book, “Soul of a Horse”….LOVED IT! I’ve recommended it to many of my students. My boyfriend and I are of the exact same ideas and beliefs about horses as you are!

    Yes, lucky you to have found a place that was clean and fresh for your horses. My place was 30 years “used” when I got it and that was 11 years ago. It would be so nice to find another place like you did…some day!

    I’ll have to go to my local extension office and find out what they recommend for my area (NY State).

    Thank you again!
    Susan

  5. Cathi Cline says:

    Joe, are you aware the worm that currently is the most dangerous equine worm is the small encysted strongyle ?

    They do not produce eggs and will never show up in a fecal test. Because of the mistaken idea that rotational worming is a good thing, these worms have become resistant to all wormers except Quest and a 5 day course of Panacur. DE has no effect. Neither does any commercial wormer, no matter what the label says. Large strongyles are not the same as small strongyles.

    I do applaud you for encouraging fecal counts before worming horses. Unfortunately the most dangerous worm won’t show up in the fecal sample.

    • Vicki L Ciepiela says:

      I’m really troubled by the statement about DE not showing up in fecal counts! I thought I was covering all my bases by doing fecal counts and worming when necessary to avoid resistance. What happens when these worms get resistant to Quest and panacur?? Vicki

      • Casie says:

        It’s true that encysted strongyles will not show up in fecal egg counts, and the only *proven* method of getting rid of them is Quest, Quest Plus (moxidectin + praziquantel), or ivermectin given 3 times at 3 week intervals (even the panacur is getting resistance now). But a strong immune system and good pasture management is equally, if not more important, than any deworming program, in my opinion. DE is known for boosting the immune system, so who’s to say that it doesn’t, in fact, help in the control of encysted strongyles. . . Some people will use natural dewormers throughout most of the year (or when needed) and then treat for encysted strongyles in the fall though.

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