Friday, April 30, 2010

All I Got On Stops

Loki update: Loki has earned a new name the last few months. “Low-key.” She has taken to being ridden again with a grace and ease that delights me.

We started out with laid back walks around the barn and a little bit of arena time. She has figured out there are no shows happening in the arena and is perfectly happy to tool around in there.

Once she understood I don’t expect her to build her run-downs anymore she kicked back another notch.

We have been working on WTC transitions and general puttering. Sometimes I can’t help but ask for lead changes, they’re sooooo smooth and quiet. She’s fine.

Kidlet, Kathy and I have started sorting with the local riding group. We get together on Tues. and Sat. and ride to the neighborhood arena.

I have to admit it tickles me. Talk about going full circle! I’m back to riding to the club events, just like I did as a kid on Mort.

I’ve been walking Loki everywhere, she’s still a little worried about returning to her drag-racing days with the Kidlet and has regular flash backs. But she has only tensed her muscles and raised her head. A gentle circle or some zig-zagging has immediately calms her and gets her focused again.

She has been good on the trail, crossing bridges and ignoring everything from joggers and dogs to 4-wheelers on the multi-use trail.

I was happy to note all three of our horses willingly and calmly walked down the very busy paved road, waited at the intersection like troopers so we could cross at the cross walk, walked past kids playing baseball, a skateboard park, lots of traffic, baby strollers and bicycles without flicking an ear.

I guess it goes to show, all that arena time was good for something. Loki hangs around at the arena with a hip cocked, walks in to the sort pen, says “Ya want that one? Okey Doke.”

Then she strolls over, cuts her cow and puts it in the holding pen. Never even breaks into a trot.

I’m proud and pleased.

Her future? I don’t know yet. For now, she’ll head back out to pasture at the end of May. She’ll be the horse I use when I give clinics at the rescue. Beyond that, I don’t know. My yellow mare comes back to me in a month, I am really excited.

Leland is going along just fine.

I personally am learning the joys of going for a short, quiet ride, taking my horse creekside to graze and drinking a Mike’s Hard Lemonade while I read a book (sometimes I even skip the ride). Amazing!

Dee Dee asked about stops. I am going to called these next few posts “All I Got on Stops,” ‘cause it pretty much is.

I have covered this stuff before, but I can’t find half of it so I can’t expect you guys to.

The easiest, most sure-fired stop I can share is what I learned as the Monte Foreman stop. It works extremely well for newbies and kids and is great for learning the magic of a horse getting under himself in a stop.

The only drawback is your horse will stop every time you push on his neck. I never had a problem with it, but did have some people complain about it.

In order for this to work the rider has to be able to feel the foot fall pattern of the horse for every gait she rides. So if you only walk, your homework is a lot lighter than if you walk, trot and canter.

I usually teach people to feel which foot is just hitting the ground. This works well with a buddy. I start with the fronts because then the rider can lean over and look if she wants to.

The walk is a 4 beat gait. When one of the horse’s front feet leaves the ground it is followed next by the opposite hind leg. The back foot will hit shortly after the front leaves the ground, giving you the 1,2,3,4 feel of the walk.

Practice calling out each foot as it hits the ground. I simply call out, “Now, now, now….”

Get your partner to say, front left foot, left hind, right hind, left front and call out accordingly until you can feel them all.

The trot is a 2 beat gait. When the horse’s front leg leaves the ground it’s followed by the opposite hind leg with both legs in the air at the same time. This gives you the 1,2,1,2 of the trot.

Have your work-out partner call out all four feet again and feel where each foot is. No looking!

The canter is a 3-beat gait. For the right lead the horse starts the canter with a step underneath and push from the outside (left) hind leg (left hind leg for the right lead, right hind leg for the left). Then the opposite (right)hind and (left) front travel forward together and the leading (right)front leg goes forward last.

This description is giving me a headache. If my horse takes the left lead he will lope off beginning with his right hind. Then his left hind and right front move forward together, then the left front (lead leg) goes last.

1,2,3…So call out the legs at the lope and we’ll get to the stopping part…well almost. The right lead is the opposite.

I don’t want to write anymore, so go practice and I’ll pick this up next week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cupcake’s Comeuppance

I fitted the serreta under Cupcakes halter. I tightened it down until he tossed his head, waited a few beats and tightened it down again.

“Jeez, don’t you think that’s enough?” My boss asked me.

“Shelley warned me this thing can do some damage if it’s too loose,” I said as I eased in and squeaked out another hole, “ I don’t want the metal banging around on his face.”

Cupcake stood still as I fussed. He knew he wouldn’t get out of the stall unless he was quiet. I was happy with his progress, but time was ticking away. I had just over 30 days to get him under saddle.

I snapped an extra lead-rope to his halter and one to the top ring of the serreta.

“Let’s balance him between us with the halter, “ I told Rainy. “I’m not planning on getting into it with him in the barn.”

The boss’ husband had a habit of storing all of his farm equipment in the barn. He had a lot of it. I would weave my horses through tractors and spreaders and buckets and sometimes his semi to reach my arena.

Cupcake was still impossible to lead once I led him out of the stall. He would lunge at horses, dogs, other people and eventually me.

He had never had a friend in his short little life and I never could figure if it was the kind of horse he was or the way he’d been treated that had turned him into this mess.

He didn’t seem afraid of anything, but I kept thinking an angry horse could still think things through. Cupcake had no thought processes I recognized.

In the early mornings when the horses were eating and I was cleaning stalls he had gotten to where I could scratch under his Rastafarian mane. He would raise his head from the feed tub and close his eyes, happier with the scratching than the plentiful feed in front of him.

I would stop, he would sigh and I would continue to clean his stall. For the few minutes while I picked the stall around him I felt totally at ease. I couldn’t quit him yet.

Cupcake walked a few steps before he squealed and struck at the horse stalled next to him. Rainy yanked her end and I held strong on mine.

We maneuvered him into the arena without hitting the Serreta once. I snapped the end of my longe line to the top ring in the serreta and another line on the rope halter. I undid the lead ropes and took a deep breath. I planned to give him every opportunity to be civilized.

Rainy sat up on the fence with an expectant grin on her face.

“You want me to wait so you can go get some popcorn?” I asked her.

“Gee, coudja?”I snorted and worked my way to the middle of the arena.

Cupcake stood frozen as I backed away. He worked his lips and ears,confused by the room I was giving him.

He looked at me, tossed his head and quickly paused at the weight of the serreta. I was almost to the middle of the pen when he bolted. I held both longe lines in my left hand, the one attached to the halter slightly shorter than the one attached to the serreta. I held the rest of the line away from my body and clear of my spurs with the other.

I scrambled to get to a good angle and yanked the longe line on the halter, pulling his head slightly to the center.

Cupcake sped up with every tug and was getting harder to keep up with. He was going to get ahead of me and b able to get his shoulder into the line.

“Here goes!” I finally hollered and snapped the serreta hard.

Cupcake slammed to a stop, his head high in the air. I hit the line again and he reared. I hit it again before he came down.

He stood spraddle-legged, head to the ground. He snorted hard a few times.

We stood watching each other carefully. The red hide was dark with sweat and foam already speckled his neck.

Cupcake squealed and launched himself at me, ears pinned. I snapped the longe line like an out-of-control fly rod and he fell to his knees.

He was up and running before I could think and I snapped him again. He launched into the air and I hit him again.He froze and stared at me, his eyes white and rolling.

He was terrified. I felt sick.

“I can’t do this anymore today,” I said.

“Do you think you’ve got him?” Rainy’s voice was a little shaky.

“I don’t know, I’ll find out tomorrow. But I’m done for now.”

I turned so my shoulder faced him and let him blow. His head was slung in the air, but he carefully maintained some slack in the line.

Cupcake finally lowered his head. His jaw was tight and his chin was clenched so hard it looked like a walnut. I walked up to him and rubbed his neck. His head dropped a little more and I was able to loosen the serreta. He held his breath as I eased it over his ears and off his head.

He led quietly to his stall and I piled an armload of grass hay into his feeder. He needed something to keep him busy until he cooled.

I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and watched him over the stall door.

Rainy called from the arena, “Do you want to ride a couple?”

“I’m done for the day,” I hollered back.Rainy didn’t answer so I knew she was mad.

I leaned my elbows over the stall door and took a swig of my beer.The sweet smell of hay twined with sharp sweat and shavings. Cupcake snorted and flicked an ear at me, but he kept his head buried in the hay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mouthy Monday

I know,I know, the disorganization queen strikes again.

This story comes from "Slippin" our cutting buddy.

I think this is next in line.

In high school, I was not popular nor was I into sports.

I constantly talked about horses and found myself drawing them on my papers in class.

I rode a paint gelding bareback because I couldn’t put a saddle on without asking for help. I wasn't quite strong enough to pick it up that high without a major ordeal of getting a block of wood to stand on. I only weighed about 75 lbs soaking wet in high school.

My sophomore year, I went to work at a cutting horse barn cleaning stalls after school and on the weekends. I had never heard of cutting, nor had I ever SEEN it. One day I was watching someone work a horse on the mechanical cow and was fascinated by how that horse could turn on his hind end like that.

I was sitting on the rail intently watching when, my now long time friend, asked me if I wanted to try it out. I looked at her wide eyed and said, "Who ME?? No! I will fall off! That horse moves way too fast!"


She laughed and said, "No, you will be fine, just watch the flag and hold onto the horn and if you get scared, you can always pull on the reins and stop her"

That was a new concept to me...my gelding that I rode bareback at home didn't have very good brakes...he pretty much went where he wanted to go most of the time.

I nervously climbed down off the fence and walked over to the mare and climbed up in the saddle. She gave me a few pointers on how to hold the horn and how to sit relaxed. Then she told me to step the mare up towards the flag with my hand forward and reins loose.

My friend gave me a warning and said, "OK, I'm going to make the flag move, so put your rein hand on her neck and be ready for her to move to the right...I remember clamping down on the saddle horn and getting a big knot in my stomach.

I have always been told by friends and coaches that I couldn't do anything because I was too little and not strong enough, so I immediately started doubting myself, but before I could say anything, the flag moved and the horse gracefully dropped down and made a nice swinging move to the right, then trotted a few steps and stopped, then did the drop and moved 180 degrees to the left.

We made about 5 or 6 moves and I started laughing so hard I couldn't concentrate on the horse or the flag! When I got done working the horse, I yelled out, "That was so much FUN!! I have GOT to get me one of these!!"


About a year later, I found myself buying a 4 year old grand daughter of Freckles Playboy and after a year of lessons I started showing.(my mare needed some finishing touches on her training, so that slowed us down some too).

She was a hard headed tough mare that had a lot of grit and guts and weaved in the stall. I started calling her the "Ice Princess" because everything had to be her way, or she wasn't happy.

I used to worry about her weaving all the time, but no matter what we did, she wouldn't stop, so my trainer told me to just think of her practicing her cutting moves. She did slow down as she got older. She was one of those that shouldn't have worked out. She was still kind of green and I was still learning to cut. Usually those 2 combinations don't work out very well.


In 1992 I went to my first BIG show. The Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Derby! I wasn't showing in the actual derby, but they had a weekend show during the Derby.

I had entered in the 2,000 limit class and this time, my parents couldn't go, so I had to get a ride with another client of my trainer(friend).

When I got there I went and checked out the draw...I was MAD. I had drawn up LAST out of 50 horses. So after ALL day of loping and wearing my mare down(she needed to be loped a lot), I went in and WON the whole thing!!!

The best part was when I called home on the pay phone. My mom answered and I said, "Hey, WELL, there were 50 horses in the class, I drew up dead last, I marked a 221.5 and won! I think my check is going to be around $500. "

My mom said, "You did not! What really happened?"

I was shocked and said, "I did too win!"

she said, "You did not!"

I said, "C'mon! I didn't put a dang $1.35 in the phone to call home and tell you I lost a cow!"

That was the last I heard from my mom, that’s when my dad got on the phone and said, "Ok what did you do? Your mother is crying"

I laughed and told him what I did, he said, "Well its about time you did something on that horse!"(he was joking of course!)

A few years more of showing and a move to Texas in the "cutting horse capital of the world" I was still beating people on my little sorrel mare. I marked big scores on her and our best scores where when we drew up DEAD LAST! I have won 4 buckles on her and pretty much everything else you can think of...except for a saddle.

I had also been offered good money for her, but, as my grandpa has told me, "that’s when 2 fools met...one to make the offer, and one to turn it down!"

But she was the one that helped me through school and helped me prove to all the people that told me that I couldn't do anything because I was "Too little" WRONG! I couldn't even think of selling her. A few years ago, she died but she will always be my little "Ice Princess"

Friday, April 23, 2010

Follow the Hand

Shanster said: Regarding tipping the nose and only releasing when the feet move... how does this tie in with your whole sensitize/desensitize theory?
Do you think this is important on both sides of the fence?
It seems like teaching a colt to move its feet in response to bit pressure would be really helpful if you were looking to do something that required quick responses, but might be kind of a drawback when the training goal is to create a horse for Mrs. Weekend Rider.

Mugs says: I started all of my youngsters the same. For that matter I expected every horse I rode to move in the direction I pointed them.

It really isn't that technical. I point, you go.

The level of response from my horse increases as I ask for more and the horse is physically able to respond. So you can quit increasing the reaction time wherever you want.

I got in an enormous argument with my step-daughter (a very competent trainer) over this. She felt strongly that all her students, especially her beginners, were safer if they utilized a one rein stop on their horse.

I felt/feel the one rein stop dumps the horse on it's front end and puts a student , especially a beginner, in the position of getting a strung out horse jump started again. A horse who has his head pulled to the side has his shoulders pointed out, his head bent and his weight in the front end.

I have watched too many horses learn to take their shoulder and fly this way.

I also have seen horses dumped over with this specific maneuver.

"So how do your students stop them if they're running off?" My angry step-daughter asked me.

"Circle them around and kick the hip out until they quit."

"But how do you STOP them."

"Say Whoa."

Where upon she became extremely pissed off.

I’m a very irritating relative to have sometimes.

But because I spend so much time setting my horses up to stop, and because I don't stop them until they want to stop (for the most part) by the time I yell whoa on a horse I've been training, they stop. It's a muscle response, not a decision.

We didn't even begin to get into my thinking that by bending the head back and forth just to bend the rider is teaching her horse not only to give but to ignore her.

Think about it. Repetitive bending left and right does nothing except to get the horse to learn when the rider pulls on the rein to the right or left it means just stand there.

Which to me means I've taught my horse to ignore a cue I really need.

When my horses are in a much more advanced level of training I’ll get them to give their head to the left and right while moving forward, it helps them loosen up the base of the neck and drop their head.

But this is way down the road when I expect them to understand more than one cue at once.

The horse will be working off my body and legs by then.

I also teach them to give their head to teach them to side pass and work diagonally, but again, they know to move their feet according to what my legs are saying by then.

The sticky wicket (what exactly is a sticky wicket anyway?) is that my step-daughter lives and breathes by Ray Hunt.

She learned her craft from a student and follower of Ray’s and attended probably 10 – 15 of his clinics.

So everything she does is her translation of hours and months spent either with Ray or her original mentor.

The very points I am taking a stand on came from Ray also.

Except I had very little time with him and only a few conversations. I never studied with her mentor or any of his followers.

I have a (some would say terrible) habit of building an entire philosophy off of a sentence or two which makes sense to me.

I can do this with religion, politics, child rearing and especially horse training.

I asked Ray (OK, I called him Mr. Hunt) about a young horse I had in training who flipped over backwards and bucked.

He very wisely asked me to evaluate the common sense of riding this horse and then said, “If all the feet are moving forward you're safe. It’s when the feet stop moving you’ll end up in a bind. If you’ve got the feet you’ve got the horse.”

I took this home and played with this thought while riding every horse I had available to ride.

This is what I discovered.

If a horse is going to rear she will plant her front feet and gather her hindquarters under her.

If a horse is going to buck she will slow down, arch her back or tuck her rear and either kick up the hind end while planting the fronts or vice versa.

If a horse is going to run off, the shoulder will point in the intended direction first. The head tossing and light footedness which precedes a run away comes from the hands ineffectively using the reins and the sequential loss of control of the feet.

I’m not talking about loping a horse down the road and having her speed up into a runaway.
Trust me, the horse in this instance was out of control waaaaay before she started running.

So I started thinking about controlling the feet. I wanted to control each foot of my horse with my body.

As usual, when I began to obsess I made my students go on this odyssey with me.

When a person first begins to ride, all of their control of the horse comes through the hands.

Some people never get over it. Hands first, legs (if at all) second.

So I made everybody go two handed. Most were in a snaffle bit. At first we worked on the theory the students hands were for steering and their legs were for power.

So my beginners learned to steer with their hands and power the horses forward with leg pressure.

The left rein directed the left shoulder. The right, the right. The legs powered the forward movement.

Pretty soon the horses began to move their feet with the directional pull of the rein before the leg pressure came on.

So we had an Aha! moment.

The beginning riders were learning to take charge of the horse with the rein. The horse was responding to the hand.

It was simple, clear, direct and everybody got it.

So when I got the students further in their ability and they started to use their legs to control each foot there was no confusion. It was simply additional cues.

My colts also benefited from the simplicity.

First wander around, learn to step left with a left tug and right to a right tug. I also relaxed the inside leg (same rein same leg)before I tugged on the reins, setting the colt to follow a release of pressure from my legs.

Then he learned to move his hindquarters away from my leg (same rein same leg again, but with pressure instead of release)

Then he learned pressure from both of my legs created propulsion.

Then he learned to move away from leg pressure at the fore.

My students benefited from the same approach, except people did better learning to squeeze both legs for forward before they could use one leg at a time to move the hindquarters.

I think it has something to do with how we see and think (forward and with both eyes in front) where a horse learns first one side than the other easier than both sides at once.

So to me I’m keeping it simple.

The colt doesn’t have to blast into a turn when I move a rein, just follow the motion of my hand.
So I guess it has more to do with sensitizing the rider….

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scared or Mad/Tally 4

My work at the barn progressed steadily. My student load increased, horses kept trickling in and the boss had started letting me ride their buckskin stud River.

He was home from the trainer for the breeding season and needed regular exercise. Since Bill had loaded up Tally and headed to his home in Canyon City they had no one who was comfortable enough with the horse to exercise him.

River was the first stud horse I had ever consistently worked with. My previous experience with stallions was starting a 4-year-old Morgan cross for some friends while I was in college.
My friends kept this horse with a herd of equally indiscriminate looking mares in a mountain pasture outside of Ft. Collins.

Having equal amounts of youth, inexperience and bravado I broke out the colt in the pasture with a halter and a bareback pad.

Since the stud had a kindly nature and the gods seem to have a soft spot for children and idiots on horseback I managed to get the job done.

River was a different story. He had been in training for most of his life. He was big, buckskin and meaner than a snake.

“That’s the way studs are,” the boss told me, “he has to be handled with respect.”

I soon learned to slip into his stall quietly, halter him with an elbow ready to guard my face and body, slip a stud chain across his nose and tie him short and high.

River was quick with his feet and quicker with his teeth. He could sense the first second of inattentiveness and turn it into a rodeo.

Once a week the boss and I would haul him out to the trainer, Devin’s, and I would get some help riding him.

I was learning about the world of pleasure horses and the basics of reining. I was also learning how to stay alive when I handled the Riv.

“I have never handled a worse horse on the ground,” Devin snarled, “this son of a bitch needs to be gelded.”

River didn’t behave like the other horses in the all-around trainers barn. They stood quietly in their stalls and rarely nickered. If tied in the cross ties they never fussed or became impatient. The studs stood with their heads low and their eyes averted no matter what went on in front of them.

They sure didn’t act like the horses I’d been around. I knew I had a lot to learn and riding Riv was a way to learn it.

One afternoon I was at home jogging him around the indoor, thinking about my seat, Riv’s cadence and his drive. The slow, even jog was mesmerizing. As usual the boss slouched back in his folding chair with his legs crossed. His hands were busy repairing a bridle as he watched us work.

“You know, Bill says he’s really getting on with Tally,” he said.

“Good to hear,” I answered.

“He’s about ready to ride her,” he continued.

“Great!” I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster.

I put Riv into a lope and started to work on transitions. I wanted to be too busy to talk about Tally.

The little bay mare with the coarse head and doe eyes had stayed in my mind. My anger had no place on the job. The horse belonged to the people I worked for and the decisions involving her were theirs.

I wrapped my legs tighter around River and rolled my calves. He lifted his back, hung his head low and drove deep with his back legs.

This pleasure gig threw me. The harder I squeezed with my legs the slower he would go. It was wild. Learning to ride a horse with the reins two feet longer than I was used to was also pretty amazing.

“You think you’re up to showing him?” The boss asked.

My heart started to pound.

“I’ll sure try,” I answered as we loped past.

“Good enough,” he smiled, “I’m going up to the house to tell Carolyn, she’ll be pleased.”

I slowed Riv to a walk after the boss left. I couldn’t believe it. They were going to let me show their horse. I was proud and scared at the same time. What if I couldn’t control him? What if he ate me? What if I looked totally stupid?

I was to excited to deal with the Pleasure stuff any more. I started on my circles, forcing myself to look ahead, keep my speed up and think round and perfect.

River picked up on my energy and crow hopped a little. I snapped him down and put my mind back on what I was doing.

We were kicking up dust with our stops when the boss walked back into the door.

“I need you to feed,” he said.

His dark eyes had sunk deep into his face. The boss’s normally sun bronzed face was haggard and gray.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Bill’s in the hospital. His horses all showed up at his neighbors place. The found him all busted up on his property.”

“My God, what happened?”

“Tally’s running the neighborhood in a saddle and bridle, what the hell do you think happened? I’m going to kill that bitch.”

He turned and stalked out of the arena, his shoulders stiff and tightly drawn together.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feet Follow Hands...

Shanster said: Regarding tipping the nose and only releasing when the feet move... how does this tie in with your whole sensitize/desensitize theory?

Do you think this is important on both sides of the fence?

It seems like teaching a colt to move its feet in response to bit pressure would be really helpful if you were looking to do something that required quick responses, but might be kind of a drawback when the training goal is to create a horse for Mrs. Weekend Rider.

Mugs says: I started all of my youngsters the same. For that matter I expected every horse I rode to move in the direction I pointed them. It really isn't that technical. I point, you go.

I got in an enormous argument with my step-daughter (a very competent trainer) over this. She felt strongly that all her students, especially her beginners, were safer if they utilized a one rein stop on their horse.

I felt/feel the one rein stop dumps the horse on it's front end and puts a student , especially a beginner, in the position of getting a strung out horse jump started again. A horse who has his head pulled to the side has his shoulders pointed out, his head bent and his weight in the front end.

I have watched too many horses learn to take their shoulder and fly this way.

I also have seen horses dumped over with this specific maneuver.

"So how do your students stop them if they're running off?" My angry step-daughter asked me.

"Circle them around and kick the hip out until they quit."

"But how do you STOP them."

"Say Whoa."

Where upon she became extremely pissed off.

I’m a very irritating relative to have sometimes.

We didn't even begin to get into my thinking that by bending the head back and forth just to bend the rider is teaching her horse not only to give but to ignore her.

Think about it. Repetitive bending left and right does nothing except to get the horse to learn when the rider pulls on the rein to the right or left it means just stand there.

Or ignore it.

When my horses are in a much more advanced level of training I’ll get them to give their head to the left and right while moving forward, it helps them loosen up the base of the neck and drop their head.

But this is way down the road when I expect them to understand more than one cue at once. The horse will be working off my body and legs by then.

I also teach them to give their head to teach them to side pass and work diagonally, but again, they know to move their feet according to what my legs are saying by then.

The sticky wicket (what exactly is a sticky wicket anyway?) is that my step-daughter lives and breathes by Ray Hunt.

She learned her craft from a student and follower of Ray’s and attended probably 10 – 15 of his clinics.

So everything she does is her translation of hours and months spent either with Ray or her original mentor.

The very points I am taking a stand on came from Ray also.

Except I had very little time with him and only a few conversations. I never studied with her mentor or any of his followers.

I have a (some would say terrible) habit of building an entire philosophy off of a sentence or two which makes sense to me.

I can do this with religion, politics, child rearing and especially horse training.

I asked Ray (OK, I called him Mr. Hunt) about a young horse I had in training who flipped over backwards and bucked.

He very wisely asked me to evaluate the common sense of riding this horse and then said, “If all the feet are moving forward you're safe. It’s when the feet stop moving you’ll end up in a bind. If you’ve got the feet you’ve got the horse.”

I took this home and played with this thought while riding every horse I had available to ride.

This is what I discovered.

If a horse is going to rear she will plant her front feet and gather her rears under her.

If a horse is going to buck she will slow down, arch her back or tuck her rear and either kick up the hind end while planting the fronts or vice versa.

If a horse is going to run off the shoulder will point in the intended direction first. The head tossing and light footedness which precedes a run away comes from the hands ineffectively using the reins and the sequential loss of control of the feet.

I’m not talking about loping a horse down the road and having her speed up into a runaway.

Trust me, the horse in this instance was out of control waaaaay before she started running.

So I started thinking about controlling the feet. I wanted to control each foot of my horse with my body.

Again, as usual when I began to obsess I made my students go on this odyssey with me.

When a person first begins to ride, all of their control of the horse comes through the hands. Some people never get over it. Hands first, legs (if at all) second.

So I made everybody go two handed. Most were in a snaffle bit. At first we worked on the theory the hands were for steering and the legs were for power.

So my beginners learned to steer with their hands and power the horses with leg pressure.

The left rein directed the left shoulder. The right, the right. The legs powered the forward movement.

Pretty soon the horses began to move their feet with the directional pull of the rein.

So we had an Aha! Moment.

The beginning riders were learning to take charge of the horse with the rein. The horse was responding to the hand.

It was simple, clear, direct and everybody got it.

So when I got the students further in their ability and they started to use their legs to control each foot there was no confusion. It was simply additional cues.

My colts also benefited from the simplicity.

First wander around, learn to step left with a left tug and right to a right tug. I also relaxed the inside leg (same rein same leg)before I tugged on the reins, setting the colt to follow a release of pressure from my legs.

Then he learned to move his hindquarters away from my leg.

Then he learned pressure from both of my legs created propulsion.

Then he learned to move away from leg pressure at the fore.

My students benefited from the same approach, except people did better learning to squeeze both legs for forward before they could use one leg at a time to move the hindquarters.

I think it has something to do with how we see and think (forward and with both eyes in front) where a horse learns first one side than the other easier than both at once.

So to me I’m keeping it simple.

The colt doesn’t have to blast into a turn when I move a rein, just follow the motion of my hand.

So I guess it has more to do with sensitizing the rider….




Missing Horse

This really, really stinks. This lovely horse was stolen in New Mexico. Why would you steal a little girls horse when you can go pick one up at a sale or off CL for $50? Keep your eyes open folks....




Friday, April 9, 2010

Scared or Mad/Cupcake3

“Cupcake is turning out to be a royal pain in the ass,” I told Rainie.

“At least he’s gelded,” she answered.

“Wish he’d figure it out,” was all I could come up with.

Cupcake had finally conceded to letting me come into his stall and haltering him. But he still constantly teetered on the brink of attack every time I brought him out.

He screamed and went after every horse he saw. His anger was so great the other horses in the barn hid in the back of their stall when I led him by. Even Madonna, the teasing imp of the barn, would retreat when he was in the alley.

I couldn’t relax with him for even a second. He would charge me without warning. I had resorted to a stud chain to control him, a piece of equipment I had never had to use before. His chin was raw and bloody and I barely had him. It was a matter of time before he decided to run through it.

“This horse is wearing me out,” I said.

There had come a time in my life when I decided my days of riding pukes were over. This colt definitely qualified as a puke. I should send him home. My boss was being tolerant of the time he was taking from her horses, but she wouldn’t stay that way.

But I was stuck. Maybe it was his pretty little Arab head. Maybe I had read too many of Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion series. The hard reality was this little red colt had not hit the ground like this. His ability to flee had been stripped away from the get go and his solution was anger.

I admired the mean little shit in an odd kind of way. He was fighting tooth and nail for his freedom. He needed to learn he would get it through cooperation with me and I only had 45 days left.

“I think it’s time to borrow Shelly’s serreta,” I told Rainie.

“Really?” She asked, “I thought you said you wouldn’t use that thing.”

“It works,” I said, “I have to get moving on him.”

The serreta is a wicked little training device (What’s in your Trainers Tack Box? May 12 2008) from Spain. It is a pretty standard tool for training Andalusian/Lusitano bull fighting horses and is sometimes used in the U.S. for dressage training.

It is made up of a metal, leather-covered noseband with a hinge in the middle. The leather chin strap cranks down the nose piece until the same delicate facial nerves the bosal works are crunched down on like a nutcracker. There is a ring in the middle for longe work and two on the sides for riding.

I had learned about this piece of equipment when I was helping a fellow trainer keep up with an assembly line training project she had gotten caught up in.

She started Gypsy Vanners for an importer as they came out of quarantine and were ready to be put up for sale. She never knew what she would get, from cobs to drummers, but universally they weren’t broke to ride. Shelly had come to me to help her stream line her program and get as much training into the horses as possible before they were sent off into the wild blue yonder.

“These horses have one thing in common, they’re strong,” Shelly said.

“The buyer's getting $30,000 to $75,000 each for each one of these and wants them started as a courtesy,” she continued, "the problem is theses horses are being bought up by very wealthy people with little or no horse sense. They buy them for kids, or lawn ornaments, or because they see them in parades. I just know they’ll end up dumped if they don’t behave.”

Shelly had started using the serreta in self defense. She simply wasn’t strong enough to control the drafty beasts when they first came in.

The serreta put her in control from day one. It was a brutal but very effective way to get any horse’s attention. The Vanners were for the most part a docile and amiable breed, but the newly gelded five-year-olds were what brought in the big bucks, so she had a lot of attitude in every truck-load.

We worked out a system. They had two-days of ground work under saddle and carrying a ring snaffle under the serreta.

On the third day Shelly got on while I worked the serreta and longe.

The fourth day we added reins to the serreta and introduced left and right turns.

The fifth day we put the reins on the snaffle.

The sixth day we rode without the serreta.

On the seventh we were riding out in the arena.

We started 5 at a time and worked the horses every other day up until we were out riding then we rode every day until they shipped out. It was an amazing period of time.

I found myself chipping away at the way I rode and how I worked. I became as bare-boned as possible in my methods and as clear and fair as I could possibly be under the circumstances.

Shelly and I could turn out 15 to 20 serviceable horses a month this way on top of our regular training loads. I came away from the experience knowing that Gypsy Vanners are pretty nice horses and that by using a serreta I could bring a 1300 pound horse to his knees with the snap of a longe line.

Cupcake still didn’t weigh 900 pounds but if we didn’t get things straightened out he was headed for the Calhan sale. No horse I had ever known deserved to end up at the Calhan sale.

I called Shelly the next day and asked if I could borrow her serreta.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shoulder, i.e. Straightness II

Absolutely everybody who is interested in the previous shoulder discussion needs to go to Horse of Course's blog http://horseofcourseeng.blogspot.com/, scroll down to March 22, Clinic with Kyra and read her description of the clinic she just attended. HOC rides dressage (with a little American cowboy thrown in) and writes about straightness and forward.

She reiterates what I was trying to say, but I don't think I was clear enough.



You can't get control of your horse until you have straightness and forward. You just can't. For me, it's about control of the shoulders, but HOC reminds me to think about the hindquarters too, that's where the motor is.



This is why I won't use a round pen past the first couple of encounters (on the ground) with a horse. I feel like it teaches them to tip into the center, giving me something to train out of them. Which as you know, makes me feel like I made a mistake in my training.



Anyway, check it out.

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