Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Artificial Training Devices

I'm not planning an assault on all Natural Horsemen, (well, maybe a little one).
I do have some thoughts on the dreaded artificial training devices, so heavily sneered at by many, if not most of the NH proponents out there.
My first thought is this. Since when is ANYTHING we do to these horses natural?
From the minute we yank them off the prairie and toss them into our five acre lil' piece of heaven, the horse's life is no longer natural.
Whether you choose a leather break away halter, a rope halter, or a My Way Or The Highway Training Systems specially approved Loving Mothers Arms Gentle Restraining Device, you are still using an artificial training device.
I have long worked with the philosophy that every horse needs to be given the best chance of survival we can possibly give it.
A good nature, willing attitude, wonderful, respectful ground manners, and an ability to tolerate whatever dumb bunny throws a leg over it, will give even the ugliest mutt of a horse a better chance at living until retirement age.
I have studied, and used a lot of Ray Hunt, and John Lyons, among others. I also have dug my way into the professional show trenches.
When I have the luxury of time, I still take tiny steps in the development of my horses. I carefully craft their behavior and ability with only my legs and hands.
My horses usually stay in a ring snaffle, or hackamore (bosal) until they are six years old.
Then reality comes crashing down on my head.
In my job I routinely get horses in that are a total mess, for thirty to sixty days. I have to perform stinking miracles in an extremely short amount of time.
Half of those horses have owners who simply drop them off, and come pick them up again when their time is up.
They don't take a single lesson, even though they are included with the training.
They pick them up, take them home and ride them, think I'm a genius, screw them up again, and bring them back the next year.
That's what we trainers call job security.
I am guilty of using running martingales, draw reins, and braided mouthpiece snaffles.
I try to only use these things long enough to show the horse what I'm asking.
Draw reins, usually ten minutes on, ten minutes off.
Running martingales, properly adjusted, don't bother me much. I have them long enough that they only catch them if they throw their head.
I'll ride with a braided mouth piece one day on, one day off. The horse gets to pick which one he prefers. It's amazing how quick they decide on the smooth mouth piece.
Remember, the owner created these messes. Or bought them this way. Or didn't research their last trainer well enough. (I rarely recommend the feed store guy's, Aunt Charlottes, second cousin)
I have been given a finite time to fix them.
I do my best. I try to be smart, and safe. I'll use those devices. I'll do whatever it takes to give those horses the best chance I can. They deserve the best I can give, even if it's only thirty days.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Horse Whispering in Maui

I am so chucking this training crap and becoming a horse whisperer. I found a guy that does clinics in the mountains of Colorado, and also in Maui.
I have no idea if he is any good.
I have no idea if I would be any good.
I just have to convince someone in Maui that I'm good.
I'm gonna pick my five good things to teach and start up my whispering.
I looked this guy up.
He's dapper. He has a really cool hat.
His really cool shirt had lots of shiny buttons on it.
He wears his gloves tucked into his chinks.
I bet he had a duster for when it gets cold.
He has a round pen, and a flag.
Most of his clinics leave riding as an option.
OK, I need to be fair here.
I read some of his training tips. He seems good minded, like he knows his stuff.
He generously answers questions sent to him.
He'll be quick to tell somebody to get professional help if it's a dangerous situation.
Maybe I'm just jealous.
I wear faded Walmart Wranglers until they fall off me in shreds.
I've just switched to my "spring" flannel, a cheaper weight of shirt than my "winter" flannel.
My cool hat is the inevitable sweat stained baseball cap you see on every eastern Colorado head.
I'm pretty geeky looking. A little lumberjackish.
I would still love to whisper in Maui though.
Maybe I should get some chinks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ride like Ben Cartwright

I have had some interesting reading the last few days.

I've been cruising around the fuglyhorseoftheday blog. A huge discussion has been going on about calming the dreaded "old lady nerves" we all seem to be incapable of ducking.

The older I get, one of the biggest problems I have seems to be my tendency to pick. I want the head just so, the line of travel to be dead on, the shape of my colts bodies to be in a beautiful, perfect "C" as we learn to bend.

I feel safest when all of those things are in place.

If I'm being honest, I feel safest when my poor little horses are locked tightly between my knees and my hands.

I fight my picking habits more and more as I age.

A few weeks ago I was stuck home for a few days, wildly sick with a horrible flu.

All I could manage was to lay on my recliner and watch CRAPTV. My favorite no brainer channel.

I was happily watching Bonanza.

I couldn't help myself, my trainer brain kicked in.

I'm not talking about the urge to laugh at the high headed, wildly tossing, often rearing stuff. That's how they were riding on TV then.

I was watching how those ponies were trained.

The first thing I noticed is that every horse went where it was pointed, every time. It didn't matter whether Little Joe knew how to ride or not. (Which in the earlier episodes he definitely DID NOT)

If somebody needed to lope through that arroyo, they pointed that horse at it, and off they loped. Perfectly framed in the shot.

Those horses put their feet where they were supposed to, every single step. At the speed they were asked to. No legs were in use by the riders that I could ever see.

Those horses walked, jogged soft enough to make ol' Hoss look like he knew what was up, and loped from a stand still. All the second they were told to, and they still looked reasonably happy.

How many of us can say that about our horses? I know my own arena babies often forget exactly what it means to simply head off into the sunset.

If you had seen my first run down in my dry work at my last show, you would understand why this meant a lot to me.

I would love to talk to some of those T.V. wranglers. I'd like to pick their brains. But I couldn't find any on the Internet.

Instead, when I went back to work I decided to ride like Ben Cartwright. I started with my broke ones, and progressed down to my babies.

No circles, no leg yields, no collection.

I just pointed them off somewhere, threw out my reins, and expected them to git.

I say "git" because I think that's how Ben would say it.

Did they git, you ask?

Yes they did.

I rode like that for a week.

My boss thought I was still burning with the fever, so I made her do it too.

We can git really far at my job because I'm out on the prairie.

What happened was all of my horses, broke to not so broke, had a blast.

They started to travel straight and true. Their leg coordination picked up considerably. They moved with more confidence and grace.

I on the other hand about had a stroke for the first few days. Unlike Ben, I didn't have a stunt double, so I had to suck it up.

Because I was scaring the crap out of myself, I had to give myself a few rules.

First, I couldn't check their speed, I could only steer left or right. With my hands. No legs. No pulling.

Soon I found out why you point them towards the arroyo. It slows them down.

Surprise, surprise, after a few days all of my horses began to go only at the speed I asked them for.

Once they quit worrying about what I was up to they started to relax and enjoy themselves. One interesting note, the rowdiest ones were also the brokest.

My best horse, my personal horse, my trained to the nines, two rein competitor, got pretty darn wacky. She loved the no restraint on the speed deal. She wiggled, she wobbled, she skittered, she bucked (the little rat), and then she ran. She thought this was going to be the paybacks of all paybacks.

Until we got a few miles out (yes indeedy, it's a big prairie) and she found out I still expected her to go where I pointed. In and out of dry creek beds, across fields, along sandy berms by dirt roads, whatever.

She got herself together, quit trying to mess with me, and started looking around with interest.
She started going exactly where I pointed her. At the speed I asked. I had to push her up into the next gear, and she'd slow as soon as I deepened my seat.

This was way too much fun to be a training tool. But it became one. It helped me remember how much fun it is to just ride. How good for both our brains. Don't tell anybody, but I may have ki-yi-yied a time or two. I had to trust my horses. They didn't let me down, not a one. My mare was the only one that bucked, and she was just goofing.

We should all ride like Ben Cartwright. At least once in a while. Now I remember why I rode so well as a kid. I had a bad case of the go fast. I loved my horse. I was getting my first taste of freedom. I just rode. Yippee ki yi yi!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


For years, when I am tired, frustrated, or broke, (yeah, yeah, most of the time) I have been known to say, "I'm going to do learn five things really well, and then I'm going to become a clinician."
When I first started training full time I realized I was woefully behind the times. While I was still using the Monte Foreman techniques I had learned in high school, Round Pen Reasoning was hitting the scene. Go ahead, look up old Monte, I dare you.
Anyway, a horsey friend showed me a grainy, cheesy video of a guy running a horse around a round pen, and eventually getting that horse to load itself into a trailer.
I was intrigued.
That was my introduction to John Lyons.
I played with the little bit that I picked up with our ranch horses. I got them to "join up", it was pretty fun.
Soon, I was told by another newby trainer that John was full of crap (I don't feel that way personally) and I needed to see Ray Hunt. So I did. Whoa baby, did that guy open my eyes. To this day, I bow down in awe to Ray Hunt. He shows you his philosophy, if you pick it up, cool, if you don't, he doesn't care.
I really paid attention to what he said and did. Tried it on my horses. Liked what I was getting.
So now I was hooked on these clinicians. I was going to go see whoever, and pick up everything I could. If I couldn't see them I was going to read their stuff.
I threw away everything I thought I knew before. I decided I had been an ignorant fool.. I knew nothing. I completely opened myself to the clinician experience.
Then I went to see a few that made me pause. They all seemed to be doing a variation of what the other guys were doing. They ALL insisted they had discovered this method through their own experience. I noticed a preponderance of special equipment that had to be bought in order to properly implement each training method.
They wore cool hats, had great mustaches, and their horses had tassels hanging everywhere. Don't let me forget the mecate'.
There seemed to be a lot of women following them around.
Everybody wanted to write them checks.
I think a good clinician begins by wanting to share information. They see a need for the knowledge they have. They are able to improve a group's horsemanship within a short amount of time by sharing their technique.
They are able to get a pay check while sharing their knowledge. More power to them.
There are a lot of people out there who bought the horse first and asked questions later. They want to get along with their horses and can't.
A good clinic can start you on your way.
It's only a start. It's only a stepping stone.
There isn't a single method that comes from a clinician I saw that is the only way. If that clinician tries to tell you so they are wrong. There isn't a single clinician that knows all the answers. None of these people actually invented these methods. If they tell you they did they are lying. If their clinics smack of an old fashioned medicine show be very, very careful.
Beware of clinicians in cool outfits.
On the other hand, you can learn to be safe from a good clinic. You can learn how to listen to your horse. You can improve your riding and handling skills. You can have your eyes opened to the amazing world of working with your horse.
I think everybody should go to several. I still go to clinics.
Be critical. Be judgmental of the clinician and yourself. Trust your gut.
I still use lots of what I learned from those clinics.
I also find myself often going back to what I learned in the old days. What do you know, it wasn't all crap.
No information is, if you think it through.
No information is gospel.
Except what I tell you.
At my clinics.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Mugwump Rises

OK. I have been ranting about the injustices of trainers, clinicians etc. Now, my ever practical ability to see the other side of the coin has asserted itself, and I have to defend these guys as I see it. Remember, I'm one of them.
I'll start with trainers, since that's where I classify myself and can speak with the most experience.
I define a trainer as a person who rides multiple horses for people that pay said trainer for her ability and knowledge. Usually the trainer has a background in a specific discipline in the horse industry, mine is reined cow horse.
We supplement our incomes with lessons, horse sales, breeding, whatever will turn a dime. We tend to be obsessive about going to shows. Not only does it give us a chance to showcase what we do, we get to hang out with other trainers. Our jobs are very lonely.
What really turns our crank though, is delving into the mind of horses and figuring out what makes them tick. We can work for days on perfecting that one step that will make our horse succeed. Every time we conquer a new phase of training we immediately start thinking about the next one.
Everything we do is geared towards giving ourselves the time to go back to figuring out that next step.
I don't think that there is a trainer on the planet who started out planning to cripple a horse in order to win that next award. Nor did they intend to make a young horse mentally worthless with the intensity of their training program.
Most of us saw a winning run somewhere and thought, "How do I do that?"
And so it begins.
Figuring out the mind of a horse may be the beginning. If we have talent, other horse owners start to ask us if we'll train theirs too. That's where the trouble starts.
Once we go public, our people skills come into play. We have to meet client expectations, show leadership in the choices we make for them and their horses, make business decisions for them and ourselves, become their friend and mentor.
Often we are woefully lacking in the above mentioned skills. Remember this started out with an ability to work with horses. No Dale Carnagy here. Most of us are introverted, obsessive, (Who else would spend three days getting down the feel of planting one hind foot just so?) and just a little bit single minded.
We also have to earn a living.
Our expenses are huge. For some reason the outgo stays even with the level with success. The bigger the business the more expensive it becomes.
The wealthier our clients, the more bang for their buck they expect. The less interest they show in what it takes to achieve their goals for their horses. They want success, or they take their money and go home.
We need that money.
That's where things go south.
Depending on the person, and how we handle pressure we start cutting corners. We start pushing babies. We gravitate only to the horses that might succeed, and lose sight of the good ones that just needed a little more time.
We need a little bit of Slick Willie sales ability to make that next check. Most of us didn't know we had to become horse traders, but we do.
It all starts with the desire to figure out how a horse ticks.
ARGH! I have to get riding, I'll talk about clinicians tomorrow....

Monday, April 21, 2008


I was answering an email last night. I'm afraid I was a rambling, barely coherent wreck. The question of do I stay or do I go had come up.
Can I be more effective as a trainer on the side of the horses I work with? Or will I be more help jumping into the pool of equine rights advocates?
How do I make enough money to live in either direction?
My economic reality jumps up and bites me in the butt on a regular basis.
I've thought about building a business going to peoples houses and helping them with their horses.
I've thought about going to Mexico and taking Polaroids of tourists on the beach posing with my iguana. I don't have an iguana, but I'm guessing I could find one.
I've thought about just getting a job.
Of course I've become bossy, independent, and unsociable over the years.
Anybody want to hire me as their receptionist?
I saw a man I used to respect showing his horses last month. They were beautiful. They were perfect. They scored way high.
Every one of them walked out of the arena visibly lame. One was so bad (a national champion) she was immediately hustled to the trailer. The other two were 4 year old derby horses.
Nothing was said. Not by the judge, the spectators, the other competitors. Neither did I. I truly would be shut out forever if I opened my mouth. Yes, it makes me ashamed.
My horse was snorty, fresh, fairly obnoxious. She was sound though.
She'll settle down and behave as the season goes on, but you get the picture. I am not going to ever be competitive with that other trainer. Or the others at the top.
I spend my days wallowing around in the middle of the pack. That does not bring in the clients.
I have learned a lot about what not to do to horses. I'm still learning what to do instead.
I have watched many a clinician. Lots. Trust me. I like a bunch of what they do.
I use a lot of it.
It doesn't give you success in the show pen though.
I also noticed that after watching enough of these guys a common thread shows up. The basic premise seems to be the same with all of them. The only difference between them seems to be the style of hat they wear, or whether or not they wear their pants tucked in or out of their boots. Or how much cool braided leather stuff is hanging off their horses.
Oh, and most of them seem to claim the invention of whatever their current system is.
Come on guys.
So where do I go from here? I'll let you know as I figure it out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mugwump Strikes

A confused and worried horse owner goes to a certified, bonified, glorified clinician.
She says, "My little Muffy is refusing to go into the arena. What do I do?"
The clinician replies, "Come here and talk to me my fine young lady. I can see by the look in your horse's eye that she is feeling as lost and alone as you. We need to rush you two immediately into counseling, it's imperative that you both sign up for my one week course, My Way or the Highway Horsemanship! Today! Don't hesitate!
How much does it cost? Why, don't worry yourself about that! It's the sacred union between you and this lovely animal that's at stake! How much equity have you got in your house?
You can't load her in a trailer you say?
Then buy these videos, this wavy thingy, and this macrame, gold lame' halter, and sign up for next week's course. How much room is on your credit card? My Way or the Highway Horsemanship is the only thing that can conjoin you and Muffy at the heart!!!!"

Not quite sure, our confused owner takes Muffy to the infamous, Magazine Covered, World Top Tenner, local horse trainer.
"What World Show did you top ten in?" Confused asks.
"The only one that matters ma'am." He drawls. "The one I was at."
"What magazine cover were you on?"
"The only one that matters ma'am. The one I was in.
Now I think this horse of yours is a danger to you and itself. You need to drop it off here and I'll fix ol' Muffy right up.
She might be here for several months, but what does that matter to a horseman like yourself?
The cost is beside the point. Getting this thing trained is all that matters.
Now, you don't worry your pretty little head about this, just set up your monthly auto pay and come back when I call you.
Lessons? Well, I guess so. They'll be an extra $50 dollars a whack. I only give them on weekdays, at 11:00.
You have to work? Well, that's probably for the best, you have to pay for that training right?
Week ends? Oh no, I'm never here on weekends. I have to go Top Ten in my next big show!
Don't worry about a thing! My assistant will ride her while I'm gone.
That's her, that 12 year old kid cleaning stalls....heck of a horseman!
Besides, if it doesn't work out with your Muffy I'm sure we have something around here I can sell you that will make you happy."

And so goes the world of horses. The question is, did Muffy go in the arena?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Naive or Dumbass?

Want to get me going?
Stand there clucking, smooching, and calling a horse by it's name over and over and over, and over yet again while I am trying to get it to accept a halter that it doesn't want.
Do you not understand that you are not only in the way, but you're agitating the mare and turning what should be a two minute lesson in getting her halter on into a highly stressfull potential train wreck?
Did I mention you don't need to stick your hands between the rails and wave them around either?
OK, I'm better.
I have no problem with ignorance. I understand the knee jerk reflex that makes all of us want to jump up and down and say "I know! I know!" when we are around somebody that knows more than us.
But if you are a true horse person the first thing you need to learn is to shut the hell up.
If somebody with more experience than you is working a horse, watch and learn. Ask questions after they're done.
If you don't agree ask more questions.
Did I mention shut the hell up?

I got to be Benny Guitron's scribe at a pretty good sized horse show a few years ago.
When we met he asked, "Do you know anything about what we're doing?"
"Enough to get myself in trouble Mr. Guitron."
"Do you ride in this event?" he asked.
"Yes I do."

We started the day with him calling the scores, and being quiet. He would check my sheets here and there, just enough to make sure I was marking the right boxes and could add.
After awhile he decided to up the ante.
"Now you call out the marks to me."
"What?" I was about to have a heart attack.
We all think we can judge, say we can judge, but here was the judge calling me on it.
For the rest of the day he had me call out scores. He would change my mistakes, and explain what he saw and why.
He explained his theories on working cow horse and why. During lunch he expanded on his "old school" philosophies and why he didn't like the new rammin' jammin' style of fence work.
When we went back to work he asked if I had any questions. Of course I had a million, but I kept them to what I had learned that day.
When my sub came to take over so I could go warm up my horses he realized I showed in the open classes.
I had never said, "I'm a trainer too."
I had never done anything but listen and ask what I hoped were intelligent questions when he invited me to.
I learned so much that day.
My horses scored well and I rode with new confidence from what I had learned.
It was the coolest day ever.
Mr Guitron asked to keep me as scribe for the rest of the show.
Get my point?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pushing Babies

I was just reading another blog, and it got me all fired up.
It is funny, angry, thought provoking, and sad. Well written too.
I have a confession to make. I work in an industry that is big on futurities. Our young horses are started at two. If they turn two on January first that is. Then not only are they started, they are taught three events by fall of their 3 year old year. Not walk/trot either. Our babies have to learn how to rein, cut, and go down the fence.
If you are familiar with these events you'll understand that each one is complex, mind bending, and extremely physical.
The people that own these horses usually have big bucks. The trainers are accomplished, well educated horsemen. I have never heard a conversation about the dangers of training a horse this way. I foolishly brought it up during my own internship. I was told that if I was any kind of rider I would be able to train these horses without hurting them. Then I was told to get loping.
The beginning of the end of my time with this trainer came when I refused to ride my own horse as hard as the others.
Ironically a finished bridle horse trained in the traditional way takes five to seven years. I rarely see a seven year old horse still competing. By then they are either crazy, broken down or both. Lameness of course is always an issue. Hocks are being injected by the horses four year old year. The mental break downs are huge.
I am disgusted with the demands put on the horses in this world. The fall out is mind boggling. The burned out horses usually end up at a sale. Lame and crazy before they're eight.
I am now training at a barn that doesn't start their horses until late summer of their two year old year. We don't futurity. It's a start.
I'm not sure if I should quit all together or stay and fight from the inside.
Gotta go. Later.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to predator/prey.

I am an avid reader. I love horses. I will read about anything I can get my hands on about horses.I also have a tendency to give anything I read merit, as long as I agree with it. Which means I will give equal thought to a training tip I picked up in "The Black Stallion" as a philosophy I learned from John Lyons.

I make a general practice of trying out every new technique or concept I've recently learned on every horse I have in training. Of course I alter it to fit the level of each horse, but I will play with whatever my new theme is until I thoroughly understand it. Then I will either keep it or reject it, depending on how it works in my program.

I have read a lot. I've gotten tons of input from other trainers. I've done my share of clinics. Ergo my horses have put up with a lot. I guess my point is that when I start spouting my theories, you need to know they are backed up by education, serious thought, and trials on many horses.

Here's my reality. Say I was on a deserted island with my best friend Flicka. There was no food for either one of us. If Flicka died first I would eat her. If I died first Flicka would not eat me.
I am a predator. Flicka is prey.

I work with my horses based on that concept. When they first come in, I want them to understand that I could choose to eat them at any time. After they have been with me awhile I let them realize that I choose not to eat them at this time. For now. Then, once we have a clear understanding between us, and I know that they are aware of where I am at all times, and what boundaries they are not to cross, I let them know I never plan on eating them. Bear in mind, being horses, it muddles around in the back of their mind that I could change plans any time. That's fine with me.

I don't beat horses. I don't scare them. I don't lose my temper. I use my predator status to get what I want.

I have two eyes placed in the front of my head like a wolf. I can stare at them and create discomfort. I can raise my arms and make myself as big as a bear. I can create movement with these things alone. I can add a swinging rope, a cracking whip aimed at their shoulder or hip.

When I am riding on their backs, my cinches are pulled tight, and their bodies are collected between leg and bit. I know as well as they do that this is as close to the feeling of the wolf pack on their back and nose as they are ever going to get.

To reward them, I relax the rein and release my leg. Get off and loosen their cinch. Put them up. I position my body so my shoulder is parallel to theirs, and either look down or glance at them with the corner of one eye. I scratch their withers and the top of their butts.

I always give horses credit for their intelligence. I expect them to behave a certain way at all times, and I ask them to try a little harder almost every ride. They learn early that a good try earns them a break, and a great effort gets them the rest of the day off.

I might treat them like I might eat them, but they trust me. The horses I train almost always go home happy, confident and willing. Maybe because they know exactly what it would take for me to go there. Maybe it's because they know how much I like them. I think it's probably because they know I'm fair. They know I'm consistent. They know what to expect.


Sunday, April 13, 2008


I'm going to have to delay my opinion page on our prey/predator relationship with horses.
Instead,I have to tell you about the wonderful, horrible day I had yesterday.
On my way to work I got a phone call from our ranch manager. One of our broodmares had foaled, and died in the night. Now we had a live, healthy, orphan foal. My boss had managed to milk the dead mare and extract quite a bit of her colostrum.

After I arrived I saw the beautiful, hungry baby. We were soon immersed in calls to the vet, trips to the feed store to buy milk replacement, lots of well meant advice, and a lively debate on the merits of providing the baby with goat milk.

I think all of us were pushing back the fear that the foal would die despite our best efforts, the dread of raising an orphan foal, dealing with socializing the poor thing (I am NOT a fan of imprinting), and mourning the loss of a good broodmare and friend.

We settled my 34 year old "Granny" mare in the stall next to the baby. She is a talented baby stealer, and the only mare even our most cantankerous new moms will allow near their foals. We were hoping she would adopt our little orphan.

We then got a hysterical phone call from a near neighbor.
"You need to come quick, and bring a gun." she sobbed.

We did scoot right over there, but we didn't bring a gun.

We found the neighbor crying over the still form of a dying newborn foal. You could tell by the ragged bottoms of his little feet he had never even gotten up. We sat quiet on the ground and stroked him. Within a minute or two his heart stopped beating.

After the little guy had passed on we told her of our situation. There were a few more calls to the vet, a lot of hugs exchanged, and the next thing you know the boss is leading a hysterical Clydesdale/Thoroughbred mare down the road, as I followed carrying a bucket of horse cookies on one arm and a bucket of placenta on the other.

We removed old Granny, and replaced her with the very confused mare. As soon as she saw the orphan she gave out a deep "mother " nicker. We rubbed the baby with the placenta, and let the potential new mom sniff her.

Within ten minutes we were able to get out of the way. Although this mare's new cow horse bred baby is small enough to walk freely back and forth under her belly, she has eagerly taken her on. As for our little orphan, she was so excited to get a new mom, she dumped us and our clumsy efforts like a hot potato. You would never know we had ever touched her, or that she was pulling at our clothes hunting a bottle.

She stares at us with mild distaste as she huddles under her giant mom. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

I don't know if yesterday was fate, luck, or if God was just messing with us. I do know that life has a way of working out sometimes.

I'll get back to you.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have two horses to talk about today. An update on Old Reliable and an interesting thing that just happened at work.

First , I think I have Old Reliable figured out. She has been working nicely, coming back to the easy riding horse I remember, and starting to enjoy her work. She seems happy to have her nose pointing in front of her again, instead of to the sky.

She is making regular, friendly eye contact with me and is keeping an eye on where I am at all times, instead of vice versa, so I'm happy. I've pretty much quit worrying about it.

I did want to find out why we had this Aspergers thing going on though. I have a saying that I repeat more than my clients probably want to hear. "I'm sure there's a reason, but there's never an excuse. " I fix problems first, and then try to figure out why. It tends to piss off the clients, but the horses get it, so I don't care.

Anyway, Old Reliable's owner came out to ride her so I could run through what I'd been working on. We were at the tie rail grooming and saddling our horses. I watched said client grab a metal curry and go to raking that thing back and forth (yes against the hair) so hard it would have drawn blood on you or me. Old reliable was shrinking and jumping away, and yet Client continued to cheerfully follow her and whack away at her with that curry.

"What the hell are you doing?" I said, maybe just a tad forcefully.

"Can't you see that hurts?"

"I always groom that way." replied Client. She had a truly puzzled look on her face.

"Well stop it. " I said.

Then I shut up, because there were other people around, and I hate to embarrass anybody, especially myself. Which on occasion I manage to do.

When she went to saddle Old Reliable I noticed the mare was looking off into the horizon. She was gone. Zippo. Zilch. Mentally over the rainbow.

The first day I got her out and wanted to do a little ground work. I wanted to remind her who I was, and get a feel for where she was at. The first thing I saw was that the mare wouldn't look at me. Ever. Not a glance. She would raise her head over the top of my head and look to the north and south of me. Or look past my shoulder. Imagine her covering her ears and drowning me out by singing "LA LA LA LA".

She was pretty compliant, put her feet where I asked her to, responded pretty well in general. All without ever acknowledging me. Hmmmm.
When I went to tie her she blew right past me to get to the other horses at the rail. She gave me a good shove with her shoulder to do it. As I went fix her she accepted the correction with no problem, led to the rail, got tied, and as I walked off she swung her butt around and whacked into me. So we had a little practice session on moving her hips away from me when she was tied. Once again she accepted the correction without issue.

Through all this she never looked at me. There was no real malice in her behavior. If I was in her mind at all she would have stayed out of my way. Since I was invisible to her she didn't notice she was walking all over me.

So while I have been tuning on this mare I have also been working on getting her attention. I didn't realize how much eye contact I actually make with my horses until I got this mare. I have been working on this little by little. I have to, because like I said, I don't have a lot of time.

When I get her out of her stall, I wait at the door and stare at her until she looks me in the eye. All she has to do is glance at me. If she does, I look away to release the pressure.

Before I take her halter off for turn out I wait until she looks me in the eye.

Before I saddle her, before I get on, etc. Look me in the eye. You get the picture.
I repeat, I immediately quit staring at her if she looks back. I totally get the predator/prey relationship.
She has started to seek my eye first. I hold it a little longer as she feels more comfortable.
I swear I saw a twinkle in that eye the last time I worked her. I'll keep you up om Old Reliable's progress, and if I figure out her deal. Speaking of which, I've got to get to it. Later.

My job is to explain all this to Client without alienating her. You have to understand, this is the rare horse owner that gets professional training for her horses when she feels she needs it. She feeds them well, takes care of their feet and veterinary needs. She keeps them FOREVER.

She loves them. And since I am a bad tempered thing I have to be careful when I talk to her about this. This situation will be continued....

So here's my second horse story. I'll call her Skitterbones. She is kept in a group of three mares, all four year old cow horse prospects, and is absolute bottom of the totem pole. She is an extremely athletic horse with absolutely no confidence.

When I feed, there are two pastures full of anywhere between eight to ten horses, all ranging between weanlings to broodmares. I have pretty strict expectations of these horses when I feed. Remember they're way bigger than me, and not inclined to pay attention to where I am, unless of course I remind them.

As I tote their hay to the feeders I expect them, and I pretty much can count on them at this point, to stand by their feeders and wait for me.

When I finished feeding the first pasture, I was carrying hay to the second pasture which held the three cow horses. I opened the gate, set down my hay, and turned to close the gate. Now for whatever reason, when I set down my hay the three mares decided that meant it was time for a free for all. All three, including Skittlebones jumped the hay.

Don't misunderstand me, I might EXPECT them to stay by their feeders, but my gifts as a trainer are a continual work in progress.

The ensuing commotion ended up with me standing over the hay, the mares back at their feeders, and nobody the worse for wear. I fed the two dominant mares first, and bent over to pick up Skittlebones hay.

As I was picking up her hay I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, Skittlebones in full assault mode.. Her head was down, her ears pinned, and her feet were striking the ground. She looked like a horse going after a dog. But she was coming at me.

"Hey!!!" I straightened up in a hurry, dropped the hay and threw up my arms.

As soon as I yelled Skittlebones stopped short. She threw up her head, shot me a horrified look and spun off. I chased her around for awhile and made her wait for about ten minutes before I gave back her hay.

What the hell happened? I would love some insight on this one. These are well fed, well mannered horses. Skittlebones knows her job, knows she'll eat, and knows me. I've never had the Who's the Boss War with her that I've had with other horses. She has always known I'm the one in charge.

Lesson learned? Never ever think you don't need to pay attention. To stay safe you have to stay smart.

I think both of these situations tie in strongly to the predator/prey relationship I maintain between me and the horses. Tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on that...Later

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mugwump chronicles

I am a horse trainer. I am jaded, wind burned, mentally fried and broke. My skin looks like an old boot, and my butt, although muscled, can easily accommodate a 16 inch cutter. Every day I remind myself more and more of Ma in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling. Big, solid, slow and steady, plodding through every day, head down, continually in motion.
As the years go by I find myself on the side of the horse more often, and on the side of the owner less. I hate what we do to horses in order to meet industry standards. I can't make myself push the babies hard enough to be showable by three. I have seen so many mentally and physically crippled horses. All of them beautiful, well bred, and willing. I can't tell you, (oops I guess I am) how many are left shattered; to stand abandoned in a back pen somewhere until they're shipped off to a sale.
On the other hand, I have no time for bleeding heart horse collectors that call themselves rescuers. Horses that are injured, dangerous, or have health issues that can never be overcome and are kept jammed in stripped lots with no shelter, little food, are no better off than if they did end up at a killers. "Rehoming" these animals to good hearted but uneducated people only ends up in disaster for the horse and heart break for the people who own it.
Believe me, there are true rescuers out there that are my heros. My hat is off to them.
I don't have an answer for these problems; I'd sure like to fire up some discussion though.
I love horses. I have a taste for well bred ones. There is nothing more satisfying to me than riding a finished bridle horse. I go crazy at the abuse I see all around me. I still seek becoming a better trainer every day. If you ever wave a carrot stick at me I will bite you. So I guess I am truly a mugwump. Stuck on the fence with my mug on one side and my wump on the other.
Let's rock.