Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mugwump/ How's Your Read?

I am really wrestling with a few issues here. Since I have developed a pretty open back and forth commentary with those of you that like my blog, I am counting on some good comments to help me organize my thoughts. Looking forward to it too.
I have been surrounded by horse wrecks in the last year. My friend Sharion, my good friend that rode the disaster Captain, and three, count them three, deaths in my immediate world of people that I didn't know intimately, but still knew.
I search and search my mind for reasons these accidents happened. I look for a common thread.
Not only is this getting me boogered, I keep hoping I can come up with at least something concrete that may help some horse people avoid getting hurt or killed. This is what's coming together for me.

Scenario # 1
The day before yesterday, my boss, who is also an extremely good friend, got pile driven into the dirt. She is fine, except for some wicked leather burns on her hands. If she wasn't so hard headed, and would be willing to let go of the reins on a plunging, broncing, tank of a filly, she wouldn't have those.
This near miss of a train wreck is the last nail to be driven into the tracks my thoughts are travelling down.
We have been analyzing her wreck carefully, step by step, as we are prone to do in these situations. Why did it happen? What's going on in the Neil's head? What did we miss?
Neil is a big, strapping, Playboy's Buck Fever daughter. She is bred to the bone. She was started by another trainer that I know well enough to understand how he rides.
She was sold to us started, but not where she should be. That always makes me happy, because that means she hasn't been pushed too hard, too soon.
Neil is rough to ride, extremely heavy on her front end, and dead weight in your hands.
I know that the other trainer has hands and arms made out of rebar, so I wasn't surprised or concerned, I know how to fix that stuff.
She has a habit of crowding us, and feels free to whack us with her head. I know she was born and raised at the trainer's home. She was a treasured filly, his wife and daughter are notorious baby spoilers, so once again, I wasn't surprised.
When we would ask her to stop, we had nothing. Nada. Zip. That threw me, because stop is the first thing that goes into any cowhorse, no matter who starts it. Once again, I know how to fix that, so we just kept plugging along.
Finally, we had no turn to the left. The first thing the boss did was have her teeth done. One nasty wolf tooth later, and we had a little more give on the left side. She vetted sound in all other areas.
I would guesstimate that we have 20 or so rides on this filly. They have been peaceful enough. When we would first ride her she would skitter off before you got your leg thrown over. Since I don't play that game, we fixed that one first. She couldn't stand still. I fixed that second. She couldn't rate her speed on a loose rein. So I sorted out that one.
The boss finally got sick of my dinking, and started taking her down below.
Our big arena isn't fenced. It is a big, open, well groomed, good dirted, open space in the cow pasture.
I share space with the cattle, and for now, three broodies, and their totally rotten children.
Talk about getting your horse broke! Try loping circles with three little stinkers playing tag under your insulted horse's legs.
The filly had been down there at least three times. She had been worked and loped. She has been consistantly easy to get along with.
My boss and I were down in the arena together. I was on a fractious four-year-old, Merry, who had been off for a month. We were walking on a loose rein, waiting for Merry to decide to work for a living, for about twenty minutes.
Merry's brain finally kicked in, and we trotted off to opposite sides of the arena to work our horses. I saw the boss put Neil into a lope, they got in a couple of circles, and the next thing I know, they are bolting and pitching across the arena.
Neil went out of her flipping mind.
The boss stayed on for at least nine or ten horrific bucks, (I was impressed, believe me) Neil eased up, and the boss went to bring her head around.
Neil blew up again, yanked her head the other way, and pulled the boss right over her big muscley shoulder.
She bucked all the way back up to the gate.
When my extremely pissed off boss caught her, Neil immediately blew again.
I intervened as fast as I could between the two adrenaline charged maniacs, and hustled Neil up to our fenced, smaller arena.
She had lost her ever loving mind. She bolted, about undid my hands, and bucked and pitched for another ten minutes.
Long story short, it was a long effin' afternoon before I got that filly's mind back.
The boss sat in the shade and soaked her hands in a coffee can of cold water, muttering and cussing off and on.
So that's where we began questioning.
Here's what I'm beginning to find.
I know the original trainer does a lot of round pen work. I can tell he worked with Neil. Neil will physically give to me on the ground, but not mentally.
She will drop her head and submit when I called for a whoa. Except her hip is slightly towards me, and she will never stop clean. She'll creep forward a few steps no matter where I'm positioned.
She wants to crowd me. She continually steps into me, or leans her shoulder into me.
She won't give. Her front feet jam into the ground, and she refuses to yield to pressure, until I get pretty rough.
She's a rude, little bitch. Excuse me, a smart, rude, little bitch.
The boss accepts about 70% of the responsibility for that little episode. She loped her too big, too soon, and was not reading her.
I accept another 90% or so.
I accepted the history I was given on this filly.
I made assumptions and combined them with Neil's generally amiable personality.
I figured that just because this other trainer knew how to do ground work, he also knew how to read the results. I was mistaken.
Now before all you NH'ers get all excited, that figures heavy into his background. NH stuff.
He has learned that if you do step A, and then B, it will always equal C. That's what the books, tapes, and clinicians tell you.
I suspect he has forgotten to actually try to read the horse.
I suspect his riding approach is the same.
When things got scary for Neil, she had no confidence in her rider to bail her out. Why should she? How can she expect her rider to help her if she's been running the show all along? I don't think this horse had ever been correctly read, until these last few days.

Scenario #2
I've talked about Peg off and on in this blog. She spends a lot of time trying to understand her horse. I have just sent her home with B.O.B./Uma. B.O.B is the paint mare I've had this last month to evaluate for Peg.
B.O.B. has no time, or respect for NH type work. She is a "Quit screwing around, and let's get it done," kind of mare. She came to me a spooking, bucking, rotten apple, mess.
I got her message. We have been talking loud and clear for the past month.
She has quit yanking her head away when I halter or bridle her. Not because I worked carefully on a pressure and release system. B.O.B. let's me handle her head because until she does, she doesn't get turn-out, or food. She got it pretty fast.
She quit blowing and bucking when she was saddled or longed because I'd snap her frigging face off with the rope halter and bull snap every time she'd start in. She's a quick study, Ol' B.O.B. is.
She started to ride around quietly because that was the best part of the day. Give me a good ride, and it was bath, social hour at the tie rail, and dinner.
Give me crap, and we'd just start over.
She's turning into Uma.
Peg get's it. She got into B.O.B.'s face, made her mind, and watched her transform into Uma. Funny thing is, the mare is cuddly and sweet, if you don't muddle things with a lot of froo fraw.
I say, go Peg.

Scenario # 3
This is close to my heart. So if you want to argue with me, be kind on this one.
My friend Sharion is an ardent follower of a certain clinician. He encourages rubbing your young horse all over when you ride. Neck, butt, poll, crawl all over that sucker, and get him used to that sensation.
We even argued about it.
My instinct is to stay in the middle of my horse at all times. That's what I preach, and teach. I don't lean back, or forward, or side-to-side, for many, many rides; at least not enough to pull my center of balance out of the middle of my horse. As time goes on, the horse gets used to all kinds of external stimuli. If I have to put on a jacket while on a ride, I get down and get it. I slide said jacket all over my horse, and then put the now hair laden thing on.
Eventually my horse is so tired of me, it begs me to just put the damn jacket on. Then, I'll start putting it on while still in the saddle.
I'm the same about dragging stuff, opening gates, anything that pulls me out of the middle.
I approach each task in increments.
I am always aware when I'm giving up my core balance, and ready to grab it back.
I rub my horse, pound my horse, jiggle and jangle stuff, all while I'm on the ground.
My horses can count on me to stay in the middle while I ride.
Sharion would argue that you can't always stay balanced, that they have to be ready for unexpected bumps and bangs.
I agree, I just don't think they should come from me while I ride.
Keep in, mind my horses are known for being steady and quiet.
Sharion was coming down the hill, back to the trailers, at the end of a trail ride. She had just finished a successful first ride on a three year old gelding. She reached back to give him a congratulatory pat on the butt. Something she had done a thousand times before. She was off her center. That day, it spooked the young horse. That day, it put her in a coma. I can't get this out of my mind. I can't help but think that she was following a system, a well known ritual, and she wasn't reading her horse.

So there's my mugwumpness showing up yet again. Because I do believe in a pressure and release method of training. I always try to make the good things easy, and the wrong things hard. But I learned to read my horses from the original Anti-NH. I read my situation before I react, always. I am slowly learning to trust my gut.
So what's the answer?
I realize I have certain criteria I expect from my horses on the ground, before I ever get in the saddle. I have just begun to actually verbalize these expectations. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about a young stud colt I'm working with, and how teaching these criteria to his owners has made this whole train of thought start to gel.


  1. (warning: long post. I seem to be wordy today)

    Mugwump- I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear (especially from a hick out riding a lop-eared heehaw) but your posts about Sharion made me get serious about wearing my helmet.
    Yes, I'm a western rider.
    Yes, I have a bit of pride.

    But in the end, it's just not worth it. I've already had two concussions and it has made college hell. I forget about things in the span of 30 seconds. I have vertigo and night terror and blinding migraines, all of which most definitely got worse after my second concussion.
    I wish the atmosphere of western riding and training was more welcoming to helmets. Admittedly it doesn't save everything but the ole noggin is hard to fix once tampered.

    My take is this: I will do lots of things to help people with their horses and mules, but I will not endanger myself for it, because franky I can't afford it.

    Now, I'm not ranting about the people in your stories not wearing helmets. They're adults and this is the US of A. Against my better judgement sometimes I just go out for a lope in the fields to let my hair fly in the wind.

    Unfortunately wrecks are sort of part of the horse biz- it's when and how bad.
    Amazingly I know people who have ridden 20+ and have never fallen off, while I've been dinking around for maybe 8 years and the total has come to somewhere around 16 falls, one broken helmet (yes, broken) about $15K in hospital bills, and some nerve damage.

    Are some people stupider? Absolutely not. Do some people do more to work with risky horses? Yes. Does some people's methodology put them in the line of fire? Maybe.

    Also- sometimes I can't concentrate too much on the "why" of why an animal is not responding to method X. If I concentrated on the "why" of everything with Jasmine I'd be in a sanitorium by now.
    I'm sure I've posted about it before but Jasmine was abused- I got her at 7 years old so she had lots of baggage. The "they" is not the people I bought her from but someone long before that.
    If you can think of an evil thing to do to an equine they probably dit it to her. They beat her with whips, rakes, and pipes. They tied her with a chain over her poll. (she has a huge indented scar behind her ears) They cracked her across the legs with something. They hauled on her mouth. They wrenched her ears to get her to cooperate. They hobbled her and threw her down.

    I can sit and type that in confidence now that I've had her for 7 years, but when I first got her I had no bloody clue why she came unglued whenever something brushed her legs, or why she was so headshy, or why she'd take off every time I made contact with her mouth.

    The "why" is of course very important when working with animals, but sometimes I've had to drop the "why" and go straight to the "how" of trying different methods. The "why" is elusive and not always there on first glance.

  2. I'm not sure we're on the same page. I always say, There are lots of reasons for bad behavior, there are no excuses.
    I'm trying to get to the dependence on Step A + Step B = C way of training, and why I don't think it works.
    Say you are swinging your rope at your horse, (or mule:) to get it to move out into a circle around you.
    If your horse moves out, but
    A. continues to face you
    B. goes out in the circle, but continually dives into the circle and crosses close enough in front of you to make you back up
    C. Moves out, but too fast, or too slow to get any work done
    or D. Moves out, but in the opposite direction you've asked for.
    Do you think you've taught that horse to respect your swinging rope?
    If B.O.B. had been afraid, do you think I would have treated her the way I did?
    Peg was treating her like she was a fearful horse, and she was verging on becoming dangerous in her anger when I got her.
    Do you see what I'm getting at?

  3. Oh, and half-assed, you will NEVER hear me dissing somebody who wears a helmet. Ever.

  4. Mugs--
    I am so with you about reading your horse. That's the piece that a lot of NH trainers leave out (the only one I read who really talks about it is Mark Rashid). For me it seems easy, but I've seen others who just can't pick it up. It's not necessarily an experience thing, either, because my son (who doesn't do that much with horses but has enough experience to handle them) seems to read them as well.

    Just musing the thoughts are scattered.

    I think round pen work can be misused. The only enforcement tool you have if the horse doesn't learn to respect you is hard, sharp rollbacks and that's not always perfect if the horse blows through you, or shows disrespect. When I was still doing a sort of working student gig with my Big K, one colt came in who had no concept of giving to pressure (he'd been running with his dam in pasture for two years). He didn't have a clue about round pen work, much less anything else. Eventually the Big K got him set up right, but it took some time and it wasn't all round pen, either.

    What my Big K tends to do is a lot of showmanship-type work with a stud chain to enforce the space rules. Especially the whoa--back until the horse is focused on you (I've worked a few of these until I didn't need to say whoa, just a hesitation on my part was enough to get the horse to put on the brakes).

    To all appearances, my mare is a mellow little sweetheart who won't get pushy with a handler. I know otherwise. But after three years, we have enough of a relationship that I read the subtle cues on her part, just as she reads me. I expect manners out of her, and she appreciates that I handle her in a routine and predictable way. People who see us work laugh when I characterize her as a pushy alpha, but she's one of those who exercises subtle disrespect until you're in trouble with her, unless you pay attention to what she's telling you. If you pay attention, then there's no trouble and she's mannerly.

    My Big K is someone who openly states he likes to work with horse's minds rather than manhandle them around. He doesn't necessarily use NH techniques, but when he walks into the arena, every horse in there is focused on him as Boss. He is Boss, in the mind of every horse on the place.

    For those who'll listen, he'll teach reading the horse in front of you. What I've noticed is that he's one of the sharpest folks out there for reading a horse.

    (btw, if you ever hit PDX, you're invited to come visit. I'd love to hear what you make of my little mare)

  5. Mugwump--what you said about the horse facing you or cutting corners--that's one of the subtle disrespect things my mare would show me in the round pen. Not something other people might pick up on, but something I didn't like for certain.

    We spent a lot of time doing hard and fast rollbacks to get her past that little attitude. Only I don't use a rope in the round pen. I use a lunge whip, and I'm not afraid to pop a horse with it. Or do fast hard rollbacks until the horse submits (disclaimer, I'll also have leg wraps on the horse and we don't follow up with hard riding work after a session like that).

    The witchy old mare I had as a kid was even more disrespectful, and we had more than a few conversations on the lunge line (no round pen available then, and I taught that old bag the hows of lunging--she'd rear and strike at the whip and boy did we have a few discussions after that).

    Speaking of lunge work--and even round pen work--I demand that the horse work at the gait I want, and do so in both up and down transitions. Yes, I cue verbally for walk, trot, and canter. Too many people seem to think you can't do that on a lunge line, much less in a round pen. Guess what my girl and I worked on a lot of for our first year together?

  6. ok but if your never out of the center of your horse whats going to happen when someone else gets on him who cant ride? Or somthing happens to you? If the horse is used to it its not a big problem. But if he thinks you are suposto always be in the center.....

    My former boss fell off last spring. I dont think hes better. I dont think he can feel the horses underneath him anymore. (they did surgery to fix his apendex after the fall and messed up alot of nerves) But he cant stop riding, or traing or teaching or else he will go bankrupt.

    His horse spooked at a scrap of paper.

    He was thrown into a fence.

    Ya know I wear a helmet ever time I ride. All my students do. Just in case.

  7. hehe - I might have been the NH freak you were worried about... except that I actually agree with you!

    I'm on a Parelli message board frequently. There's talk of PNH releasing a NEW levels program. Many many people on the board are talking about how it's great the programs are being re-done because it means that people will get to L3 faster. Yay! Or.. not. While I don't think it does horse or human any good to piddle around in the early levels doing nothing, I know that if I hadn't gotten stuck in the mud early on and learned the very hard way how to do things, I wouldn't be half the horseman I am today. It was the process of failing that taught me the most.

    Yeah, a new program might be faster and easier -- but are people actually going to learn anything? You learn how to handle horses from experience - from messing up until you find the right answers - not from DVDs.

    So I agree with you about that, mugs. More formulas and better equations aren't a substitute for elbow grease and time spent with horses.

    OK, moving on...

    This is what I think about your situations:

    The most dangerous thing a horseman can do is to get stuck in the same routine. To do something just because that's what so-and-so does, or because you've "always" done it that way. To only handle horses with one method and swear off all other methods.

    That is the best way to get hurt or killed.

    Horses are individuals. They all have different perspectives. Some require approach-retreat handling. Some can't stand it. Some need a lot of desensitizing - others will just be bored to tears by it. Some like doing groundwork and tricks and such - others want you to just get the F on them and RIDE. Some need a soft hand; others need a firm hand.

    What is right for one horse may be wrong for another. What is strong for one horse may not be strong enough for another.

    Which is why if you're going to be riding a lot of different horses - it's not a good idea to get stuck in one philosophy.

    Now, I don't think that's an easy thing to do. I see this on the Parelli boards a *lot*. Students, especially new students, come on talking about how they just saw their barn owner do xx and how stupid she must be to do that - her poor horses must be just *tortured* and *sad* to have her as an owner. Or else we have the people who get extremely defensive if anyone so much as MENTIONS that Parelli might not be the *only* solution. After all, that person has seen so much change with their horse and Pat and Linda are such *gods* that they would never ever EVER say anything that wasn't true.

    Um, yeah.

    Truth is, nothing works for *everyone*. And the more entrenched you get in your own routine - your own program - your own methodology -- the less you start paying attention to what your horse is actually saying. Hence the L3 Parelli Student who doesn't notice that her horse is on the forehand and sore. Or the Grand Prix dressage rider who doesn't notice that her horse is "absent" and mentally checked-out.

    I think the danger we face as horse people (and really as people in general) is in getting too comfortable. Because when we're comfortable, we're not paying any attention and we're certainly not learning anything new.

    Which is to say that we need to be constantly paying attention to what our horses are saying and constantly evaluating whether what we are doing is actually working. It also means being open to all sorts of training methods and realize that each one might have a place with some horse... and that they all have something to teach us. If we're constantly questioning ourselves and never letting ourselves become too comfortable, I think we've got a good chance of survival!

    But that's just what I think.

  8. Ah, see this is why I love your blog. Boss makes fun of me for over analyzing these things but I think you really cant put in too much thought, especially where safety is concerned.

    I have personally been trying to tear myself away from the quest for a common thread. As you yourself have pointed out, horses have a very high inherent danger associated with them. All your scenario's involve horses, common thread found. I think it dovetails well with your idea about reading a horse, rather than following a recipe. Looking for the common thread tends to bias my thought process because I want things to fit together nicely.

    I want to start with Sharion because it sounds a little simpler. In my opition thats a good and proper freak accident. If her horse wasnt paying enough attention at the moment she patted him it probably startled him. The most ordinary things sometimes make me shriek (just a little one) if it happens when I'm thinking about something else. I've nearly hit someone who came up behind me when I wasn't expecting it. Maybe you cant expect much better from a green horse.

    The fact that she was leaning probably didn't help, maybe she would have managed to save herself if she was centered, who knows? We talked a little before about how sometimes we accept more dangerous situations if we think the benefit warrants it. Maybe this demonstrates that the risk is too great, maybe this demonstrates the importance of getting a horse used to that sort of stimulus. I've noticed that such decisions tend to be very much subject to ones personal values and phobias.

    She also makes a good point that you cant be balanced all the time. All it takes is two bad things happening at the same time to cause a tragedy like that one. Thats my argument for putting this down in the freak accident column.

    I absolutely agree with your train of thought behind correctly reading a horse and teaching it to respect its rider. B.O.B. has clearly gotten behind the idea that humans are the boss mares and she's going to do what she's told because the boss mare said so. Neil sounds like she's trying to get away with paying lip service to that idea. She stops but her hip is turned towards you (not a body language thing I had heard of before but it makes sense, thank you for that one), she's inching into your space. Sounds like she's doing everything she can to avoid being read correctly. Very devious, very dangerous.

    The more I think about Neil the more she makes me nervous. The disconnect between what she's doing physically and what she's doing mentally reminds me of Colonel. My #1 rule with every horse is dont touch me. All told I spent many many hours trying to get Colonel to follow that rule, and it sounds like its a rule she's breaking. Whats worked with every other horse, the most stubborn ponies, the alpha of alpha mares, the most clueless of geldings, I never got it to work with him. Maybe its just superstition, and please correct me if your experience has been different but when they're disrespectful on the ground it seems to me that under saddle is never any better, and frequently worse.

    I'll be very anxious to read what develops with this one. And thank you for having these conversations, its been really helpful for me to feed off your experience. I know you've already contributed a lot to keeping horse people from being hurt or killed.

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  10. When I started typing there were zero comments (I guess I'm sortof slow) but its interesting, and kindof nice, to hear so many people (with so much more experience) are in line my own thoughts on the subject.

    Plainsman- thats exactly what I've noticed about horse training. People and horses and training methods all have to fit together like a horse and rider and saddle.
    Plus there's no one right way to do things. My boss frequently points this out when I ask him for advice. (I think of that response of his as code for: I think you're doing fine and I wont say anything more unless you harrass me mercilessly)

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  12. I want to hear about the mare/gelding gap in getting a read on a horse. Are the differences mostly in my head? Mares seem to follow the herd pattern of behavior and once you've got their respect everything falls into place. I've got almost no read on geldings and its very disconcerting. Why do they keep doing things they have been consistently and swiftly punished for? The mares dont tend to do this to me. (Alyssa handles all the geldings these days, she doesn't like mares, go figure)

  13. Gillian--

    Geldings fall into several patterns. There's the goofy love-me, love-me boys, then there's the wannabe stud horses, and several other patterns (I am a Mare Person so I don't dial into geldings the same way I do studs). But they also follow a herd pattern--influenced in part by their dams (I've been lucky enough to observe geldings raised by three different dams at my barn and they all showed different behaviors based on Mama, then surrogate Mama).

    Mares also do the same thing, however, based on herd hierarchies and how they've been handled.

    The biggest behavioral difference I've noticed between mares and geldings is that geldings can be mouthy. Mares don't usually play mouth games, but there are geldings out there who love to have their tongues pulled, or who get more mouthy than most mares.

    I could be wrong, though.

    Mares also seem to have a stronger sense of what is/isn't fair, and a stronger self-preservation instinct. Geldings seem to be more playful.

  14. Part of what I don't like about the whole A + B = C thing is that horses are all individuals. A lot of good, basic training works for a lot of them. But there is not one certain method or even part of a method that will work for ALL of them.

    To me Neil sounds like she's carrying around a whole lot of general disrespect. She needs to be shown manners are not an option and that while she may be a smart horse, she's NOT the boss.
    My hubby's gelding that I've been barrel racing had the same issue with me. He would buck on the pattern. (yup, makes for a great run! lol) I ruled out soreness when he bucked 6 straight runs and then my friend got on and he ran 3 more times PERFECTLY. (2 slow, 1 fast). Little bugger. He just didn't think he needed to respect ME.
    My friend is a lot more aggressive/authoritative rider than I am. I played "reform school" with him and switched up my riding style. It was ask once with authority and then get on his spotted ass if he didn't listen. Suddenly he wasn't even trying to cut corners, wasn't hesitating during up or down transitions, even his leading was better. Why? Because to not listen meant his spotted hiney was going to work 3 times as hard. Not abusive, not hitting. Just to co-operate was a better option. Glad to say we've been to 4 jackpots now and are placing in the money again. :)

    Scenario 2 fits with what I opened with. Some horses you can love all over and pussyfoot around and its fine. Some are just more business like in their demeanor. Give them clear expectations and a job, then some loving.

    Scenario 3 I personally think you're both on the right track (how's that for being mugwumpy!? lol)
    I do NOT think Sharion should have left her centre, even if she's done it before. From the sounds of it this colt was out of his familiar environment. Even though she'd patted his butt a thousand times before, there were also a thousand other things out on that ride that could set him off. She was not in a good position to deal with the consequences. Sadly there were consequences. :(
    I do think its good to get a horse used to 'movement' and odd stuff happening while you're up there. I think it should be done gradually. I don't think getting off your centre on a green horse in a new environment is a wise thing.

  15. joycemocha- Thank you for that. I'll remember it. I'd never heard this business about how the dam influences where the gelding tends to fall in the herd. It fits very well with my experience though. We have a love me love me type boy in training right now and he's a little easier to read, which I like.

  16. justaplainsam- I thought I was more clear than I obviously was, I stay in the center on my green horses. As they get progress, the more used they are to being ridden, the more willing I am to teeter around. If you can't ride in the middle of a horse, to my mind, you should NEVER be on a green one.

  17. Mugwump, I think we have established that horses are all individual. I would like to add that some may not be worth working with! The super smart mare,the type that can rort the system, good one day narky haggis the next. I just don't do mares now - I learnt the broken bone way. My two cents worth on NH is that many horses are pretty sick of groundwork. Many horses go around with their middle finger up at this. Sure, they are doing it but they are bored sh*tless. Plainsmen get on your horse and ride it. Cloud will love it. Somedays they just don't want to play at liberty, no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes you feel. Cynical? You bet.

  18. I apologize if my earlier post was clear as mud.

    I guess I have worked (in a limited capacity) with some horses that had no idea about bondaries, -or- knew they were there and kept pushing at them, either because they were conditioned to be pushy or it was part of their personality.

    It takes time to read them, which some people may not have if a horse is sent to them for 30 days.

    When I first got Jas she would buck hard and uncontrollably every time I called for a lope. The saddle fit, I wasn't doing anything weird, she was sound and healthy.
    She was just doing what she had been taught- if she got violent enough those mean humans wouldn't mess with her.

    The solution was actually to get firmer like cdncowgirl is talking- push harder but the right kind of pushing- i.e. I'm not out to be intimidating but to just make my message more clear.
    If Jasmine had not been abused I would have made my message louder. Unfortunately with her if you get to a certain "loud" point she turns her brain off and braces for violence. I have to switch tasks or puff for a few minutes to get her to tune in.

    I guess for getting an animal used to weird things in the saddle I start from the ass-end of things compared to some people. I'd rather the youngster get used to a rider tipping, shifting weight, bending over, etc. before I go out of the round pen.
    But that's where the reading comes in- don't try it on a day where it's cold and windy and the critter is watching everything except you.

    For example- I use the 3rd method of dismounting a critter... I can ease myself over the cantle, onto her butt and slide off over her tail. (I only started this last year- had Jas for 6 years)
    Is it really necessary? No. But Jamsine is suddenly more tolerant of things on her hindquarters because of this, I think.
    Once again, that's not for everybody, though, and I'd rather just drive over a cliff or drink some Drano shooters than try it on an animal I don't know and haven't worked with for a while.

    PS: Thanks for putting into words my issues with NH stuff.. about not "reading" horses anymore, about being exclusive of other methods, about being stuck in a routine. I'd been trying to put my finger on it for months!

  19. yeah I was unclear too. I find geldings (as a rule) easier to read than mares. As to desensitising, I like to do all of that with my feet on the ground. LOL.

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  21. Plainsmen get on your horse and ride it. Cloud will love it. Somedays they just don't want to play at liberty, no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes you feel.

    Well that was uncomfortably personal... do I know you?

    You obviously don't know me, though. Those who do call me "lone" or "loneplainsman" and are aware that I do ride - daily. : )

  22. Bad thing always happen in threes. People dieing, appliances breaking, falls off a horse.

    The big bucking filly reminded me of a situation I had a couple years ago.

    I was riding my friends gelding. He was a sweet young ottb but he would infrequently buck and bolt when you asked for a canter. He might do it every day in a month or he could go two years without doing it but it was bound to happen so you had to be on your toes.
    Turns out we had a chiropractor/massage therapist out and he had two problems. One was the muscles going along the side of his spine had two trigger points where if you shifted a certain way when asking for a canter would make him buck like a son of a bitch. He sorted that out and he also had his hips out of alignment. It takes a trained eye to see this but if you watch them trot in a strait line their back hooves usually track left or right of the front prints. We got him re-aligned and he hasn't done it in about two years. The person working on his back said he probably did some acrobatic move in the paddock and threw his hip out. I guess it's quite common and what she treats the most in bucking horses.

    And helmets. Always wear a helmet. Don't you think your brain and life is worth the 100-200$ you pay for the things. Plus they keep the sun off your face. Troxel makes cowboy hat helmets now, I think I am gonna get one of those for show instead of my helmet. I never ride or drive without one after a good friend of mine got into a pretty bad accident a few months ago where a helmet saved his life (he landed on his head after getting the superman treatment out of the carriage from a horse out of control)

  23. Loneplainsman, only what I have read off your blog. At the beginning of your blog you have alot of groundwork and Cloud running through gates. If you don't want to make that public knowledge don't blog it. It was not personal, I like your observations and visit your blog every now and then for some good insights, but feel you happened to be a good example.Sorry.

  24. Oh, I see.

    That blog covers the time from when we started PNH (2004) up through about 2007. It's not current to say the least. Those blogposts were basically posts I wrote on the Savvy Club forum between 04 and 07... the admins keep threatening to re-structure the forum and I didn't want to lose all those old posts, so I put them on that blog. I meant to go all the way through the present but haven't gotten to it yet.

    So it's not at all current. We're on to bigger and better things now - and that includes a good deal of riding! : )

    Makes much more sense though that you got what you said from that blog, especially since all the stuff I post here, on YouTube, on the FHOTD yuku forum and elsewhere contains comments about how I'm riding here and doing xx there... not at all what you had mentioned.

    And I'm surprised that someone actually reads that... I myself had almost forgotten about it! Glad to see you enjoy some of it - though I guess this means I should update it more often... :-)

    's all good. Sorry for hijacking the blog, mugs!

  25. Sydney- if you get the hat/helmet from Troxel let me know what you think. I've been eyeing them but I wear a 7 1/4 hat size, so I'm afraid I'd look slightly ridiculous since the hat helmets run bigger.

    Loneplainsman- it's encouraging to see someone who practices PNH and does something with their horse. Unfortunately I keep running into complete whackaloons parading under the banner of NH.

  26. Loneplainsman- it's encouraging to see someone who practices PNH and does something with their horse. Unfortunately I keep running into complete whackaloons parading under the banner of NH.

    If you read through the blog FOF referred to, you'll see that I was one of those terrible NHers too. I regret every minute of it.

    Luckily I've found great people like mugs and fugs (and other real-life trainers, too) who have practical training techniques that actually *encourage* people to do something... else I might still be stuck at the bottom of the barrel of mediocrity, boring my horse to death, and going nowhere fast!

    And now I will shut up and let mugs have her blog back.

    **begs pardon**

  27. I really dont mean to plug my own blog here but I cant get into this comment box what I have to say on the matter and I said it all in an entry I called "risk mitigation" that I think speaks directly to what Mugs is saying. Your welcome to check it out at

    The basic point is that while I totally agree with Mugs on each of her points. I think there is a big difference between the recreational rider and a trainer like Mugs. She HAS to get on and work with different horses every day even if she does not have them figured out yet. It is her job to keep riding the bloody thing whether she feels safe on it or not. If anyone is in the position to give an opinion on how to best maintain your safety when on or around a horse, it is the trainers that deal with the horses that us recreational folks cant. They have to keep both their literal and proverbial head working in order to keep their job. Mugs- while I respect why you HAVE to look for it, I personally believe that the only common thread is that when we attempt to master 1200 pounds worth of genetically hard wired 100% flight animal with a brain the size of a walnut. Add on the fact that we are genetically incapable of reacting faster than they are and you will find that A (flight animal) + B (human sitting on flight animal = C (wreck) every time in that equation.

  28. When I first got my horse we went out for a big group trail ride. About 30 mins into a calm peaceful ride (that he'd done a million times before me), I was a bucking bronco rodeo star for about 5 seconds before flying off!

    I spent the next year analyzing it. We walked back to the spot, no nervousness whatsoever (Thought maybe a prob since someone got stung by a bee there before). No problems with the other horses, no problems riding it again through that area. No problems for the rest of the summer.

    Next spring we go on a ride, similar group but not exactly. Different spot he does the same thing. I keep my seat but then decide to walk back to the barn on foot, and he spins and kicks my thigh during our walk for hogging the pathway!

    It took a year for me to realize that he's just an ass on the first big trail ride out of the spring! Again, there were no problems after this!

  29. First time posting, but I have been reading your blog since the beginning and I just wanted to say that I love it and keep it up! I check every day and can't wait for another installment of the Sonita drama :).

    About todays post - some might call me pessimistic, but I also believe that with horses, it's not a matter of if you get hurt but when. It doesn't have to be a big accident, but just their sheer size and reactivity pitches the odds of you getting out without a scratch against you.

    The mare Neil sounds dangerous to me, and if I were in your shoes, I'd probably just send her away. There's a differnece between a horse that likes to push the boundaries and one that is so obviously calculating as she is.

    I'm very sorry about your friend Sharion, but I agree with gillian. A complete freak accident noone could've seen coming. Please stop obsessing about it for now; Sharion will obsess about it enough for both of you once she wakes back up.

    I agree with you on reading the horse. I don't know if you'd put Mark Rashid in your hated NH trainer category, but he has some great points on always being aware of anything your horse is doing and thinking about, even if your actual focus might be on something else temporarily. It doesn't come easy for me, especially after a long day and other worries on my mind, but a horse truly demands that you don't just go on autopilot.

  30. First off- You guys are great. Thanks so much for your input.So much of it is fitting in with where I'm going....
    joycemocha- I agree with the misuse of round pens. They can be hard on a horse's legs, and encourage them to tip their shoulders in towards the center.(even the ones that slant out) I've worked where I've had one available, and where I didn't. I find myself not using them anymore.
    loneplainsam-I'm starting to like the way you think sometimes, you PNH'er you.
    Gillian- I think the common thread
    I'm looking for is in how we interpet our horses...and how a correct interpetation can save our butts....
    Also, I love geldings. Love, love, love them. Every day they are pretty much the same guy, be it a sweetie, or an idiot, they're the same horse as they were the day before. And they tend to play with me more, which I like.
    cdncowgirl-I think we're on the same track
    fanoffugly-I'm not trying to establish that horses are different, that fits under the "well duh" column, are we a little cranky today?
    Half assed- I would rather just wear a helmet- the cowboy hat styles make my already large head take on monumental proportions-
    adventures of a horse crazed mind- I'm sorry, you lost me at "brain the size of a walnut". Underestimating a horse's intelligence is the easieast way to get hurt that I can come up with.
    amarygyma- If this works right, we'll all be reading our horses before they blow, not while we're on the ground rubbing our sore elbow.
    olesja-I know we can't stop all accidents, but we can highten our awareness, and our expextations, and be a lot safer. I know this for a fact. I don't hate any NH'ers.
    I simply have no patience with people who think they have all the answers. Or put novice horsemen at risk to further their personal, money grubbing, agenda. I also like to make fun of NH'ers. They're sooooo touchy.

  31. Please don't mock my crappy spelling...I'm barely awake!

  32. scenario #1 - was there any sign maybe a bee or horsefly got stuck under Neil's saddle and stung/bit her repeatedly?

  33. I think i'll stick with a little saying I tell my students:

    "The only thing predictable about horses is that they are unpredictable"
    My saying, don't steal it :P

  34. Well this has been theraputic for me as far as the geldings go. Whenever I take one out and they're still doing the same stupid stuff I think "what the hell is wrong with me that they havent learned a thing." Alyssa spends months on it but she gets results. Since I've already thrown my hands up in disgust I just assumed they'd been good for weeks and she just had more street cred with geldings for some reason.

    It seems to me with the NH thing that a lot of the commercialized stuff is geared towards do it yourself people without a good read for their horse. I think thats why they stay on the ground for so long. I've seen some people and their parelli trained horses come in. The horses knew very little. They seem to come in with kindof a smug attitude. The owners are clueless. Thats a combination that needs to stay on the ground until they cave in and get a professional on the project.

    I think of it as keeping our clients alive until they admit that they need professional instruction and help for a while.

    Plus you have to admire a guy who can sell a piece of rope for 30$.

  35. When my trainer decided to turn me loose after putting 60 days on my mare (turned me loose for me to put miles on her), he did happen to mention repeatedly, in almost every conversation, that my mare is not a horse where I will ever be able to just toss my leg over the horn and sit and talk with someone because she has ADD and WILL find SOMETHING that will get to her. Ok, I have a warning there. Other people may not in that their horses have always been super sweet and never even wrinkled their nose at them. In my mind, I have always understood (been told) that NO horse will be a horse where you should just toss your leg up over the horn and sit and talk. You may think you can, and maybe your horse will let you do that. But animals are animals and no matter how long you've had them or how well they've been trained, how well they've been handled, how they've always acted, they will always have some sort of wild instinct tucked away in their little brains. Unpredictible. Just like people. What makes people snap and just decide to go to a church and start shooting people??? They could be the most well liked normal people, but something inside, some wire, short circuts and all bets are off.

    I think you can just do the best that you can, which seems to be what you are doing, and are pretty darn good at it, and keep on going. On my last lesson, my horse reared up and fell over on me in slow motion. So I know she wasn't trying to kill me, but my husband and trainer who were standing about 10-15 feet away said she gave no warning and after checking her all out and not finding anything that was wrong, we went on to have our best lesson yet. It was really strange. Sometimes you just have to think about it, then let it be because no amount of analyzing is going to let you know really what was going on in the horse's head. Unless you become a horse whisperer, hehehe. Then you'll make millions and never get hurt again because the horse will TELL you what it's going to do or what's wrong. lol.

    I hope things get better for you. Maybe with writing it all out, that put some thoughts into your head. Sometimes seeing it all set out helps. Like a therapy process.

  36. Just a few observances.

    I have ridden alot of horses who just have an "out of body experience" every now and again. My old gelding (of 30 years) did it a total of three times in his life. I refer to those as the moments the spiders got crossed up in his brain.

    Each time was a violent reaction that was over in seconds. No reason, no rhyme and luckily in my case, noone was hurt but the potential was certainly there.

    Makes you wonder if they all do it ocassionally and we just arent' with them for the explosion at times.

    There have definately been times in my life that I did things that I immediately wondered "now why in the heck did I do that?" and the only way to get over it was to just go on... maybe they/we all have those moments.

    As far as the first trail ride out on a young horse. You just gotta expect them to be overwhelmed or at least focused on things outside of you while on the first few outside rides. You can't expect them to be as they are in a controled environment, like an indoor arena, round pen or even an arena or working area they are used to.. you just have to be more aware of what you are doing to cause them extra stress. I have seen 3 year olds go off when someone spit off of them, opened a beer can, the rider next to them talked with their hands.. just like we introduce things slowly and hopefully one at a time to young horses, we have to be more focused and aware of our own actions on a young horse.. even actions they have accepted from the ground or in a controled environment. That said, I am sure your friend knows all of this.. sometimes we just forget that they are young! I wish only the best for her!


  37. I have a 3 1/2 year old gelding with only a dozen or so rides on him. Part of my pre-ride check is to always warm up with a little groundwork to "read" him for that day. Some days he is tuned into me, light, responsive, eager... other days he's cutting into my space, darting into his trot or canter, head up in the air, totally ADD. As a recreational owner and not a trainer, I have the luxury to choose not to ride on those days, but work on getting him tuned in and focused on the ground, then we'll see about riding.
    Another example is the other day during our warm-up groundwork, he was slightly tossing his head (not normal for him) and nibbling at the lead rope on the left side of his mouth. He had just had a baby tooth pulled several days ago, so I checked his mouth and sure enough he had a piece of hay jammed into him gum that surely was bothering him. Could've been a big problem if I'd gotten on him and didn't realize he was uncomfortable. In short, my routine is not A+B=C, but to try to "read" my horse as best I can everyday. He is a baby, and everyday is a little different, so it's never so simple as A+B, but I've found that taking the time to read him, has led to fewer and fewer of those off days. If you don't take the time to read your horse, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster.

  38. Oh and geldings are awesome! He LOVES to play and is the love-me snuggle bug type :)

  39. Mugs- "brain the size of a walnut was a literal statement, if slightly exagerated. The average size of riding horses brain is three inches in diameter. My point was simply that horse are reactionary. I have an interest in the physicology of horses and how much of what we see is thought vs. a hard wired physical reaction to stimuly without the benifiit of actual thought. I have met some really smart horses and some really really slow horses but the reason why horses generally react consistantly to the training methods we adopt is because we are not teaching them so much as manipulating their hard wiring to have either hightened (like when a cutting horse goes for the cow before you do) or lessened (like when he doest run forward the second something scares him) neurological responses. I agree that we tend to be guilty of anthropomorphism (the application of human characteristics to an animal) but I take it a step further and question if in some cases we are attributing thought and reasoning where there is none.

  40. I would liketo share my experience from just the other day. I have learned something very valuable. NEVER take short cuts, and NEVER EVER get cocky and too sure of your young colt. I've been riding my 3 year old HANDFUL of a filly, and a week ago we did five flying lead changes (which amazed me). OH, a quick side note, I am FAR from a trainer and am sorta "winging it". lol. Anyway, Friday night, I was so anxious to get on and film our wonderful flying lead changes. I had NOT ridden her for an entire week. (and I make it a point to ride her at least every second day).
    Anyway, I lunged her a wee bit to take the fresh out, but not enough. Got on, walked her a bit, did some bending, got off, cinched her up tighter, put the camera on and right away thought I would film my wonderful progress and do some flying lead changes.
    HOLY COW. well, she quickly put me in my place and "bronced" me off. I got it on film! I also learned the above mentioned two things. NEVER rush through something, and NEVER get so comfortable that you get cocky. My filly quickly taught me that I was pushing her to fast and was way to confidant. (the video is posted on my blog, its not pretty, I look like a rag doll. ). I think you always need to be aware. I KNEW I didnt warm her up enough, but I just was so excited to see what our changes looked like, that I didnt listen. So there ya go. I had a very big awakening.

  41. >>The day before yesterday, my boss, who is also an extremely good friend, got pile driven into the dirt. She is fine, except for some wicked leather burns on her hands. If she wasn't so hard headed, and would be willing to let go of the reins on a plunging, broncing, tank of a filly, she wouldn't have those.<<

    Well THAT sounds familiar!

    (Can still see the scar on my hand from my own rope burn...)

    >>Mares seem to follow the herd pattern of behavior and once you've got their respect everything falls into place. I've got almost no read on geldings and its very disconcerting. Why do they keep doing things they have been consistently and swiftly punished for? <<

    Gillian, that was brilliant. That is EXACTLY how I feel about geldings. I just think they are DUMB. I have NEVER gotten along with very many of them. I love, love, love and understand and bond with mares and properly handled studs but geldings? Nope. They always seem to me to have all the personality of a piece of cardboard, and I don't know what to do with them. Plus all of the really unpredictable, dishonest, explosive horses I've met encountered been geldings, which does not help.

  42. I am too lazy to go back to your original post about the babies. Is Neil one of the Hancock fillies? If so, there ya go...

  43. Wow. There’s a lot of good stuff in here. I can’t add my $.50 right now (a day late and a dollar short) but I hope to be able to come back to it, whether it’s here in comments on via my own blog in a post there.

    One think that always comes to the surface for me when reading everyone’s musings, the wonderful Ray Hunt quote:


  44. See now, I like geldings better than mares. I've found a grand total of ONE mare that I like and get along with, but I generally don't get along with mares. Maybe it's a preference thing, kind of like I usually don't get along with flaky/self-absorbed people, but enjoy being around sensible, down to earth folks (no comparison to horse sex there ^.~).

    And Mugwump, I have to say, the ability to LEARN how to read a horse is very rare and seldom happens. Not saying it can't happen, as I know there are people out there who have been working on it all their lives, but in my experience most people who are successful in the horse business are pretty good at reading their horses.

    Being able to read a horse from the get-go and using that ability is very beneficial. It can not only save your ass, but can save your horse's ass too. When I first got my (now six, then four yr old) gelding he was a terrible mess. He'd shut down, shut you out, or explode, and there was no middle ground to be found. He wasn't disrespectful on the ground, but he was deft and sluggish, and responded by tuning you out instead of responding to simple requests. In the saddle, he exploded at the canter every ride, flew around turns, dropped his shoulder, and bucked like a rodeo star. My [foolish choice of a] trainer subscribed to the A+B=C method and simply hopped on him and rode. He got more confident under saddle, as some of it was miles needed, but he certainly didn't get over his problems.

    What saved his ass was actually an injury. Christmas day I was free lungeing him in our arena where someone had left a barrel pattern set up. Charlie thought he would be a barrel horse and dropped his shoulder to cut into my circle. He went down and ended up with three stitches over his eye and a torn muscle in his right hind leg. He was laid up for three months. I found NH during this time, and started playing my own version of some of the games with him. He started learning to yield to pressure, and began to pay attention when I asked him to do something. He stopped checking out and started checking in more often. He learned that shutting down got him nowhere, and exploding wasn't necessary in order to get someone's attention. He began to respect me, and pay attention to me, and more importantly, he learned to TRUST me. He didn't need someone to toss a saddle over his back, hop on, and go, he needed someone who would listen to what he had to say, someone who he KNEW he could trust instead of a strange, demanding person up on his back.

    The day I started reading my horse and engaging his brain, it changed his life. Having someone he knew wouldn't just demand he do something he didn't understand changed his perspective as well. The first time I got up on him, he was a brand new horse. He was calm, cool, collected, and responsive. He stopped exploding, and started learning to trust me. I learned a lot by reading my horse. For one, he hadn't been misbehaving when he bucked at the canter (we ruled out pain immediately) he simply hadn't been able to trust his riders enough to support him.

    The first (and last) time my trainer rode him after I had brought him fully back, he bucked her off and exploded violently. She never rode him again, but the next day I got on him and he was the same wonderfully responsive, light-sided, sweet-mouthed animal I'd been riding for the past month. My trainer simply couldn't read the warning signs my poor horse was giving her. She gave him nothing to trust, and he responded in the same way he had learned to. When shutting down didn't work, he got violent. I'm proud to say that I own a very wonderful, willing animal who would do anything I ask of him, or at least attempt it to his fullest, because he knows that I know how to read him and can respond in a manner he'll understand. I doubt he'd be more than the memory of a savory steak right now if we hadn't found one another at just the right time.

    /extremely long-winded rant-thing