Saturday, August 23, 2008

Two Good Questions

I've got two good questions to answer today. One on saddle fit, and one about perking up a waaay too mellow horse.
I'll start with the pluggy horse.
I was working a slow, plodding, resentful, burned out pleasure horse. You can imagine how exciting it is to get one of these when you work at a cowhorse training facility.
My job was to get him to respond. He would no longer move beyond a poky little walk without a lot of whacking.
The second I released my death grip with my legs he would slide right back into that stuck in the mud walk.
"What's wrong?" The Big K asked me. "You look irate."
"This horse sucks."
"You have a habit of doing things in reverse."
Great. I was already sulky because I was stuck riding this broken down ode to the slow lane, and now I was going to get a lecture about my shortcomings. It wasn't like I could get busy and start loping circles. I resigned myself to my fate.
The Big K loped his colt around my Rosinante as he continued. "You need to ride a lively horse with a lot of action. You need to whoop and holler, and jump and slide around until that jumpy little critter doesn't care anymore."
"I don't think he cares anymore." I said.
The Big K did a few run downs in the time it took us to get half way around the pen.
"Really, I think he's got the not jumping part figured out." I added.
He had this Cheshire Cat way of grinning at me when he knew I was getting cranky. He flipped one at me as he roll-backed his colt into the fence right in front of Rosinante's unimpressed nose.
"Am I right?" He said.
"Whatever." I replied.
"I said, am I right?"
"Then would it make sense that you should ride a dead-head horse with a whisper?"
He left the arena to go change horses, and let me chew on that one for awhile.
When The Big K dropped that kind of load on me, he was done talking. I was supposed to figure out what he meant, and get it done in short order.
I had plenty of time to think as I plodded around the arena.
I thought back to my Balanced Ride training, ala Monte Foreman, from the early 70's. One of the first things I learned was how to cue my horse.
The first cue is what you wished the horse would respond to.
The second cue was a direct command.
The third cue was when you made it happen.
A very simple method. It worked for flighty horses, it worked for dogs.
The trick was the amount of intensity you used when you got to step three.
So I relaxed completely. Rosinante slowed down even more.
I rolled my calves into him, and gave him a light flex.
Nothing from Rosinante.
I made myself wait for the count of three, and then I gave him a sharp kick.
One more three count and then I went to over and under with the reins, until he loped.
I sat completely quiet, and let him fall back to the walk when he wanted. Which he did the second I quit spanking him.That was OK. We were talking about responding to my cues, not continuing on.
I let him meander along for about ten strides until I cued him with the roll and flex of my calf.
He flicked an ear at me, but that was it.
I did my three count and gave him a kick. He tossed his head, and pinned his ears, but didn't increase his speed even a little.
Count to three, and Whap! with the reins.
Rosinante went into the lope a little quicker than the first time, and went back to the walk the second I relaxed my reins.
He was a little more agitated now, but I kept walking him until he relaxed.
Then I gave him the roll, flex.
He tossed his head and rung his tail.
Counted to three and gave him a kick. He crow hopped.
I counted to three, lifted my rein to spank him, and off we went, before I laid leather on him.
I put down the rein and let him come back to a walk on his own.
We walked long enough to let him calm down, and think a little, and then began again.
I won't say this was quick. But at the end of that day, Rosinante had started to trot with a kick.
The next day, he would trot at a squeeze.
By the end of the week he would walk, trot, lope, and stop with the Big K required whisper.
Here's why it worked.
I kept it simple.
I never varied the chain of cues.
When I got to the Make Him Do It cue, I did.
I didn't make Rosinante maintain the gait I put him in. That wasn't what I was asking. I was asking him to go forward. Now. So that's where I kept my focus.
I stayed quiet.
I didn't cluck, kiss, beg, cry, cajole.
I gave him the cue I wanted.
I showed him I meant it.
I made it happen.
I made him lope when all I really wanted was a trot.
If he ignored me, I insisted on even more effort than he would have had to give, if he had done what I asked.
So if he listened to the nice cue, then he only had to trot.
If he didn't, he had to get a move on.
When he did trot, I sat relaxed and quiet. I wanted the best part of the ride to be when he was showing a little energy. No squeezing, no kissing, not a single giddyup.
I only gave each cue once. This is extremely important. If I consistently ask ten 10 times before
I give the next cue, then Rosinante will only respond after I ask ten times. It's the nature of the beast.
Once I had a good walk, trot, walk sequence, I asked him to stay in the trot. I caught him before he walked, gave the roll, flex squeeze, and expected him to keep trotting. If he didn't, he got the sharp kick, if that didn't work, the reins came into play.
Same set of cues, same sequence.
It didn't take long, and he held his trot as long as I wanted.
I didn't control his speed, he could trot as fast or slow as he wanted. That wasn't what I was asking.
Then we moved onto the lope. Same sequence.
He was all over the whoa. That was his favorite part.
At first, I only asked for one improvement per ride. He got that too.
Before Rosinante left he would transition up or down, and do a respectable reining pattern, all with the softest whisper.

On to the back cinch.
In that picture of Mort and me, I noticed my saddle is quite a bit more forward than I ride them at now. There should be three or four fingers between the cinch and his elbow. My stirrups are a little longer than I ride now too. I also notice that the saddle seat is quite a bit smaller. Sigh.
Sonita was getting a sore back after fence run practice.
I was worried that she had strained her back, or my saddle wasn't fitting right.
I usually worried about these things out loud about two beers into evening.
"I wouldn't call the vet just yet." The Big K said.
I'm a notorious, call the vet over everything, kind of person. On the flip side of the coin, The Big K keeps a pair of pliers in the tack room so he can pull his colt's wolf teeth. Then he hops on and rides them.
"What do you think's wrong?"
"I think you need to tighten down all three of your cinches."
He meant my front cinch, my back cinch, and my breast collar.
"Why? My saddle doesn't slide."
"Well, slide over to the fridge and get another beer."
Keeping that golden nugget of advice in mind, I made sure my cinches were snug the next time we worked cattle.
No more sore back.
When I'm going down the fence at 30 miles an hour and make a slamming turn into my cow, only to get back up to thirty miles an hour going the other way, my weight can't yank the saddle around. If my cinches are tight, my horse can hoist me through that turn, I can rebalance, and we're both good.
If the cinches are loose, at the worst, I'll fall off and die, at the least, my saddle will bang around, and make my horse sore.
Same for trail, barrels, anything that a western horse does with that big old saddle on his back.
I'm going to go make dinner. Catch you guys later.


  1. YaHoo! I'm doing something took me longer to figure it out - after getting advice to "back her when she doesn't respond...(why, so she'll hate backing?) This is the same person who had me kick,kick,kick her to get her to move. Starlette *hates* being wacked with the reins! We are now at the point I can squeeze to get her to trot, then to canter someone told me to signal with a slight movement of the inside leg, then press with the outside leg. She really responds to her a second to prepare to canter. I see so much progess after discovering both yours and Fugs' blogs.

    My lesson learned: Patience!

    Oh..she's also "getting" backing off the trailer...4 times now, if I go out and stand behind to the side, she'll think about it and then *hurry back out*. I think the last time she actually wasn't as rushed. Question...I am worried that if I take her someplace, she'll get so excited she won't get back on. Any suggestions, or don't anticipate until it actually happens?

  2. We should ride together someday Mugs. If only you were closer :3

    We have a lot of the same ideas on making a horse responsive, just different ways of doing it. I always use leg/seat, voice then reins/spanker since my horses drive and ride. Same thing for stopping. I hate to see people have to take a death grip on their reins to stop their horse from anything more than a walk.
    Where have all the good riders that made the good responsive horses gone?

    AMEN to cinch tightness!
    No more loose, dangerous back cinches!

  3. Mugs - thanks for the invite to drive you crazy with questions. :)First question, but a little background first. One of the SWAP mares is a little appy about 5 yo. She has never been ridden and barely worked with. I was told she was dangerous, should be put down, etc, and couldn't be caught or even touched when she came here. After three months, the only agressive behavior is striking at me when worming her. She was wild-eyed and terrified that I was sticking something in her mouth. She broke away, but only went a few feet, then turned back towards me and let me catch her. Finally today I felt like we had made enough progress that I removed her halter. I think she can finally be caught without it now. But egads, three months?

    I work with her daily, just grooming, massaging, and talking to her. She is still wound tight and edgy around me, like she expects to be beaten at any minute. I've been hesitant to start lunging her, but do you think I should and give her something else to think about? I've been around a few nasty horses, but this mare doesn't seem to have a mean bone in her body. And every little move frightens her, so I'm wondering how traumatic lunging would be for her.

  4. Same procedure I use, substituting the dressage whip for the reins. I just don't think of it often enough -- I will keep it in mind when I'm able to ride again. I follow the same progression of cue, firm cue, make it happen, but I think I'm not light enough in my first cues. McKinna's very capable of learning to respond to quiet, 'whisper' cues.

    I very much apply that on ground work, though. I give the cue with just my body language, if it's ignored I tug or tap gently, and if it's still ignored they are promptly enlightened as to their mistake.

    Jackie -- have you taken her for a ride at all? If you want baby steps, I'd load her up (if she's totally relaxed), then go for a quick drive around the block, bring her straight back home, and unload. Then do a little more work on trailer-loading to confirm that yes, she can still do it after a ride, then put her away.

    Second step would be to take her to a quiet, low-key place that allows hauling in. Unload her, walk her around and let her graze, spend some time calmly working with the trailer, then load up and head home. This way you have the space and the peace to spend time working with her if she decides not to get back in.

  5. Oh, since you got on the subject of fixing a lazy horse how about one stuck in warp drive.

    The thing I hear of so often is clinicians and trainers always doing things like circles and keeping the horse busy enough to want to be still when you ask, which I agree with. The only thing I never see is what about the people who don't have places to do mindless circles, like on the trail.

  6. sydney-I'll do warp drive'll take too long to put it in the comments.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Thanks for news I can use. I have one stuck in who and the other stuck in go. I have been taking your advice to heart, in any case: ask nicely, ask again like you mean it, make it happen.

    Both mine used to do a wild jackrabbit hop out the back of the trailer too. Now, I get in front of them and very softly guide them out. It has taken a few times, but they now wait for me to tell them to back up, back, back, step down, and we're all calm and happy.

  9. Good mugs, do write it soon!

    Trailering used to be that way for my pony especially (I drive him)and Indigo when I first got them. Pony was wild so he had no experience but Indigo had a bad trailering experience with someone driving too fast in a trailer too small and turning corners too fast/slowing down. Now it's a snap. No one jumps and they all hop right on the trailer. I just made being on the trailer relaxing and being off a whole hell of a lot of work.
    No I do not follow the natural horseman. Theres nothing natural about the irony of modern transportation. We transport what used to be transportation lol!

  10. LOL-This is what I have to do with my lazy barrel horse. The gal I bought him from told me when I went to try him, "Be sure you wear spurs!" I thought that was a warning sign--lol. He's pretty content to just plod around, until it's go time. KISS-truer words were never spoken!

  11. wvfarmG

    I had the same striking issue with worming with my rescue cold that had zero handling when I got him. He was quite good about learning new things, but with the wormer he just said no thanks to poison, he got one whiff of it and it was all over. What worked great to get him to willingly allow the syringe in his mouth was to put molasses on it and stick that in his mouth until he was welcoming me sticking it in there (5-6 times). On the next round I shot the wormer in and another unexpected side benefit was that the taste of the molasses was so overpowering he didn't taste the wormer at all. I drizzled it a couple more times with molasses just molasses just to make sure I could still put it in there. That was probably not necessary because it was no problem at all. I really didn't want to be up by his mouth during striking, it was a battle I was not prepared to meet head on, and this solution worked great for me.

    Take it or leave it =)

    Sounds like you are making some headway with your mare, congratulations!

  12. Mugs,
    This may be an elementary question, but how do you know - how can you tell - when your horse's back is sore?

  13. Wow, wow,wow. You addressed a pet peeve and gave me food for thought in ONE blog. I adamantly agree that the "lazy" horse has a discipline issue. I won't put up with ignoring a cue or dropping out of a gate anymore than I would put up with not leading where I go. I'm blessed with my 2nd "once in a lifetime" horse, and they are/were both the laziest horses I have ever known, but with discipline, great show horses.

    Now, on the cinch issue. I have always prided myself with riding with a LOOSE chinch. I thought that meant that I have such good balance, such a well trained horse, blah, blah, blah, that we didn't NEED a tight chinch to stay together. Current horse is usually stiff and touchy after I ride, although sweat marks seem to indicate that saddle fits OK. I'll have to think on that one a while. Riding WP, not cow horse, but do a LOT of gate changes, pivots and working up to a lead change. hmmmmmmmm

  14. That was great! You're right, my instinct would have been to press forward and maintain the upward transition after I got it, even if I wore out my legs doing it and would up exhausted and frustrated. It would never occur to me that it would be fine to sit quiet and let the horse break gait. I would have thought that was "letting them win."

    That's why I like your blog. I learn things that would never have occurred to me to try.

  15. BTW interesting note on people who ride too much off the hands, Sydney - the judge yesterday made people back on a LOOSE rein. Wow that was interesting to watch. Some people could not do it at all.

  16. >>The only thing I never see is what about the people who don't have places to do mindless circles, like on the trail.<<

    I have read several trainers who say the thing to do is get them busy doing lateral stuff like leg yields which you can do even on the trails. I haven't tried it myself as I haven't had to deal with a hot horse on the trails in many years (and at this point would probably just say F it and not trail ride that horse...yeah, I'm a lot of help!)

  17. jackie-I'm not saying everyone has to cue like me, it's just how I do it. What I'm trying to share is the cue sequence. Sounds like your doing all the right things.
    wvfarmgirl-I can give input, but it's limited when I can't see the horse, and don't know you.
    I don't wait for a horse to become gentle. I train them to accept me.
    I wouldn't expect an untrained horse to tolerate worming. I'd get it done, but would be out of the strike zone.
    I don't become soft or back off because they've been abused. I'm not abusing them. I expect them to sort it out.
    I'll take smaller steps the more volitile the situation.
    I'd be very careful.You too, please.
    Horses need to move. If this horse can move away from you for a release, you will progress much faster.
    I would be working on handling this horse when she's loose in the arena.
    I would ignore ALL frightened behaviors, and just stick to business. If I spend my time soothing a frightened horse, she will think there is something to be afraid of.
    If I just catch her, just brush her, whatever, and ignore her acting afraid, she will learn BY MY ACTIONS that there is nothing to be afraid of.
    I'd be longing away.
    I also just put them in the trailer. Take them out, do something friendly, put them in, take them home. I don't load and unload repeatedly. For me, it has worked better for them to just learn that they load, we go somewhere, then we come home. Hope that helps
    whywouldyabreed- good thinking
    rockymouse-shrink away from the saddle, pin ears when tightening the cinch, flinch when you press on either side of spine,sometimes lame, some or all of the above...
    smurfette-once a rotten three year old cowhorse threw a kick at a very well behaved WP horse in a AQHA warm up pen. Three year old was afraid of the WP movement. I may or may not have been riding 3 yr old, ahem. Anyway, well behaved WP blew, jumped and spun away. Bet her rider was glad her cinch was tight.

  18. >>This may be an elementary question, but how do you know - how can you tell - when your horse's back is sore?<<

    LOL I'm posting my butt off here but...

    Here are things I watch for:

    1. Cinchy behavior - snapping or pinning ears or cowkicking when girth is being tightened (esp. when this is new behavior)

    2. Horse doesn't want to collect under saddle (esp. when horse used to do it without resistance)

    3. Snarly reaction to being groomed particularly over the top of the back/hip/rump.

    4. Horse develops a dislike for picking up his back feet (again, as new behavior). The back legs are very closely tied in to the back. Hock arthritis will give you a sore back, and a sore back will affect how the horse uses/is willing to use the hind legs.

    5. You can always test by taking fingers and firmly pinching your way down both sides of the horse's spine all the way back to the tail head. If you get pinned ears, flinching away, etc. you may have a sore back.

    A $100 chiro adjustment beats losing the whole show season or worse yet having a bad accident because a sore horse finally bucks your butt off to send a I usually figure, when in doubt, have the chiro out.

  19. Thank you for the saddle thoughts. Smurfette, I had the exact same idea before, that if you didn't tighten your girth much it would prevent girthyness and earn you some macho points or something. I think I'll have to pay more attention to getting it just so in the future.

  20. Thanks for the information on the sore back, Mugs and Fugs. Very helpful.

  21. Mugs,
    I don't praise her for being scared, I usually just ignore it and keep doing whatever it was I was doing until she gets over it. She's typically fine once I have my hand on her halter (except for the worming, and I'll try the molasses trick next time!). So I'll just push on with her training and start lunging her tomorrow. I don't have an arena or round pen yet, so a lunge line will have to do. And she'll just have to get over herself!


  22. WVFG I hope the molasses works as well for you as it did for me =) Glad your going to try it!

  23. I've been doing something like this, except I've been only allowing two stages - ask, then make it happen. I've been seeing good results (but I do not get to work the horse this refers to often enough). Do you think there is an advantage to three steps? I felt that 3 requests would be too distant (from cue to action) for him to get the association (unless I f'ed up the cue, then I would repeat it, lol).

    Update on tying - I worked on this today. I did not let him sit tied the whole day because I didn't HAVE the whole day and the reality was I needed to get him worked (not my horse, very far away, I'm the only rider...not great, if you want details, ask).. To keep a long story short the work with tying was the right thing to do and also seemed to help in other areas. It seemed to make him more willing to please than ever before. Questions – what knot is good to tie with? Does it depend what you are tying to? I mostly have random things to tie to (e.g., trees, fence bars) and usually use a slipped constrictor hitch (it holds, but is easy to release if necessary).

    Oddly enough, I also wormed today. I got the curled lip at first, but no fight at all.

  24. equus-you are getting really technical here.....I on the other hand am famous for doing whatever works, taking the shortest route, and may not be a quick enough study to get lost in the details...if it works for you, go for it,and I couldn't name a knot if you tied me up in the boy scout hand book.

  25. "If you get pinned ears, flinching away, etc. you may have a sore back"

    Being an equine massage therapist I would like to point out something about this:

    People often think if they run their hands firmly down either side of the spine and the horse flinches away about where the cantle of the saddle is their horse is cold backed/sore backed.
    See right in this area theres a reflex very similar to if someone whacks you on the knee and your leg pops out. It's the "theres a tiger on my back I gotta buck" reflex. It's helped horses survive many times over. Every horse has it, some are more sensitive than others. I've worked on horses that are never ridden and have been adjusted by a chiro and they exhibit a very strong reflex however if you were to run your fingertips slowly down the same area and see not only a dip, but muscle tremors (look closely, sometimes they only happen once but you will see muscles, close or far away from that area twitch) THAT is when you have a back and or muscular problem. The problem could be as big as a mare reaching age 10 when her hips are fusing or as little as a wrong buck in the paddock creating a trigger point in the muscle.
    The important thing is there IS a big difference.

  26. Leah Fry said...
    I have one stuck in who and the other stuck in go.

    Me too!! I have a fat lazy appy who lives life in the slllooooowwww lane! Everything he does requires little to no movement, he was born to be a kids horse. My mare on the other hand is like a sports car on crack. she isnt always a complete moron, but last week she was in heat and I took her to a clinic and really just wanted to kill her when I got on her. She gets stuck in warp speed, I got rather dizzy doing the stupid circles. She is so sensitive that I breathe and she moves. I am trying to de-sensitize her a bit, but she is a GAMY (grey arabian mare) **sigh** We have a long road ahead of us.

    Mugs- I remember that place on Maizeland and Academy! Theres a gas station and stores there now right?! I havent been home in a few years, last time I was there I was in utter shock at how much bigger it got. I grew up riding in black forest off of Burgess Rd. I DONT miss the pine sap!

  27. Regarding lateral work:

    Looking at my notes from Marc de Brossia's lecture, before he starts circles, or anything remotely like it, he gets horses to give to the outside leg (while moving forward). This is in preparation for Shoulder-In. This is worked on patiently until the horse moves forward and sideways giving to leg pressure with as minimal cues as possible, reducing the cues instead of increasing them. This is done using various patterns (mixing it up) so the horse does not get bored. After giving to the outside leg, a small amount of bending of the neck allows the horse to learn shoulder-forward, which then eventually leads to shoulder-in. It's a layer building process, one thing first then the next. Circles come when shoulder-in work progresses.

  28. Thanks for the insight, Mugs!
    I have found the warp speed horses are a lot easier to slow down than the plodders are to speed up. Maybe it's just me, but being calm and relaxed hasn't ever seemed to be the right tack for the plodders. This however, has shown me that being calm for the plodders can work great too! hooray!

  29. Hey Mugs, if you're going to answer questions and have time for mine I'd really apreciate it. The soft three year old is doing great but now I'm switching him from a hackamore to a snaffle. He's soft turning because he recognizes the leg signals and me reaching for the rein, but I'm having trouble softening him for stops. Often he'll resist the bit pressure or ignore it. Any suggestions? I'm trying to avoid saying whoa because the ground is rough and I get very extreme stops from him if I use verbal commands. Right now I'm walking him and then applying loose pressure until he stops, it seems to be working a bit but you've mentioned softening horses to the bit before so I wondered if you had suggestions.

  30. Wow! So spot on with the cue-ing sequence. We have a lot of tried and true shool horses and ponies who have learned to protect themselves over the years from banging legs and jerky hands.

    We fill in the kid/rider the "secret" to getting them to go when we feel they are competent enough to ride at the trot or canter. Sometimes the 'dead headed' ones are a great berometer for riding skill, in beginners especially!

    And thanks again for the support on letting the 20yr old lesson pony skip the ground work lessons, I convinced the boss that wasn't in his job description and he's been much happier the last half of summer :)

  31. quick question mugs. I may be going to my first show with my crazy little girl. Now, she's not nearly as crazy as your Sonita, granted, and she's been fine and riding quiet with me lately. So quiet that my trainer and his show machine girlfriend have said they are impressed at the difference since he stopped training and I've been putting time and miles on her. So impressed that he told me I need to do a walk trot class at a local riding facility that has a show coming up the end of Sept. I don't know 100% if I will be going. His show machine girlfriend said if she doesn't go to her planned show that weekend, she will go and take me and my horse, and I will be going, whether I want to or not! lol. So, my question to you is, what tips do you have for a first time shower, in an open show, with a horse that has really only been around about 4 other horses in the riding arena at one time. Horses that she's knows. My trainer (who's really not active with me at this time, but he's training another horse at our barn and we are also friends with him) said that open shows are where everyone brings their barely broke rank horses to try out. I'm slightly nervous. Any tips (or places to go for some) you or anyone knows of to help me prepare (aside from being able to go to any other shows or places, because we have no trailer of our own yet to freely travel), I would be GREATLY appreciative (sp?) to you, maybe even eternally grateful. :)

  32. Boy, I can't wait for the blog on a horse stuck in warp drive with a side of crack avenue.

    I have an OTTB that threw me at our last dressage show when we were entering the ring. (It was the fourth show that we have been too and by far the worst.) It was hot low 90's, way too many flies, and way too many AMISH buggies flying up and down the road.

    For some reason he is totally wigged out by Amish buggies. Incase some don't know much about the Amish, Sunday is their busy travel day. It also just happens to be the day that most Dressage Schooling shows are held in my area.

    The last thing I remember before my flight was asking for a trot to enter the ring and getting a bucking rodeo bronk ride instead. Needless to say I did not make the 8 seconds required to stay on the rodeo ride.

    So, I would really like some insight on how to keep him focused and how to channel his energy. Any exercises or approaches to this problem would be greatly appreciated.

  33. The warp drive for me is the walk home from a ride. My mare doesn't jig but she does this really bumpy, choppy walk and its horrible. I wanna know how to turn off that homing device in their head on the way home.


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