Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Had To Start Somewhere

Pepsi was the first horse I trained at my new job in Green Mountain Falls. Up until I met Bob and Pepsi, I was giving lessons, riding the stud who stood at the barn and getting the word out I was working in the area.

My boss, Jim, came into the arena and handed me a phone number. "Call this guy, he's got a horse for you."

"Do you know anything about the horse?"

"She's a two-year-old mustang/arab cross. She's been started, but her new owner is green. I guess she tossed him pretty good and ran home, now he can't get her out on the trail."

Visions of a tiny, elfin, two-year-old filly lugging some green dufus down the trail flitted through my head.

"Two's pretty young to be riding on the trail, don't you think?" I asked.

"I don't know anything else, but call him, he's going to board here if things work out."

I called the owner and talked with him a bit. It turned out he was the third owner of this mustang/arab. She had come out of a breeding program at a dude ranch who which was planning on breeding the ultimate dude horse. Pepsi had flunked out of the program. She had refused to stay in line behind the other horses. She kept busting loose from the pony horse and heading home. So she had been sold to family for a 10-year-old boy. After she had thrown the boy and bolted home a few times they sold her to poor, naive Bob.

"I took her out on a ride and she threw me and ran home," he told me, "I ended up in the hospital with a bunch of broken ribs. If you can't fix her I'll have to get rid of her."

"How old is this horse again?" I asked.

"She's two."

"I'm surprised she's big enough to ride, much less cause all this commotion."

"Oh, she's pretty big."

What a gomer, I thought, and we made arrangements to bring her to the barn the following week.

I pulled into work and was surprised to see my boss waiting for me. He was leaning on the door of the indoor arena. The smirky grin on his face made me wary.

"What's up?" I asked.

"You're horse is here."

"OK." I couldn't figure out the grin at all.

I stepped past him into the arena and stopped cold. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light I made out the silhouette of a horse tied to the rail. I looked around for another horse. This couldn't be Pepsi.

Mustangs in Colorado tend to be small. Many of them don't ever clear 14 hands. Arabs are not known for their height. I had forgotten that in World War II there had been an influx of draft horse blood mixed into the mustang herds.

The horse I stood staring at was a sharp reminder that somewhere, somehow there had been a heavy dose of draft horse blood crossed into at least one herd of Colorado mustangs. She was a 16hh behemoth (Stop laughing you warm-blood riders you, 15 hh is big to me, this thing was a moose). Her head was enormous, her neck upright and short. Her barrel was deep and her back was short and strong. Her legs were as long as a thoroughbreds, heavily feathered and surprisingly refined.

She had a small, but kind eye and a great roman nose. Her heavily muscled chest was broad enough to push her elbows out and her toes in.

Jim stood behind me, his hands in his pockets.

"This is Pepsi?" I asked.

"Poor little thing, hope you don't hurt her tiny self riding her around." Jim burst out laughing and left the arena.

I spent a week on the ground with Pepsi. She seemed friendly and intelligent. She wasn't particularly co-ordinated, but her sheer size and young age explained a lot. She was easy to saddle and was quiet to sack out. Someone had done a decent job of starting her. I began to have a little hope.

The first day I rode her I had my assistant, Kathy, near by. She sat on the fence, a bored look on her face. Pepsi had been quiet enough to work with and Kathy wasn't expecting anything fun.

I stood in the stirrup, one hand on the horn, the other on the cantle. I was really high in the air. Normally when I stand over a young horse for the first time they shift around, trying to balance me. Pepsi stood like a rock. I bumped her with my knee. She moved away from the pressure, steady and solid.

"Here goes," I said.

I swung a leg over and sat in the saddle, letting my off boot dangle outside the stirrup. Pepsi stood quiet. She turned and sniffed my boot. She seemed relaxed and happy.

I went ahead and asked her to walk on. She was supposed to be started after all. Pepsi cruised around the arena. Her back was relaxed, her tail quiet. She guided left and right, no problem.

I settled deeper into my saddle and asked for a trot. Pepsi moved off in a big, shambling trot. She took eight, nine, ten strides and suddenly spun 180 degrees and bolted.

I watched her thunder across the arena, her tail clamped and her eyes wide in terror. She had spun out from under me slick as snot and left me flat in the dust. I couldn't believe it. I sat up and studied Pepsi as she trotted off her nerves. I had pretty much figured out the problem. That elephant could move. Kathy caught her up and was nice enough to keep her smiles to herself. I dusted myself off and crawled back on for round 2.

Pepsi didn't get me again, but I had plenty of respect for her after that first ride. She got to where it was time to head back outside.

I had no trouble with her on the trail as long as we went out in a group. She was incredibly strong and sure-footed. I was pretty pleased with her. Her owner, Bob, took regular lessons on her and was progressing nicely.

"I want to take her out alone," Bob told me.

"I'd work on that one a little at a time Bob, she's coming along fine," I replied.

"The whole point of you training her is to get her out alone."

I was beginning to doubt my chosen profession.

"OK Bob, I'll start taking her out."

Big words from the trainer, especially since I couldn't get her past the arena door if she didn't feel like it. She was powerful and quick, at the same time such a klutz she would fall to her knees finding her way down a gentle slope. She was a knot of anger and fear and a friendly, willing mount. She could spin and bolt like a startled gazelle, but couldn't hold a lope around the arena. Her head, measured from nose to poll, was 2 inches longer then her neck, poll to withers. When she set it against me I couldn't make her do anything she didn't want.

Her huge head coupled with her short, sticky neck made her impossible to stop if she got away from me. She could bull into my hands and take me wherever she wanted. Which was home. Pepsi would whip herself around and take off for the barn whenever she got worried. She would mow over other riders, stomp dogs, topple aspens and run through a parked car or two, nothing phased her.

I felt like Tarzan on the rogue elephant in a stampede. Except Tarzan could stop his elephant.

I was stumped.

I remembered a book I had read once about a Colrado horse trainer back in the 1940's. He was an arrogant blow hard, but a fun read. He had an interesting story about how he cured a barn sour horse. I decided to try it. Pepsi was only two. She was going to just get stronger. That head was going to get bigger.

I took her out one day and we rode to the corner of the barn property. Pepsi began to shake her head and fight. I kept pointing her down the trail. We fought and jumped and bolted and started again. Finally I got her to a spot about fifteen feet farther down the trail than usual. I got down and drug her another ten feet to a shady spot under a tree. There I gave her the 1/2 can of rolled oats I had stashed earlier in the day. I loosened her cinch and led her home.

The next day I took her out and she went pretty willingly to the spot where I had fed her the day before. I got down, loosened her cinch and led her another 25 feet down the trail. Where I had another 1/2 can of oats waiting. I let her eat and we headed home.

I planted oats every 50 feet or so down the entire two mile loop by our place. Every day she had to go a little farther to get her oats. Pepsi got to where she was pretty willing to go wherever I pointed her. I kept it short and sweet.

Bob started keeping her oats in his saddle bag. He would ride her until she got anxious. Then he would ride her at least 25 feet past where she was starting to act up. If he got scared he would get down and lead her, but they still headed out a ways. Then he would give her some grain and head back.

As time went on he would make her go farther and farther to get her oats. Eventually he quit taking the oats. Her reward became a rest, a loosened cinch and some grazing time.

It worked. Nobody got hurt. Pepsi forgot her fear. I was credited for fixing a renegade. Bob didn't sell his horse. As a matter of fact, Pepsi and Bob are inseparable. She is about 17 hh and 1300 pounds. She can pack out an entire elk by herself during hunting season. She and Bob became champions at black powder target shooting from horseback, or some crazy ass thing. The two of them trail ride like maniacs all over the mountains. She has to be 15 or 16 by now. Last I heard her head wasn't any smaller and her neck wasn't any longer, but it doesn't really matter anymore.

I prefer just to get on a horse and tell them to get. Most of the time that works for me. But I have used my "hidden surprise" method to get a horse down the road more than once. It's never let me down.


Adventures Of A Horse Crazed Mind said...

What a great story! I could see her in my minds eye perfectly! Very cool that she is still being used by Bob today... and hey, whatever works!

Redsmom said...

Hello All! t is 1:40 a.m. here and we just got in from the show. I look forward to reading of Pepsi over my morning coffee. I wanted to let you al know we did reining and I got 4th place out of 6! Yay. Score 67. I have no idea how bad that is, but here is a brief synopsis. First of all thank God it was NRHA Pattern No. 1. Yay for 2 reasons, first, I know that one really well and b. it starts with a run-down all the way to the far side of the arena and that works great for Matty the barrel horse. I knew where my markers were and I knew the pattern. The rollbacks were fantastic! They were our best thing. All the WTL front enders stopped and then turn. Me and Matty hit it running and he turned both times like a champ. I stopped in the right place and backed up pretty striaght. It was a clean stop, but no slide. I stopped and arranged my reins like I knew waht I was doing and breathed. Some of the others had fantastic spins and little else. Our spins sucked. However, after I did the 4 spins to the right, On the circles, I couldn't beleive he did so well. There was a discernable difference between our large and fast and our slow and small (as opposed to 3 large and fast. Matty changed leads for me, I felt it even though my cross over the middle (as I call it) wasn't as perfectly aligned as I would have envisioned. He broke down into a trot once and I popped him with the end of my reins so that was points off, but I did it pretty smoothly, for me. On the last run down he wanted to quit and huff and puff and I was taling and told him no, faster fast as fast as you can. He stayed ina loped and it would have been a clean stop, but I let him go and he took a few steps forward - could have been considered paddling/slide (LOL). Anyway, Mugs, thanks to you I knew my pattern adn I didn't forget it and that 's the most improtant thing. Thanks to all, I could feel your thoughts and prayers with me.

HorseOfCourse said...

Congratulations, Redsmom!
I am happy you did well. So now it is just to prepare for the next one, huh?

I just love your stories, Mugs.
As Adventures said, I could see that horse!
It brought to mind when we tried to get our daughter on skis, we had to use the same tactics. Living in Norway and not using skis, well...
Now we have given up. She's into horses, period.
I often use snacks in the training. I know it's a no-no for many, but I find it a tool that works really well. Both to solve problems but also to get faster results in the training.

Here it's Sunday morning and Bonanza is running on the TV. I'll look out for Bob, Mugs. What do you say? Git? Hehe.

I think I just have to "git" myself to get going today. It's snowing heavily outside (again, sigh, we'll never get spring) and next Sunday you'll have to keep your fingers crossed for me, Redsmom.
My daughter is entering a show and I've entered my little wild one as well. It's a class higher and we are not quite ready for it yet. But as we are driving there anyway it's good to get the training. On a good day we'll make it. I hope. Maybe. Hehum.
So I just have to get out there training. No trailriding today, I'm afraid...

Leah Fry said...

THAT is news I can use to get Poco out alone away from Jaz. Thank you.

rockysgirl said...

It's nice to hear of this method working with another draft cross. I had to learn it last year to help my percheron/paint cross deal with fear of certain objects. No amount of soothing voice, acting blase, or repeatedly walking past scary items helped. The rock in the middle of the cornfield in fall was terrifying until I got off, found some corn kernels the combine had missed, and put them on the rock. Once the scary rock was transformed into the corn rock, it was no longer a problem. Same with the combine parked in the arena - a big bad monster, until he discovered that the monster had food draped on it. After that, it was all I could do to keep him AWAY from the combine. He has more confidence in me now, so I don't have to use this all the time, but it's nice to know about. This may be a generalization, but drafts seem to be powerfully food motivated. Perhaps that was deliberately bred into them, as we're never going to be able to overpower them!

Redsmom said...

Loved the Pepsi story -- "or some crazy ass thing" LOL. I love a happy ending. I can just picture Pepsi happily packing with a little thought bubble of a can of oats floating over her head.

Redsmom said...

Horseofcourse, thanks again. I kept thinking about your thoughts coming all the way to me from Norway. It helped and I will keep my thoughts for you and your daughter coming all the way from Louisiana USA next weekend!

manymisadventures said...


I am DEFINITELY stashing that one in my arsenal of ideas. She sounds like a cool mare - I'm a sucker for the huge, lunking mooses, though you wouldn't know it by the horses I own.

In fact...I think I will try this on Pandora. She will go out with other horses, but not by herself. I'll let you know how it goes.

Jocelyn said...

What a fantastic idea! I am definitly going to tuck that away into my trail riding training aresenal !!

You always have the best ideas.
NOW. here's one for you.

The canter, will not keep a canter she putters out on the corners or will go sideways down the wall.
Her transition si like a LEAP, ears back if she's not allowed to go balls out NASCAR Pony.

This is a horse who never wanted to canter, to thats all she wants to do but on her terms. ughh

Laura Crum said...

I loved this story. It was both funny and right on. You always suprise me. I have never tried grain, but hey, I agree, whatever works. Jami, over at equestrianinkblogspot, used grain stashed in the corner of the arena her mare was scared of to get the mare over it, and said that worked for her, too. Fortunately for me, my current trail horse goes as well solo as he does with others, so I don't need this trick right now. But I'll remember it.

HarlequinWings said...

Hey, I know you normally post about your training career but I’d be interested to see you post something about how you got into horses and what got you to the point of wanting to be a trainer and how you got to being a trainer from there. Summer is coming up and once again I find myself scrambling to find a trainer to apprentice and I am finding myself utterly lost, any ideas?

Becky said...

I have to ask... what was the book? It reminds me of a story I read in a book (Horse tradin' by Ben K Green).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. Ive got a 4 year old who I'd like to start getting down the trails alone, and I've been doing what the story describes. We go as far as she's comfortable, then a little more after she acts up, then stop and eat grass. She seems to suddenly forget her fears when eating is involved :)Then, when shes relaxed and happy, we head back home. We've crept our way to the local indoor and public riding facilities, today I hope we can tour the grounds before retuning home.
I think shes very very close to going out alone without issues, which is a big step from where we started.
Sadly, I've got another one to try this with after her. He's convinced there are giant horse eating monsters waiting for him to venture alone just outside the property line :)

Deered said...

I've done something similar to get a horse over a fear of ditches - her feed was by the ditch and eventually she got fed in the ditch (I dug it by hand and it was shallow so that she could eaisly step in and out of it) You'd never know that the wee horse that will jump anything on an event course would once stop 15 feet from a ditch and shake and sweat up in a panic! Even on scatty OTTB's food works!

flyin'horse said...

Enjoyed the story alot! The part where you say "her huge head....made her impossible to stop if she got away with me. She could bull into my hands and take me wherever she wanted" struck a note with me. I have a horse that will willingly go where I ask but upon turning to go home has sometimes tried to take me there WAY faster than I want! It's as though I'm nothing but a tiny fly on his back. Forget the one rein stop, the emergency dismount etc. In fact after the second injury I've decided, with influence from my husband, to retire him. But it's not what I want as I love him dearly. Am I nuts to think he's fixable? He's an OTTB by the way.

Anonymous said...

I love this story : )
I train dogs like this a lot.
When in doubt, use food! xD

I also have a little Question for everyone. I'm working with a 4 year old national show horse.
He's super sweet and willing, etc etc.
However, he is still quite green, and does not do straight lines. It is almost impossible for me to get him to go straight for more than a few lines.
I think partially it is because he's young and green, but also he has major ADD and has to go investigate the kitty that is sitting on the fence RIGHT NOW!
So my question is, what are some things I can do to get him straight, so that he won't be so hollow and all over the place?
Thank you ^__^

Esquared said...

Hm, I never would have thought of food. I'm more the type to ask nicely and then if they ignore me, tell them until it happens. 'Course I've never ridden a bolting elephant before :)

gtyyup said...

An excellent story and a great training tip for future use!!

I adopted my first mustang, Coyote, because I thought they were all small and I was tired of climbing on my 15.3 hand QH and Appy...dang if he didn't reach 16hh and an easy 1200 pounds!

Congrats Redsmom!! Well done~~

mugwump said...

Redsmom-Woo hoo! A 67 is extremely respectable. Be proud!If you hadn't had to pop him one you would have broke 70, a huge accomplishment. On to the next one....Now we get to wait to hear from Horseofcourse.
Everybody- Remember, I am the trainer who NEVER motivates with food. I give no treats, my horses don't get to graze unless I turn them out for that purpose, I never treat. My point is, never say never.
Misadventure- great, I'd love to hear how it goes...
jocelyn- transitions, transitions, transitions. The lope needs to be a reward....
flyin'horse- that comes under one of those things I'd be afraid to try to fix over the internet. You need a real trainer physically helping you, not a cyber-trainer...
HarlequinWings- I do write about Mort posts and others.
Becky-I'm sorry, I don't remember the title, just the story.
Anan- I find straight to be quite difficult for young horses, I only go straight for a few strides, then a few more and so on. I also fix my eyes on a random object and head towards it. I'll expect my horse to stay even between my reins. I let them go crooked, fix them, let them go, fix, you get my drift. Eventually they learn I need them between the reins and their feet start to get them there
Gyttup- I've seen pictures of Coyote on your blog, isn't he the big bay? He's a lot prettier than Pepsi.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

LOL Mugs-Pepsi reminds me of a little mule I had to start for a guy. She had the same thing going on as Pepsi-head longer than her neck. I had never ridden a horse(equine) before that I absolutely could not get their head bent around at least a little bit. Her favorite trick was to amble along-bolt and run us right into any wall she could. I resorted to riding her with a 1/2 hobble. She went anywhere I wanted and was as sweet as could be as long as she had that hobble on. The guy ended up riding her with it for about 6 months, trying on and off to ride her without it. Eventually she got over it and turned into a nice little saddle and pack mule for him and his family. She never did get any prettier.

slippinsweetlena said...

I loved reading this story. I like the way you describe things...I could really picture what you were doing and what the horse was doing.
Speaking of food motivation. That mare that I had a hard time catching....I now have her hook line and sinker! Last nite I got home from work and she was standing IN her pen and when I stepped out of the truck, she whinnied at me! While I loaded up the mule with hay, she kept whinnying and when as I drove over to her pen she was trotting along side me. I threw some hay to her and gave her the bucket with some grain and she dove right in. I then went to close the panal behind her and she stood there. She was a little nervous about it, but at least she stood there. This morning and tonite were the same thing...went right in and let me close the gate. I even got brave tonite and stood outside the pen before she walked in and petted her. She would NEVER allow me to do that before!! I know it may sound silly to some people, but heck I am very excited with myself because I actually trained a horse to do what I want...not what THEY want!

TooTiredToRide said...

what a great story! And it is very true. You may have methods that work well for most horses... and then you have to find something completly different for others! Being a trainer means being flexable to the horse's needs!

BarnHag said...

Hidden surprises works great!

When my geldings were about 9 months old I started trying to walk them up and down our dirt county road. A number of my neighbors have 'novelty mailboxes' - and apparently they looked very scary to my boys! More than once I had my arm lengthened when trying to pass one ...

One day I decided to put an apple slice in each mailbox (hey, its a friendly country neighborhood and we even know the rural mail carrier). Anyway, the apple treat fixed their fear of mailboxes.

The funniest part is later when they escaped from my place - they trotted down the road stopping at every mailbox nosing at them! (Four years later they still perk up and look hopeful when passing the neighbors mailboxes).

HorseOfCourse said...

So why don't you use treats, Mugs?

GrouchyBayTB said...

This is really great food for thought, pun intended. My OTTB has similar issues, and he's quite food motivated. Hmmmmm ....

One question, though - I'm really strict about no eating or grazing w/ bridle/bit on. Did you go ahead and take the bridle off? Also, did you walk her all the way back home, or did you hop back on?

Redsmom said...

Mugs, you've got mail in your cowhorseart mailbox. :)

kel said...

mugs... that is too funny.... we did the same thing when training our pigs to show! If you have ever been to a hog show, it looks like a bunch of kids with sticks chasing pigs around. We started putting pans of feed in different locations on the property and driving the pigs to dinner. They would guide anywhere you wanted!

Redsmom... Congrats. That is so exciting. You got to love it when it all comes together.

barrelracer20x said...

OMG!! How funny-I just had time enough to read this all the way through. You know what they say, you have to be smarter than what you're working with....LOL!

mugwump said...

browneyedcowgirl- gotta love those no-necks and the big heads- I'm glad you can back me up on the pulling power on one of those babies.
slippin- good for you. It's fun when it works isn't it?
HorseofCourse- I don't argue this one by the way. I don't care if other people use treats either, it's just not my thing. If you watch a group of horses eating from separate piles of hay you will see the dominant horse walk around and take whatever food she wants from the other horses. She might leave feed and let another horse have it, or allow somebody to share, but only after she has made it clear that she takes whatever she wants. The submissive horses giveup their food immediately.
I'm not submissive with my horses.
I do train with food in a way.
I regularly take them away from their feed, or drive aggresive or dominant horses from their feed whenever I feel like it. It makes a huge difference in how they respond to me.
Grouchy- I trail ride with my rope halter under my bridle. I just slip the bridle when I let them graze
Rtedsmom- I'll go look...

HorseOfCourse said...

You have a good explanation to why you don't give them food Mugs.
May I give a comment to why I do, as I have given this quite a lot of thought?

When I tell other horse people that I use treats, they believe that I have just pink, fluffy stuff between my ears when it comes to horses.
Well I haven’t.
My horses are to behave.
I am no sissy when it comes to what I expect from them.

A few years ago I read an interview in a magazine with one of the Danish GP-riders, I believe it was Anne van Olst (team Bronze medallist Beijing ). She said she always had sugar lumps in her pocket while training, and whenever her horse had done something good, a sugar lump appeared.

I gave this quite a good thought.

I grew up with dogs, and had a lot of fun with them as well as with the horses in my teens.
In the 70ies, discipline was the thing, but things started to happen. Someone found out that you got better results with praise and something in your pocket.
Later came the clicker training, but then I was out of dogs and into cats. Cats are not particularly interested to be trained, so I leave that to the horses and let the cats go on with their wonderful, independent life.

But horses and dogs are quite different, aren’t they?

Well, research has shown that the horse’s primary motivational factors are sex and food.
The entire digestion system of the horse is constructed to eat, continuously.
Then imagine what a fabulous aid we have got to motivate and to make the learning process go faster.
I use it in the training.
When learning something new I praise my horse when she does right (that's my “clicker") and a treat appears. Often a short break to stretch the neck on long reins.
And my horse turns to into the Dressage Queen.
She gets very eager, and tries to do all the tricks by her own, and often before I have asked for them.
Sometimes we dance, and sometimes she gets too eager and forgets to listen.
But if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t matter. We will try again the next day.
And we have fun. Both of us.

And that’s why I keep horses. Because it’s fun, and it gives me joy.

I have used treats in training for quite a while, but I put in system when I bought my last horse.
I got her as a 3 yo, and she had grown up being outside at her home 24/7 all year, she hadn’t seen much and wasn’t much handled.
And she has always been a lively one.

Hosing down the legs?
Well she was all over the place. Some snacks in the pocket, and she stood like a statue.

In the autumn I had to lead her (a fresh 3 yo just looking for an excuse to explode) along a small road in the dark with buses and lorries to be able to train/ride. When a vehicle came I just put my hand in the pocket and had her to focus on me instead. Worked very well.

Same when out on trail, crossing the creek, passing the waterfalls at the side of a small path with a steep on the other side, passing the bridges.

What I find is that it’s a useful tool to turn something initially unpleasant or scary into something positive, and you avoid the fights. You never know where a fight ends.
And I find that I'm not all that interested in having fights anymore.
And I build trust and confidence instead of getting into conflicts.
So I think it's a useful tool.
But I know it's controversial, it's just that I believe that many people associate it with giving treats at all times, and not giving them with a specific purpose, and I feel that there is a difference.

autumnblaze said...

HoC - Isn't it difficult to reward a horse (when in the saddle) at a specific moment for a specific action with a treat? Or do you not have to worry as much about immediately rewarding the behavior with horses? Do they assiociate the treat with 'new' behavior etc better than canines? I can see it being effective for about anything on the ground. The distraction examples make a lot of sense. Mugs showing the mare she could go beyond her comfort zone and it could be a pleasant experience also seems a logial use of 'treats' in training.

I guess, when you mention your mare suddenly becoming the 'Dressage Queen' going through all her 'moves', I envision my labX rolling over, spinning, throwing her paw and generally going nuts for a super great treat when she doesn't understand what I'm asking (or does but is just really too excited to listen due to grandness of said treat). Granted it's easily cleared up and the silliness isn't rewarded. However, if a horse is overzealous about getting the delicious reward, I could just see you getting some less than pleasant reactions which are always bigger with a 1000lb animal. I'm just curious - I'm not for or against it. I guess I've just never seen it in action really and I've known some serious 'cookie grubbers' (oh-so-annoying behavior). However, they develop the cookie grubbing usually as a result of just randomly getting cookies, as you said for no purpose, not so much as having them used as a true training tool.

mocharocks said...

This isn't horse related, but HorseofCourse mentioned clicker training which reminded me of something funny. I just recently started agility training with my dogs using a clicker. The first day I started, one of my dogs didn’t get it at first that he had done something to make the clicker click which in turn got him a treat. For a good long while he stared and stared at that clicker just hoping it would click again. He eventually realized that he had to actually do something for the clicker to click, but the look on his face staring hopefully at that clicker was priceless!

HorseofCourse - I know a lot of successful dressage riders here who reward with sugar while riding. It seems to work well for them. And like you said it creates a nice stretch for their necks :)

HorseOfCourse said...

Autumnblaze - those are good questions!
First one, the practical part.
In the beginning, I had to reward and treat at the very moment that my horse did what I wanted. That is voice praise, stop if I was in the saddle, and give treat. But the finery in the stuff is that after your horse gets it (which they do very quickly) they react on the voice praise, and to a much larger degree than you get with normal praise and a pat.
So then I can use my voice even if I need my hands and attention in a possible stressing situation.
As an example if I am out on trail and I am to pass a “horse-leg-eater” where the terrain is difficult. If she makes an effort to go in the right direction I can immediately cue her that this is right, which of course creates interest and maybe that horse leg eater wasn’t so dangerous after all, and my horse suddenly realises that she is a brave girl, yepp, she is! Just forgot it for a while...
And secondly, the training.
No, she doesn’t go bananas.
I can make an example of what we have been working with lately, the extensions.
I have had difficulties to get her to understand that I want her to lengthen instead of just running faster. So when she has done it right, I praise her, finish the exercise and then stop, treat. When she understood what I wanted she started to offer extensions by herself. On the longsides, and on the diagonals. I did not see that as a problem. The first times she did it by herself, I praise her – she is actually doing what she thinks I want her to do. After that I just ask her to stay with me and wait until I ask her. And when I ask her, she gets praise. And now we have very nice extensions. I actually have to check her from overdoing it, she is offering more than she can balance sometimes.
As she reacts on the voice cue I am able to give her the praise at exactly the right moment, even if the treat comes afterwards (and sometimes not at all). Once a movement is established, she doesn’t get rewards in the form of treats for it any longer, but she can still get a praise by the voice if she’s done it good.
Mind you I have never read anything about clicker training. There are probably better methods to do it than I do. But I find that it works.

And yes, Mocharocks – you get a very nice neck stretch as well!

verylargecolt said...

I have to admit that would NEVER have occurred to me. I assume barn-sourness is fear coupled with the magnetic pull of the barn and the rest of the herd - I never thought oats would override it.

You learn something new every day. That is why I love this blog!

Vaquerogirl said...

Good story! I would never have thought of that.

RussianRoulette said...

I just found this blog about two weeks ago and have spent the last two weeks catching-up on previous blogs. I love reading about your horses! :)

I've clicker trained all of my dogs although I usually use my voice. I find having them respond to a clicker helpful for teaching things like sneezing, scratching and licking their lips on command - all things that I end up using when I'm working on movie/tv sets.

I started clicker training my horse while he was on stall rest and found it very useful. I was able to keep him calm by working his mind without having him re-injure himself by getting excited and running around. I enjoy watching him think while he tries to figure out what he got a click for or when he's trying to think of something to offer to get the click. I just love watching the thought process. I've only used it while I'm on the ground but have read about people using clickers to help their horse understand movements under saddle as well.

Other than that I'm not a huge treat feeder, especially in the cross-ties, but I do enjoy feeding my horse treats. That being said the treats are on my terms and if he pushes, paws or otherwise demand them he gets nothing. If he gets into my space he gets a smack. I don't tolerate any crap. All of the horses that I've ridden on a regular basis know this and certainly understand that behaving themselves gets them treats faster than anything else.

I can certainly understand why some people don't feed treats though.

Longtrot said... you think spookiness is age related, excluding bad training.

I mean if you took a horse, started at 3, would it be spookier than if you started the same horse at 4?

Do horses outgrow spookiness (other than just having more experience) or is it something in the temperment?

I guess the question is when is a horse'e mind mature. We know that with dogs there is a critcal socialization period up to 16 weeks. Do you know if horses go through a developmental period when they are best exposed to new things?

kel said...

I give treats. What I don't allow is them looking in every pocket or getting nippy wanting them. I use treats to flex before I saddle and ride. If they get nippy or grabby they get popped. Right then and then no treat. Horses aren't stupid it only takes one or two times of getting popped and denied what they want and they know to what till it is offered. I haven't tried treats while I am riding. If I have a good ride they get a treat or two or three when we are done. Alot of time when I come in if they turn and face me and acknowledge me I might give them a treat. Not every time, but sometimes. I have used it to get them to lower their head so that I can see what hair I am trimming up there. :) But there is no gray area on behavior, they have to wait till it is offered and not be pushy about it.
I always ask if I can give other peoples horses treats before I give one and I never, never never give stallions treats, ever.

Sydney said...

Ah. I know a mustang like that. Awesome story. I also used an approach like this with a young mare I used to ride that was TERRIBLE to ride alone but good to drive. I would get off and let her eat grass then walk her home. Each time I would go further. Sadly she got out and got struck by an speeding van and died upon impact.

Oh and that post I said about muscle fibers

autumnblaze said...

Horse of Course - Thanks for the explanation. It makes sense and while I only did clicker with my dog for a short while, it is pretty much the same thing. You just use your voice not a clicker to indicate the correct manuever. I didn't like the clicker because I'd forget to bring it with me sometimes. My voice is always there.

I guess I was thinking the horse would learn to stop after every new maneuver expecting treats. I know they're very smart and it makes sense they could pick up on it especially when started that way.

I probably have trouble envisioning it because I can't really even praise Gator but so much in the saddle during a ride. To him, 'good boy' for doing something, when he's really working in the arena, means he stops. Short breaks or even mild verbal praise during a ride sort of blows his mind. It doesn't shock me knowing where he was trained though. They definitely don't use a lot of praise, any neck stretching breaks(despite heavy draw rein usage) and definitely no treats in training! I bet his little happy face would be a hoot if I gave him a cookie from the saddle! I'm not sure it would end well for productivity afterward for us. A loose cinch and the saddle ultimately off is a reward for him - and scritches he loves attention and scritches. It's a good theory to know more about, even if putting it to practice isn't practical for us! I'm a sponge for information like that - which is why mugs rocks.

OnceUponAnEquine said...

Fascinating story. You did a good thing helping Pepsi like that. I'm happy to know that Bob and Pepsi are enjoying a long and productive friendship. Gives me hope for my drafties.

HorseOfCourse said...

Heads on again, autumnblaze.
She actually did start to stop in the beginning. I solved it by a delay in giving the treat, then it works OK.

I believe it is with treats as with other methods; it all comes down to what horse you have, and what specific issue you have to handle if it is a useful tool or not.

The reason for me starting to use it was down to a bit of curiousity I believe. Can I make use of it? In what way? And it all went from there.

I my eyes the two main advantages are:
1) the possibility to cue at a specific moment.
That is what differs it from the loose cinch and the scratch and
2) the level of reaction.
You can praise or pat too at a moment but (at least on my horse) the difference in reaction to a normal praise and the "treat-praise" is large.

autumnblaze said...

Horse of Course - Makse sense to me! Especially since you ride dressage it fits - its just teaching sequences with rewards, keeping them working longer using verbal praise, before getting the 'big' reward/treat at the end of the sequence. What is a dressage test but a sequence of manuevers?

Question - We were working on small, collected circles at the sitting trot, spiraling in and out yesterday to build his butt and work us both. When circles were tight, he was really leaning on the bit, I was really carrying him. He isn't in the best shape of his life (my legs need more saddle time too... daylights savings time is going to allow me to ride more than weekends thank heavens) and from the first time I rode him ever, I was told he pretty much HAD to have draw reins and a crop. I've never felt comfortable without my trainer riding in draw reins, and so just never do. I don't use a crop because it annoys me to carry it. He knows what I'm asking - if I'm assertive and ask correctly, he responds every time. I figure if he doesn't, I need to work on my own short comings in the saddle.

Anyhow, during warm ups once he snorts a few good times, drops his head in the WP jog/hunt seat rhythmic trot, I'm sure he's good and supple, he'll very happily collect himself when asked.

Is he relying on me to 'carry' him because he's out of shape and needs some help, or is he likely just used to bracing on draw reins when really engaging his rear, or both? I know I've mentioned he pulls (not so much anymore after putting mugs advice into action!) but this isn't the same; this is very heavy contact on the bit. I know building his butt will help so he can more effectly use his back end - so doing more of these excersises is good. However, I'd like to continue to leave the draw reins in the barn but have a nice collection without holding up his front end with my hands- or is that expecting too much? Or with practice/work will he realize that he can carry himself just as effectively without them?

Belgian-Mom said...

What a great story. I can relate pretty wall to this as I have a Belgian/QH cross. He's not huge but at 15.2 hands and about 1,500 lbs. and a neck the size of Texas, he is quite the handfull.

We have had so many Come to Jesus meetings over the years and we are finally making some great strides.

It is so amazing that such a big horse can be scared of such small things, but he is such a big baby. I ended up on the ground a few months ago because he spooked at a squirrel. Yes, an 11 year old giant horse scared of a squirrel. It happened so fast I didn't even have time to react.

Oh, and if he doesn't want to go the way I want him to go, he has been known to spin around like mad and try to go the other way. Amazing how fast he can do that and how "bendy" he can be when he wants.

You gotta love a draft. I sure do.

HorseOfCourse said...

Autumnblaze- I am a bit uncertain. Do you want some input from the dressage corner on this? Or was it a question to Mugs?

autumnblaze said...

Pretty much anyone. I'm not picky just trying to sort through it in my own head. I don't have anyone else to kick around at this moment.

HorseOfCourse said...

Ok, I'll throw in my suggestions before going out traning my own:

Here I am tempted to say the same as Mugs, "I don't care why he does it but he isn't allowed to do it" or however you put it, Mugs?

Don’t let him hang on the bit, whatever the cause is.
I would solve it by asking him for more engagement/energy.
Ride forward!
And then balance up with a half halt again.
If he gets too deep, raise both hands for a while when asking for forwards. Then down,and soften again.
If he is in an OK form but just leans on the bit, don't give him anything to hang on to. Again make a half halt, soften and check if he is carrying himself. Maybe you have to play with the fingers a bit, or ask him to flex, and then soften.
But the main problem I'd say is lack of engagement behind.
I would also make sure that the circle doesn't get too small so you risk asking him for more than he can handle at the moment.

autumnblaze said...

I should have said don't have anyone elses brain to pick at the moment. Sorry, I was distracted by someone as I was posting. I would assume the dressage corner would be a good corner for the/a answer to come from.

autumnblaze said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Honestly, I was thinking that he was trying but that smaller circles were tough so he'd lean on the bit more. I'll keep working on it but cut out the smaller one/s on that drill until I feel he's more solid in the back end and able to support himself through it. I was thinking that is most likely the case, but I'm still learning the feel for a lot of things. It helps to hear others thoughts on the things that come up in my head when riding. :)

stillearning said...

Autumnblaze said " We were working on small, collected circles at the sitting trot, spiraling in and out... When circles were tight, he was really leaning on the bit, I was really carrying him. He isn't in the best shape of his life... "

I think you answered your own question. Spiraling on small, collected circles in self-carriage may require more fitness than he has right now. I agree with HOC on how to handle the leaning, but would also suggest that you reduce the difficulty of the exercise at first by keeping the circles bigger (like 20m down to only 15m) at first, or by walking the smaller circles. It won't take long to build his fitness up, but this "simple" exercise is fairly tough when they're out of shape.

No need to pull out the drawreins, IMO :)

autumnblaze said...

SL - Yes. It was what I was thinking was most likely. We weren't doing a lot of it either because I knew it is a tough exercise for him. I had just added it in to start to help build him up. I'll just back off on the tighter circles in the spiral for awhile. I just needed reassurance that being so heavy on the bit wasn't what I wanted from him.

Plus, everyone (his owner who doesn't ride mostly) just seems to keep saying the draw reins are the answer with him. I've just had too good of results (to her praise and surprise) without them to feel he needs them.

HorseOfCourse said...

Mugs, could you help me out with a couple of things? When I read what you write I don't always understand.
Is a bosal the same as a sidepull? If not, what's the difference?
And what kind of hackamore do you mean when using it together with a snaffle on a young horse? I understand that there are different types?
And what is the reason for using both bits? When do you use the first, and when do you use the other?
What do you mean with a "traditional bridle horse".
Best regards from the dressage nerd that tries to broaden the horizon

mugwump said...


I will use a sidepull for my first 5-10 rides. I like to work through the initial "getting to know you" phase without being in their mouth.

o-ring or loose ring snaffle:
I put my horses in this type of snaffle for a year. I ride them with eight-foot split reins, no cavesson or drop-nose band and a leather chin strap, solely for the purpose of holding the bit in place

bosal or hackamore:
I use a hackamore between the ages of 3 and 6. This develops the head carriage and position for a finished bridle horse.


I two-rein for at least a year in order to develop my bridle horse

full bridle:

This is where my finished horse ends up.

Char said...

You and I have the same opinion on 'table manners'. I like giving my horse treats because he is a hog, and he will do anything/learn anything much quicker if there is a food reward.

However, touching me in any way, especially nosing pockets for treats gets 'em popped. He's not allowed to 'beg' either. AND, if he gets over-eager and tries to take my entire hand with the treat, he gets WHOMPED. Guess how many times that's happened...? lol

Must have good manners. Must.

HorseOfCourse said...

Pls check the last link though, it is the same as the one before?

mugwump said...

HOH- yes, same link....he has good definitions.

SOSHorses said...

Pepsi reminds me of Chevy. My friends Mustang/Baskur Curly cross. She brought him to me to start under saddle. He had an explosive problem. We would be working along and randomly he would start bucking. I am not talking about crow hopping, I am talking about head between his knees bronc bucking. This went on for about two weeks, everyday I rode him. At some point in the session he would blow up. Then as suddenly as he started he stopped. He never bucked again.

His new owner rides him everywhere, including down to the local diner and ties him to the rail. He has never bucked, spooked or anything else.

Anonymous said...

Great advice wrapped in a good story, just in time for trail riding season. You are full of win!

Longtrot said...

Does anyone want to answer my question about when does a horse mentally mature?

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for the info, Mugs.
I have been reading it through.
It seems to me as if the two-rein process has many similarities with the process of learning the horse to accept the double bridle.
Whenever you have time, I have two more questions re. the bosal as this is new to me.
If I understand it correctly, both reins are attached to one point under the horse’s cheek. How do sideways signals work?
What advantages does the bosal give you in the work compared to the snaffle?

And Longtrot, I've no idea when horses mature mentally, sorry. If you ask me some of them never do, lol!
I also believe that a born spooker dies a spooker, but get better with training. But I'm sure Mugs has some more input on this.

Longtrot said...

Thanks HOC. It had occured to me we have all this emphasis on the body of a young horse, but not the mind. It got me thinking we probably don't know nearly as much about the mental aspects of a developing horse like we do other companion animals.

The 2 year old Mugs was training sounded like the body was ready, but is the mind? is the mind of a 2 year old the same as a 4 year old, etc.

I have found in my experience some horses go through a "rebellion" type stage around 4 that lasts around a year. They just seem to ask "why" more. maybe it's the equivilant of teenage years lol.

mugwump said...

Longtrot- We discuss these same things continually on this blog.I'd suggest either reading back or keep on tuning in.
Pepsi was not ready mentally at two to be ridden, which would explain her initial history. She wasn't ready physically either, which explains her clumsiness. She was lucky to survive her initial owners.
HOH- The hackamore prepares a horse to neck-rein. The pressure cue is initially to the outside of the horses face, where with a snaffle it is to the inside. The face, neck and shoulders are softened by correct use of the hackamore.
My goal with a hackamore is to keep it balanced off the mid-point of the nose.
Other than reading the links I gave you I don't have much more for you. You would need to ride with one and be familiar with the concept of neck-reining, rawhide braiding, and riding with a signal bit to fully understand what I do.
I have the opportunity to ride with people over here who ride with equipment similar to yours, so I can understand it by seeing it, using it, feeling it. So I can understand what you say. Unfortunately I can't do the same for you.

Pipkin said...

Longtrot, I had that exact experience with my horse. At 3 he was solid when I started him under saddle. We did trail walks, and he would go just fine, not spooky at all, just ambled along. In the arena he was responsive, seemed to be learning great.

Then he turned 4 and I'd swear he was a doppelganger.
He spooked on the trail at the chickens he'd been walking past for a year. He spooked at the bridges, concrete, ducks, trees, bikes, *everything*. All things he's been walking or trotting past with out a second glance the previous year. He wouldn't stand for mounting, he wouldn't go forward, he wouldn't stop, wouldn't canter; you name it, if he'd been doing it well at three, at four it wasn't going to happen.

Then as a rising five year old I sent him to training for two months, and now the old Pip is back. He's responsive, solid, not spooky, (a lookie loo, but he goes) he'll go out alone or in a group, he's a real saddle horse.
Except for some fine tuning we had to work on earlier this year, he's doing great.
So yeah, I put it down to being a teenager, and we seem to be through it!

HorseOfCourse said...

No. It's impossible both to describe and understand in a blog. I'd love to learn more though *sigh*
But at least I am wiser than I was yesterday! Thanks, Mugs.

Candy'sGirl said...


Just wanted to let you know that my colt figured out how to canter around turns without bucking. I had him canter on the straightaways and trot in the turns. I let him keep cantering if he offered it, but dropped back to the trot if he felt off balance at all. Monday night I was on him for all of 10 minutes because he cantered for a full lap and a half without bucking. I figured that was worth quitting for the day.

mugwump said...

Woo Hoo Candy's Girl!! Perfect.

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

Candy's Girl, that's great! Sounds like he was just bucking out of confusion about where to put his feet and now he's building confidence about his ability to canter around those corners. Good job!

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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