Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Questions and Answers

Go Tucker Go is working on getting some forward on her horse. She has gotten her walk and trot going and is ready for more.

She asks - One problem I have had recently is he dives in when he feels me bridge the reins to jockey smack his backside to get moving and my riding instructor is afraid if I let him do that and don't correct him for it immediately it will become a problem.

Go Tucker Go's trainer wants her to stop him and restart him to get him going again.

First off - Do what your trainer says. You have to go with her instruction to build confidence between the two of you. It's really important.

Second - She has a valid point. When a horse extends himself into a "death trot" it's actually harder for him to put himself in the lope. He's all strung out and hollow backed and just slamming you all over the place. It makes it tough to get his belly up, his hind legs under himself and go.

So, stopping him and starting again will accomplish two things. It will stop the teeth jarring trot. It will give his rider a chance to regather him and it's adding a stop and start to the program. So it's more work for him. All good points.

The only problem I run into with this method is if I'm riding a lazy galoot who's smarter than I am. This kind of horse will figure out I'll stop him and regather if he just keeps trotting. Which gives him a rest and gets us off the original mission, which is going forward. So that's what he does.

I don't mind if a horse trots into his lope for quite awhile. He can trot 3 or 4 steps as long as he's just trying to get under himself. If he go into the death trot I get mad. But at first I just push him through it, so he learns I mean LOPE when I smooch. Then I pull him down for the death trot, but not until I'm sure the horse gets the lope cue.

I would suggest a combination of the two methods. My way you have to practice when the trainer's not there because it will piss her off at me and I don't want that. So shhhhh, this is just between us.

My point here is, he has to go when you say so. That's all. So I don't care if he dives. We can address that later. He's using the dive as a way to distract you. And it's working. Now your correcting something else without fixing the first problem. So he's winning. The smart old galoot.

So one day when you are alone you're going to fix this nonsense.

Get on your horse. Walk him around some, but that's it. We want him a little fresh. Ride with your reins bridged from the get go. That way he can't tell what your going to do.

From a standstill I want you to smooch. Once.

Than you will over and under him with your reins until he is loping. Whack! Across his shoulders please. You don't have to hit him hard. Start soft, just swinging the rein back and forth hard enough to get a rhythm going. Increase the sting as needed. Always start soft and build your pressure. Every time.

I don't care if he dives, you won't either because you're not going to steer. You are simply going to spank him until he lopes. This is about loping, not steering. Hang onto the horn if this makes you nervous.

As soon as he lopes you can relax. If he only lopes two steps that's OK. Let him stop.

Then do it again.

And again.

Until he blows on out of there when you smooch. Always smooch first.

The trick here is to stop him the second he breaks gait. As long as he lopes you sit quiet and leave him be. If he breaks gait, stop him and start him again. This is about loping. Not steering.

When he will lope off one smooch then we're ready to keep him straight.

Have him on the rail. Smooch. By now he'll be hustling, trust me. Wait until he dives.Then take your outside rein, spin him in a little circle towards the rail (not a pretty spin, just turn him around) Stop, breathe, go back to the rail and ask him to lope again. Repeat until he knocks it off. It may take awhile. He'll try to trot again, he'll try to not go at all....ignore him.
The only two tools you have is the spin towards the rail and the over-and-under after your smooch.

Be patient. Always start soft. Always wait until he dives. Let him make the mistake. The circle will be the unpleasant work he does off the rail. Loping along the rail will start feeling pretty good.

Don't worry about leads right now. This is about going when he's told to go. When he's straightened out, loping when he's told and staying on the rail, then you can worry about leads.

Then you will walk him forward, set up your lead departure, then smooch. If he can lope out of the walk he will have an easier time getting into his lead.

So now we go to our pluggy walk-trot transitions. A different problem BTW.

Tucker is walking as told and trotting as told but he's lazy and resentful about it. Too bad Tucker.

We're going to cheer him up.

It's time to bring in our legs.

Get Tucker walking. Move your seat in a forward, sliding motion and lightly bump with your calves in the rhythm of his walk. He will probably raise his head and swat his tail, maybe speed up a little, just stay with the rhythm until he's used to it and cruising along. Don't pump your seat too much. It won't help, it looks freaky and people will mock you. Think of it as a kagel exercise, important to do, but not something you want people to see you doing in line at the grocery store.

Now stop. You're hands are quiet. You relax your legs and take them off his sides. You quit moving completely. Your shoulders slump, your head drops, you're a rag doll. Exhale down into your seat. Think of yourself as a sleepy, relaxed, lead balloon. He should stop. If he doesn't, hang in there and keep exhaling. Sit relaxed, heavy and silent until he stops.

Sit for a slow count of 10. Breathe.

Now, sit up with energy, look straight ahead and put your legs back on him. Squeeze, if needed, half the time they'll go just from your energy.

Find your rhythm again. Now increase the speed of your seat and bumping. Keep it up until he speeds up his walk to match your increased rhythm. Relax your legs. Keep your forward thoughts and energy, don't let go like you do for the stop, but sit quiet. As soon as he slows then activate your legs and seat and put him back into his fast walk.

Now, get him going and then stop him again. Try to stop him before he slows down. Then get him going, speed him up, slow him down, stop, just mess with him. Get your cues clear.

When you've both got this part of the exercise down pat, then once he's walking along increase the speed of your bumping until he trots in order to match the rhythm of your seat and legs. When he trots, let him go a few steps then stop him with your seat. Repeat.

Now Tucker should be really listening, he should also be wondering what the heck your up too.

Get him trotting. Sit relaxed with your legs lightly bumping along in his rhythm. The second you feel him slow down increase the speed of your seat and bumping until he is going a little faster than you want. Then relax your seat and let him come back down to the desired speed. Sit quiet and controlled, but keep a rhythm going with your seat and calves.

Play with this. Make him walk fast, then slow, then fast. You decide the speed. Make him trot fast, then slow, fast, then slow. Then when he's trotting at the travelling speed you want, relax and let him go.

He will learn to be happy maintaining the speed you want, because the transitions are hard work.

He will begin too seek the place you want him in and try to stay there.

Does this make sense?

Don't apply this to the lope yet.

He has to learn to lope along on the rail first.

Let us know how it's going.

Redsmom - Wordy Wednesday

It's already Wednesday! I can't believe it. I waited for my shoer way early in the a.m., he didn't show. I still got to work late. I become more sympathetic by the minute to those horsaii out there who juggle full time jobs, families and horses.

I am sooooo guilty of giving my former students and clients the stink eye when they told me they didn't have time to ride. Or didn't manage to get their horse shod.

"You just have to ride," I would say, "There's time if you make it."

HA! I say. Anyway, I humbly apologize to everybody out there who I made feel guilty because they spent time with their husbands on the week-end or went to a daughters soccer game instead of showing for a lesson. I get it.

Redsmom has been truly just getting out there and doing it. Which is 100% the best way to learn. Sometimes she's overwhelmed, sometimes she's proud, it's always exciting. This is what we all need to be doing. Just getting out there.

Also, I need some questions...If I haven't answered, please ask again, I'm a bit of a space cadet these days.

First Show

I drove my 11 year old nuts to get to the show early. We made it for about 10:30 a.m., but forgot the cameras. We had plenty of drinks, but no food. There was supposed to be a concession stand. I had potato chips for breakfast. At about 7:30 p.m. my daughter handed me a half eaten hamburger some kid’s mom had given her, thank God. I was too nervous to be hungry, anyway.

I decided on my familiar practice/working rig instead of the stiff new saddle I bought for my daughter’s horse which is pretty and has a tiny bit of silver. “No use putting on airs,” I thought. “We are what we are at this point.”

The weather was fabulous - it got up to about 80 and there was a slight breeze. I had a tank top for getting dirty and running around in. There was a print-out for reining at the sign-in. It was a booklet of the NRHA patterns and rules. The Show secretary (volunteer) had no idea about the pattern of the day.

There was no pattern posted at the gate. “Okay, I won’t panic, I’ll just go warm up.” The arena is at the park and there are a couple of cleared, grass areas for warm up. I went to the farthest, most remote and worked on loping Matty. He was perky and willing to run and run.

Mind you, he’s 23, a kid horse I bought for my daughter that turned out to have hidden depths which I now exploit. He was apparently once a barrel horse, has cow and reins like a dream (when he wants to). He is a grumpy old bastard with no patience for putting his head down and doing a 4-beat. When we trot and lope, we are going to cover some ground, by gum. I think we call that “scopey” in the hunter world. Big strides, but he’s smooth as silk with his extra-long back. The back is well-balanced with his long neck, though and he’s a big old rocky horse in his slow lope. He’s liver chestnut, with a bleached out mane and tail, by the way. 15.3 and butt high. Nice, dappled legs, bow legged in the back.

I put on boots, front and back. Bell boots in front, too. As I started to practice, I had some kind of weird thing going on where I couldn’t let go of the tail end of the reins with my left hand. I tried to hold it out. I tried to pinch my shirt. The hand persisted in holding the reins. I gave in and conceded those points were a goner for the day. We loped around until he settled, some. I walked him around the trailers, looking for friends to visit with. I don’t know that many front end people.

I took Matty back to my trailer, loosened his cinch and my daughter gave him water. Miraculously, he drank and drank. We usually have trouble with him drinking away from home. I had my salty potato chip breakfast and we watched trail. It is like watching grass grow. I joked to my daughter that Matty could do that class a whole lot faster than those front end horses. Loud-mouthed trainer, R___ M_____ had brought his whole school of lady robots and his umpteen daughters and granddaughters to dominate the field, but he was more subdued than usual. He wasn’t yelling out commands from the fence yesterday. Must have been on his meds.

I couldn’t sit still for long and wandered over to Ken Bird’s trailer. He’s a club board member, nice old fellow and flirt. From him, I finally found out that the reining pattern was to be NRHA no. 1. He had written it on one of the papers posted at the gate, but in my nervousness I didn’t see it. I was looking for a diagram of the pattern to be posted. Oh, joy was mine when I found it was to be good old no. 1. I checked our brochure to make sure it was the same and it was.

I practiced on foot for Mrs. Dee, my daughter’s horse’s trainer. (Mrs. Dee Senez - first female jockey in the state of Texas and inductee of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Sweetest, most patient teacher of the kiddies on the planet. Her husband, Mr. Tutti, was away berating some poor jockey somewhere in North Louisiana at a race track where he’s running 2 or 3 TBs). She threatened to put a spade bit on me to settle me down. She is 70 something and was trying to take a nap underneath her goose neck in a chair.

I got back on Matt and took him to practice no. 1 in the back field, again. Bear in mind that this “field” has a bunch of trees, bushes, and a sign that says, “No horses beyond this point!” which makes a good stopping post. But it is mowed and relatively flat between the obstacles. We practiced a tiny version of the pattern .

The lead changes were going great, but then poor Matt stumbled on some roots on the ground and spraddled his back end. He held me in the saddle like the reliable old kid horse that he is. I thought I might have lamed him, but he was okay. He’s a tough old boy and didn’t even limp, so we walked the pattern after that. He moved up into a trot, so he was okay. He wanted to lope some more. I made another circuit of the trailers, put him at our trailer and loosened his cinch. He drank some more water!! And then dozed patiently.

Some back-end people started to show up, so I visited. Back-end people brought interesting horses of all shapes and sizes. Teen aged girls showed up followed by lanky teen aged boys in their wake. Front -end progressed in a painfully plodding manner. I chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes and drank gatoraide. I plodded back and forth to the restroom. I tried on my chaps and took them back off. I changed shirts lying down on the truck seat. I jammed my hat down on my head and put on lipstick.

Funny insert here. I decided on Friday that I couldn’t wear my ancient western shirt, so I went to the Western Store at 5:50 p.m. They close at 6:00. The cranky old broad that runs the store tried to sell me a plaid shirt. She always tries to sell me a plaid shirt. I’m not into plaid. I bought a black one with white trim. But, when we got tho the show, the lady judge had on a plaid shirt. I laughed to my daughter and said I should have listened to the cranky lady at the western store. Anyway, I felt I looked the part once I was in costume.

I rode Matt out to the field one more time. I saw kids spinning their horses like crazy. Our spins were for shit for the day and I accepted it. Finally, they announced the number order for reining. There were 6 people and I was last. I didn’t want to be first, but I would have given a toe to be second and get it over with. I talked the drag tractor operator’s ear off while we waited. My daughter’s friends continually asked me if it was my turn yet. I managed to answer them sweetly and be thankful for their support. My daughter gave me some gum and told me it was calming gum. I believed her.

Our club just started having reining, so it is an open age class with no points. The first entrant was little girl about 9 on a front-end plodder. Nice little horse. Nice little girl. Obnoxious father. She blew the pattern right away. Her father yelled out the pattern from the gate area. I tried not to be pissed. I’m sure the judge, up in the little open-air watch tower, could hear him as well as I could.

That one was bad enough, but the second kid was this guy’s other, much younger daughter on a much slower front-end horse. I tried to smile indulgently at the cute picture they made. She had no clue as to the pattern and wandered around the arena for 10 or 15 minutes, I kid you not. I thought I was going to die. The father kept yelling out instructions. The little girl, about age 5, ignored him completely and proceeded in some imaginary course, the logic of which eluded me completely. Every once in awhile she would stop in a random area of the arena and do something. I couldn’t figure out how we were going to know when she was finished.

I was exploding inside. I silently wondered whether there was some kind of time limit on these things. I spit it out my “calming gum” and smoked another cigarette. I put my forehead on the horn of my saddle. Matty watched the grass grow and wished he could have some.

Third, was the little boy, about 11, who wins everything and doesn’t talk to anyone. His parents were the ones who made the motion to start having reining. He did well. His spins were really good. An older lady went next and did real well. A teen girl went next and did the best. They all paused before turning back when they did their rollbacks. I vowed to show them the correct way to do this.

Finally, it was my turn. I was glad it was No. 1 because you get to enter loping. I figured I would look more in control than having Matty prance in on a tight rein to a starting point in the center. I forgot to look at the judge. I was running in from the alley as soon as the last girl was clear. I was at the center cones by the time they finished announcing my name and number. I noted this with some chagrin as I bored down toward the far end.

3/4 of the way down I realized my crazy left hand was holding the horn. I let go. I sat down. I looked up at the trees and sky. I’m glad I retained something from all those lessons, years ago. “Look UP! Don’t look at the ground,” came to me naturally. I also retained, from majorette days, the ability to talk like a ventriloquist through a clenched smile. I glanced at the cones out of my periphery without turning my head (also a skill from marching band).

I kept up a steady dialog of instructions and encouragement with Matty. “Okay all the way down to the end straight, straight, straight, good good good now rollback and lets go straight straight straight now rollback again good good. The old SOB rolled back and ran like a champ. No head tossing, no acting stupid. So far, so good. Back to the center cones, remember to say whoa and then pull. Sit down, say whoa, pull. We stopped. No slide, but clean and pretty straight. He had been fighting me on backing up all day. He didn’t fight me in the pen. To my utmost relief about 9 steps put us past the center cone. Good enough.

Here, I remembered Mugs advice. I briefly took account of my pounding heart. I breathed and rearranged my reins. I thought about where I would put my legs. I pulled him right for the spins. He wanted to go really slowly. I kicked and pulled and tried to move him a little forward to help. Not too good. I felt like I needed to stop and gather my thoughts before doing the left spins even though I don’t think you’re supposed hesitate there.

Mugs’ advice came to me, “Ride softer than usual, not harder.” We did 4 1/4 left tiny circles. I stopped, facing the bleachers. I felt a surge of confidence. I breathed and smoothed my reins.

I thought about my left canter departure. I picked up my left rein with my left hand and put it back down. I gathered my reins in my right hand. I looked up higher than the bleachers. I fogged out the people - I didn’t see them at all. I kicked with my right foot behind the girth and kissed. We were off, Matty rocking that big neck down and pushing.

I looked up at the trees. I saw my path. It was sand colored with the hoof prints already made. “Okay, biiiig circle,” I told Matty through my clenched smile. What a nice lope he gave me. Fast, but not too fast. He came in for the smaller, slower circle like he had done it all his life.

Then, he lost a little momentum. He trotted a stride. I popped him with the rein ends before I had even thought about it. “There go the points, I thought, oh well, put on a good show for the fans, anyway. Look like you know what you’re doing and it will be alright.”

He picked it up. We did our second large and fast. I missed the dead center of the arena and didn’t start my left circle until I was 1/4 of the way back to the left fence.

I told him to change leads. I kicked it. I felt the lead change. We were golden. The second set of circles was perfect. I looked at the trees and sky. The path was there in little hoofy prints. I thought about how close we were to being finished. We crossed over again, closer to the fence than the middle, but we changed leads.

We huffed around the top of the circle which passed the in-and out gate. Matty tried to slow near the gate. He started to roar like a snoring husband. I kicked and kicked with every stride. I thought about Mugs’ description, “Gaining speed with every stride,” on the run down. I said to Matty, “Faster, faster, faster faster.” He sped up, though I felt him wanting to quit. In about 4 of his giant strides I saw the center cones out of the corner of my eye. I sat down. I said “Whoa.” I pulled. He stopped, paddling forward a little bit. No slide.

I was leaning forward patting his neck before I thought about it. I sat back and paused there, “Hesitate to demonstrate completion,” I thought. Too late for that, I thought.

We turned and walked to the gate. It was over. I was proud.

As soon as I cleared the alley I got off and loosened his cinch. Matty got hugs from my daughter and me. He put his ears back at this public display of affection, as usual. He got unsaddled, watered and hayed at the trailer before they even announced the winners.

The teenage girl got first, the older lady got second, the annoying boy got 3rd. I got 4th with a 67. I beat the two grade schoolers with the obnoxious father. I was just proud that I didn’t make a fool of myself.

I congratulated the winners that I saw on my way to the secretary’s desk. My daughter dragged me up there to get my ribbon. I loved Matty before, but I love him even more, now. We showed them what an old barrel horse can do!Not only did Matt do all that for me, but he also carried my daughter through quads, stake race, poles, straightaway barrels and arena race.

Her new horse is at the trainers. I reserved Matt for barrels. He was still prancy and full of piss when I got back on him at 10:00 p.m. Good thing I didn’t do the jackpot, though because although he burst out of the gate like a bat out of hell, he flubbed the first barrel. There is a stupid shadow at that arena that always spooks him. Must remember to run left first there. He still hauled ass through 2 and 3 and back to the gate. What a guy.

This morning his reward is tooling around my front yard eating my lawn. He just passed the kitchen window, snorting happily. Too bad I have to give him a full bath, today. He hates that, but he will be happier without a saddle mark sunburn. Anyway, just had to share this with someone who would be interested in my small saga. We are going to the only cow clinic I can find in April. Can’t wait.

Every country-boy looking guy I meet I ask them whether they have any cows. I’m trying to get the nerve to ask my hay man if I can chase his cows one day. He has 2 little ones born in January that ought to be ripe for chasing in a few months. Since Ella’s horse is still at the trainer, I might take Matty to team penning next Friday. Its actually just sorting even though they call it penning around here. In fact, I think I will do just that.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Three Strikes and We're Out

I normally don't tread into the horse rescue world in the blogosphere. I figure pretty much takes care of this much needed service. To tell the truth, I'm more comfortable with our gentle, intelligent discussion over here. The intensity of emotion over in Fugs world is more than I can handle. It doesn't mean I'm not aware or don't pay attention or support my personal favorite rescue, through my job as a writer for the Fountain Valley News. It just means I'm just happy muddling around with our stories and conversation on mugwump, so I try to stay there.

But today I have to say something. Fugs is currently in Nebraska working her butt off to help care for almost 200 head of starving mustangs which were confiscated off of the Three Strikes Ranch.

This is part of a story was written about Three Strikes Ranch by a Denver news station on 11/1/08.

ALLIANCE, Neb. - Two years ago, 29-year-old Jason Meduna left his eastern Nebraska home and traveled west. He landed at an old 1930s ranch just south of Alliance in the rugged sand hills of western Nebraska. It was the first time he left home, and he loved it. It was the perfect place for Meduna to train horses - wild horses...
Today he takes in dozens of wild horses that have gone up for adoption through government programs, but failed.
"I think coming here and being trained it gives them the chance to have a good life with another owner," said Meduna.
Three Strikes stands for the number of times the horses have been up for adoption. Meduna keeps 200 to 300 horses on his 2,000-acre ranch at a time and trains each one as they come in.

Here is another by the same station just this week.

ALLIANCE, Neb. - The sheer numbers of it can be staggering: as many as 100 horses dead on a ranch that was supposed to be a safe haven. It's being called the largest equine cruelty investigation in Nebraska history.It's centered around the Three Strikes Ranch, located outside of the town of Alliance in the Nebraska panhandle.

For the past two years, trailers full of wild mustangs have been unloaded at Jason Meduna's ranch. He adopts wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management. They are horses no one else wants.

This week, trucks came to take the horses away. The Morrill County Sheriff's Office is investigating whether Meduna starved his horses.

The story goes on. There is going to be a lot of coverage on this one. There are over 170 dead animals on this guys place. There are about 190 horses still alive being confiscated. Some look reasonably healthy, some have body scores of 1 or 2. We'll see fingers pointed and laws suits flung around and hopefully some jail time for the people involved in this nightmare. And I'm sure many heroic tales will surface from all of the support pouring in to help the horses who manage to survive.

But this is what keeps hitting me over the head. How did this kid create this mess? I don't think he got a bunch of dough for what he was doing. He had to have an insane amount of confidence in his ability to even attempt this operation. He was 29 years old or so. Was he stupid? Was he ignorant? I can't verify too much here because he's yanked his site off the net. But I got a good look at it before it disappeared.

I just let my thoughts fly as I cruised through his site. He presented himself as a young man who grew up training horses, mustangs especially. He says he comes from generations of trainers. He very clearly represented himself as a "horse whisperer." He had a very slick web site. He showed photos of himself hugging horses, kneeling with horses, galloping on horses with the Nebraska wind whipping through his hair. This was my fave...

My guess is he had big plans. He was hoping to become a clinician. He was hoping to have oodles of women come running to buy his horses and pay him to teach them or train their horses or both. Maybe, somewhere in there he was even hoping to help some horses. I hope so.

What I also saw on his web site was a young man who didn't fit his saddles properly. Not from cruelty mind you, his poor quality, too-small saddle, odd assortment of bits and improperly placed saddle pads smacked of ignorance, not meanness.

His seat in the photo above shows tension in his lower legs. The tension a second or third year western rider often exhibits. It's a tough habit to break, it pushes the rider out of his seat, eliminates contact with the horse and creates a hollow back from pressure from the thighs. You can see it in the way this horse is standing.

His seat as he galloped across the prairie on his mustang showed an unbalanced rider, jammed into a too small saddle, with his legs too far forward and an insecure seat as a result.

I bet he had watched a bunch of videos on ground work though. I bet he could put a horse through its paces in a round-pen.

Jason Meduna might even have had some ability. He had to have to put together his initial funding. He even had a pretty assistant, who was pictured on the site hugging yet another mustang.

This is what worries me about the "natural horsemanship" movement. It attracts more idiots and people who just can't wait to write a check than any other aspect of the horse world I've come across. I'm not sure why. I hate to have the western riding culture defined by the snake oil salesmen who seem to be lining up to jump on this particular band wagon.

Don't get mad at me guys, of course I don't mean all of the NHers. I have encouraged participation in this type of horsemanship too many times too diss the entire approach.

But it seems to me the clinicians with the most ardent followers are also very handsome. They exude a certain romantic air, fueled by a specific style of clothes, which involve chinks, their gloves tucked in the waistband of said chinks, a broad brimmed hat and usually, twinkly eyes and a good moustache. Their gear involves lots of hangy tassels and reins with slobber straps. Oh yeah, and a saddle with a really fat saddle horn.

There is nothing wrong with any of these things. But when clothes start to qualify ability I become concerned.

The trainers who concern me the most make certain promises. Mainly that if you learn to work your horse in the magical way that they plan to show you, you can become a horseman without putting in the 10 - 20 hard years of riding the "other guys" have.

And I get it. Because it is magic. To learn to work a horse with body language, to send them away and bring them back without rope or halter is life changing. It's important. It creates partnerships rather than mastery, an aspect of horsemanship especially appealing to women. It's a beautiful, wonderful thing.

It's also only the first baby step in a long journey that creates a rider.

Too many of us stop there because we want so badly to be able to say, "I am a horseman."

And too many people are out there ready to feed on this desire.

I think Jason Meduna is one of them. He forgot to learn to actually fit gear on his horses. So he took his shirt off. It was enough to get the BLM to give him horses.

We have got to learn to be skeptical. Of the people who teach us and ourselves. We have always got to want more than a promise that we'll be horse whisperers at the price of a few clinics and a bunch of videos.

We need to fight the romantic lure of the old west, a handsome cowboy and a wild mustang. For that matter, I guess we need to fight the desire to ride bareback on an Andalusian stallion through the pounding surf straight towards the handsome riding master Julio.

Because in the real world, horses are a tough nut to crack. We can train a mustang, or ride an Andalusian, but we've got to learn how to first. The hard way. By riding. Preferably on a gentle, broke horse by a thinking, experienced instructor. I guess if we're lucky he'll be named Julio. There are no quick fixes.

The horse world is magical because we're never done learning. We can keep learning more about the animals we want so badly to be with and ourselves for as many years as we're willing to invest in the process. We also have to get it takes years of hard riding and learning to become truly accomplished. Years.

We absolutely cannot blindly follow any one trainer or method. I have made this mistake myself. I lucked out and came out of it a better rider, a better horseman and a better person, but I almost sacrificed too much. I found myself doing things because of this blind trust that I knew went against the very fabric of what makes me a trainer and a sympathetic human being. I got in this situation because I was enamored with the magic I saw happening around me. I wanted my horse to be like the horses I saw this trainer on. I wanted to say "I know."

What do I know now?
No one trainer has all the answers.
If it looks like magic it's probably all smoke.
Getting help is vital when it comes to horses.
Being told "my way is the only way" is not.

So what about Jason? Was he a young man who could kinda sit a horse and get people to open their checkbooks by taking off his shirt? Was he a naive kid who was convinced by a few videos and some time with the wrong trainer that he could handle the monumental task he took on? Did his pride stop him from asking for help? Is he evil or just stupid? How about the folks who supported the Three Strikes?

All I know is I plan on keeping my eyes open. I'm never going to kid myself into thinking either I or any single horse trainer has all the answers. I'm going to be very choosy about the causes I get swept up in. I'm only going to tuck my gloves into the waistband of my chinks if I need to stick them somewhere handy.

The gear I buy will be bought because I need it to accomplish a specific task. Not because it will make me look like the guy I want to ride like. Although I always liked those fancy bridles Trigger got to wear.

I guess that's all I got on this Jason Meduna thing. I hope the remaining horses get a chance.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


This is me on River. The horse who taught me collection. And yes, we're doing a trail course. I paid my dues in the all around world.

It's time for some more talk about collection. I had a question asked about how it feels as a horse begins to collect. I thought about this for awhile.

We have certainly talked about collection a bunch on this blog. But this was about feel. So I went back to the very first time I really thought about creating collection in a horse.

Which was farther along in my riding life than you would think. Collection was never a word I heard or thought of until I had been technically a pro for a bunch of years. Weird huh?

I started riding for other people when I was still riding Mort. I would have someone say, "I like your horse, could you help me?"So I would.

Or, "Would you ride my horse for me, I can pay you." So I did.

I never would have called myself a "pro." Turns out, according to AQHA I certainly was one.

Monte Foreman didn't talk about it much, not to my memory anyway. So I was riding for people, giving lessons and starting colts long before I ever thought of the concept of collection.

I was working up at the color breeders barn before I ever had to think about it. They had a big old dun stud in training as an all around horse with a young trainer named Devin Warren. They showed him in IBHA shows. He competed in everything the shows offered.

When Riv was home I was supposed to ride him. I didn't have a clue how to. When I bumped him with my legs he slowed down. His head was so low it freaked me out. When I picked up my reins he dropped his head even lower and tucked his nose in. He didn't stop though.

So the next time Riv went out for training I went with him. I started going out to Devin's place to learn how to ride the big horse.

This was the first time I came across the concept of collection, use of my legs to carry a horse along, creating a frame etc.

I learned how to ride him and had plenty of young horses back at work to practice on, so I really had a great opportunity to think things through.

I think the greatest benefit I had was the fact I was a pretty skilled horseman before the collection concept was thrown at me.

I was comfortable enough with my seat to ride bareback at a run through a rocky, twisty trail (thanks Mort). I had enough feel to quickly differentiate between each leg as it moved and think about the feel of propulsion and where it came from.

So I didn't fall into the trap I think many new or insecure riders fall into. Which is using the concept of collection as an excuse to hang onto her horse with hands and legs.

I truly believe a rider needs to be at ease with all three gaits before she tries to broach the subject of framing up her horse. Just ask my former students how many times they heard me say, "You don't need to know that yet, just ride the damn thing."

For that matter, I strongly feel a horse has no business being collected until he is comfortable carrying a rider through all three gaits. The quickest way to create a blocked shoulder or a break in the middle of the neck instead of at the poll is to start forcing a frame before the horse knows how to carry himself with a rider on his back.

That being said I'll explain how I start collecting my horses. I would love to get some thoughts from you guys. Keep in mind, I don't think my way is the only way, just the way I do it.

I'll start to collect at a walk. My horse is saddled and I'm riding with an O-ring snaffle.My colt will walk easily with a lot of forward along the rail of my arena. He has been taught to seek the rail. He knows to stay there even though my hands are quiet and my reins are loose.

He knows to stop if I take hold of his mouth and take my legs off of him. He rocks back and will go into a back if I continue my contact. When he backs he tucks his nose and backs straight. He can back five or six steps easily (I'm talking about "backing up" you English folks you).

As I ride I can increase the speed of his walk by squeezing with my calves in a rhythm slightly faster than his walk. He will speed up his walk to match the squeezing of my legs. He does this happily.

He can transition up and down through his gaits. He can trot into his lope, I'm not talking anything fancy here, he just goes. He trots when I cluck and lopes when I smooch. He can trot a happy working trot or extend his trot depending on the speed of my post. I post on my horses at the trot until they are 4-5 years old.

I don't touch my horses face during forward transitions. When I ask for downward transitions I ask with my seat and legs first, my hands second. My colt trusts me here, I am very consistant.

So now I'm going to collect him at the walk.
We are walking down the long side of the arena. I'm going to try to ask him to collect and have released him before I hit the corner. But I am willing to keep asking until I get what I want.

I ask for increased speed by squeezing with my calves in a slightly faster rhythm than he's walking. Just before he has matched the rhythm of my legs I take hold of his face. I have even contact with his mouth. I don't pull.

I keep bumping with my legs. I will wrap my legs with each squeeze so I have more contact. If I can't make this contact without spurring I take them off.

I keep my contact and keep pushing until I feel his leg stride lengthen (not speeding up ) and his face become soft. I hold this for a couple of strides and then let go and leave him be until he relaxes.

I keep this up until he will lengthen his stride and become soft in my hands as soon as I ask. Then I need him to hold this for 4-5 strides. After I have been able to gather him up several times I relax.
Then I lope around the arena a few times on each lead, on a loose rein, to relax him and shake off all that nasty holding.

Then we quit for the day.

What I feel when I am successful is a lengthened stride (this is easiest for me to feel in the back legs), a soft face that flexes at the poll so my colt can drop his nose (he doesn't have to have his face vertical yet, just give) and his back will raise me in the air an inch or two. I can also feel the lift of his belly under my calf muscles.

I work at the walk until he can carry himself in frame around the arena. I'll talk collecting through the corners tomorrow.

Check back you guys, I'll see if I can find a photo of Riv and me once I get home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Hey, it's wordy Wednesday again. "Moosefield" sent in her thoughts. Her story is long enough I'll just post the one. Hey Redsmom...Can I publish your reining saga? I love it and appreciate your ability to laugh at yourself.

I want to let everybody know posting is going to be tough for awhile, I'm going to keep writing as I can, but our editor is recovering from surgery and we're a very small paper. So everybody takes a little bit of her job. I covered 15 pieces this week. Just to give you an idea.

So I'll be slow for a bit. If you want to look at our paper go to and peruse the pages. I have stories and photos scattered everywhere. If you hit the news icon, then go to community pages you'll find my equestrian page and the grocery game, two of my regular features.

Anyway, I do have a post I'm working on, so talk to you soon

Earlier Horses by Moosefield,

I remember a photo of myself taken when I was about 6. I am sitting in a big western saddle on an amiable pinto horse. The horse is tied to a hitching post by its halter. I am beaming. For my sixth Christmas I asked for a pony and a clock radio. I did my best to appreciate the clock radio .

I drew horses and wrote stories about them. A few of those stories and pictures survive. I read horse care books and stories and novels, although some children's horse stories did not interest me because they were too fluffy. I liked Walter Farley to a point, but I tired of the endless Western venues; I preferred English saddles, the subtlety of dressage, neat stable yards, sleek jumpers and serious young "equestriennes." (And no, I am not saying that Western riders were not subtle, neat, and serious as well. Western riding just didn't appeal to me as much. Maybe it's because I was surrounded by it, and English riding seemed exotic to me.)

I traced and copied horse pictures from books and magazines, especially my sister's copy of The Light Horse Breeds, because it had magnificent photos with plenty of detail. I memorized names from that book. Dan Patch. Wing Commander. Merry Go Boy. Strange swan necked Saddlebreds with alarmed-looking eyes, exotic Appaloosas, graceful Arabs (Arthur Godfrey posed on his).
I spent my allowance on the plastic Breyer model horses at the variety store at the little mall near us. It was before the days of overwhelming mega-malls; it had two floors and I could get there by bicycle, and I often wandered there alone or with a friend. There was also the five and dime store. They had a few Breyers. I remember a sympathetic clerk offering me an alabaster Running Mare, at a discount, because the sun had yellowed it. I bought it for $4, which for me was real money. I named her Munga. I kept her until I left home.

My bike was a horse. First a small, dented, faded red child's bike that had been handed down a few times. I named it Flashingstar. Later, my father bought me a Schwinn banana-seat with high rise handlebars. It was royal blue, and somewhat difficult to ride, especially if I was trying to follow my older sister on her ten-speed. She used to take off fast on purpose and lose me. But I loved my bike, and it became my new horse.
And when there was just me, I was the horse. I cantered all over the place, a Centaur with my hands holding reins, my legs fast and agile. In the shower, I'd sponge my own legs as if they were streaming sweat from a horse's workout. I whinnied and bucked and kicked. I spent hours drawing and talking to myself, inventing plots, dialogue, and histories. I invented a fantasy about Wing-gusts, invisible magic flying horses that few were privileged to see.

When I was between 10 and 12, I used to go on long walks or bike rides. I discovered that the older neighborhoods sometimes had fields with horses in them. At first I just pulled up grass and fed it to them. Later I brought apples. I'd breathe in their nostrils, stand and dream and plot. And by the age of 11, I began to go horse joyriding.

There was a field very near my elementary school. It had two horses in it, black and chestnut. For a year, perhaps, I'd lingered, dragging my feet, ripping up chunks of dirt with grass attached, cleaning it up and offering it to the rubbery agile lips. I smelled the horses. My very eyes seemed to stroke their long backs, their warm curving necks. And suddenly, it wasn't enough. I had to ride them.

A girl named D. in my fifth grade class took riding lessons and knew about horse care, more than I did, though I'd had some fairly boring lessons at the horse rental/dude ranch stable a few miles from my house. She wasn't popular, and neither was I, but this forged no bond between us. One day, though, I happened to see her on one of my walks, messing with a horse in a field. We talked a little, I trying to conceal my envy and she quite matter of fact and not interested enough to brag. And after she left, I "borrowed" a bridle out of the shed she'd been working in, and put it in my closet. I went back to the black and chestnut horses one soft summer evening, and I bridled the black horse. I led him to a pile of junk in the corner of the field, and I put my leg over his back. I heaved and slid and sat, and I touched my heels to his sides, and we went.

He walked fast, ears alert and head nodding, but I could tell he was not upset. I clung to his mane and tried not to hang on with my legs. It was slippery bareback; I hadn't ridden much that way. Not any way, truthfully, but I felt whole on that horse. Like a cord plugged in, like a breath of air coming up out of deep water. My body vibrated subtly, a dormant string plucked. We walked around the field, then we trotted. And then, we loped, and horse-scented wind dried my opened mouth, goosebumps arose, tears sprang to my eyes. I felt weightless, endless. I could not believe my luck in being in this exact moment and place.

Then we stopped and I slid off and removed the "borrowed" bridle, and went home. I returned to that field twice more. I tried to ride the chestnut horse. He was not cooperative. Everything moved very quickly, and he bucked a little and I bumped and slithered off to the side and landed hard on my butt in the dirt, while he trotted away. I had tears in my eyes again, but for a different reason. My butt didn't hurt until my heart stopped thudding. The next time I rode the black horse again.

I remember the smell of the thick, moist grass that I pulled to lure the black horse to the bridle. I also remember the horse smell, that sweet, rough sweatiness. There is more to the memory, something hard to express: a huge, vivid immediacy, a brightness, a still, sealed-in intensity. Nothing else existed but the field, the pile of junk, the black horse, my skinny arms and legs, and the determination to ride. Yes, I knew it was wrong, but that awareness had flowered and burst like dandelions with the first quick step on horseback. It did not get through the bright boundary around me. My hands trembled slightly with audacity, but that was all.

All went well, at first. But then, there they were, two boys riding circles in the field on their bikes. How had they gotten in? I myself had slipped between the wooden fence rails. They stared, too long. They must know the land owner, the gate was unlocked. One boy was older than I. Act casual…but they were coming towards me.

"Does Pam know you're riding her horse?" said the older one.

"Who?" I floundered. "Oh, yes, Pam. Yes, I have her permission."

"Uh huh." The boy kept looking. His calm appraisal was worse than shouting.

"Yeah, I ride her horse all the time. I know Pam."

In a moment they left. I scrambled down, slunk onto my bike. Riding fast, I didn't see them. Hunched over the bridle straps, bearing down on the pedals, home.

And a few days later, a strange car in the driveway.

The owners were really quite nice about it. They didn't yell, threaten, accuse. Everyone was very reasonable and talked calmly about dangers and medical bills and insurance. I never rode the black horse again, but there were others.

I jumped on the back of a fat mare in an orchard on a wild, windy night, and she bucked me off harder than the chestnut had, and I landed on my right wrist, which swelled quite large. ("Nothing, Mom. I'm fine.") I rode a donkey in a pen full of donkeys at the zoo, on a dare from some boys. I galloped through the night on a neighbor's dun mare, until they padlocked the corral. I did take care for these animals, by the way. I checked their feet before and after; I watched where we went. A criminal I may have been, but I was careful of the safety of my unwitting accomplices.

When joyriding wasn't available, I begged rides from total strangers. A white pony in a park. An older girl slouching down the suburban street on the back of a small Appaloosa. ("What's the matter, are you fascinated by horses?" mocked a boy watching me watching the Appy. I was shy and klutzy, and a good offense seemed the best defense. "What's the matter, are you fascinated by girls?" I retorted, trying to be tough.) Occasionally someone said, "Yes," and let me ride.

When I was 12, I got to stay with a girlfriend in another state. She owned horses and lived in the country. One day, I got to ride a young Thoroughbred mare who did not care for walking. Nor for trotting or cantering. Her preferred gait was full out. We went into a field of soft dirt, and my friend told me to just let the hackamore reins out and let her go.

"How do I turn her," I said, already breathing hard.

"Real hard," said my friend.

It was the closest I could come, in waking life, to flight. It still is.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sonita, (whew!)

"Crystal, I need some help," I asked.

"What's up?," my friend asked.

"I need somebody to ride Sonita for me."

Crystal looked puzzled. The World Show was looming. I was working Sonita daily, a solid, tough work-out designed to hone her skills. I was sharpening her responses as best I could, getting her to move lightening quick off a shift in my seat or a lift of my hand. I wasn't letting anybody else handle her at all, much less throw a leg over her.

"You know how Sonita is. It occurred to me somebody might want to try her out in Stephenville. I don't want her to take somebody's leg off."

"Well, what do you want me to do?" Crystal asked.

"Just ride her. Get on, cruise around and have a good time. Sonita could use the break and I want her to be friendly in case somebody wants to take her for a spin," I still couldn't believe I was saying it. I heard myself casually discussing selling my horse as if she was a car. My voice sounded hollow and false. I felt a little sick.

Sonita felt my unease and pinned her ears. She turned out of her stall and went to the back of her run. She squealed and struck at my other young mare, Loki.

Loki had spent the last few years stalled next to Sonita. She was used to her nonsense. Loki yawned and stared back at her with a mildly insolent look in her eyes.

"I'd love to ride her, are you sure? I can take her out?"

Crystal took Sonita's halter off the hook and began to slide open the stall door. She looked excited and scared. Two emotions that suited a first ride on my psycho show horse.

"Yeah, go ahead, I have plenty to do," I answered.

I caught up my line-up and led them to the rail. I kept a half an eye on Sonita as Crystal groomed her and hauled out her saddle. Crystal kept up a steady line of excited and nervous chatter. I only heard half of what she said.

Sonita stared after me with her head flung high. She pawed the ground and grimaced as Crystal tightened the cinch.

"What do you want me to ride her with?" Crystal asked.

"Just use a ring snaffle, I won't make you deal with Sonita and a full bridle all at once," I answered.

"Go where you want, do whatever feels safe," I told Crystal as she threw her leg over.

I stood and watched as Crystal trotted my horse across the fields and headed out to the trails. Sonita moved out sure and strong, her roan speckled flanks already flecked with nervous sweat. She was too well behaved to do anything but head out the way she was pointed, but I saw her ears rapid-fire back towards me and the white of her rolling eyes as she watched me as long as she could. Crystal sat high and tight in the saddle, her nervous tension showed in her back and the fists clenched on too tight reins.

It was hard not to admire Sonita's strong, muscled lines. She had grown up into such a fine horse. I was proud of my pretty red mare, she held a straight line and disappeared out of my sight without a single wring of her tail.

They were gone all afternoon. I worked through my rides one by one. As I left the arena with each set of horses I would stop and stare at the last place I had seen my mare. I would stand and watch again as I headed back to the arena.

What if Sonita hurt her? Where the hell were they? I had no idea how I would explain this to Crystal's husband if they didn't come back. I was sure wishing I had given them a few more parameters than I had. Crystal was a trail riding fool, I had no idea where they could be.

It was dusk and I had dropped all pretense of feeling all right about what I had done. I was letting my imagination run wild. I saw visions of my horse mangled and dead alongside a busy road, Crystal blood-stained and broken, sitting next to her corpse, too stunned to move. I saw Crystal, dragging on the ground behind my crazy girl, her foot caught in the stirrup. I saw Sonita gleefully stomping what was left of my friend into the ground.Why had I ever thought it was a good idea to send my dear, sweet, wonderful friend out alone on my little spawn of Satan?

I saw Sonita's white blaze in the gloom of the evening first.. They headed in at the same steady trot they had left at.

I swore off ever watching CSI again and let rage flood over my relief. They were fine, how dare they be fine? My angry words were cut off when I saw the huge smile on Crystal's face. She sat deep in the saddle, her legs relaxed and the reins hanging loose. Sonita's tail swung side to side in a happy rhythm and her eyes shone calm and content.

"Oh man! What a horse!" Crystal almost shouted her excitement, "She is so much fun!"

"I was getting worried, " I said, "did everything go alright?"

"I let her run, I guess we went further than I thought."

"You ran her?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I never opened her up anywhere but down the fence at a show.

"She can really fly! I've never gone that fast.I almost had a stroke,I swear."

"Did she stop for you?" I asked.

"As soon as I said Whoa, she is so good!"

Crystal kept up her rapid fire commentary as she hauled hay down the aisle. I looked over my show horse. My world qualifier. My nut job. She whiffled at my fingers and gently brushed her nose against my shirt. Her muscles were relaxed. I ran my hand down her legs. No heat. No swelling.

"I'll ride her again if you want!" Crystal's voice was muffled as she called from the hay room.
Sonita's eyes were bright. She stood quiet, waiting patiently for her dinner. She was tired from the ride and happy. I ran my hand down her neck and threw the cooler over her back.

"That'll be fine Crystal, anytime you want."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Here you go. Our first open story day. My next Sonita post is halfway done, so we'll have some fun reading for a few days. I'm going to suggest anybody who writes a piece for "Wordy Wednesday" make sure they add their blog address so we can cruise your blog and expand our horizons......

Our first story (I'm going in the order they come in) is from

There are some of us that are born with a desire to break the bank, spend endless hours in the worst weather conditions, forget sleep and most of all ourselves for a chance to be with horses. There are those that grow out of it and those that never think of anything else but horses.

I recall the first time I saw a real horse that I can remember. I am sure there were times before this but none as vivid as this one.
I seem to have the ability to remember things from when I was young in shocking clarity. I was barely two years old when my one grandmother died. She was schizophrenic and had cancer. I remember her coffin, a delicate pastel purple with dark lilacs painted on the corners.
Another memory from when I was two was picking out my first dog, Baby, our yellow Labrador. Baby was a faithful companion but that is not what I remembered the day by.
We went to a local farm where they sold antiques out of their cute little rustic barn. I don't remember the four puppies there because something else like magic had captured my full attention.
My parents talked business with the lady and I watched from between two fence boards, eyes glued to the vision in front of me.
A man on a chestnut horse running faster than anything my little eyes had ever fell upon. They were galloping down a fence row, the man's hat had blown off but held on by stampede strings around his neck. He leaned into the horses mane; brown hair whipping his face as the hooves that carried them both hovered just above the grassy earth with every stride. I could hear each beat with the loud thump of my heart. They seemed to run forever before turning around and galloping back down the fence. I was captivated.
I probably stood there for a few minutes but they seemed like hours. Etching the image into my mind and soul.

I went home that day and designated an old steam trunk we kept on the porch the stable. This is where I kept all my "horses" There was a chestnut like I had seen, a grey, a white and my favorite, the long limbed, powerful black stallion. I would open the trunk and take off at a gallop and leap as far as my young legs would let me onto the lawn. It was my imagination, it stretched and still does. The back yard was a huge meadow that went for miles and miles. We hid in the evergreens as our forest and stood by the pond that was the ocean.
I played horses at school, found friends that played with me. We would run around nickering and winning until the teacher would call and we would gallop to the line up to see who won the race.

In reality when I go past that same cute little farm where we got my dog, the fence they raced is only 120 feet and the man that flew on that horses back is now old and crippled. The horse is still there but something tells me he doesn't get ridden much anymore. I stopped one night when no one was around and patted that old gelding over the fence, silently thanking him for awakening my dreams and creating memories.

If only.

My mother has always loved horses so I can say it probably is hereditary. Her best friend was a farrier and wild cowgirl in heart and soul. The thing that sticks is the grandmother I mentioned. My mother used to tell me stories, I know they hurt her at one point. Now she makes sense of it all that she was witnessed and experienced the bond and calm that one finds when spending time around horses.
When my grandmother had one of her "episodes" she would get her basket and take a walk across a couple fields to visit the local equids. Along the way she would gather grasses and weeds to feed them. My mother reported that when she returned she seemed to be in her right mind. No doctor or medicine in the world was or is capable of doing that for her condition.

So I invite any of you (I know there isn't many but spread the word please!) who reads this to blog, in your own blog and write about the first memory of a horse. You don't have to be horsaii but everyone goes through a stage in life where we are captured in the hypnotizing hoof beats of equus.

Here's number 2- This came in from

How do you ride - mentally?

I read something interesting by Mary Wanless some days ago, and I would like to share it with more people as I believe it can make an interesting discussion.

Anyway, the basic question is – what goes on in your mind when you are riding?

Are you riding with your left brain (analyzing) or your right brain (feel)?
Are you talking to yourself when you are riding?
What do you remember after your riding session - your good moments, or the bad ones?
Mary Wanless compared the thought processes of the “normal” rider with the “elite” riders, and found things that differed.
She also found differences between riders of different sports.

In her findings, some riders often had a silent conversation with themselves when they rode, others seldom had that.
Some riders focused on what went well, and did not dwell much on the things that did not work out as planned, while other riders often got mentally stuck in the bad parts.

Who do you believe were the elite ones? The normal ones?

Dressage riders had a narrow internal focus of attention - in opposition to someone that rides polo or racing, which requires focus on rapidly changing external circumstances!
Mary W also says that our preferences here probably will determine what sphere of riding we will be drawn to, and points out that this is one of the challenges facing event riders (who commonly excels in jumping but often have difficulties with the dressage).
She mentioned one example of a successful event rider that had problems to readjust and focus in the dressage test. This rider was too aware of the surroundings and got disturbed by them, and as a result the horse also had concentration problems.

Interesting thoughts.

It made me think about how I function when I ride.

How do you function?

I kind of get into a mental yoga-state when I ride, very much a "feel"-rider I believe. The result is that I sometimes can be a bit passive.
And maybe this is the reason that I am not a good show jumper.
I kind of go with the flow, and then all these obstacles get in the way, and afterwards I am a bit dazed and kind of have the feeling “what happened??”.
Not very “pro-active”, lol!
Maybe if I jumped more I would improve, but as I am so happy with my dressage I don’t believe I will reach that stage…

The dressage riding is a mental time-out from everything for me.
I can be stressed or feeling down before I start the riding, but seldom afterwards. I get totally absorbed by the task at hands, and forget about everything else.

It’s my lucky pill!
And I don’t get depressed if things don’t work out as planned. I believe that is a consequence of riding for so many years; I don’t feel that urge to prove things anymore. I ride for fun. I know it goes up and down. You might seem stuck for a while, but there are always plateaus and it is just to put your mind and body to work and one day the problem will be solved. In a way that is intriguing in itself.
And when riding a young horse where things can happen fast, you have to watch out so you don’t limit yourself.
I am very grateful for my instructor who pushes me. I am afraid I otherwise would go into a Happy Hippie-state (join a club, Laura?) and have these pleasurable yoga-sessions and the progress would take twice as much time as necessary, lol!

I cherish those precious moments when things work really well.
The very best ones are when my horse is really through and soft in the body, and it feels like I just have to think what we are to do, and we do it. Together.
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is magic!
And when it happens, I go over it over and over again in my mind for several days, and keep the happy feeling inside.
I know that for people watching, dressage may seem as interesting as watching paint dry.
But it is so absolutely enthralling when you are up in the saddle yourself.
For me, I believe it is the feeling of being one with my horse that really gives me the kick.
The search for the magic moments, and the happiness when I find them.

What are your happy moments on horseback?

Are you a right or a left brain person?

And my third and final story for this week comes from.....Oops don't have a blog address!

While I do not comment much on the blog I have been reading it pretty much since Mugwump started it. I did feel compelled to send this story along to Mugwump when I read about her ‘Wordy Wednesday’ idea. This blog has made me think a lot about my self as a horse person and has also given me a lot of good ideas for training my horses (although I’m currently down to one). I just want to say thank you to Mugwump for being an inspiration for me. Very rarely do I read things that get me thinking to the degree that Mugwump gets me thinking.

I think all horse people are crazy to some degree. We all have the family and friends that cannot possibly understand why would pump our life’s blood into these hulking animals whose main functions in life are eat, sleep, and mate. I also think that horse people somehow come out of the womb going on about horses. Those wails we first made were our first musings about horses. Now I’m an implant in my family. A sixth generation Texan adopted to a Minnesotan family. Now this Minnesota family that was graced with my presence doesn’t have a shred of interest in horses. I, on the other hand, clawed my way from a suburb to a barn aisle. My parents found out early on that their horse crazy daughter was not going through a ‘phase’. Well, at least my dad did. Mom dug her heels in about that one until I was about 16 insisting my interests would soon transfer to boys- they didn’t, well at least not entirely.

I can remember almost every ride I’ve ever taken on a horse but it isn‘t so much the ride I remember as the fall. When I was about six my parents formed a reciprocal type of relationship with a farm family that had horses. The parents of the farm children wanted their kids to have friends and my parents thought it would be a treat for the ‘burb kids to get a chance to hop on some horses that they agreed to bring over every weekend. Well, I hopped big time. I remember their big (probably wouldn’t look so big now) flea-bitten grey gelding named Bumper. I got hoisted high up into the saddle along with my best buddy Dan for our first ride. As the owner led us around I yelled “Faster, faster!” all while Dan wailed. My words penetrated through Dan’s cries and we started to trot and of course Bumper had a trick up his hoof. Good old Bumper had let out a good old breath and the collectively uncoordinated bodies of both Dan and I soon jounced the saddle off to the side. The handler didn’t look back as the sounds coming from behind her never changed until Dan ate turf. I was still laughing and having a grand old time and Dan was still crying. The saddle continued to bounce around on the side of Bumper and I remember seeing Dan tumbling to the ground behind me (where our parents were during this time I have no idea). I grabbed on tighter to the horn and held on laughing. The handler finally looked back when Dan thumped to earth and much to her dismay there was one crying child on the ground and another about to join him there. She finally stopped Bumper and I tumbled to the ground still laughing, got to my feet and immediately demanded another ride. Dan did not. Dan still hates horses to this day.

I’ve always wondered where my driving compulsion has came from. Dan and I were raised next door to each other but we had radically different reactions to the horse. Normally Dan was a much more precocious child than I was; I was a very shy and quiet child inclined to bouts of sobbing over imagined slights. Dan was loud, crazy and hyper that hardly heard a word that was said to him. Up on Bumpers back (or side as it was) it seemed as though we switched roles. I can remember feeling a freedom that I had never felt before. I remember feeling the feeling until my butt landed in the grass. While Dan was busy trying to black out his terrifying memory; I held onto it. I held onto it until the next weekend where I would get to ride Bumper again. Until I could get a new memory to grab onto.

I don’t really remember the people surrounding Bumper and I don’t really remember what happened to them. I think they faded into the background the second I saw Bumper. Somehow I remember his flea-bitten grey coat, his awkwardly large and ugly head and his kind dark eyes and that was it. As if it wasn’t enough that not a day went by where I didn’t think about horses somehow my tumble was proof positive in my mind that it was meant to be. Little did my parents know that the tumble I took off Bumper would be fuel to my fire. I’m not sure I even honestly know how that tumble proved to be my validation for my horse related fantasies. Maybe it was the fact that Bumper so radically changed my role with Dan. Maybe it was the feeling of freedom that I felt. I don’t honestly know.

I often wonder how it is that we get this itch under out skin. In my case I have thoughts that it was somehow bred into me and that my biological family was ripe with horse people. I, at least, know that I’m not biologically related to my non-horsaii (thanks Mugwump) family and I can imagine those of you that are also from non-horsaii families have entertained similar thoughts. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t think about horses and I imagine it’s the same with many people. The reason I’m in college right now as a pre-vet major is so I can get a nice job to support my horses and to learn more about the way their bodies work. Heck, I know more about my horse’s body than my own! I spend a majority of my time thinking about training complications (yes, even in and especially in class) and have been known to spend hours thinking about if I should switch around my mare’s bit. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think about horses and I hope there never comes a time in my life when I stop thinking about horses.

I can’t give the words of wisdom that Mugwump can offer but when she mentioned that she wanted to feature people on Wednesdays all I could think about was some of my first experiences with horses. How I have lived and breathed horses since before I could remember. How the smell of a barn can instantly soothe my nerves and get rid of my anxieties. All I could think about was how did I get to where I am. To the point where I live and breathe for my horse with a single mindedness that some people around me find maddening. I shared my story knowing that most of you could relate to the feeling that I am attempting to describe and how that first fall dropped me onto a path that I feel very fortunate and lucky to be on.

Thank you,

If I didn't post you today I'll get to it next week, I've had a great response and don't want to overload....I have several stories on file, keep 'em coming!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Wordy Wednesday" (Forgive me Gttyup)

I have an idea.

I love getting the little tid-bits of stories in the comments from you guys. HOH tells us about riding in the moonlight and seeing moose. Slippin talks about working in a booth at the NCHA snaffle bit futurity.

I don't think I'm alone in wanting to hear from Redsmom about her trials, trevails and fun while learning to train and rein on her horse. I'd love to learn more about Gtyyup's training and her alfalfa farm in Oregon, or how Heidi the Hick's getting herself to ride when she has the "rainy April" blahs.

I got a really cool comment from the husband of the woman who owns Whiskey Starlight (he's also the chief stall cleaner for Whiskey Starlight himself). He has found the blog and had some great things to say about his wife's horse. Whiskey Starlight is the horse Blue rode to the Reserve Championship at the NRCHA World show. The comment is last on the Blue Allen interview post and I know a bunch of you missed it. Which is what gave me this idea.

My thought is this. How about if every Wednesday I post stories you guys have written. Then we can all read them and nobody will feel like they are off topic or hogging the blog, which I think makes a lot of you cut a good tale short. You can write about anything horsaii you want. Any subject is open, a ride you just took, a horse from the past, a experience you'd like to share, a fiction tale you're playing with, anything.

The only rules would be....
No meanness.

You don't have to be a "writer", just have a story to share. In return we all promise to only enjoy the stories. We won't comment critically on writing style, ability or spelling. Ever. We will feel free to encourage, enjoy and celebrate with each other.

It will be like "Horsaii Soup for the Soul."

If you don't want to write you can just tune in to read the stories and comment afterwards. Or just lurk, it's all good.

Comment on this post and let me know what you think. Then send the stories to I will throw away anything rude, rotten or nasty. That's the only editing I'll do. You can post with your name, your blogging name or both. We can all get to know each other better and find some great new topics to explore.

You want to?

I do.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's Been a Year Today...

If I hadn't started cataloguing the blog I would never have realized today is an anniversary of sorts. It was a year ago today I started to blog.

To tell the truth, on April 9, 2008, I had no idea what a blog was. I liked reading Fugly and realised I could voice my opinions too.

I also wanted to write. I have always wanted to write, I dreamed of children's books to go along with my artwork from the first time I opened "Where the Wild Things Are." I wanted to take a writing course at the local college, but it was clearly pointed out by my other half that we didn't have the money to spend on an indulgence like a writing class.

So, I started Mugwump Chronicles. I figured I could practice my writing, maybe get a few people to read and discuss horses with me and not spend any $$. This blog helped me realize the change in course my life needed to take and got me job as a writer. Self indulgent my butt.

My life hasn't taken me in any easy directions. I have struggled to pay my way my entire life. Mostly because my career choices involved horses, art and now writing.
Because of these crazy jobs, I also supplemented my income by by being a waitress and bartender off and on through most of my 20's and 30's.

I've never broken into the "big time" in any of my jobs. I would manage to keep food on the table and pay my bills, but nothing more. Well, I had a brief stint as a restaurant manager, so I was succeeding there. Of course as soon as I realized what was happening I ran screaming into the night.

Because I have had a single thread direct my course through every job change, every chased dream and every faded deer trail I've decided to follow.

Horses. My entire life I have breathed them in with every breath. I hear their hoof beats drum through my mind every time I am stressed beyond my personal control. I can slow my heart beat by slowing the horses I hear in my head. Although I often can't reconcile my own situation, I can always slow my physical symptoms by soothing the horse whose hoof beats match the pounding of my heart.

Like a tight jawed horse who licks her lips and relaxes only because I stuck my fingers in her mouth, I feel better because of the physical response and can think out my problems. Crazy, huh?

A good friend came with me to Alamosa when I did my Blue Allan interview. On the way home we were talking the tired, idle talk that happens on the long drive home at the end of a trip.

"Kevin (her husband) and I were talking about a musician friend of his, " Kathy said.
"He has been playing music his entire life. Sometimes he was so broke he would talk the bar manager into letting him sleep under the pool tables for the duration of the gig.
"Now he is pretty successful. But it's been really hard on him.
"He said it's because his music is his passion. It has been the single focus of his entire life, to play music. Then he said the music was stronger than he was."

"He's lucky to have that passion,"I said.

"Kevin said he finally understands you. Your whole life has been geared toward having horses in it. No matter what you do it always evolves around being able to keep your horses.
"He realized you were the only other person we know driven by a passion stronger than you are yourself."

I've been thinking about that one. I guess it's true. I didn't become a trainer just because of a driving desire to train. I actually became a trainer so I could keep my horses. I was a waitress so I could have time to ride my horses. As an artist I drew them and now as a writer I write about them.

So this blog is the best. Because I get to write about horses with and to people as passionate about them as I am. How lucky am I?

I've been rereading my posts as I put them in order. It's funny. When I was still working and training I wrote with the Eastern Plains twang I know so well. I had no clue I was doing it but I can hear it as I read my older posts.

Now my writing is becoming more "suburban". I can't hear the twang anymore. It's a little sad. But as long as I can still talk "horse" I guess I don't mind if my literary accent fades away.

Especially if I can keep talking horse with you guys.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And Here's Another Cowboy.....

I am working on a magazine article about a young man named Blue Allen. I have posted a video of him either winning or taking reserve in the Limited Bridle at the NRCHA World Show in 2008 on this blog before. He came up from behind me in the training game, paused just long enough to say "Hey" and shot past me into some serious wins and a steady business.

He is personable and talented. I am now trying to get a few articles written and sold to the horse publications. Blue seemed a natural choice. I have been on friendly, hand waving terms with him and his wife Jeannie for some time, but haven't gotten a chance to really talk with him before.

When I called him and asked him to be my guinea pig for my first attempt at writing for magazines he was friendly and congenial.

"You bet, I'd be happy to help, this should be fun."

That's all I needed to hear, I made an appointment to meet with him this past Sunday and off I headed with my friend Kathy and the Kidlet in tow.

Blue is from Alamosa, to my mind, this part of our state is the epitome of Colorado country. Beautiful mountains crouch around the flat, arid prairie. It was a beautiful drive.

We had a great conversation and got to know each other a bit. Blue and Jeannie are Alamosa born and bred and have a nice place.

We finished up our interview and went to the indoor to take some photos of Blue working (none of which turned out, dang it).

While we were visiting he told me about his training philosophy. He wants each horse he rides to "be a horse". Which means they all work for him.
"I don't care if they are a $25,000 stud in sliders or a little three-year-old, they all go out and work for a living at least once a week," he told me.

Every horse will let him throw a rope, catch and drag a steer. Every horse can go out and gather and sort as needed.

"They need it mentally, it keeps them fresh and listening to me."

We talked for quite a while on how to train out of the arena. How much can be accomplished on a road, the trail or in a field.

Then he asked me if I had brought my boots. Why yes, yes I had. Spurs too. So he told me to pop up on his futurity prospect and try him out.

Yikes. I have not worked a cow since I quit training in September. I'm not counting the little bit of quiet herd work I've been doing. He meant try him out. You know, reined cowhorse style. Yip!

I warned Blue I was not only fat and out of shape, I was out of practice.

"You'll be fine, crawl up there."

Damn trainers.

So I did. The colt was very giving and responsive. He was calm, cheerful and focused. I liked what I was feeling. He was easy to ride, even though I don't use my legs in the bump, bump, bump, style Blue does. We had a good discussion on his thoughts on forward, my eternal hesitation I build into my horses and why he thought if I'd activate my leg some more I would get more forward and less rock back on my horses.

And then we worked cows. I am so out of shape. I just about freaked. I was OK for about two turns and then I would have to quit. I knew I wouldn't keep my seat. I was embarrassed and horrified. Neither the colt or Blue seemed to care.

I kept at it until my back couldn't take anymore. Something interesting happened. I started to feel sharp. Wolfy even. I was jazzed, a little angry and really ready to ride some more. My "soft eyes" turned hard, narrow and zeroed in on my cow. I quit worrying about being embarrassed and just started riding. It was great.

On the way home my mind was going a hundred miles a minute. A few thoughts rattled through the whirlwind loud and clear. I am messing around a little too much. I'm allowing myself to get soft and justifying making my horses that way as I slide. I want my horse to move down the road exactly like the colt I rode in the arena. I want his responses to be as sharp and clean as a good futurity prospect. I want my seat firmly back in place.

I also am fully aware that I'm not done with cowhorse. There was a fire in my belly I haven't felt in a long time. I liked it. Blue invited me back to ride anytime. So I couldn't have looked too bad. I fully intend on taking him up on his offer.

Poor Pete.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Time to Open Up a Discussion

I was out walking my dogs after work the day before yesterday. I follow a 2 mile loop through the park around the back of my house. As I was walking I kept an eye on a single horse and rider who was traversing the same loop in the opposite direction. We were going to meet at roughly the halfway point of my walk.

The rider, even from a distance, rode easily and well and his bay roan horse strode out with a confident even stride.

I thought it was my neighbor Andy, the caretaker of the Rock Ledge Ranch. He keeps a mustang, Caballo, in with his draft horses as a riding horse. Andy is a competent horseman and also, as a park employee, has the authority to tell me to leash my dogs. So I kept an eye on his progress, figuring I'd gather up my dogs in the trees right before he came over the top of the next ridge.

The horse was remarkable only in his assured, smooth way of going. He maintained his steady, ground covering walk up and down the trail, through the rocks and along the ridge.

I called in my dogs and stood with them at a sit, stay, off the trail by a few feet. I do this every time I see a runner, other dogs, bicycles or horses on the trails. It's good for them to sit quietly while a distracting presence goes by and solves a lot of potential problems from happening.

As the horse and rider topped the ridge I saw it wasn't Andy, so I didn't bother with my leashes. We just sat and waited while a man in probably his mid-sixties rode toward us on a young, long legged gelding.

"How are you today!" He greeted me as they rode towards us.

"Just fine thanks, and you?" I answered.

All the while I was checking out his gear, his horse and him.

The horse was a standard ranch type gelding, clean-legged and bright eyed, three, maybe four-years-old. He showed no sign of sweating or heavy breathing and I had watched him travel steadily for at least a couple of miles.
The tack was old, well-worn, western and basic ranch.

The old man was small, strong and comfortable looking. He wore jeans, a Carhart and a sweat stained ball cap. He looked pretty much like a Colorado cowboy.

I mean an actual, working cowboy. There was no mecate, just well used split reins, he didn't ride in a Wade, a cutter, or a "ranch" anything. It was just an old hard seat saddle.
He looked assured, happy and totally out of place in my suburban park.

"Let me get out of your way," he said and started to cut down into the basin below us.

"Don't mind us, my dogs are horse -broke," I answered.

"I can tell," he replied and I swear to God, he tipped his hat, "Good well trained dogs, the both of them."

He continued on his chosen path and I went on mine.

As I reached the ridge on the back side of my walk I looked down into the grassy basin below. The cowboy had just put his colt into a lope. He started to lope his colt in circles. The circles were big and perfect. I mean reining perfect. Each circle was the exact same size as the circle before. The bay roan colt travelled on a loose rein, his head a little high, his lope as rock solid, steady and relaxed as his walk had been.

I stood riveted, watching the calm, smooth work out going on below me. The cowboy stopped his colt, trotted him a bit, turned the other way and began his circles on the other lead. Again, they were perfect and smooth.

This was not reining training. The colt carried his head high and his nose out. He broke gait a couple of times.

He also stayed in beautiful, easy, free-flowing rhythm. He carried his rider on the uneven ground with strength and confidence. He rode on a relaxed rein. He didn't spook. Not even a little.
When he broke gait the cowboy simply put him back into the lope. No fussing, he just kicked him up.

I had a bit of an epiphany. This is what I want. This is how my horse need to start. They need to be ridden. The first couple years of their training has to be about going where they're pointed. Learning to travel in a confident manner. Learning to carry me. Simple, simple simple. The arena needs to mean no more to them or me than an open field.

This is where the solid showmanship will come from. This is where the winning attitude will begin to develop. All the tricks, bells and whistles can come later.

Needless to say I'm excited. I have got to track down this man. I want to know who he is, why he is riding in my neighborhood park, where he keeps his horse and when can I ride with him. I'm absolutely entranced.

So, lets start discussing this. What is the best way to build a solid riding horse?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thoughts and Discussions

I have been to two clinics in the last two weeks. One I participated in and one I observed. They were the kind of clinics I prefer, both with locals in a specific discipline I'm interested in. I ignored an invitation to a problem solving clinic done by a young man who used to be a steady supplier to my training business.

I used to get in at least two horses a year who were out of control bone-heads after a few months of his "round pen religion", or whatever he calls it. One year I got six, count 'em six horses in who had 60 days of quality time with him. I guess I should send him a Thank-you card. I've made a lot of dough undoing his training philosophies.

Anyway, the clinics I did feel were worth going to were a cutting clinic and a Ranch Versatility Clinic. Jack McComber, a man who I admire greatly, for his knowledge and his hotness (ahem) gave the cutting clinic.

He started out making it clear he hasn't earned any NCHA (national cutting horse) money for ten years.

"I know the old time basics of cutting," he said.

"Those of you who are actively competing on the NCHA circuit might want to put something together with somebody more current. I'm just a stop, rock, turn and go kind of guy."

Jack shared some of his "old time basics" with me when I was first trying to fathom the intricacies of cutting. I would sneak off when the Big K was out of town and grab a lesson or three. The Big K wasn't one to share those who rode with him. Jack was an absolute rock star and never told a soul I was showing up at his place to ride every time the Big K was on a road trip that didn't include me.
He did stand behind the cattle pens and grin pretty big when I finally started to not only get a score, but beat the Big K once in a while in the herd work.

His clinic was pretty much a warm-up for the cutting club who put it on. He was great help to those of us who needed him and gave great commentary on the riders who really had it going on.

There was one stand out, a gentleman named James Autry and his good gelding, Buddha's Mike.
Turns out the duo recently were reserve champions in the Beef Empire Days Century Cutting Competition in Kansas.

The requirements for this competition are pretty simple. The ages of the horse and rider have to add up to more than 100 years.

I'm don't know exactly how old Mr. Autry and Mike are, but considering the sunken hollows over Mike's eyes, the oxygen tank Mr. Autry keeps tied to the back of his saddle and both of their many arthritic twists and turns, I'm sure they qualify.

None of it mattered once they began to cut. They were magic.

I put some good cow time on Pete and was gently chastised by Jack to ride my young ones down a bit more before we went into the herd. The kidlet heard the same advice.

I always try to leave a clinic with some new information to chew on. I got some good stuff too.
Both the kidlet and my friend Kathy were advised to ride without spurs.

The kidlet, because her horse is so tuned and sensitive, and Kathy, because her Rosie is so intent on picking a fight with her she forgets to hold her cow.

Jack noticed that Kathy anticipates Rosie's snotty attitude before she actually gets one. So Rosie is justifiably pissed, she sets up in her own anticipation of Kathy. It's a case of them knowing each other too well.

Jack's simple solution is to take away the spurring.

We talked about this on the way home and I realized this wouldn't work if Rosie was just lazy. But she's not. And she wants to cow. So we're betting that her desire to turn with the cow will outweigh her desire to fight with Kathy as long as there is nothing to fight about. This will be interesting.

Don't think this guy was anti-spur. My slightly lazy boy Pete would prefer to make friends with the cow, hang out a while, maybe swap a little cud.

I was told more than once to, "Git up there! Wake him up!"


The second clinic was a Ranch Versatility clinic given by a very nice couple, Jeff and Gerrie Barnes. I've been sending some of my old clients to them, simply because I liked what I heard about them. Now I finally got to meet them.

I'll tell you what. These folks have built a business doing exactly what I should have been doing myself. They are riding good quality horses. They are competitive in a sport they enjoy. They help people ride the horse they have and offer assistance from very rudimentary newbie horse keeping skills to advanced riders on their VRH team.

They are not wheeling and dealing their own brand of horsemanship, or a line of horses they are trying to fit clients to. They will help people find a horse, sell a horse or learn to ride their own.
They are also friendly, warm and welcoming, they seem to actually be making a living too. I have to admit I was impressed.

Check out their website at

So I've got a lot of thinking to do.

I've been piecing together a new training program for my colt. He is coming two. At this point he leads around some, will let me touch him all over, likes a good scratch on the withers and will tolerate being trimmed and vetted.

This fall I'll be starting him. My goal is to make each step be the base for the next. Sounds simple doesn't it? So far I'm combining what I know as a cowhorse trainer, some basic thoughts from dressage, ropers and kids, and a bunch I've learned on this blog.

Both of these clinics fell under my thoughts on this. I'll be going deeper, believe me.