Monday, June 29, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

This post is from the Shanster, it is a little sad and she told me she is worried about becoming whiny....I didn't see it at all.

I had a regular blogger and contributor say she has fun with the open discussions. If you guys think it's a good idea I'll get one started once in a while on Mouthy Monday.
I'll throw out a topic and we'll all run with it. What do you think?
Anyway, here's Shanster....

My first horse experiences were really solitary. My parents were divorced and my mom moved to CO after custody was awarded to my Dad in NE. That was a really weird thing in the 70s especially because my sister and I were 3 and 5 yrs old respectively. It was a particularly bitter and angry divorce and we lived in two different foster homes while it was decided which parent we'd live with.

We were in suburbia and I was a horse crazy. I watched The Lone Ranger religiously every Sunday and I loved Silver. I checked each and every book from the library that had anything to do with horses over and over and over and over. Reading and re-reading and re-reading again. Horses were my escape.

No one I knew had horses or rode horses or even liked horses all that much. It was a very, very rare treat to be near horses, see horses or touch horses. I had mostly books, pictures and my imagination. I didn't have a bike but I had my legs for "riding" all through the neighborhood.

Mom promised me a horse when I turned 13. I was hopeful but not at all sure it would happen.

Miracles can happen as it turns out. I was 13 and I found myself with a palomino paint pony named Pal. Mom somehow found him, bought him unseen and boarded him at a stable, also unseen in NE because she lived in CO.He was a GREAT first horse and a GREAT escape from the anger and violence that filled my childhood. Dad would grudgingly drive me out to this stable 40 minutes away once a week and leave me there for the day. I brought food, drank out of the hose and hung out all day.No one taught me how to ride. I just did. It was enough to climb on and go! I learned the very basics from a group horse class with other kids I went to when I visited Mom in CO over the summer.

No one in my family could do anything to me when I was with my horse and no one would dare hurt my horse, he was too big! Which makes me laugh now because he was small, but to my Dad, he was big enough. Horses offered me safety. They offered me escape. Even in the cold NE winters, I would still spend the day at the stable where I would hunker under the heat lamp hanging by baling twine in the tack shed with several barn cats while I waited for my ride home. I was happy.I couldn't talk about my horse at home because it was a huge sore spot between two warring parents. None of my friends understood why all I wanted to talk about was this horse either. They made fun of me for it in grade school and complained how boring I was because my horse was all I ever talked about. I'd bring friends to ride with me every once and awhile but it didn't always go very well. Horses are big and scary to other people, even the small ones! No one ever seemed to have as much fun as I did. They would fall off and instead of getting back on, they cried and told their parents. I was terrified Pal would be taken away from me.

I didn't understand why nobody else didn't want to ride them or how they didn't enjoy everything about them like I did. The furry coats in winter, the smell or Repel-X in the summer, the manure, the hay, the leather, the soft noses full of whiskers....

I learned to guard my horse habit like a little jewel in my heart. Or maybe like gollum with his ring.... yessssss my precious!It was against the norm in NE to ride English where my horse was stabled. There were a lot of older men who rode Western and gave me a hard time about riding English. I'm not sure why I decided to ride English? The very first lessons I took were on my second horse, an Appaloosa named Macintosh, with the money I earned from a paper route. I had outgrown Pal. My legs were too long and it was out of the question to own two horses.

I would ride Macintosh over the dirt country roads to a saddle seat barn I found miles away from the stable. I learned about leads and diagonals and posting. I bet the instructor was wondering what in the world this girl in a hunt seat saddle on an Appaloosa was doing in her barn full of Saddlebred horses! I didn't know Saddle Seat was a different kind of English riding at the time. I thought English was English.

As I got older, I earned money from an after school job and I could drive. I paid for lessons from this woman named Nancy who was from WV and had studied under Danny Emerson. I'm not sure what she was doing in NE or how I found her? She didn't stick around that long and moved back East after a year. She worked with me teaching hunter/jumper lessons and a teensy bit of cross country jumping.While she was around, I basked in her knowledge and my riding improved. She was of the school that didn't use artificial means to make you or your horse correct - it was you, the saddle and the bridle. You worked it out. No artificial training devices allowed. I practiced jumping cavelletis piled together in a corn field with stubbly corn stalks sticking out of the ground over and over and over.I went to a few local NE shows with Nancy. I did well. I won ribbons and I was even complimented! It was wonderful.I broke my leg in a bad car accident just before going on an organized mock fox hunt with Nancy so I never really did officially get to experience cross country jumping. It was a Sunday when I broke my leg. I remember because I was busting my hump to get home from the barn in time for church when a drunk driver ran a stop sign behind a hill. I didn't have a stop sign and I hit them head on. I was flown in a Flight for Life to the hospital. I woke up in a hospital bed naked with an oxygen mask, a neck brace and a cast from my left foot to the middle of my upper thigh. I had no recollection of the accident. My clothes had been literally cut away from me and were resting on a chair next to my bed. My first thought was "Oh! They cut my boots!" The tall, black boots I'd just finished lay away payments for. They cut them right down the side... not even on the seam!

I was in the hospital for 4 or 5 days and I was desperately trying to figure out exactly how one might ride in a full leg cast. If I could just figure it out, maybe I could still go on the mock fox hunt? I left NE and moved to CO when I graduated high school to be closer to Mom and to go to college. CSU had an Equine Science program and I was wild with the disbelief there could be such a thing and my Dad was allowing me to go.

By then, the habit of hiding my horse love was ingrained. I would bring one or two college friends who were more horse oriented out to see or ride my gelding occasionally. (He's the gelding I still have who is now 30+ yrs old.) Mostly I listened to their stories of pony club, and about all the horses they rode, the shows they'd been in, the lessons they'd had since they were tiny, their family ranches full of horses, their friends with horses who they'd ride with, the ribbons they won and the knowledge they had. They all knew so MUCH! I knew so little. Each person told me how I should be riding. Then they'd get up on my horse and ride him the way they thought he should be ridden and it wasn't always right.... but I wanted people to like me and I came from a home where you did NOT voice your opinion, you were NOT contrary and you simply did NOT EVER rock the boat. EVER. shrug. Sometimes I had a lot of fun and other times I wished I hadn't brought anyone out to see my horse.
I met a woman I'd heard was a good trainer when I came to college. She taught Dressage. I sort of knew was Dressage was ... the more I learned, the more I really enjoyed it. There were no artificial training tools, she helped to increase the natural ability of each particular horse. Never mind what type of horse you rode... you didn't need an expensive horse or a fancy horse. You worked with what you had and she let me clean stalls in exchange for lessons. Today, I'm 38 and I train with the daughter of the woman I first found in college. I have horse-y friends and we go to local shows together. We support each other. We console each other when a horse is injured. We meet to watch horse videos and talk horses while we drink Colorado microbrews. We go to clinics together. We cheer each other on in our victories. I'm married and my husband unconditionally and completely supports my horse habit. He doesn't ride but he is always, always ready to help from the ground. I have a big, wonderful, supportive, horse-loving family!

Riding and Dressage was always more of a private goal for me. Even now I compete against myself and I try to improve my riding for myself and my horse more than any other reason. I suppose I'm not very competitive because of my solitary start, but I'm absolutely giddy and grateful to be a part of this happy horse filled life I'm in now. I wouldn't have it any other way.

My horses bring me joy. When I have a bad day, they sooth my soul. I don't know what I would do without horses. Even now, I worry about a day when I am too old to ride. What will I do when I'm in my 80s?!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Training Experiments Continued

I've told you about my experiment with Pete.

This is the next phase of my horse-training experiment. Leland. Leland is my little buckskin colt. Because he is mine and I'm not in a hurry anymore, I've been trying a philosophy out that I've only discussed with my dressage buddy, Michelle. And then, we were just speculating, not truly serious. But I've been chewing on this for several years and am finally in a position to try it.

Somewhere, somebody said, or wrote a theory on horses that picks at me endlessly. The idea is that horses don't ever forget any experience, good or bad. They assimilate it into their mind and it becomes part of their instinctive reactions. This thought alone kept me busy for months.

Going a step farther, the idea is if you truly understood what your plan was and were able to communicate this correctly to your horse, you would only have to show him something once and he would have it. No repetition, no drilling, he would get it.

Mind blowing concept isn't it?

I'm trying this theory on Leland.

The key, (I'm guessing) is every experience has to be related to the one before it. And he has to completely understand the previous step. I also need complete confidence in myself, my horse and the decision I made.

I started this from day one with little Leland.

When Leland was born I made it quite clear to everybody he was to be left the hell alone. The ranch manager was a master at spoiling horses, dogs, kids, you name it, rotten.

I first physically entered his life when his mother had a severe colic the night after he was born. I was called at home and came to see her. As it often goes when a horse you know intimately is hurting, Loki wanted me there. She nickered when I came and took a moment to rest her forehead against my chest in between her painful spasms. The little baby peeked at me from behind his mama.

Worried as I was, I thought, "This is our first moment."

I knew the little baby was watching and absorbing this night. He had to feel his mother relax when I came.

The vet had me catch Leland to give him an exam. I held him close with my arm around his little chest and his wispy tail in my hand. I felt his heart beating and realized he could feel mine. I released him and he ran to hide behind Loki. He peeked around her and looked at me.
So we had covered four things. I gave his mother comfort. I could hold him and I could let him go. Mine was the second heartbeat he had felt beating slow and steady.

The first time I had to worm him I simply cornered him, held him and wormed him. I held him the same way I had the first time and let him feel my heart for a few seconds before I had my boss slip him his wormer. It wasn't as wild as you would think. His first lesson had stuck.

Every time I had to handle him I added one more step. In his first year he learned if I wanted to catch him I did. He learned to let me pick up his feet. He learned to stand still and earn a release. He learned my farrier could catch him and trim him. He learned to give his nose and back a step when I put my hand across it and added pressure.

I had handled him five times. My farrier had him twice. The vet once.

As a yearling he was penned with the other stud colts. I began stopping by his corral once or twice a month. I simply stood in the pen until he looked at me the first day. Then I stepped toward his hip and moved him until he flicked an ear at me. Then I moved him until he looked.

See where I'm going?

When I halter broke him I did it in one day. He didn't lead particularly well, but he gave to pressure and let me halter him. It took about twenty minutes.

Then I needed to move him. So that day he learned to stand tied, get in a trailer and we got a little further on his leading. He was calm, quiet and curious. I was pleased.

He has been out on pasture running like a doofus since then.

I got on my yellow mare and used him as a cow a few times.

The first time I drove him from the hip. He threw a quick cowkick so I sped things up and turned him hard a few times.

Leland learned to give to pressure from a different source. He learned neither my yellow horse nor I are tolerant of cow kicks.

The next time I worked him until I could rub on him standing next to my horse.

The third time I worked him until I was able to halter him from my horse.

I let him be again.

In the course of this time he got shots and wormed and trimmed.

I always assumed he knew what it was about and he didn't fail me

This last week we had a big test. Leland is a bilateral cryptorchid (both testicles were undescended). Or I guess I should say, was. I hadn't gelded him yet because I kept waiting for a miracle. Two testicle sized miracles.

Even though he was sterile, I was getting reports that he was getting studdy and rude. And he kept leering at his mother. Ew.

So I started shopping around for a vet to do this surgery. I got estimates in the range of $1.200 to $2,000. Gulp.

I stalled a bit and worked him in a bonified round pen twice.

The first time we drove, turned, stopped and got the halter on.
He learned to stop and wait for me when I asked.

The second time we did the same and I rubbed and patted him all over to desensitize the poor thing a little before he went to the vet.
He learned I could feel him up anyway I wanted.

Through all this he was quiet, mannerly and calm.

No session lasted more than fifteen minutes.

I found a vet I knew and could still afford, made my appointment and came and got him.

He was loaded for the second time. This time he was alone.

He walked in behind me, cool as a cucumber.

We went to the vets office, 100 miles away. He unloaded well.

The vet took him and he went with, leading as if I had taught him to. He walked through a dark, narrow doorway and across concrete floors into the surgery. He didn't fuss.

When I picked him up I was complimented on how well behaved and easy to handle he was.

He's fine, he's now a gelding and he's staying at my barn by my house while he heals.

Leland has learned to pony and he's been getting pet on by the BO and her help. He has been polite and mannerly, but not afraid.

Now don't get me wrong. Leland has had things repeated, I mean I have to put his halter on and move him etc. He also is not a sweet little angel. He has had opinions, decided not to be caught, typical baby things.
I always keep thinking, I know he understands what I want, he just doesn't want it. So I hang in until I get the last step, not by retraining, but staying with the last maneuver until he responds. Then he gets the new one.

I really think through each step before I proceed. I spend weeks thinking about the next step, how he'll perceive it and what will make the most sense to both of us. Which makes from some slow training.

I assume, without fail, that he understands the last step we took and I won't have to teach it again. I'm watching him begin to understand how each new task is built on the one before. I love seeing him pause to think through whatever particular problem I've set in front of him. I really like how he watches me, from the second he sees me.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't for a minute think I have the ability to keep this up throughout his training. But I'm going to keep it up as long as I can. It's fascinating.

I have the luxury of thinking through each step before the next one. The only expectations are my own. I'm thinking what I haven't done is as important as what I have.

Crazy idea huh?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rearers and Bolters and Boogers, Oh My - The Sequel

So now we tackle Jess's problem, her rearing horse.

I am really glad Jess didn't whack her horse over the head or flip him over.
I strongly suggest Jess stay away from the boneheads who offered this as a solution.

I went back and carefully read her description of what her horse is doing and how old he is.

I also asked HOC to describe a horse in front of her leg.

There truly is method to my madness you see.

I want to point out some of the things I got from her comment before we get into her horse's criminal activities.

This horse is only four years old. He has been out on two trail rides in his life.

So I'm going to start with a little story and then my basic approach to trail riding on a young horse.

When my daughter started walking we began to explore the world around her. As a baby we went on long hikes with her in the backpack. Once she started walking our pace became hers. I crawled like a snail behind her as she toddled from interesting rocks to pretty flowers or crawly bugs. I waited as patiently as possible while she crouched over a grasshopper eating a leaf or poked a stick into the creek behind our house. She had a little apron my mother made her with rows of tiny pockets and she would fill it with her treasures as we poked along. It was long, slow and boring. I resigned myself to the fact I would be watching the ground instead of looking ahead for at least the next few years.

When I first take a young horse out I go with a trusted, older, experienced trail horse who has a rider with a lick of sense. I tuck my little colt at the hip of this trail wise horse and we stay there at first. I plan on going at a leisurely walk, allowing my young horse to gawk at the new world as much as he wants. I plan my trail ahead of time and avoid too many traumatic elements for my horse to deal with.

I will periodically gather my reins and push my youngster into a fast walk, I look ahead, ride with an active seat and get going, but only in an area where I can see ahead and judge the obstacles we'll be dealing with.

My colt can jump a little and take a quick look at something, but I am much more interested in keeping his feet moving than I am in proving he doesn't need to be afraid. I'll let him give that horse eating tree stump a wide berth as long as we get back on the trail and on our way.

I never stop and have him sniff things, or make him approach things we could easily walk around. It impedes our forward motion.

I keep the ride short. I usually dismount at the halfway point, loosen his cinch, slip the bridle (my rope halter and lead are underneath) and let him graze for awhile.

Then we rebridle, tighten the cinch and walk home.

As we ride out more I play leap frog with the other horse. I lead a little, my friend leads a little. I get my horse used to being in front.

I start to trot in the places we used to gather and walk out in.

I begin to tackle scary obstacles, like a bridge. I have my friend go across first. If my colt follows quietly after I say "Yipee!" because that doesn't happen all that often. If he's stuck at the other side squalling for his buddy I sit back and get ready to wait.

I get my friend to sit on her quiet trail broke horse on the other side. I sit quiet and loose and keep directing my colt's head, he has to keep looking at the bridge. I make absolutely sure I only direct him one rein at a time. I don't make him do anything except keep looking at the bridge. The buddy on the other side has all of the pull I need. I let him sniff, put on foot on it and back away, whatever. Eventually he'll cross. I've never had one not. This is a lot like trailer loading, crossing water, any of those things that make your horse say "What the hell? You want me to go where?"

So what I'm trying to say is, slow down, keep it short and plan ahead.

On to rearing. Rearing happens when the feet stop. Feet stop when the forward is lost.

Really think these sentences through. It's everything.

Here we get down to why I walk, trot and lope my colts before I do anything else. I want my base to be forward motion. I want my horse to freely travel with me on his back. I want him to understand this is his primary job.

I work on my forward all of the time. I take my horses face last because I want to push their hind end into the bit.

As the years have gone by and I've really ironed out this philosophy, I have had zero rearing or refusal issues. Not that I haven't had horses say, "Oh no, I don't want to do that," but because I understand I want forward motion, I can impart this onto my horses, I have always been able to resolve my problem.

Horses rear because they are having their faces hung onto.
They rear because their rider is kicking them forward and pulling them back at the same time.
They rear because the rider is kicking them forward and what the horse is afraid of or mad at is in front of them.
If I can keep those feet moving I will eventually get them forward. If I'm pulling with both hands I can't move anything.

If my horse rears I loosen my reins and lean forward so I don't die. Right as he comes down I start to kick the crap out of him and yell whatever nasty thing comes to mind until he goes forward. Because I'm still off his face we normally go forward.

If he doesn't want to go through a gate I might rollback away from the gate, kick him hard and mean, rollback to the gate, kick, away, kick, back, kick and finally get him in there. Then I sit quiet for a few minutes and take him out of the arena. Obviously it is best to practice this when a show isn't going on.

When I worked for the big K we would trot, lope or gallop (depending on the mood) our colts into the arena with a lot of forward energy. We would stop in the middle of the arena and just sit. We would stay in the middle anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. But they were always hustled in and they always got a relaxed rein rest. We had no balkers at the gate.

I think Jess has to slow down her rides and ease up on her expectations. This is just a baby. I think she needs to work on her forward, in the arena, until she can count on her horse moving out as soon as she asks. I think she needs to check and re-check her hands.

I would work on getting my horse to move to the left with the left rein, to the right with the right. I mean the whole horse needs to go, not just the head back and forth.

That's all I got.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rearers and Bolters and Boogers, Oh My!

Jess has a rearer and Jonas has a bolter. Two of my least favorite situations.
I still wish Jonas would not work this horse. It reads as a no-win situation to me. I'd hate for this 19-year-old kid, who could become a much needed trainer, lose everything because of a bad horse/owner situation.

So here goes. If I have a bolter I start on the ground. Remember, this is about bolting, I'm not nice, I'm not cooing, I don't want to get killed. I'm also not mean, I stay calm and am very business-like.

I make sure I can move each part of the horse away from me and end up with her looking at me with a polite and respectful look on her face.

I do this at first with a rope halter, a long lead rope with a leather popper or a knot on the end of it and no tack on the horse. I don't want this horse to run around me in circles BTW.

I begin to swing the end of the lead rope in a circle ahead and to my side. So the popper or knot is going to hit the horse first as I approach her.

I start with the shoulder. I move to the mare with my swinging rope and let it hit her shoulder until she clears the shoulder away from me, crossing her inside front foot over her outside front (almost a side pass) and then I relax my swing rope as I pull the mare's face toward me.

So she steps away and gets a loose rope after she looks at me.

If she tries to run around me or past me to get away from the swinging rope I jerk her around, yell, whack with the rope or all three until she's looking at me, hopefully with a little booger in her eye (not panic, just"Oh sh...."). Then I relax my rope, catch my breath and start again.

I do this until I can move the shoulder away from me on both sides.

Then I move the ribs, same way, on both sides. I always end with her face toward me.

Then I move the hip, same way, both sides. Ditto on the face

When I've done all this to where I'm happy she will be pretty light on the rope. She will back away or move her shoulder, hip or ribs when ever I step towards that area. If I pick up the rope she'll hustle. She wants to be my friend. She doesn't get to be.

She will also give her face easily, with her body right behind it when I turn her to face me.

Then I saddle her. I put on her side pull. If it's a rawhide nose piece one I consider these great in this kind of circumstance.

I stand at the stirrup facing her as if I was going to get on.

I bring her nose to me and bump her with the stirrup to get her to clear her hip out of my way.
I pull her nose all the way to me when I do this, if I was on the horse, her nose would be touching my knee.

I'm not nice about this, or mean for that matter, I just pull and bump her to me both ways.

She gets out of the knot I create by stepping around with her inside hind leg crossing over her outside. I go with her and release my rein pressure when she steps around.

If she tries to lean into me, run, or freeze I'll pop her hard with the reins (as in jerking the sidepull around), slapping her belly hard with my other hand and keep at it until she's stepping around as fast as she can with a "come to Jesus" look in her eyes.

I release when she clearly gets it that the only option she has for escape is to step around me.

I get this both ways.

Then I start to stand up in the saddle. I bend her face to me and put my foot in the stirrup, then take it out. If she starts to bolt I jerk and slap again, ingraining the idea the only escape she has is to step around.

I put my foot back in, add a little weight, maybe bounce a few steps, step out. I always have her face pulled around to me. If she starts walking around I just go with her, gently bumping on the side pull until she stops. Then I release a little.

I start to stand up in the stirrup. Both sides. When I step up in the stirrup on any colt I stand straight up and balance holding the horn and the cantle . I don't hang over their back. I don't want to be slung over a colt with my head hanging when she bolts or jumps. I want to be able to step down.

When I can stand up in my stirrup (head still pulled to me) and she'll stand still while I'm up there, I start to bump with my knee (on the free leg) until she steps around towards her head.

Then I step down, release, we take a breath and look at each other. Usually we both lick our lips about then. Me because I could use a beer. Her, well, whatever she's wishing, I don't care, I still have to get on her.

I get this on both sides.

Then I step up, have the head, and bump my knee on her croup, bounce around, generally be annoying, then step down, release and rest.

I do this on both sides.

If at anytime she jumps, bolts, whatever, I step down and kick her butt. I remind her, hard, the only escape she has is to step around, into the bridle.

At this point if I have a trusted fellow trainer, I get them on a pony horse and we pony the bolter once I'm on.

If I don't I make damn sure my little runaway will step to me and I get on, with the horse's head pulled to my knee. I just throw my leg over, then I get off. I don't put my foot in the stirrup. I keep a hold of the fillies head.

I do this on both sides.

On, off, on off.

Take the head, release the head, take the head, release the head.

Then I suck it up and stay on. I still keep my outside foot free of the stirrup. I sit heavy, quiet and relaxed, holding the head around until the filly steps around in the back, looking for her release.

I release (a little, I can take her back any time) step off and we rest.

See where I'm heading?

I progress this way, practicing taking her face and pushing her hip around every time I want her to stop.

I don't pull back, I bend her side to side. One patient step at a time.

Then it's time for beer. I might even pet the horse a little.

If she blows with you on her grab ONE rein (probably the left) yank her head to your knee and proceed to kick that hip around and around.

Be very careful.

This can take up to three days to get all this done, by then I'm usually walking around the arena, pulling the head, kicking the hip through at random moments.

I'll have to get to the rearing tomorrow, I've got to get to work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mouthy Monday

I got HOC to write a little on the term "in front of the leg", it's a term I like to roll around in my mind without really understanding it. I think it fits in with what we've been talking about.

In front of the leg

Whatever discipline we ride, I believe there are some common base requests we have on our horses.

We want them to move in balance with the rider.We want them to be obedient to the aids.We want them to move in such a way that it makes them comfortable to ride.And of course, we want them to be safe. At least as safe as a horse can be.

Mugs asked me to write something about the term “In front of the leg”, and in addition she said “geared towards us western nerds”. As I have never been in the saddle of a western horse this makes things a bit complicated to me, but as I believe we have the same base requests on our horses I will make a try anyway. And it would be very nice to get a discussion going here with some input from the western nerds as well as the dressage ones!

To me, the term “in front of the leg” means that I want my horse to always think forward when I am in the saddle. So it comes in under the base request “obedient to the aids”.

It does not sound too difficult to achieve, does it?

Problem is, that as with most things that sound simple, they really aren’t when you look more closely into them.The setting here is that we simply do not want the horse to move forward, we also want the horse to move forward with quality. In balance, and while it is being comfortable to ride on – that is with a swinging back and active hind legs.

So when I ask my horse to go forward, I don’t want the horse to lose its balance and increase speed, getting on the forehand. I want it to keep the balance and rhythm. I want it to keep a soft contact on the bit, without tensioning or bracing. The horse is just to lengthen or shorten the strides, depending on the rider’s aids, while keeping the outline. He is to be energetic but relaxed. Here I believe lays the challenge. Forward is not always good. Not if you ride your horse out of rhythm, or out of balance, or if it tenses up.

(Mugwump interuptus) Thinking forward, especially on some of the pluggy, poky horses who com in to our lives is a good concept. I'm translating this as if the horse is correctly and happily moving out without needing my leg to keep him moving, but still balanced in the hands he is ahead of the leg?

Dive in here you dressagers, this really ties in with the "horse happy with their job" theme.

Here's a cool story from

There's a quote in Virginia Woolf's Orlando, a quote which I would willingly tattoo onto myself if only I had the space. 'For what more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment? That we survive the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side and the future on another...'. This quote came to haunt me, one sunny afternoon, sitting in an English lecture at University.

Whilst the lecturer had been talking, pacing from one side to another, I watched his feet. Half-pass on the right rein, then piaffe; a nervous, jerky step on the spot that made the brown leather of his shoes squeak. Then side-step, side-step, across the diagonal, then a pivot, and on he marched on the opposite rein.

I thought back to two weeks previous. Another Easter, another month at the stables.

Becky was moving in with her boyfriend and his kid. They were waiting for the council to allocate them a flat.

Maria was married; came down to pawn off her baby to us while she rode her mare.

Becky's sister visited, proudly showing us her second child. 'I wanted a girl, but once you know it's hard to feel disappointed.'

Nat, after a three month hiatus, was back with our boss' son, staying on site till they found a cheap flat nearby.

As we sat, smoking, eating, drinking tea, dogs sniffed around us, playing dead until they had us in fits of laughter and we felt honour bound to give them some crusts.

We got up with the dawn, often staying at each-other's houses. Mornings were spent feverishly creating mental lists of things to do, tack to clean, horses to vet. Or, more often than not, hungover, grimly recounting the events of last night whilst clutching cups of tea to our heads.

By 8am Becky would slink off to attend to the dogs , and me and Nat would set a goal to finish mucking out.

By ten, itching to ride, chucking the last slabs of hay into boxes and slinging water into buckets, the lunge line would appear and so began the unenviable task of exercising the babies.

Razor, an appropriate name considering his huge neck wound, would be done first. A colt, he had quietened considerably after the accident. Syringe, bute, bowl of warm water, paper towels. We would gingerly approach. 'ewwwwww. it's got even more pus than before.'

I would try, unsuccessfully, not to look, then watch with fascinated horror as black, crusty scabs and pus were picked off and the wound was drained by catheter. He seemed to take a secret pleasure in being a martyr, enjoying the attention he received from two females. 'Bless your cottons, Raze, you're such a good boy.'

Next was Tulip and Levi. Levi, Nat's showjumping prospect, dances around like the goon he is, a swinging trot punctuated by fits of bucking and snorting to worry his owner; 'you'd better not do that while I'm on, Levi.'

Tulip, a barbie-esque palomino, quietly accepts her western saddle, always circling the lunge at a floating trot, however hard we try and make her jog.

Lighting the first of many Lucky Strikes, we mount, taking the gravel path at a trot and turning right onto the road. As usual, the horses snort in alarm at the motorbike in a driveway they pass every day.

The woods, which will later blaze red and gold at sunset, are a soft green. We stop on occasion, listening for quad bikes or tree-cutters, but mostly let the horses pick their way through the undergrowth.

Tulip babyishly climbs the banks, unwilling to muddy her feet in the swamp. Levi, the eternal prankster, hops over logs and randomly breaks into canter.

Both washed down, we turn to the next two: DJ, a potential racing arab, and Reg, another jumper. I ride DJ, excitedly jogging on the spot due to a rigorous fitness regime and too many oats.

As Reg, a 17hh giant, extends up the hill, I urge DJ on in two-point position, my hands almost by her ears. The ride is fun, filled with laughter.

I take most of it at a canter, the incentive to catch up increasened by Nat's endless stories. They are filled with tales of drugged-up horses, shady deals, randy showjumpers. I recognize names I've heard at the World Cup Qualifiers, Hickstead, even the Olympics. I tell her how envious I am. "Well stay here then! You could borrow one of mine, I'll teach you how to jump proper. I reckon you could qualify for 1.10m at Hickstead by the summer."

Back in the lecture room. The sun, instead of energizing me, as it does at the stables, fills me with a leaden sleepiness. I suddenly realize where I am.

Surrounded by my own existential crisis, I realize everyone is moving on. Having babies, moving in with boyfriends, starting business ventures. Where am I? What am I doing here, and why? For a terror-stricken ten minutes, thoughts of my road in life, the path of higher education I've taken, the very bad mark I've just received for my essay, and my incredible debt ,flood my brain.

Looking down at the quote sheet, I see it. 'The past shelters us on one side, the future on another.' The future. Settled once more, I lean back a little in my chair, letting my mind drift to a world ten years from now, a world populated by huge barns, a cross country course, solariums, horse walkers, and a couple of big, powerful eventers whickering in their boxes. There's still time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Experiments and Thoughts

I have been doing some interesting riding lately. My good gelding Pete and I have been figuring out how to train while living on an arena-less mountain.

I need to keep him tuned and progressing because he is for sale and I owe him landing in a good home.

Since I train cowhorses and he is bred to be one I have been trying to think through ways to progress out in the wild and woolly woods.

Our first bit of training came into play simply because the poor arena baby had never been in the mountains. He was born and bred out in the prairie. He had been out on the roads, across the fields, done a few cattle drives and gathered and sorted them through the chutes, but that was it.

On our first ride he fell off the trail and into a gulch more than once. It took a while before I caught on. Poor Pete has always been taught to continue on a straight line wherever he is pointed, until I signal a change in speed or direction. Because I was simply sitting on him and heading down the trail he kept on his line of travel, even if it meant falling off the trail. Good Boy. Bad Mugwump.

Once I woke up it only took a few more rides before he took responsibility for his feet and stayed on the trail. Since we began trail riding he has learned to go out by himself, cross water and mud and climb over fallen logs. He has gotten used to hikers and dogs, deer and rotten little miniature donkeys.

I have learned he will spook with just a jump if I stay off his face and he'll be tempted to bolt (he hasn't done it, but you know the feeling I'm talking about) if I hang on him.

He is a fun and steady companion. He is learning to step out with his trot and likes to see what's around the next bend.

I have learned to trot a mile or two before I lope because he likes to kick out when I first ask him to transition up.

Pete has learned he really pisses me off when he kicks out. I suspect he finds this highly amusing.

I started to use the trail to sharpen my cues. As we approached a steep descent I began bumping Pete forward with my legs. He would begin to step under himself as we started down the slope. I would hold him for a few steps and then release him.

Pete began to put together the collection with the easier descent and began to frame up and hold it on his own as we went, lightly going to the bit to stabilize himself. Then I started asking him to drive his hind legs under himself as we approached the uphills. He easily came into my hand. I gave him his head sooner so I didn't interfere and he pushed his way up the hills. I was tickled to feel how he drove with his hind instead of pulling himself up with his front.

Much of our trails are on old roads. I began to zig-zag up the roads. I worked on my leg yields and eventually half passed up the roads this way. I would let Pete hesitate at each side. Then I would rock him back and roll him over his hocks before we made our way up the next section of road.

I don't do this stuff every day, usually just when I ride in the evenings after work.

I started working him on the only flat section of road we have. His lateral work was much cleaner, his forward was stronger and he seemed to read me better. It was pretty cool.

I would reward Pete with some relaxed, loose reined wandering in between our sessions.

My thoughts behind why this worked so well revolve around the fact I tried to use each maneuver in a way it made Pete's job easier.

It was easier for him to get down the hills when I helped him collect first. It was the same for going up hill as long as I gave him his head for the ascent. The lateral work made sense to him as we zig-zagged and the roll backs made for an efficient turn. So he wasn't doing this stuff simply because I said. I was showing him something that made his work easier. So he adapted to each new concept much faster

Rope horses, Endurance horses, Hunter Jumpers, Cutters and Versatility Ranch horses come to mind. The horses who compete in these sports understand what their supposed to do and can go out and "getterdone". They seem to be happier in their work and last more years (on the average) than horses in other disciplines.

Now don't get mad at me here. My own discipline is coming into question too. Because the disciplines which cannot possibly make sense to a horse in any way other than "Do it because I say" are Reining, Western Pleasure, Dressage, Hunter Under Saddle, you get my drift.

It seems to me if we could teach our horses to do what we want in a creative way which makes sense to them, they are going to learn faster, be happier and apply themselves better.

So that's what I've been trying to do with Pete. This is an experiment, not something I'm sure about in any way.But it's really working well. I'll explain more this week-end. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sonita - Getting Ready

OK you guys, I have gotten completely discombobulated in the last few weeks. I completely spaced Wordy Wednesday. I think we're suppoosed to be going with Mouthy Monday anyway, aren't we? Oh well, I'll try again Monday OK? In the mean time....

It's true that I am a worrier. When it's time to show I bring it up a notch. As the World Show approached I managed to crank myself up to never imagined heights of panic.

I was convinced I was going to make an absolute ass out of myself, with or without Sonita's help. In my gut I knew we had absolutely no business competing at this level.

I had a terrible habit of over-spinning when I was competing at a tough show. Normally I would have a chance to redeem myself in another class, but at the Worlds I would vie for a spot in the top ten, first go. If I blew my pattern I would be done.

Sonita always picked up on my anxiety. Her mediocre-at-best stops would become impossible. She would lean on my leg and sling her head in the air. If she dragged a lead it often became impossible to change her, she would hang on me, letting the world know with every wring of her tail just how hard my spur was demanding she change. If I was gassed up she would defy my shaky authority, Sonita wasn't the type of girl to be led by a rider with no confidence.

I lay awake at night running patterns through my mind. They ran clean until I slept, then one pattern after the other turned into a festival of penalties.

The NRCHA motto was "All Roads Lead to Stephenville." I was sure I would have a heart attack long before I finished travelling that long road.

I couldn't completely fall apart. I had three youth riders who had also qualified for the World Show. Two were on ex-barrel horses and one, my daughter, was on our snaffle-bitter. I already knew from reading the magazines that every other kid at the World Show was going to be on a finished bridle horse.

It was important to stay calm and focused for my kids. They were wildly excited about the trip. I often suspected it was as much about missing two weeks of school as it was about the show.It would have been fantastic if I could share their excitement.

All three of the girls had me busting with pride. They had worked hard on horses who were considered sub-standard on many levels. They hung in there and had faith in their mounts. I knew I owed it to them to be calm, have fun and have confidence in my own horse.

I also had to shrug off the added pressure of my students being qualified. I had taught two of the girls from their first ride on. My third was a nervous little girl who had lost her trainer just a few months before the competition. I had helped her earn her final points and got her qualified.

My little posse was being watched. I'm not being paranoid when I say there were those who wanted us to fail. I was a bit of an upstart, from my group of kids on their every day horses, to me and Sonita. Our reputation wasn't stellar. We didn't have any money, we weren't on fancy horses and my kids weren't the children of established winners.

But we had qualified in spite of ourselves. It couldn't be all luck, there were too many of us. So we were being watched.

In order to keep my wits about me I did what I always do under pressure. I became a screaming, raging, psychopathic bitch.

I showed up at the barn hours before daylight and worked through my rides in the dark. As I rode in the gray half light of dawn, Sonita's eyes would burn holes in me as she paced up and down her run.

She worked herself into the same mood I was in. She struck and cow-kicked at the rails in her run so often I had to wrap her legs. The owners of the horse next to her asked to be moved to another stall when Sonita tore a chunk of hide and meat out of their little gelding.

My students would wander in for their lessons and we would begin to drill. World qualifiers or not, I practiced them on the bits and pieces of reined cow work their riding levels allowed them to understand. I was sharp and demanding. Still honoring my promise to the Big K, I didn't practice Sonita on her reined work. Mostly I sat on her and gave my lessons. I loped the perimeter of the arena, shouting instructions as I burned off the nervous energy which coursed straight through me into Sonita.

Sonita was getting as lean as a greyhound. I was getting fat as a pig, working my mindless way through too much junk food and coffee.

I became obsessed with Sonita's winter coat. She grew hair like a freaking Hereford. It didn't matter that she was double blanketed. Our barn didn't have lights so she willfully grew hair. Acres of red, curly hair. I was mortified.

"Don't fret so," The Big K told me, "she's a cowhorse. They're supposed to have hair in the winter."

"None of yours do," I snarked as I looked over at his sleek young horse, glowing with health, vitality and a short summer coat.

"Even Loki (my kidlets filly) stayed slick with just blankets, I on the other hand look like I'm riding a yak."

"I can put mine under lights, so I do," K told me, "but if I didn't have any I'd sure be worrying about my fence run over my horse being haired up."

I didn't feel like listening to him, not even a little.

"The Morgan guy offered to body clip her,"I said.

"You think you're going to get laughed at for a little hair? Wait til you show up with your horse looking like a hunter jumper. We don't body clip. We just don't."

"He said it would grow in before Stephenville."

"I think you should forget the body clip and work off your nerves by riding some colts for me."

"I've got my own colts to ride," I snapped.

"I also know you're about driving that mare crazy riding her all the time. Come over here and ride some, I'll work with you on my horses. You've gotta get your head on straight."

I could tell he was laughing at me. It just pissed me off.

"If you're gonna clip her, don't let him cut that stupid little diamond shape over her tail. At least let her look western," K added.

I went home and took the Morgan guy up on his offer.

He body clipped my bright cherry colored mare and she turned into a skunk-tailed dun. A dull, roaned out dun. A shivering, furious, now equally psychotic, bitch of a dun, complete with the top of her tail clipped into a neat diamond.

I called K and took him up on his offer to ride his colts. The World Show was two weeks away.It was time to get a grip.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stop Flipping Your Flipping Head!

Laura's Morgan and Head Tossing in general.

The Morgan show world is infinitely different than the Quarter Horse world.
I used to barn-share with a top notch Morgan trainer and it was a lot like Daffy Duck trying to talk to Fog Horn Leghorn when we tried to talk horse. A lot of spitting and bellowing went on, but we really didn’t have a clue what the other was talking about.

What made things work was a mutual love of horses, a sense of humor and an open mind.
I had an opportunity to ride some of their horses, saw them fitted to show and have a vague idea of how things go.

The halter horses were shown with a lot of fire and high-legged action. I’m not sure how your mare was shown, but from what I saw of the Morgan world, halter didn’t prepare a horse to carry a rider any more than it does a halter quarter horse.

I firmly believe a horse is just a horse up until we split them off into our desired disciplines, so I think my basic approach should work just fine with this mare. The goal is to get her to engage her back and hind legs while she's packing a rider. That way she can pick up her lope when you want her too.

That great big floaty trot she does is not setting her up to transition into a lope.

I'm also a big believer in letting the horse figure as much of this out on her own as possible.

I would work this mare through her WTC on the longe line. I would not use side reins under any circumstances until she can easily take her leads in both directions on the longe and with me on her back.

Side reins will dump her on her front end, block her shoulder movement and make it difficult to transition at all, much less pick up her leads.

If she is stuck in the trot I would get her upward transitions clear on the longe line and then start riding her.

I would focus on getting my WTC before I began serpentines or circles. If you want to ride her while she’s learning to balance herself with a rider (because this is what it’s all about at this point), I would work on the rail in my arena and transition up and down from walk to trot to extend trot to walk, etc. I would use my corners to create some bend and very elemental steps towards collection.

If I bring her down from a working trot to a jog about ten strides before the corner, stay balanced in the middle of my horse, hold my hands quiet and steady and drive her lightly into my hands with my outside leg while steadying her with my inside leg at the cinch she will frame up on her own for a step or two.

Her reward will come from the release of my hands and legs on the straightaway.

I would encourage forward movement with every ride until we were loping nicely.

Then and only then would I think of adding artificial training aids (anything other than hands, legs, maybe voice). I have to add here, I’m not a believer in using side reins, martingales or draw reins to create a frame. I believe this teaches my horse to drop her head in false collection, break at the neck instead of the poll and learn to lean on my hands.
Then we have to teach them to drive the hind legs into the dumped over front end and try to lighten them off our hands. It seems like working backwards to me. I much prefer to teach a horse to drive with the hind legs into my hands, it creates a lighter, softer horse with less to undo. If I use training aids at all it is to show my horse where to be, after she understands how to drive from the rear and then I take the aids off. I rarely use an artificial training aid for more than 10 minutes at a time.

So, that's what I would do. I think this is a great question to run by Johnny Rotten. Much more of the show Arab training crosses paths with the Morgan than AQHA. If he hasn't trained Arabs for halter I'm sure he understands this type of halter stuff better than I, since he showed around it, so he might have some good insight.

I also received a few questions about head tossing. I'm good at fixing this one.

First I want to get into where this nasty, distracting habit comes from. It comes from being picked at by the rider.

A horse initially tosses his head to get away from the pressure of whatever equipment you happen to be hanging off his face. I'm going to say a bit because I'm a bit person, but ANY piece of equipment, even the wonder don't-hurt-my-baby, bitless, pressureless, made-from-the-threads-of-magic-spider-web bridle will cause a horse to toss his head if he's being picked at.

Nervous hands who hold too tight cause the first toss. The rider (rightly) thinks, "I'm holding the reins too tight," and releases the horse.

Said horse has a light bulb go off.

"Aha!" He thinks.

"When I toss my head my rider lets me go."

And so it begins.

The horse begins to effectively teach his rider to let him go by shaking his head every time he wants a release. If he doesn't get it he shakes harder.

By now the horse is usually being held very tightly and often wearing a tie-down or he is being ridden with no contact at all.

When he is sent down the road (and trust me, he will be) he will be described as "very light mouthed and sensitive" or "spirited, only for an advanced-intermediate rider".

The horse himself feels very anxious. His head tossing becomes a vice. His shoulders begin to lock up and he gets heavy in the front.

Am I close here?

What has happened is the horse is giving the cues and the rider is responding to them. The horse worries because he gets no direction and the rider worries about nose bleeds. We have to reverse the process, and get the horse responding to our cues.

So here's what I do. I make darn sure I mean it when I have contact. I may mean frame up, I might mean turn, I might mean stop. But I mean it. I use the amount of pressure I would like the horse to react to and back it up with my legs.

I don't uses a martingale, a drop-nose band, a draw reins, nothing.

If my horse starts shaking his head I maintain the same contact (not more) through all the shaking until I get what I want. Then I release. I send a horse forward into my hands when he shakes his head.

I want my horse to begin equating head shaking with a bunch of forward lateral work, not getting a release.

I remember to loosen my reins after the horse accepts my contact.

I don't fidget or play with my reins. Every movement I make means something to my horse, it's best if I don't leave it up to my horse to decide what that is.

I focus strongly on loosening the shoulders. I will go back to riding two-handed. I will take hold of my horse and ask for a turn, using the reins, my hands and legs. I want the inside front foot and shoulder to break loose and follow my horse's nose (which is following my hand), before I release him.

I ignore all head shaking, the release comes with accomplishing the task.

I'll do lots of leg-yields and eventually half passes at a walk and trot.

I like these kinds of exercises because they require light contact with the mouth and intelligent use of the seat and legs.

It's good for the horse and rider both.

I give big releases every time I get somewhere.

I make darn sure I spend a lot of time standing around resting on a loose rein. As in no contact with the mouth.

If my horse starts shaking his head while resting he gets to go back to work, with contact and forward, until he quits shaking his head.

When I ask for a back, I ask for it one rein at a time, and push with one leg at a time, trading contact with each rein with each step.

Have you ever played around with moving your horse just one foot at a time, forward and back? I've done it with Ray Hunt and I'm pretty sure John Lyons does it too. I'll dig around and find the specifics because this is a great exercise for teaching a horse to accept pressure and teach a rider how her reins and legs actually work.

I have turned many a head tosser into a Steady Eddy this way, but once the behavior is there it can come back at any time. I try to always respond to a head toss with energetic forward, moving them left and right with my bit and hands, to loosen the front end, and hanging in there until the head shaking stops. Then I loosen my reins!

I hope this helps

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Hey guys, I have an idea. It seems I am buried on Monday and Tuesday on a regular basis. Then on Wednesday I'm ready to go. So if nobody minds I'll switch to Monday for the blogger stories. That will give you something other than dead space to look at, ya think?

Here's a cool story about a freebie who actually worked out.

You know the old saying, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."? This tale is about the horse to which I owe a great deal.

I received Darlin', a small gaited mare, as a gift about thirteen years ago. She was a working ranch horse and because she was not stabled near where her owners lived, they seldom saw her and were unaware that she was being ridden and abused by the hired workers.

One of the first things I discovered about Darlin', was her extreme mistrust of people. Unfortunately, a rock that had become lodged in the bottom of the hoof had worked its way up and out of the top, leaving a gaping hole. Darlin' was so afraid of our farrier, it took us nearly an hour to calm her down enough for him even touch her. If she did something wrong, she retreated to the end of the rope, expecting punishment. Also, in those first few weeks, I learned that she was almost impossible to catch. When she saw me coming, she would immediately gallop in the opposite direction. I tried luring her in with grain, but when I tried to approach her, she would become alarmed and take off. After so many years of mistreatment, she no longer trusted humans. The only way I could get near her was to herd her into a small corral and corner her.

Not only was Darlin' difficult to catch, she was also hard to ride. The people who had been riding her rode hard and fast, and they used severe equipment. They ruined her mouth making it was very difficult to stop her, and she frequently became a runaway. I had to resort to more and more severe equipment and restraints to be able to control her. This frustrated me, the "trainers" I asked would simply tell me to go to a stronger bit, or a tighter tie-down.

Darlin' was also very “head-shy". She expected to be punished for everything. She was absolutely nuts, it was a fight every time I tried to ride her. The more frustrated I got, the more difficult she became. She was a danger to everyone around her. The trainer told me to get rid of her, that she was crazy and it wasn't worth it. She had so much "GO" and so much heart; it seemed a shame that she was really unrideable. After a year of fighting her, I was ready to give up, but I couldn't bear the thought of sending her back. For all her faults, I still liked her. There was something special there; I just had to find a way to let it out. I finally decided start "reprogramming" her. I began retraining her, and since her mouth was ruined, teaching her to respond to voice and leg aids.

As the training went on, with positive reinforcement, she began to slowly respond. She began to trust again. She stopped expecting punishment. With this breakthrough, training suddenly became easier. Darlin' learned quickly and enjoyed every new thing I taught her. However, all of the positive steps Darlin' made were at home under controlled circumstances. When she was around other horses and crowds, she reverted to her old behavior. She seemed to feed off of the excitement and tension. I had tried entering some speed events with her and she placed well, but she would still become dangerously excited. We went back to just riding at home and on trails, doing a lot of schooling. She was still progressing, becoming easier to handle and had become an extremely sensitive horse. She responded to the slightest touch, and faced each new challenge with startling intelligence, she was fearless. She was developing into an amazing horse.

That being said, I had pretty much given up on ever being able to take her anywhere when something happened to change everything. Every year our town has a festival, and I planned to ride my other horse in the parade, but a minor injury sidelined him. So, I decided to take Darlin' instead. She made it through the entire parade without mishap. She did it because she trusted me. I discovered that I could take her anywhere; as long as I told her it was O.K. I decided to try showing her at a local show. We did well that day, and although we did not win every class we entered, we were in the top three every time. There we were, with the same people who said we could not do it, and we did it with trust.

Darlin' remains a wonderful, loving, and trusting friend. Though she can be somewhat distant, she is very expressive and, at times, seems almost human. I can now ride her without a bridle and control her using voice commands and light touches with my legs.

Darlin' is now 27 years old, and is still full of life. She still gets upset with me if I don’t take her out for a ride. She and I have such a deep connection; we have learned so much from one another. As a result of my relationship with her, I have developed a deeper understanding of the equine psyche and have learned some useful horse training skills. Rehabilitating her taught me that nothing is hopeless, and that perseverance and patience pay off in the end.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keep it Simple

OK folks, I’m going to work through this recent set of questions today. I’m amazed how different the situations are yet how similar the fixes. The theme I see repeating itself over and over again is the rider getting ahead of herself in what she is expecting from her horse. This kind of situation is easy to create because we doubt ourselves and our abilities so much.

We (I say we because I was guilty of it myself for years) will jump to the next step, or get confused as to what our next step should be, or get rushed because of peer pressure.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve also been guilty of accepting a “try” from my horse and then continuing on to the next step, hoping I’ll get the “try” to be a “gotterdone” through osmosis, or fate, or just because I want it. It doesn’t work.

So here we go. Some of this is repetitive but so be it. I believe in getting a walk, trot and canter before I get anything else. It doesn’t mean I have to get it in the first ride, or the twentieth, it just means I want it before I teach my horse anything else.

I strongly feel my horse needs to feel comfortable packing my big butt around before I can start interfering by pulling them around.

I teach Whoa by saying it when my horse stops, not when I pull on them. So Whoa becomes a desired place for my horse. He connects the word Whoa with stopping because he chose it. It makes it really easy to put a whoa on them.

So when I’m starting a young horse or retraining an older one I get in an arena, just sit on them and work on my WTC. I try to stay balanced and just work on go.
If it’s a young horse I will hold the horn or a hunk of mane and force myself not to pull them around much.

If it’s an older, broke horse who has a lot of go I do the turn into the fence thing ( see “slowing down the hot horse” in my labels)

In both cases I may use other elements, but the goal is WTC.

Then I go on to steering.

>>Emily M. says - I am on ride 14 or so. I am just walking and working on stopping and steering so far and probably will stick with that for a while. The issue is that the steering is not coming along as fast as I thought it would. My greenie still steers like a freight train. What are some exercises that I can do to get him to "get it"?<<>> If he gears up to the canter he still steers but the whoa um, seems to be ignored/misunderstood. He steers just fine and doesn't remotely offer to unseat me. In fact we were flat out running through some very muddy sharp turns (against my will) a few weeks ago (first major spook in a loooong time). The path isn't very wide and circles weren't possible - so at times I actually was better off just going with his speedy departure from the area to avoid a major slide in the mud. I think I may not give as much (as in squeeze release squeeze release - though usually a single squeeze, if that, is all that necessary) on the reins. I'm sure when he's running like hell, and not stopping when I request it, I'm not relaxing my body/legs as I should.<< class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_3">doesn’t get to do this to you.
When you need him to stop he needs to stop.

I don’t know if you guys have picked up on this, but circles aren’t my idea of discipline. I teach my horses to seek the circle as a place to relax. I don’t use them as punishment. Plus, like you said, there aren’t always places to circle when you need to.

Your horse needs to whoa.


First thing.

Can you possibly grab mane and hang on when he spooks and wait for the feet to actually be leaving the premises before you act?

I know it’s hard, believe me, but if you can he may not take off. He might just spook and not bolt. I’ve had lots of success with this.

Before we get to the “Whoa Dammit!” phase we’re heading back to the arena. We’re going to teach the horse the one, two, three stop. Ala Monte Foreman.

Get your horse trotting on a loose rein, go ahead and post. When you are in the air touch your hand on his neck, right at the withers and push. As you sit, pick up those reins and haul him into the ground.

Nothing subtle here. Just pull until he stops. Don’t say Whoa. Then pat him and rest.

Then go again. Push on the neck when your in the air, sit and haul him down. Be prepared, people will mock. So what, this is serious.

Pretty soon, (you’ll be surprised at how quick) when you push on his neck he will stop. Right now.

Then practice at a canter. As your seat raises in the air push his neck and pull as you sit.

When he stops every single time you touch his neck start to add the Whoa. Say Whoa the same time you push. Do this a few times, then substitute the whoa for the push.

Make sure that anytime he doesn’t listen 100% you will pull him down. Every time.

Now head for the trail. Practice this same thing over and over, before you have trouble.

Transition up and down through your gaits, always ready to give the whoa cue the second he doesn’t listen. Pretty good doesn’t count. He has to listen!

This is how I got a handle on Mort and many horses after.

I have to quit guys. For some reason the boss wants some work out of me today….I’ll get to the Morgan tomorrow….but I’m ready to wager Laura will see where I’m headed by reading this post and I know Redsmom will.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

This story came from "Bambi". I don't have a title or a blog address, but I love the story just the same. This is a horse nut after my own heart. She has found a solution that I think is fantastic. My other suggestion would be to build a resume from what she's doing and start hitting up trainers who ride the discipline Bambi is interested in. I would have killed to get a rider like her to exchange lessons for riding. She's have been loping colts for me within a week.

Tomorrow will be a question day, I swear. I've got a couple good ones on this last post. This should be interesting.

She I started riding when I was eight. Or nine.
Somewhere in there.
It was twice month, for half an hour, on a great old welsh cross named Peanut. He was a total of 13 hands, and the quietest school pony I've ever seen. I was terrified of him.
I have no idea why I did it. Maybe it was because my older sister did it, and I wanted to be just like her. Or maybe horses are in my blood. My grandmother learned to ride bareback on a beach in Scotland before the war, and my mother did pony club when she was a teenager.

But my parents are artists, a mask maker and an actor. We don't have the money for horses.
They should, as I was once told by a trainer, have never let my sister and I get on a horse. Riding is infectious, horses crawl under your skin and become part of your life, and you never have any choice in the matter.

I switched barns a few times as I grew up, and I still stayed on the lesson string, with cheap instructors, twice a month. My sister was resourceful, fearless to a fault and most importantly, charming. When we moved to a show Arab barn that had a small lesson program, she started exercising the show horses. Then a hell-on-wheels OTTB moved to the barn, and when he managed to break his owner’s leg, she stepped up. My parents were terrified, I was dead jealous.
While I was plodding around the arena on a plain TB hunter mare with a bad attitude, she was whirling past me as the OTTB foamed and bucked and reared.

Then my sister got her hands on a two year old half Arab who needed someone to start him.
It was too much to bear. I quit.

Two years later, she was off to university, and I was suddenly confronted by the fact that I had been infected by The Horse Bug.
I suppressed it, failed, and then begged my parents again for lessons. I wanted to ride. But this time, I wanted to really ride. Not plod around an arena, but ride the horses my sister had. 'Bad' horses, that bucked and bolted and pranced.

I found a new barn, a small hunter jumper place with a trainer who actually knew what she was doing.
She sure whipped my but into shape. I wasn't allowed to be scared anymore. I was pushed. She made me deal with issues, take charge, and stay on. I stopped taking falls, dropping my reins and trying to go into the fetal position in the saddle.

I wasn't afraid, but I still wasn't confident. It took a spoiled, fugly, mutt of a horse to teach me to trust my ability.
He was practically dumped at our barn by his owner, who wanted him trained. No one wanted him. All the other girls had their made hunters, and the trainer had her hands full with fancy jumpers. The only one willing to deal with his drama was me.
And so I was given the job. Looking back, I see he was dumped on me with little regard to my safety, but then I thought I was privileged to be singled out like that. I was going to be a trainer.
The first time I got on him, he bolted before I got my leg over his back.
The next month went much the same.

But I was determined. He scared me half to death, but I was allowed to ride him as much as I wanted without paying. So I refused to succumb, gritted my teeth and learned how to keep my butt glued to the saddle. At the end of a ride, both of us would be sweating, frustrated, and burnt out. More than once I took off my gloves to see my hands coated in my own blood.
My trainer spent a lot of her time screaming at me to get after him for his explosive spooks. Instead, I trusted my gut and let him be scared. I knew that whaling on him for spooking would only make him more neurotic, so I adopted a different policy.
If he spooked, I brought him to a walk as fast as possible, then turned him around and we investigated whatever little thing had scared him. He learned to trust me. I never put him in a situation that hurt him.
In two months, I had him going without any spooking or bolting, and with minimal fussing. I thought I was on top of the world.

His owner came back for him, ruined all the work I’d done, and I moved on to other horses. My instructor trusted me now.

I rode others, babies and abused ponies. I was sure I was great.

I worked all summer mucking stalls so I could ride.
Then things went pear-shaped, as they tend to do. My instructor went a little batty; she started demanding I spend more money to ride horses of lesser quality. She sold my favourite, who was the only horse there at my level.
Again, I quit.

And I started to read. I found Fugly Horse of the Day, Mugwump and others. I realized how bad I was. I could sit a buck and a rear, I knew how to sink into my heels and send a terrified horse face-first into the wall because had no idea how to halt.
I couldn’t jump, ask for a flying lead change, collect, or keep a horse in a frame. My steering was bad.
So I read, and read, and read.
And I put an ad on craigslist, asking to ride.

Now I’m exercising a four year old National Show Horse while his owner is ill. He is silly and sweet, the best quality horse I’ve ever ridden.
And I’m better. I notice things. That when he prances at first, it is not because he is afraid or dangerous, but because he is young, fit, and excited to be working.
How now, at his new barn, he has become herd bound, spooky and has forgotten everything I taught him about my personal bubble.
I see he isn’t happy.
I talked to his owner, she’ll move him.

Still I read.
I know that I can’t own my own horses; I know that I cannot pay for lessons. Instead, I read, and then create plans. I video-tape myself, and study what I see.

I’m moving up.
Even more importantly, I’m finally happy where I am.