Monday, August 31, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means To Me

A while ago a reader (was it redsmom?) wrote in and asked about getting her dull and willful horse to side pass. I encouraged her to loosen up her horse and increase her responsiveness before trying to teach the maneuver.

Anon wrote in asking about a few solid tips for her dull and willful horse who wouldn't move forward.

I also was asked about giving a needle shy horse a shot.

All of these questions are rooted with the same weed. Disrespect.

Disrespect from my horse doesn't have to be attempting to bite or throwing a kick. It can be as subtle as leaning into me enough to back me up a step. Or crowding towards me in order to move me when I'm talking to somebody else. The one I love is when they wait until I'm answering my cell phone. As soon as I'm focused on my conversation the little scamps will try to graze, or pick a fight with another horse....all signs of disrespect.

That being said, we'll work with anon and the horse she's training herself first. This all connects by the way. Her colt won't go forward on the longe line, or in the round pen, without lots of effort from anon. He's sulky and tunes her out quickly with every new approach.

What I read told me her colt doesn't work because he doesn't have to. He's behaving a lot like my teen age daughter.

Our horses don't get to behave like teenagers. They're to big and powerful.

I would take a colt like this, put him in the round pen first and make a few rules very, very clear.

We're going to the old one, two, three method here.I would ask him to move out around me. I point or wave my hand at the hindquarters and expect him to move away and out. Now.

So my first cue is my hand wave.

When he ignores me I'm going to cluck and tap him with my longe whip.

When he ignores that I'm going to crouch down a little, stare right at his haunches (think charging mountain lion) and yell "Hey! Git!" Then I'm going to run after him and smack the crap out of him with that longe whip until he is blowing around that round pen with his eyes bugged out.

When he starts running with the appropriate AAAAAHHHH look on his face, I'll stand up in the middle, relax, not look at him and wait for him to stop.

If he tries to come in at me, either leaning with his shoulder or begging for a pet I will repeat the "Hey Git!" step.

He will get the same treatment with a lot more screaming and chasing for throwing a kick BTW. For kicking at the whip I will make him change directions several times too. I do this by stepping towards his shoulder and wacking the whip on the ground in front of him.

When he finally stops running and is politely waiting for instruction while standing at the fence, I will walk towards him and give him a friendly rub, first with my hand, then with the whip. I want it clear that it's me he needs to worry about, not the whip.

Then I walk away and offer the same gentle wave of my hand cue, then, if needed, the cluck and gentle tap cue, then all hell breaks loose if I go to three.

I do this for as long as it takes to have my little darling WTC in the pen or on the longe for as long as I want and in the gait I choose.

You don't have to use my cues, just make sure there's a dramatic difference between cue one, two and three. And I'm serious, there needs to be whacking if you get to step three. The horse needs to understand step three stings. A lot.

This will clear up lots of miscommunication between me and my colt. Yours too.

Keep in mind, this is not cruel. It's to the point.
Your horse won't hate you. As a matter of fact, he'll be friendlier.

The biggest point I need to make here is this one, if your horse doesn't know step three is a consequence he won't ever listen to you. In his mind he has already decided he can ignore you.
You need to get his attention.

On to the sidepass. I’m going to assume Redsmom? has been working on loosening up her mare, Queenie, and we can now get into the side pass.
When I start a young horse I make sure I have a healthy amount of forward, I know she’ll follow my hand with her nose and then her feet and I can get a relaxed turn on the forehand before I start my lateral work. I usually have a rudimentary half pass too.
When my horse does a side pass she moves directly sideways in response to my leg and hand.
I used to teach them to sidepass on the fence first, then in front and across poles, then in front and across a line of hay bales.
Now I teach them along a fence and then start opening and closing gates. I have found that opening and closing gates makes sense to a horse and she will clean up the sidepass quickly.
I face my horse to the arena fence. I have her positioned so her nose is about two feet away from the fence.
I have a relaxed hold on my reins but have enough of a hold to keep her facing the fence.
At first I break the maneuver down. I ask my horse to move her hips over to the left by holding steady on the reins and lightly bumping with my right leg about 6 inches behind my cinch.
When she moves a couple of steps I hesitate, let her relax, then ask her to line her shoulders back up with her hindquarters. I do this by lightly bumping at the cinch with my right leg and holding my reins with enough pressure to keep her facing the fence.
My inside (left) leg is relaxed and neutral.
If my horse steps forward I immediately back her into position again, hesitate and start over.
I’m patient.
I move her down the fence both ways, hips, shoulders, hips, shoulders. About ten steps each way.
Once my filly is comfortable with this maneuver I trot or lope around the arena a few times to loosen everybody up.
Then I’m back to the fence. I will ask my horse to move sideways to the left by bumping her hip with my right leg like I did at first, but I will take hold of my outside (right) rein, keep my inside (left) rein open and my inside leg (left) open.
There’s usually a little confusion, but I only ask for a couple of steps each way at first. If my horse steps forward I immediately back him into position again, hesitate and start over.
When my colt can sidepass down the fence line 10 or 15 steps each way (after several days) I start on gates.

Now let's talk about a horse being needle shy. First, Baloney. Horses aren't needle shy, they're telling you how you get to handle them. Which comes down to who's in charge, or disrespect.

We have to do things to our horses they don't like. To keep us and our horses safe they have to behave when we need to make them uncomfortable.

Shots are a basic requirement. I will give my horse a chance to be good.

I don't have him tied, I hold the lead rope in one hand, then I can follow as we move around.I will pound with my fist the area I'm going to stick. Whack Whack, Whack. If my horse is moving away I just follow, tugging my lead rope so we stay in a circle. Whack, whack, whack. When he stops moving, so do I. When he will stand and tolerate the thumping, I'll whack, whack whack and stick the needle in.

If he moves away I just go with.

I have also had a helper grab a roll of skin on the opposite side of my horse's neck. This often distracts them enough to get the shot.

All of this stuff will only work if your horse has the manners to not crowd, stomp or mash you. If he wants to do those things a little schooling is probably in order.

I'm going away now, I have to work on the next Sonita post. Stay tuned.

Mouthy Mondays

I learned two things this week-end.

1.Turns out I still have a pretty good seat, contrary to my fear I was losing it from being stuck in front of a computer most of the time.

2. Whoever said a horse can't buck when he runs up hill is a liar.

This story comes from Aarene,

Get out your box of tissue.

It took months for the lady to put her horse down.

The mare wasn’t old, but repeated bouts of painful laminitis gave her that fragile, worried look that is common among very old horses. She wasn’t a small horse, but she seemed to shrink as the pain took more and more of her attention during the day. Daily doses of bute were hurting her gut, and in the final month or two, the mare spent most of the day lying down in the soft shavings, with her eyes half-closed.

We kept trying to talk to the owner, but she wanted to make sure that she tried everything to cure her horse. In the course of a year, I probably saw every vet in the county and most of the farriers too, trying to perform some sort of miracle for the lady’s horse. The lady didn’t want to hear what the stall-cleaners were saying: that the horse was hurting all the time.

I guess it was the lady’s husband who made the decision. We almost never saw him before that, but that last day he met the vet and wrote the check. I never saw the lady again.

While the lady’s horse was waiting to die, everybody suffered. Not only the horse and the lady, but the rest of the people in the barn, and the other horses too. We were so sad, and frustrated, and angry--and powerless to help the mare.

A friend, who has worked with horses for more than 40 years, and worked with people longer than that, gave me the best advice:

“Sometimes,” she said, “the only thing you can do about a bad decision is to try to do better when it’s your turn.”

Years have passed. Now it’s my turn. I think of that lady, and that horse, and I’m determined to do better for my horse.

In May 2006, accumulated fibrosis in my 20-year-old Standardbred mare’s knee obstructed her joint enough to cause permanent lameness. The decision to retire her was a tough one: although never an elite athlete, Story had been a major participant in the riding scene at my barn for years; most of the kids—and many adults—took their first riding lessons on her.

I cried the day we removed her shoes, knowing that her situation was only going to get worse.

With that in mind, I enlisted help from my family, my horse-loving friends, the farrier, and the vet. Together we created a list of parameters that would help us keep track of Story’s level of comfort, so that I could make that difficult decision at the right time—not too soon, but more importantly: not too late. I didn’t want to wait until her only thought would be “pain.”

To monitor Story’s quality of life, we measured the swelling in the bad knee, the ability to bend and straighten the impaired leg, and the amount of stress visible in the foot tissue of her non-impaired legs. We kept track of her enthusiasm for rolling in the mud and getting her belly scratched. We set up some “attitude” measurements: her eagerness to eat, to walk out to the pasture, and to get into and out of the horse trailer. This last was important: I needed to trailer her to the vet hospital for euthanasia, and so I had to know when stepping up into and down from the trailer was beginning to challenge her.

All of this preparation was as much for me as it is for Story. Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes that a horse is an important part of the lives of owners. “It is natural to feel you are losing a friend or companion” reads their informational flyer, “because you are.”

I researched euthanasia methods, and talked to my vet about my preferences. I put aside money in my savings account to cover the cost of the procedure. A professional photographer came out on the snowiest day of the year and spent 3 hours taking pictures.

Finally, we reached the parameter edge: the bute wasn’t easing her pain enough anymore.

Making that appointment at the vet hospital was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I think the conversation was held mostly in sign language and hand waving, because I certainly couldn’t talk coherently. I set the appointment two weeks in advance, and then the real work began: calling and emailing all of Story’s friends and students, to tell them that if they wanted to feed her an apple, it had better be soon. Some visited in person, others preferred to remember her happier days. Everyone wanted photos of Story in the snow.

She lived her last two weeks being stuffed full of carrots, apples, and cookies by her friends and fans. We revised an old trick called “fetch the bunny” where she would pick up the stuffed toy and shake it in her teeth in return for a treat. The last time she fetched the bunny was in the parking lot of the vet’s office.

This $500 racetrack-washout taught us all so much. She was my first horse, my first trail horse, and my first endurance horse. For many kids, she was the first to carry them at a trot. For many adults, she taught patience, balance, and courage.

Story lived as she died: a teaching horse. The vet interns used her body to practice administering a mylogram, a painful procedure for a living animal and not administered frivolously. By practicing the technique, our interns might be able to save a horse’s life someday.

I was determined to push Story’s life-lesson one step further: to write this article, and to urge horse owners to look ahead, to avoid waiting too long like that other lady did, and to plan a graceful exit for their beloved friends

I think Story would approve of that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Stuff

I've added a couple new links, one to a blog I like to read regularly and the other to the website of a trainer and clinician I admire.

Jessica Jahiel is a smart and savvy trainer. She is generous with her advice and has an extremely holistic approach to maintaining horses.
It might seem like a funny combination between my approach and hers, but I've learned a lot from her and she interests me, even if I don't follow her every step of the way.

Many Misadventures is a young girl who is finding her way as a horse trainer. She is thoughtful and loves her horses and works hard at what she loves. I like reading about her progress and frustrations.

I've got to head off to a photo shoot, I'll be back....

Q's and A's

HorsesAndTurbos said - share some tips on cantering bareback please!

Seriously HandT, I learned to ride bareback by doing it. I felt totally free to grab a handful of mane as needed, and I did need it. I got better with time. Riding bareback is a great way to find your center.

milwaukeecob said - But just for grins, would you mind detailing your warm-up? What do you start with, and what's the goal of that. Then, what next, and what are you trying to do with that? So forth and so on. What are you feeling for as you go through your warm-up? What are the clues that it's working or not working?What is the most important part of your warm-up and what is the "finessing"?

When I warm up a horse at home I walk, trot canter. Then I do a little lateral work. Then I go to it. If I am going to teach a horse something new I work up to it step by step and ask for the new thing when my horse is calm, focused and a little tired.
If I'm working cattle I warm them up at the WTC and start practice before my horse is tired.

When I warm up a horse at a show I have a different goal in mind. I want my horse to be safe and ready to win. So I warm up their muscles and mind.

I never, ever, train in the warm-up at a show. If my horse doesn't know the maneuvers by now she isn't going to get them in the warm-up.

I usually begin with a walk around the arena. I keep my reins loose, say hi to my friends, stay on the rail and out of the way and let my horse look around. If I am on a young or nervous horse I'll walk around the arena until the horse relaxes.

Then I go around a few times each direction in a forward, posting trot. I still keep my reins loose.

Before I lope I stand in the middle and off to the side of the arena and let my horse air up. If you stand directly in the middle you will be in the way of other riders, so scoot over. This is also a good time to let my horse look around some more.

I pick a lead and lope off into the other circling riders. I do a circle or two on a loose rein, then I gather and release every 6 to 10 strides for a few more.

I stop in the middle. If the stop isn't soft and correct I'll pop her back some. I want everything to be quiet. I want everything to be spot on correct.

Then I lope off the other way and do the same thing.

How long I lope depends on the horse, the horse's age and the horse's experience.

When my horse is soft and happy, I'll quit, wander out to the show pen and watch a few rides.

About 4-6 riders before I go I'll go back to the warm-up pen and liven things up a little. I'll ask for speed changes on a few circles. If I have a run in pattern I'll run down the length of the arena a few times. Sometimes I stop, sometimes I'll just go down around the corner, sometimes I'll fence them. Sometimes it's a little of all three. None of my stops will be hard or what I want when we show. But she had better be correct.

I usually spin a few times and make sure she's quick off my leg.

Then we go show.

HorsesAndTurbos said - I can totally control Starlette's shoulders and hips. We canter in rectangles, I push her hips out at the turn and she makes really nice corners :). We canter in figure-8's and she holds the lead she starts on (so ends up counter-cantering).

So, on a whim, the last time I was cantering figure-8's, at the cross-over, I pushed her hip in...and she counter-cantered with her hip in.

I'm not a counter canter fan, at least not before my horse can already change. I don't want a young horse comfortable on the off lead....I use the counter canter to teach straightness to my advanced horses.

So, that being said, I would make sure my horse is traveling straight and forward. I would make sure my seat and weight is in the right place. My legs are correct. I would make sure I'm looking ahead, not down at my horse's shoulder.I wouldn't expect my young, never changed horse to change spot on in the middle.

I would be willing to wait and continue to cue until she got her change. I would be riding to handed. My outside rein would be ready to give support and hold the shoulder in and my inside rein would give direction.

So double check all that stuff and check back.

t_orchosky said - How do you teach a horse to break at the poll?

I make sure my horse will carry himself on a loose rein at a forward WTC first. I also want my horse to turn on the forehand.

I'll do a couple exercises. First I get my horse to give to the left when I take the left rein and bring my hand back to my hip, then give his face to the right when I take the right rein to my right hip and he will continue to go forward because I'm gently asking for forward with both legs.

I want this to be soft and no big deal.

I want my colt to give his face right, left, right, left, right, left while walking and trotting along the rail.

Then I have another exercise I do up the middle. I walk a straight line, stop, turn on the forehand a circle to the left, then walk a few more steps up the middle,stop, turn on the forehand to the right and so on.

I want all of this as soft as I can get it.

NOW, we can flex at the poll.

I walk forward on the rail. I squeeze my colt forward with both legs and take one rein, then the other (not both at once)and bring my hands back to my hip bones (like I can still find my hip bones, snort). If my horse stops, that's OK. I don't change my hand position until my colt softens, drops his nose and gives to the pressure.

Then I release.I don't throw my reins away, I just relax my reins. Doing it this way stops that head-bob-and-snatch-the-bit maneuver I know we've all seen, if not had to deal with.

I start walking again.I ask again. And so on. If he keeps stopping I give a more encouraging leg, they all seem to figure it out.

OK, I've got to quit, my brains about to explode. Later gators.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Having Time To Think

I am so bummed. Last night I received my last issue of Performance Horse magazine. It has folded. I loved that magazine. It covered the kind of information I was always looking for and I almost always knew at least one person featured in an article. I have been working on an article on my friend Blue Allen which I planned on sending to Performance Horse first. I know there are other good magazines out there but I am sure going to miss that one. Sigh.

I had the coolest thing happen on Sunday. I was on a trail ride with my good friend Kathy. We were done with our ride and coming down the last steep hill before my barn.

I was jabber-jawing and not paying much attention to what we were doing.

Pete very carefully gathered his hind feet under him, lifted his back, broke nicely at the poll and settled just enough weight on his bit to give himself a little support.

I almost fell off my nicely framed little cowhorse.

I have talked about the experimental training I am doing now that I have time to think and no reason (like expectant owners) not to try new things on my horses.

I have also , I hope, made clear that I prefer for my horses to look for the right place to be and get themselves there on their own.

I think I have also mentioned I have been asking Pete to frame up right before he goes down a hill. My hope is he will find it easier to walk down hill collected and on the bit, than hollowed out and all over the place.

It's working. Pete is finding the value of being in frame down an incline and is seeking it. The fact that he'll set it up himself if I'm gathering wool means he finds being in frame useful.

This should translate to his flat work.

It already is a little. My arena these days is 1/4 mile of fairly level, but loaded with potholes dirt road. I walk and trot down it, then lope up it. I ask him to collect for a while, then let him relax, then I ask again.
Pete likes to walk hollowed out, which makes him heavy on the front.

If he gets like this I hoist him back with my hands, kick him back a few steps, roll-back, then roll-back again and continue on our way.

It ain't pretty, but it lightens his front end.

I relax my reins when he walks deeper in the back and lighter in the front.

When we get to the end we either lope back, work on transitions or half-pass.

I'm not making a big deal out of any of this by the way. I stay calm and don't get frustrated.

Pete likes to start out correct, lope a few steps and either break to a trot or get moving too fast, fold over the top of the bit and get heavy on the front.

My thought is when he breaks down to a trot he doesn't have enough rear propulsion going and instead of loping into my hand and framing up, he's stopped by my hand instead.

Then when he turns into Speedy Gonzalez and folds over the top of my bridle he's getting too heavy on my hand and on his front end because again, he doesn't have enough propulsion in the back, so he's dragging himself along with his front legs.

So essentially I have the same problem in both situations.

I've been working on it with hill work. I mean I might as well, all I've got are mountain trails made up of steep hills.

I trot Pete up the big hills.

If I let him lope he goes to lugging with his front legs, so I stay at the trot. We trot a lot of hills. The only time I interfere is when I make him frame up before we climb. I only ask for a few steps, as if I was going to pick up a lead and then we go.

As Pete travels I stand up in my stirrups, grab a handful of mane and stay out of his way. So the setting him up to be collected is only a maneuver, I'm not making him frame up on his way up the hill.

But he pushes up the hills using his hindquarters. He stays light in the front.

I'm trying to get Pete to connect my framing him up with engaging of his hindquarters. It's starting to work. His lope is becoming lively yet controlled, (dare I say he's in front of my leg?). He's not perfect, but he's getting there.

So there's my Pete report.
Remember when I talked about driving or longing buddy sour horses away from the herd? It was in reference to the Western Horseman book I had read, Back Country Basics.

I've kinda sorta got some results.

I started with an OT TB mare, Sister, who is owned by the woman who keeps three of my horses for me. She wants her granddaughter to ride her, which would be fine, but this mare has become wildly buddy sour.

So I had the granddaughter take Sister for a walk around the property. Just to make it difficult we didn't pen up the herd. OK, maybe that was my idea.

Every time the mare would fuss I had the granddaughter start her on the longe.

I had to step in and help because Sister would simply stand and face her, or run back and forth with her tail in the air screaming, you get my drift.

I got her straightened out and gave her back to the granddaughter.

As soon as Sister was obedient they continued with their walk.

As soon as the mare became stupid she got worked again.

It was very simple.

They dealt with the charging herd by ignoring them. It took some work, but the loose horses left once they realized Sister was under somebody else's control.

It took two hours, but Sister and the granddaughter walked peacefully around the entire 80 acres, with Sister calm and relaxed and completely focused.

From what I understand the granddaughter got to where she could walk in the herd, catch her mare and take her for a walk without a whimper. She hadn't tried to ride her (she could ride her in the arena) before she left for home, but they were doing fine as far as it went.

Now Char, the grandma and my friend, started to have trouble with her romantic 20-year-old gelding who decided he was King of the Wind. He wouldn't leave his harem for nothing.

So she has done the same thing, with a bit of a twist. (OK, again, my idea). She saddled up Romeo and began to ride him away from the girls. He began to jig and toss his head, then back up. I'm sure you've all been there, done that.

Char rode Romeo straight to the herd and proceeded to trot him around and through and next to the herd. They worked and worked and worked. Then Char rode him away and offered to let him rest. Romeo got restless and back they went. It only took two more tries and he decided he would rather stand where he was told.

Char let him air up and we went riding. He was perfect.

I have done the same with Loki, who spazzed so bad the last time I tried to ride her and it worked on her too. She'll ride all over without a problem now.

Last Saturday I saddled up my yellow mare for the first time in probably 6 months. I don't know what got into me, probably nothing more than it felt right, but I got on her without longing her or taking her for a turn or two in the round pen.
She stood there for about a minute, kind of swelled up, then sighed, licked her lips and relaxed. We rode off away from the herd. She was perfect.
I guess she's about broke.

Char has been catching her gelding and just keeping him with her. He hangs out while she gardens or cleans stalls, whatever. He's quit thinking he can't leave his girls.

I have come to think they will all be good once they realize they get to go back. I really and truly think that's all it is, as long as the horse has confidence in the rider.

So there's my update, I have to get to work, so I guess I'll answer questions tomorrow.

The biggest thing I've learned of late is my horses are still getting trained. Slower, yes, but I think it's better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

mouthy mondays

I have had some great riding these last few weeks and some solid thinking on training our horses. I'm finding out just how much I can still get done even at a slower, mellower pace.
Consistency and common sense seem to be the key. Having a good-minded horse to ride doesn't hurt either.

I know there are some training questions out there, from leaning on the bit to lead changes and I'll try to address those this week also.

And then there's the Sonita deal. You have to believe me, I don't leave you hanging on purpose. I think about where I was with Sonita after each post. I weed through what's relevant and what isn't and eventually come up with what I think is an interesting slice of my years with her. Then I write it. Then I start thinking again. It's kind of how the Mort stories come too. Except I usually find pieces of my life with Mort that correlate with where I was as a trainer or person in the Sonita stories.

Anyway, it's time for Mouthy Monday. I don't have a blog address on this one from Kay either. Sigh.

I wasn’t from a horse family, and I didn’t have much money. I don’t know if it was because of this or my embarrassment over my lack of lessons and horse lingo, but I didn't have very many riding friends either.

I bought my first horse from a barn that was a 20 minute bike ride from my parents house, they wouldn't take me to look so I had to find my own way. I was 14 and after 2 years of saving my part time job money I was the proud owner of a small, green, off the track, chestnut thoroughbred mare - at a barn primarily made up of warmbloods.

Now that I owned her, I realized I didn't have a penny to my name for tack. Luckily some of the older ladies at the barn took pity on me and lent me enough pieces to put together a saddle and bridle.

Over the next year I poured myself over books learning about the things lessons and camp never teach you, trying be a better owner and desperate to fit in. I was still pretty much ignored. I heard it all “green + green = black and blue”, you’re too tall for her, she’ll never made a nice hunter, she’s too small, but I didn’t care.

My parents never did come meet her, my high school friends weren’t interested and I was an outcast among the girls where I rode.

But onward we stumbled, learning as we went about basic care and the importance of patience. After about a year I decided I would try my hand at showing and we went to a hunter show down the road.

My mare stood out with her lumpy braids (my first time using yarn), mismatched tack (but I finally owned it), and me wearing rubber boots and a blazer from Zellers. As the trailer dropped us off I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I sat alone all day holding my mare, listening to kids snapping at their parents/coaches and trainers as their nerves started to get to them. I ate my sandwich and groomed my horse far away from the show rings, as others my age dropped their horse with their parents and went to watch the competition.

That day I learnt what "in the shoot" meant, and that you had to count your striding in between fences, and that it probably would have been nice if someone other then an irritated stranger could have held my horse for me while I took a rushed bathroom break. Our rounds weren’t amazing, we were fast, unbalanced and didn't get our leads. When we were in the line up waiting for the placings to be called, the girl next to me informed me that I was only supposed to use a white saddle pad at shows, not blue and she clearly didn’t think much of my outfit.

I tried to keep positive as I waited for the trailer to come pick us up at the end of the day, I cuddled with my little mare and quietly pulled out her braids. I rubbed her body and legs down as she quietly munched her hay.

As I waited, I started to feel self-conscious of one of the nearby coaches watching me. I knew who she was but I knew she wouldn't know me. Eventually she came over and put her hand on my horse’s side. I expected her to tell me I had put my wraps on wrong or some other correction but instead she quietly said "I knew this horse years ago and she's been waiting her whole life for someone to love her like you do, you’re doing a good job – don’t give up" and then she went back to her group of people.

Ten years later, I still remember that sentence over all of the snags me and my mare ever hit, or the negativity I received from other riders and their coaches as I bumbled around the hunter circuit.

I never got bitter, took my horse for granted or got angry at the people who offered me “pointers” at shows. I also never “traded up” to a bigger, flashier horse. My connection with riding boils down to the love I have for my horse, not the labels on my clothes, the name of my trainer or the number of ribbons hanging on my wall.

Still today, I love that now retired mare, and I think it’s appropriate to say that I had been waiting my whole life for a horse to love me like that, to take good care of me as I made mistakes and to never notice that her tack still doesn’t match.

For that I’ll be forever grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I walked down the barn aisle towards Sonita's stall. I ducked my head and tried not to look like a dork as Todd Bergen walked the opposite direction. Todd Bergen is pretty hot.

He nodded, I nodded, I'm sure he didn't get weak kneed like I did.

The girls had been running around like crazy things getting the big names to sign their NRCHA catalogs. It was pretty cool, the trainers were tickled to be asked for an autograph and most of them liked being raised to rock-star status by a couple of kids at their first World Show.

Even Carol Rose cracked a dusty smile when the kids asked her to sign her name across her ad for Shining Spark.

This was also a pretty slick political maneuver, my kids were getting to know some pretty influential people and I was getting nods from Todd Bergen. The Big K had lit up like a Christmas tree when they asked him to sign their programs. He couldn't help but be caught up in their giddy excitement.

I leaned into Sonita's stall. She stood with her head in the corner farthest from the door. It was her usual spot in a show stall, buried as far from the 24 hour a day lights and the clamor of an unknown showgrounds as she could get.

I slipped in the door and checked her yellow buckets. She had drank from both since I had refilled them that morning. My hand slid across her shoulder and down to the scar on her foreleg. She stood quietly while I massaged the papery skin stretched across the terrible old wound. I wrapped my other arm over her back and rested my cheek against her side. The course fabric of her sheet crackled faintly in time with her breathing.

Sonita's heart thumped a slow steady beat and she lipped the back of my head, sometimes her teeth would barely scrape along my scalp as I dug my fingers deep into the muscle surrounding her scar.

This ritual between us, the deep massage I gave her forearm before every major run, had become as important as te lengthy warm-up we had waiting for us.

My anxiety would slip away as she settled under my hand, my heart would slow and in my mind, we would go through a perfect run. I imagined our minds were connected and I was feeding her a winning go.

I savored the rare moment of quiet with my big volatile mare. It wasn't often we admitted our friendship.

I ran my hand down her legs. They were cool to the touch and the bones felt smooth and strong.

I stood and stretched, my back crackled and clenched just a little, the crappy motel beds were beginning to leave their mark.

Sonita moved around, restless as I unbuckled her sheet, she stuck her head out the door and whinnied. Normally this would bring a reprimand, she was supposed to be still, but I didn't have the heart for it.

I slid the sheet over her head and hung it on the door. As I slipped her halter on Sonita hung her lip over my nose, slobbering me up and steaming my glasses.

"C'mon now, we've got work to do," I told her and pushed her face away.

Her eye rolled back to me, merry at the joke, and she backed away, waiting politely for me to leave the stall first.

I saddled her quickly, my tack had been checked over hundreds of times in nervous anticipation. I double checked her front boots and made sure my skid boots were buckled onto the rings of my back cinch.

I dropped her halter and she raised her head high, looking towards the arena. Sonita snorted hard, once, twice and then lowered her head for the bit.

I slipped the big bit between her teeth, she grabbed at it and began to work the roller. She kept her head low as I clipped her romels to the rein chains.

I grabbed my chaps and tossed them across the back of the saddle, I was going to need help getting them on, my hands were beginning to shake.

Sonita leaned forward as I mounted, but held still until I swung my leg over. She hesitated one second more as my foot caught the off stirrup.

We walked toward the arena, my stomach began to tighten and Sonita tossed her head, making the rein chains swing.

I leaned down and stroked her neck. A nervous sweat had already started to freckle her coat.

"It's OK Sonita," I whispered to her, "This could be the last run."

When this is over you're not mine anymore, I thought, so this time, it's just about us.

"We're going to have a good time," I told her.

She began to quiet under my hand. I straightened as we came to the gate and hung my chaps on the fence. There would be time to struggle into them later, we had a good two hours before we showed.

We rode into the bright lights of the warm-up pen and I realised my stomach had calmed. The Big K loped past and flashed a smile at me. It felt good having him here. He wouldn't go until the next day.

As we stood in the middle and I sat back to send her out into her first set of circles, I understood just about everything was good. Sonita and I were going to compete today at the NRCHA World Show.

Sonita loped off quiet, working her roller in 3/4 time..

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

I loved this story. Loved, loved, loved it. Wish we had a blog or website address.....
I just remembered I had a question about leaning on the bit. I'll try to get to this today. Dressage folks can help here, I think my methods are close.

In the mean time....

*I wish you would get rid of ALL your animals!*

I could not believe those words came out of my father's mouth. My father. Felix. My partner in crime. My shotgun-riding cohort in most of my horsey adventures. My rock. My go-to man. My mother used to get so furious *You are JUST like your father*.......and I would tell her *That's the NICEST thing anyone has said to me today!!!*

*I wish you would get rid of ALL your animals.*
My husband of 35 years is a city kid, born and bred. We live out here, on land I grew up on, in the middle of no where.....and I know he does it for love of me. He refuses to have anything to do with my outside critters because he fell off a horse when he was 10 and broke his wrist. That's ok, I can live with long as he doesn't interfere with my horses and goaties.
He doesn't. He never asks about the vet bills, he never grumbles about the hay in the garage. He has no desire to know how much I have invested in saddles/bits/silver, he says he would probably faint if he knew.
He's right. He would.
He pretty much leaves me go my merry way in anything horsey.
It works.

But Felix, the world's coolest father, the 88 year old retired farmer who chops wood by hand *for exercise*, the man who thought he was done with fences and sick animals, with making hay and helping me pick out a tractor.......he's my go-to man. He has made me a *lady-sized* fence pounder. He carefully divides pears into equal sections so no one critter (3 horses, 1 goat in the field) gets more than another.

When I lost my filly in the dead of winter, it was Felix who called in a favor the local gravedigger owed him........and the guy came out in -17F weather with his backhoe to bury Tessa.......and charged me $50. All because I could not bear to let her go to the rendering company.

When I brought home a coming yearling colt, it was Felix who put up a recycled funeral tent in our backyard so Cisco would have shelter while new colt waited for the gelding bus. I have no idea how he did it by himself, I helped him take it down, and it was almost too much for both of us.

Cisco. LOL.....I turned 48, had been out of horses for almost 25 years........but there he was. A 7 year old dapple grey arab stallion. For sale. $900. My all time dream horse. Felix thought I was insane. But he helped me convert the boathouse to a snug little stable........he borrowed a trailer from someone.......and Cisco came home to our backyard.
Cisco quickly became a gelding........and I added 2Sox, a 12 year old arab mare to the mix.
When I told Felix I wanted to breed 2Sox, and I had found a stallion about 30 miles away, he about laughed his head off.
*You had a good stallion, and you gelded him. Now you're going to PAY to breed your mare????*
But guess who hauled 2Sox back and forth the 3 times we tried to get her to settle???
Yup, Felix.

Don't ask me HOW I knew, but I knew I would never have Cisco the years and years I wanted........and I was right. I fed one night, and he was fine, begging treats, just being a sweet prince. He was only 18.
The next morning, I found him dead in the corral. Heart attack, stroke, whatever........he was dead. There were no signs of a struggle, looked like he just lay down and went to sleep.
It was early Spring, so Felix dug the hole, and we carefully moved Cisco down, next to Tessa. I managed to hold it all together until the last scoop of dirt was patted into place on the grave.

Then I pretty much came unhinged. Instead of hugging me and telling me it would be alright, those awful words came out of his mouth:

*I wish you would get rid of ALL your animals.*

Certainly not what I wanted to hear, but it did stop the tears long enough for me to ask *Why would you say such a thing?*
His answer was:
*Because I see how much it hurts, every time you lose a critter........and I don't like to see you hurting so bad.*
But he still helps......and he knows I won't give up my animals.
Almost 4 years ago, I had to have our lab, Velvet, put down. I wrapped her in a blanket, and Felix and I dug a hole in the rain, down in my *pet cemetery*.......down by Cisco and Tessa, several cats, and countless ferrets. It's getting pretty crowded down there. A high spot towards the front of our 2 acre lot, covered with white violets in the Spring, it's a peaceful place that, yup, Felix picked it out as the best spot.

2 years ago, I lost my old old Nubian doe, Gabby. Felix and I went down to dig the grave. We both thought we were far enough away from anything else buried down there (I am sadly behind on markers).......when all of a sudden, he raised his tractor forks, and there was a purple blanket caught on one.
*What the hell???*
*Oh, stop, STOP!!! OMG, you dug up Velvet!!!*
*Yup, she's still dead, too!!!*

Gabby went to her final resting place with more laughter than tears.......and closer to Velvet than she probably thought she should be......LOL
Felix. The world's coolest Dad.......who saw nothing wrong with giving me a chainsaw for Christmas last I can keep the branches trimmed off on the corral fencing.......LOL......

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Friends and Horses

I went out to breakfast with a couple of my long time friends on Sunday. We go back a long way. Kathy was (and still is) my running buddy, she used to be my assistant at the barn and long time client. We have been friends for 25 years.
I met Crystal when she brought me a scrubby little 3-year-old arab/QH called James to break out. We became friends through the years as we progressed through many new experiences and the joy and heartbreak of horse ownership.

We were talking about horse-keeping in general, finding time to ride and making sure we took advantage of the time we could find.

"For the first time in my life with horses I've been wondering if I should have horses at all," Crystal said.

"I know what you mean," Kathy replied,"except every time I start thinking like that I remind myself I've got Rosie for the rest of her life. But it's hard. The weight of owning a horse is starting to get to me."

"Quit it you guys," I said, "here I am finally getting my butt in gear and riding regular and you two are telling me you want to quit. This is a scary conversation."

"I keep thinking Kathy is going to move to your barn and then everybody will be back up the pass except me," Crystal looked like she might cry.

"The reason I'm riding again is I've started riding with the barn owner," I told them, "we only get together every now and then, but it still gets me going out to ride more."

We realised much of our riding and being with our horses was also a social thing. We are all good friends. We trust each other, know each others faults and can move around them and have common interests with our horses.

Our group began to splinter when I went to work with the Big K. We had all been at the same barn through a couple of moves. We had formed a co-op and took care of our horses, rode together and tipped back more than one margarita on a pretty summer evening after a good ride.

I had been their instructor and horse trainer for quite a few years. They were ready to be on their own, I was ready to move on and grow. Still, it was hard.

Most of my group still came for lessons and training, but it was different. Kathy moved to a self-care barn closer to her house and Crystal became the barn manager at our old place.

When I quit training completely we really lost touch. I had never realised how my job had held us together as friends.

Kathy and I began running again. We simply scraped up the time in order to keep in touch. We were both getting fat, we have run it off more than once and it keeps us in touch.

But this rare visit with Crystal hit me. Horses are what connects the three of us and also what inspires us to ride.

So we started small. We are planning a monthly ride. Sometimes in the mountains, sometimes the prairie, but we're giving each other our time and the joy we feel when we ride together.

I love riding with friends. I love the anticipation of a planned outing. I am starting to realise how important it is to cultivate the connections I have with the people who ride as much as it is to train my horses.

It's going to be new for me in a lot of ways. I won't be in charge. I'm not their trainer anymore. If Kathy and Crystal want to tell me to shut the hell up, well they can jolly well do that.
Of course I no longer have to behave in a trainerly, responsible fashion anymore. God help them. This is going to be great.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mouthy Mondays +

I had a question back on the last Mort story which I almost forgot about. Since it ties in with my definition of lightness I thought I'd stick it in here before we get to enjoy the next story. Then school's out for awhile, I promise.

It was about pushing my horses hip into the center of a circle when I'm loping him. Anon asked if I used my inside leg to block him so he wouldn't drift into the circle.

I don't. I have my inside leg relaxed and neutral.

I teach my horses to travel straight between my reins.

He also knows to head towards my leg if it comes off him and away from a leg that is putting pressure on him.

If I put pressure at the cinch he will move away from the pressure with his shoulders.

If I put pressure back towards the back cinch he will move his hindquarters away from the pressure.

My hands simply ask him to stay on the circle.

He knows these things before we try to move his hip into a circle at a lope.

So when he is travelling on his circle, which he does so often he carries himself along the same path no matter what, I don't change my hands other than raising them to get light contact and to remind him to stay on his circle.

Then I push with my outside calf, somewhere around the back cinch, keep my inside leg neutral and his hind legs go in towards the center.

Keep in mind, at this point in training my horse seeks the path of the circle because that's where the least input from me is.

So I push his hips in, release pressure and he steps back on the circle.

Then when it's time to change leads I push his hips out of the circle, he changes in the back as I guide his front end with my hand to the next circle.

I'm working on this in a straight line up the road of my stable at the moment. He is bringing his hips back to my straight line.

I'm thinking I'm going to end up with spot on lead changes and a cleaner run-down. We'll see.

Michelle sent in a history on her favorite breed. I lived in Boise Idaho when I was in grade school. I was an Appy fan then and held onto it when I first starting riding out at Mark Reynor stables.

I think I switched to QH simply because I found Mort first. I've known some nice Apps though.

You can check out Michelles blog at

A Spotted History

“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” These words, spoken by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people, marked the end of the 1877 Nez Perce war and the demise of the carefully bred spotted horses the Nez Perces rode. After Chief Joseph’s surrender, those hardy horses were seized by the U.S. Calvary and either traded or shot.

The Nez Perce were one of the first groups to practice selective horse breeding. They carefully chose the stock that would reproduce and either traded or gelded inferior animals. Eventually, they developed a horse that was known for its hardiness, versatility, agility, and striking beauty. After the war, the confiscated horses were carelessly interbred with horses of varying quality, and the spotted “Palouse” horse was almost lost. In 1938, the Appaloosa Horse Club was formed and has since organized the redevelopment of the breed.

The modern Appaloosa has been outcrossed over recent generations to enhance various attributes of the breed. Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, in particular, have contributed to the current style of Appaloosas used in competition. While the outcrosses have increased the average size and refinement of the horse, they have resulted in fewer horses with the color patterns so closely associated with the breed. Changes to registration requirements in recent years have encouraged more frequent Appaloosa to Appaloosa breeding, and the obvious Appaloosa characteristics have become more apparent at horse shows once again.

What are the typical Appaloosa characteristics? Well, the most obvious is the colorful coat patterns that many Appaloosas sport. A wide range of base colors is acceptable, from white to grulla to black and everything in between. Coat patterns vary from roan (white hairs interspersed throughout the coat) to the classic blanket pattern or the easily recognizable leopard. Appaloosas also have less obvious characteristics. Mottled skin around the muzzle and genitals, white sclera around the eyes, and striped hooves are often found on Apps of any coloration. Many people aren’t aware that solid colored Appaloosas can also be registered and shown.

Throughout the history of the breed, Apps have retained their versatility and are widely used for a variety of careers. They excel in the show ring, performing in events such as hunter under saddle, barrel racing, jumping, western pleasure, and cutting. Appaloosas consistently hold their own in all-breed pleasure shows such as Just for Pleasure, the Reichert Celebration, and the Tom Powers futurities. Several Appaloosas have successfully competed in high level dressage and horse racing. They are known as being sure-footed trail mounts and sensible parade horses and are gentle enough for family horses.

The Appaloosa Horse Club and Appaloosa owners in general have a certain degree of pride for their horses’ colorful past. Every year, riders and their Appaloosas retrace a section of the path that Chief Joseph and his people followed on their attempt to reach Canada before being captured. This historic ride holds a powerful spot in the hearts of those who complete it. The history of the Appaloosa is also honored in the show ring with classes such as heritage, which includes native dress and a written historical summary of the pieces worn by horse and rider. Even the gaming classes give a nod to the ancestors, with the Camas Prairie Stump Race (barrels) and Nez Perce Stake Race (poles) being run horse against horse at breed specific shows.

All in all, the Appaloosa is a fantastic all-around horse. Their gentle, easy going nature, versatility and hardiness, rich history, and unique appearance make this breed an easy choice for many horse owners. If you haven’t experienced an App and you “spot” one, check it out! You won’t be sorry!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Questions and Answers

Half Dozen Farm says -"My mare can canter in a 70' round pen, but she's too fast and falls in. She has a big, long stride and is unbalanced and on her forehand. However, I feel safest in the round pen. In an arena, she's flat scary to canter. She switches leads willynilly, breaks to a bone jarring trot, drops her shoulder, staggers around and just basically tries to jolt me out of the saddle any way she can."

Let's start here. A 70' round pen is not big enough for her. A round pen has plenty of uses, but I seldom use them to lope my horses. I have found the horse will always lean in, unless it's the kind that slants outward at the top.

I want Half Dozen to really think here. Where is she safer? In a round pen where she's tripping and falling? Or in an arena where she can have room to move......

Half Dozen said -"She's terribly lazy in the round pen, a bit better in the arena, and really nice out in an open area."

My guess is she is unable to move comfortably in the round pen, has a slightly easier time in the arena and feels comfortable and safe in the open. Your mare deserves a big hug for being "pluggy" in order to tell you she's struggling. Many horses will let you know they're having a problem by bucking or bolting. She really is being a good girl.

I know I insist you need to have your horse comfortable at the WTC before anything else. Well there's a big old BUT that shows up in every theory.

This mare knows how to lope. Her issue now is learning to pack a rider in her new life as a saddle horse. So I would be trotting this horse a lot in order to help her.

We have a couple of issues here. The mare is stiff and uncomfortable and Half Dozen doesn't feel safe enough to just "go." I am on your side here, BTW, if you don't feel safe you need to listen to your gut.

My suggestion would be to take this mare to the arena. I would set up some drills for her to help her get her body under control. The lead swapping and death trot tell me she isn't in control of herself on the turns and she's stiff through her body. The knee surgery might come into play, but she should limp if it's a big problem.

The drills I would use would be fairly simple. I would trot her on the rail (posting on the correct diagonal) and sit deep about 6-10 strides before the corner. My outside leg would push her hindquarters in towards the center, my inside leg would support at the cinch and I would guide with a soft leading rein on the inside and a stronger supporting rein on the outside.

When I felt her hindquarters move toward the center I would relax for a few strides then set up for the next corner.

On the long sides of the arena I would deepen me seat, slow my horse,then relax my aids and just post until I am setting up for the end again.

When she can comfortably handle this I would start doing serpentines. I would use the whole arena, post and hold her straight through the middle, then sit my trot and wrap her around my inside leg through my turns. Practice picking up your diagonal first step out of the turn, it's a great rider exercise too.

I would start doing LOTS of transitions between the walk the trot and the extend trot. I would mix them up, sometimes extend through the turns, sometimes go way slow.

Out on the trail I would keep up the transition work. Except I would add the lope. I would expect her to learn to lope off my kiss and trot off my cluck. I would practice picking up my leads on the trail. I would try to bring her down to a trot before she thought of breaking gait.

That's what I'd do. I would lope in the arena when I felt she could do it.....get back to me when you think your ready.

Horses and Turbos - when you finally ask for the change by pushing out their hind legs, do they have to make the change because they become unbalanced and physically have to change? I can't see them at first thinking "Oh, so she wants me to change me lead now, she's pushing my hind end over."

I don't initiate lead changes off a counter canter. That doesn't mean I'm saying your trainer is wrong-it's just not how I do it. But I still think I can answer your question.

When a horse lopes he pushes off with his outside hind leg.
It goes 1. outside hind
2. inside hind and outside front
3. inside front

When you cue by pushing your horses hip in the other direction, in order to comply, he will have to change the push off leg, or the outside hind, once the hind foot changes the rest should follow.

That's why we're judged on when the hind changes, not the front. If a horse is "cross-firing" or going on one lead in the front and another in the back that will be judged as out of lead....

But it's a matter of obedience to a cue more than throwing them off balance.

Nancy C said- In my mind I am thinking I need to just cue her into it while MAKING myself leave the reins alone, let her canter a bit, then bring her down and do it again. My fear is that she bucks, but somehow has learned how to really buck.... so I would have to really work on letting her have her head. A kinda grab the horn and let her go sort of thing? Or do you have a better idea?

Nancy has the same feeling Half Dozen does. Her gut is telling her she might get pasted. We can get this lope thing taken care of without getting thrown.

I would start this mare along the fence of an arena. Just leave her alone and only guide her if she leaves the rail. Then steer her back with just the outside rein. Just pull her nose to the fence and let her go again.

When she learns to stick to the rail on her own, you can ask her to lope. By guiding with only one hand and then only if she leaves the rail you have freed up your other hand enough to hang onto the horn if you want.

Let her long trot into the lope. She will be a little strung out and less inclined to buck. Only lope a few steps at first and then let her trot again.

I would do a lot of limbering and W/T transitions. When she lopes without bucking, even a few steps, I would quit for the day. So save the lope for the end of the ride. Try to relax and don't pull, then be done.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time to Train Those Boogerheads!

Redsmom told about trying to get her horse to sidepass and somebody else talked about horses flying backwards out of trailers.
Those are the two subjects for today.

I'm going to start with the trailering.

My good friend Kathy had a mare, Brandy, who blew backwards out of the trailer. At one point she flew out so fast she flipped end-over-end, summersaulted through a hot wire fence, got the still snapping hot-wire wrapped around her body and legs, freaked, tore herself to shreds, ran off into the pen, which happened to be full of several brood mares with very new babies.
The mares attacked her and kicked her to bits before we got to her.


She was worse. So pain and punishment was clearly not the answer.

Brandy had string-halt. It made it difficult for her to step down while backing out. So we found why she originally panicked. By the time Kathy asked for my help it was a terrible vice. If you know me at all, you know I didn't really care why she did it. She was capable of stepping out, so she was going to.

This is what we did. It worked so well I have used it on every other speedo backer since. I have not been let down.

We began with a fifty foot cotton rope. As a matter of fact, this was the horse who helped me learn to love my fifty foot cotton rope.

I would tie the 50 foot rope on her halter and run it through the front window while she was still tied to the trailer by her other lead rope.

Then we would untie her from the trailer before letting her out. The 50 foot rope would still be attached to the halter, but not tied to anything.

I always untie a horse in the trailer before unloading. I've seen a horse caught under the trailer with it's head still tied. The horse died. So I will always untie before I unload. Every horse, every time.

We didn't open the door until she was standing up, off the butt bar and quiet.

This took hours and hours by the way. Kathy and I cleared the week-end, it was a damn good thing.

Kathy stood holding the 50 foot rope at the front of the trailer and I would begin to open the trailer.

If, I mean when, Brandy slammed into the butt bar, we closed the trailer up and waited for her to be quiet.

Probably 20 or 30 times here, so don't get impatient.

Finally she stood quiet in the trailer and we dropped the butt bar.

Kathy was at the front holding the rope. I was at the back with a longe whip.

When Brandy flew back, and fly she did, we let her rip. Kathy held the rope, but didn't pull, just let it run through her heavily gloved hands.

I just got out of the way.

The second she stood up I began to whip her pasterns (no blood, but I made my point) and Kathy started to tow her back in.

No kind words, or mean ones for that matter, we just towed and whacked her back into the trailer.

Then we started over.

Same drill, over and over.

Eventually, like five or six hours later, Brandy stood at the open trailer and waited.

So did we.

She cautiously took one step back.

She stumbled on her bad leg and scurried the rest of the way.

We said, good girl, dried her off and put her to bed.

We hauled and unloaded this way probably ten times before she got better. I never repeated the exercise if she was quiet. She was loaded when we went somewhere and unloaded when we got there. I'm a big believer in a process making sense to a horse. If we loaded her over and over it would only frustrate her and us.

Brandy got over it.

This method has never let me down. I have noticed that 95% of the horses who do this have a stiffness or pain somewhere.

I am never discussing this again.

Now on to redsmom and Queenie, and their battle of the sidepass.
I had a few thoughts when it came to Queenie. I have a very clear picture in my mind. I see Redsmom pushing and shoving on Queenie as she leeaannnns into Redsmom, all four dainty little feet firmly planted into the ground.

My guess is Redsmom feels vaguely homicidal at the end of these sessions.

One of the most important things I ever learned as a young trainer was this.
If you push your horse she will push back.
If you pull your horse she will pull back.
If you drag on your horse the horse will drag back.

I know I said one thing, but these are all connected.

Steady pressure = steady pressure back.

Guess what? Our horses are bigger than we are. They win.

If a horse can't set herself against the pressure she will move away. Period.

You guys have heard me say, bump, bump, bump.
Pull and release, pull and release.
Things like that, right?

So here's a ground exercise for everybody with a dull, pluggy, slow or contrary animal.

Stand with your horse in a halter.

Stand facing the side of your horse as if you are going to mount.

Tip your horse's nose slightly towards you, put the flat of your other hand where your heel would go if you're asking for a turn on the forehand, (about 12 inches behind the cinch) and puuuuuussssshhh.

If you get movement, it will be slow and muddy feeling. If you keep pushing the horse will eventually stop and lean on you. Or if you have a stinker like Queenie she will start out by leaning on you.

Now try this. Instead of pushing her, poke her with your thumb.

Start with a soft poke, then a medium poke, then poke hard enough to make your thumb sore.

One, two, three.

If you don't get any response at first just keep repeating the set of three pokes. 1, soft, 2, medium, 3, OW!

You can substitute the handle of a crop if you want, but no whacking! Just poke! With energy!

Just repeat and repeat.

It won't take long before your horse steps away when you get to poke # 2 or #3.

Stop when it only takes #1, the softest touch.

Don't let the head leave you, keep about 2 feet of leadrope in your hand while resting said hand on the bridge of your horse's nose. This will stabilize the front end.

Before long your horse should be turning on the forehand quite nicely.

Do this both ways.

I'm happy when I can raise my hand and my horse moves away from the invisible pressure I have created. I'm happy when I create movement with movement, not contact.

Decide where you're happy, practice, eat two apples (no, one isn't for Queenie, I don't give treats!) and call me in the morning.

We'll actually sidepass when you can move your horse with some lightness. Trust me, you'll be much happier.

Mouthy Monday with Autumnblaze

Autumnblaze sent this one in. I have really enjoyed getting to know her and her horse through her comments. Now we get to meet her through a story. I still need her blog address, thank you very much....I am going back into training mode for a couple of days, we'll start tomorrow. I hope everybody commments like crazy so we can get some things sorted out. Get your training hats on folks!

Here's her blog address

And in a second it was gone...

I was early. I was meeting my boss at a clients barn as it was closer to my
place than the office and we'd planned on a very early appointment.
This was a good client... but not just any client to me either.
You know those people you meet the first time, and you just know they'll be significant in your life? You don't know why or how but you know they will?
That's how these clients were.

I pulled in and said hello to the owner and the girl who worked there.
My boss was unsurprisingly late. I wandered up and down the
barn aisle - the horses were all still in. I held my hand up to nippy
nosey babies to smell me andscritch their curious Arab baby faces. I greeted the brood mares and popped in to say hello to a few I knew best with neck rubs. I checked my phone for the
time. Gave my boss a call, just to check.

'I just left 10 minutes ago, you're there?' Yep. No biggie, I surely
didn't mind waiting around at this barn.

Suddenly, my mind jumped to a certain horse in the barn. He was in the back part
of a massive foaling stall that had been divided. A
lmost hidden away, not forgotten but attention was limited for this horse these days, that I knew. I also knew I thought he was amazing.

I told the owner my boss was a good 20 minutes or so out and
asked if she'd mind if I groomed her eldest gelding. She happily agreed and pointed me to a bucket overflowing with currys, brushes, combs and hoof picks. I grabbed the necessary
paraphernalia and headed into the first half of the divided stall.
There was a 16 hand chestnut yearling, dripping with chrome and awkwardness.
He knew me as a friend though he was timid and nuzzled my hand. I scratched his neck and moved to the door in the divider.

The older geldings' ears perked up and he nickered deeply as
I unlatched the door to his stall. I closed it behind me and put down the
brushes on the dividers ledge only hanging on to the curry. I greeted the bay gelding with some scratches on the neck.

Suddenly he lunged forward at the yearling whose curious nature had led him to stretch his neck across the divider towards me.

The bay gelding was not pleased with the young upstart nosing into his space.
I was a little taken aback and fussed at the bay and popped him on the chest.
None of that with me in the stall! The pinned ears and grumpy face were less than
friendly but his expression softened quickly once the nosey chestnut retreated.

Standing there, waiting with no real purpose, currying the bay I, as is typical,
became quickly lost in my thoughts. I was taking in the lovely horse smell and
thinking through the days schedule as I stood facing the bays right side
currying away at his back and flank.


Right in my ear. Not a snort but what I interpreted as a blow, and not a
friendly one, right next to my face. I could feel the imposing nose just off of
my cheek. The ugly pinned eared, teeth barred lunge at the yearling popped into
my mind. I had come into the stall with this relatively strange horse and
assumed that he would be enjoying my currying him, I had just corrected him...
and his teeth were a half inch from my face and he just blew.

My heart hesitated. My breathe caught. Oh shit, the pain is coming was all that
I could think.

Suddenly the breath got hotter and was on my cheek. I had not had the time to
react, and if I had for some reason I had frozen in my boots. I was sure
however, this would not end well...


Chin to ear. He licked me chin. to. ear. And cocked his head just so I was
looking right into his eye. He looked as if he were smiling gratefully at me
with a mischievously satisfied twinkle in his eye.

I took one step back, drew a breath and about fell over in a fit of laughter. I
couldn't help but laugh at my reaction and misinterpretation of his intentions
but mostly his expression afterward. I hugged his neck and kept currying until
my boss arrived. He was obviously an appreciative horse. In one big wet horse
slurp my heart was gone.

A girl had found her horse... and a horse had found his girl.