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.


  1. Yes, Mugs, your brain is about there LOL!

    It was Helia who asked about bareback riding tips :) Not that I don't need all the help I can get!

    For me, it too a while to get thing I have learned from Mugs is to take your time..and not only for your horse.

    I started last year just walking...then walking/trotting. Mostly last winter when we had 3 feet or more of mare is 15.3 hands, and it's a long way to fall (trust me, I know!).

    This spring/summer I concentrated on centered riding, aka Sally Swift - who, btw, says on one video that the most centered riders she knew of were those (something like this): "Those reiners who herd cows!"

    So two days ago we both needed a change of pace, and I hopped on my mare bareback. We walked, trotted...then I wanted to canter. I asked her to canter, and I got the jack-hammer trot - mostly because I was leaning forward - which her way of telling me I am not in the right position. I got nervous and stopped - then realized I sat through that jackhammer trot, in a circle, and did not lose my balance or my seat.

    That's when I decided it was time to canter...and I know my mare can read my mind, because once I sat back and asked for the canter the right way, off she went.

    Yes, I am not afraid to grab her mane, but the big difference this time was when I found myself slipping around at the trot (and canter), I was able to re-center myself without stopping or grabbing her mane. I just dropped my hands down on her shoulders and adjusted, or lifted my legs out and adjusted. I found my "sweet spot" on her and it was great!

    I guess my biggest suggestion (from someone still learning) is to wait until you are ready.

    Oh...Mugs, I just a small step ladder to get on ;) No vaulting for me. And I'm glad you mentioned the barrel racing was when you could bounce! I'll just go slow with Starlette.

    And we'll work on the lead changes...we were taking a break with the bareback riding. Now it's going to rain for days...again!

    Thanks! Jackie

  2. Thanks Mugs, it means a lot to me.

    My warmup for jumping is pretty much the same. Pandora likes a short warmup, so I do my best to time it so that I walk around the arena for five or ten minutes to get her settled, trot a little in both directions, canter a lap or so each way, then hop over a couple fences and call it good.

  3. Great stuff as usual!

    Going to a new arena or one we visit only once a year is always harder for Colt. I make sure I'm there in plenty of time to get him used to the arena. I don't make him travel right on the rail at first...I start about half way between center and the rail...then start legging closer toward the rail. I let him stop and look if he needs to...always keeping quiet. He's gotten used to the routine and it works real well for him.

    Once he's used to everything then we start the actual warm up, which is very much like yours. I've noticed a huge change in him over last year. He's maturing a lot.

  4. Good stuff. Thanks for the breaking down your warm up. Very helpful. I can't wait to ride again, but Tax is healing up a from dumb tried to jump the fence injury. Silly boy. I put details on my blog if anyone is interested. Warning - There are some graphic pics of a his wound but it wasn't serious. Just a little gross.

    HorsesAndTurbos - Had to laugh at the Sally Swift comment. Sounds like Mugs!

  5. I have been doing some bareback riding lately, since my daughter's pony has chewed on mine, right back where the saddle lies.
    During this time we have had a moose encounter with a cow and calf, resulting in having to ride a detour through water and forest when it was pitch dark.
    I just hoped my horse could see a little bit better than me - which she obviously could as we returned home safe in the end.

    Just when I thought I could put on the saddle the evil pony munched away again, on the same spot – the day before we should start a regional dressage show.
    As I have been waiting since spring to start (my daughter’s pony has had a minor tendon problem, and it didn’t feel right for me to start when she couldn’t) I really wasn’t ready to give up.
    So I called the head judge and asked if I could start bareback.
    Which I got permission to.
    So on Saturday folks, I braided my horse and started her bareback in a regional dressage show.
    It was great fun.

  6. I have a clarification question. In this post you say:

    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.

    In another post you say:

    The first is flexing the nose from side to side, bending the head and neck to my knee, without getting movement from the feet. My concept in flexibility comes from the relation between my horse and my hands, my legs and her body, creating motion. Not a floppy neck.

    I know you are very consistent with your training philosophy, ergo there is a difference between flexing a horses head from side to side, vs asking for a yield to the rein pressure. I'm just not sure I can confidently say what it is.

    Are the side to side flexers pulling the whole time? Are they using an opening rein instead of a direct rein?

    Also, on the follow your nose front, do you wait to do this until your horse already gets the follow your nose thing, or is this exercise not disruptive to that? From a following your hand perspective its seems like it shouldnt confuse them, because your hand is going straight back to your hip. From a nose perspective I'm unsure.

    Depending on your answer I may owe someone a little apology/you-were-right-I-was-wrong.

  7. gillian - after my horse understands to move forward off my leg and to follow my hand, I feel comfortable teaching something new.
    Which is to give to the left and rightwith his face while moving forward. This is not see-sawing on their mouth by the way.
    It's a give to my hand.
    My horse says, "This is new, I can't go left or right, what the hell does she want now?"
    I wait, continuing my hold until he drops his nose and release.
    Since he's been trained from day one to understand a release, he figures it's just the next step.

    What I don't do is ask my horse to bend his nose to my knee without movement.

  8. Aha. I was thinking the forward movement might be part of the difference but I forgot to write that down as one of my guesses.

    Also, I appreciate you opening with the word "After." Sometimes I get all excited because I think, "my horse has this problem! I'll try this and see if it helps." I have to admit I've had more than one ooops moment under saddle trying stuff that the horse couldn't understand because I hadn't taught him the smaller steps. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work.

  9. Yahoo! Got her on the trailer!

    Took me an hour and a half...forgot to wear gloves, have one blister, but she finally got on, we went for a 10 minute drive, got home, my hubby gave her a bunch of apples while in the trailer, unloaded her and turned her loose.

    I did start to get impatient at one point (of course Starlette reflected it) but I swear, Janet, you were standing right next to me telling me to relax and take my time..have all night ;)

    Wrong side, but I don't care. Will work on that later once she is comfortable loading!

    Supposed to go trail riding this weekend with a new bunch of people who are locals I feel like I can go!

    Thanks, Mugs!!!!

  10. Oh, and I forgot to add - I have been reading Jessica Jahiel's Horse Sense about as long as I've had horses. Her good, solid, common-sense advice got me through a lot of the issues I had with my first horse. I think her "Horse Behavior Problem Solver" was one of the first training books I bought and read.

  11. Hi there, I have just discovered your blog and loved it! So many things ring true.
    I am a middle aged woman, I have started riding Western after riding English since I was a child. I have just bought a 5-years-old QH mare ...a "failed" reining horse. She is "soundish", she won't be able to compete, too much damage in her hocks. People who sold her to me, told me that if I wanted to do reining I should do like Everybody-else and should infiltrate her hocks every three months O_o yeah right!

    I am interested in learning to ride well, and enjoy what my little mare is capable to do comfortably.

    I am also the groom/helper (but NOT assistant) of a young-reining-trainer in the making. Basically I am the one stuffing the 2-yrs old with carrots, cuddling them and medicating them etc...

    I would like to ask you a question about collecting a cow-horse. I was told you keep them more "naturally" than the reiners ^-^.
    In your previous blog you wrote:
    "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."

    Do you allow some weight on the bit? Is it like an English contact?
    I understood perhaps misunderstood that reining horses should not put any weight on the bit, but stay in frame by themsleves.
    Are cowhorses allowed to weight/ to have a contact when in frame?
    Sorry It is a bit confusing.

    Great blog lots of food for thoughts!


  12. Anon- Reiners are much more stylized than cowhorses. They absolutely must allow themselves to be controlled by the rider at all times.
    They are trained to hold their head in the same position no matter what is going on, so they need to move and guide off the leg and seat.
    A cow horse needs to think. He needs to be obedient, yet looking and thinking for the right way to control the cow. This makes for a different type of reining pattern.
    Our horses carry their heads where their build tells them to put it, so you will see heads carried high, in the middle, or low, wherever the horse travels best. They need to break at the poll and be soft in the bridle though.
    A cowhorse also needs to deal with being hauled around by the reins. Cattle add an element of surprise and the horse has to accept a yank and turn as "Hurry!We have a change in plans!"
    A good reining hprse would think he was being punished.
    More later, I've got to go ride!!!

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  14. Anon - Back to how much I want to feel through my reins...A friend of mine, Michelle, who is a serious student of dressage and a good trainer and instructor told me, "I want to feel like I'm picking up two suitcases," when her horse is on the bit.
    I realized I want to feel like I've got my hands on the suitcases but haven't lifted them off the floor yet.
    A reiner would feel like he saw the suitcases out of the corner of his eye as he passed by.
    Does that make sense?

  15. HorsesAndTurbos,

    Congratulations on your trailer success!

    I drop in here from time to time and also have a horse who had trailer problems after one very bad experience. BUT -- in the past 10 days I have loaded her and taken her for a ride by herself 3 times, and yesterday she loaded on her own, in ONE try. This is a horse who would start shaking in fear as soon as she was pointed at the trailer, a few months ago.

    I have spent the summer taking her to little shows with other horses and discovered very quickly that she trailers well with company; in fact she is usually better behaved than her companion!

    About 4 weeks ago I started loading her on her own again. She was trained to self-load and it turns out that using a routine that is as close as possible to what she learned really helps. At first all I wanted was for her to go in and take a bite of grain. Over time I wanted her to stay in and keep eating, raised the butt bar, closed the ramp of the trailer, etc. She self-unloads calmly now, too. I still need a helper for loading, someone to rattle the grain bucket, but I think we're very close to not needing a helper, just having the bucket up at the front where she can see it.

    (And mugs and others, I know that using grain is "cheating" but this horse will Get Over Herself for food, and her breeders don't give treats to horses in general, but make an exception for trailer training.)

  16. Thanks very much.
    I think I prefer the way of thinking of a cow-horse, let the horse look where he goes.
    It is actually the problem I have with my reining mare, she does not look where she puts her feet!!! I guess she is so used to be guided and to look at the sand and move on sand arena. We already had two falls when the ground I rode was harder than a reining arena O_o!

    I give us a year of re-education, before taking her hacking, or we will fall ... a lot!

    Thanks again, I am going to look for a cow-horse trainer in my area. I watched the Blue Allen video. I much prefer the way his horse goes than Shawn Flarida's Wimpys Little Chic. However Shawn is known to leave his horses "au naturel".

    Look at this video:

    Compared to one of the best European reiners Rudi Kronsteiner

    Thanks again

  17. I can see why you like manymisadventures blog. I read it, bookmarked it and thoughroughly enjoyed it!

    Mugs do you have anything for needle-shy horses? I can think of some long term solutions. But not any short-term-need-it-done-now solutions other than the horse being twitched.

  18. Re: Michelle and amount of feel thru the reins: another dressage-y view: how much weight you carry depends on the horse's personality as well as their comformation and level of training.

    Finding the right amount of weight that you need to connect correctly with that horse is part of the puzzle.

    I currently own one who will work best at "touching the suitcase handles" eventually, but because he's green and growing and slightly unbalanced is currently a "picking up suitcases" guy. My older horse (tb) prefers a light contact. Many warmbloods like that "full suitcase" connection, with a corresponding leg.

    Just had to say it's not a one-size-fits-all in dressage, either.

    Love the suitcase analogy, btw.

  19. Mugs, I started training horses under the tutelage of a really conciencious and soft pleasure and trail trainer (was a national champion). We lost him to cancer. In any case, I've been working with what I learned from him in the 3 years I was lucky enough to have daily contact.

    So far, I've brought 4 horses (two of which are stallions) through basic training with his help (one a horse a year and then two the final year). I did the work on the ground and in the saddle while he guided. Since then, I've also worked two other horses in their basics. I'm out in the boonies and so have had a problem finding a trainer locally I can trust with the horses.

    My problem. I have a 3 year old stallion I'm starting. Usually starting has never been a problem. However, this horse is different and my inexperience is causing me some problems. Generally, when I put a horse in the roundpen I have not had a problem getting them to move forward, set ranking, and learn the voice commands for walk, trot and canter.

    This guy is disrespectful. Not in an aggressive way, he refuses to move forward. I work using a lunge whip like a fishing rod and generally driving the horse without touching it. This did not work to get him moving. Flicking the whip at his ankles lightly, on his butt, did not work, I got big and scarey, deep voice and all that. Not a chance, in frustration I flicked the lunge whip at his butt, he tucked under butt and tail, and when I did it harder he of course kicked. Not what I wanted. In frustration, I tried once or twice more and I was afraid I'd be setting up for a disaster.

    So, I stopped and thought about it, got the really long working lead-line rope with the popper on the end and instead of lunging him free, I hooked him to the line and with about 10feet of rope I curled it up in the hand and began swinging the rope making the whirring noise. This got his attention but he still wouldn't move so I popped him on the butt a couple of times while whirring furiously, he finally started to move forward in a circle on my lead rope. We worked on this, then stopping and turning direction and circling in the other direction. However, he slows down often and I had to kick up the whirring threat a few times.

    I'm concerned about what I'm doing of course.

    Next I went to do something I have often done with several of the horses which is to move their feet using the long-line clipped to the halter and with two hands, wrapping the long-end behind the fore-foot and putting pressure on the ankle to lift the foot and move it forward until they'll stand with it in the air and I can place it.

    Lifting the first foot started the war.

    Throwing his foot up and down and trying to move into me, step on me, then moving his head down to nibble the stubs of grass in the arena, we looked like a push me pull me in action. I did get him to lift the foot and place it, which I did reward him for, then went to the other side, and we started all over again. I had to back him up each time he tried to move into me. Communication failures all around. Either he is very smart, or he's very dumb. He obviously didn't understand what I was asking him, and I tried several different ways. At the very end, I went back to circling him a couple of times in each direction on the long line and stopping at that to reward him and end on a positive note.

    Do you have some solid suggestions for me? I don't want to ruin the horse. I haven't done that much with him yet, so maybe I'm expecting too much? Should I try a long driving whip with a plastic bag at the end? Should I wait for feet work until he really just stands after lunging.

    I feel so silly after having done this successfully before to even have to ask, but better that than make a mistake.

  20. Anon - I'm going to post on this tomorrow - that way we should get some more input.

  21. Thanks mugs for considering my problem! I look forward to seeing the responses. I have a 16 year old girl here who is very horse saavy. She was really sweet and told me today (I wrote that post yesterday when I couldn't sleep all night worrying about this problem, and after posting finally got to sleep). She said, I shouldn't worry about it or totally focus on it too much, and not go in the roundpen with it on my mind, just keep at it and so on. But, I know this boy and he is very different. I left him alone today to wait and see your response as I would like some feedback even if to feel comfortable.

    I did walk up to him today with a small plastic bag in the hand and swatted it through the air a few times and he looked at attention and backed at that, so its possible a long whip with a plastic bag might work. But, I don't know if it is the right thing to do. Seems he gets very acustomed to things fast, and maybe he would just ignore that also after the first 5 mins? Dunno.

  22. Mugs,
    Way too late, I'm saying thanks for the warm-up information! I appreciate you taking the time to write it all out.