Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mort Again

I rode down to the arena, tired and worried. It had to be late in the afternoon for the show to be completely done. I wondered what time it was. My mind skipped briefly to my watch, sitting abandoned at the back of my dresser and then skittered away. I squinted up at the sun, it wasn't straight up but it wasn't on it's way over the mountains either, so maybe it was around 2 o'clock. I hoped so anyway.

There was a water pump, but no trough. I turned the pump on and twined my fingers into a bowl. Mort drank, taking great gulps from the gushing water that drained my makeshift bucket and soaked me down for the second time that day.

I wiped down his face and belly with my wet hands. He was ganted up and he had wrinkles under his eyes.

I loosened the cinch and let Mort graze for awhile. My stomach rumbled and I thought about how long it was going to be before I ate.

"I sure don't want to backtrack," I told my weary horse, "maybe we'll go out this road and find another way home."

I laid my head on his butt and closed my eyes. I gave him another ten minutes before we headed out.

After an anxious couple of miles we came to a little grocery store at the corner of our dirt road and a main road.
"Why honey, where did you ride in from?" The lady at the counter said after one look at my grimy clothes and sunburned face.
"I'm from town," I said, "I was wondering if you could tell me the best way home."
"Well you're in Falcon now. If you head out this way you'll end up in Black Forest," she pointed North, "this way will put you right in downtown," she pointed West. "You look about done in, do you want to call somebody?"
"No, no, I'm fine, which way did you say Black Forest was?"

I couldn't imagine who I could call. My butt was getting deeper in trouble every minute. I had friends from my riding club in Black Forest and I knew how to ride home from there. It seemed the best bet.

I felt better as we headed North. I didn't have a clue where I was, but I knew I'd eventually end up somewhere I recognized.

Mort's trot picked up and he seemed a lot cheerier. It might have been my renewed sense of purpose, or he might have had an idea where we were, whatever it was he slid back into his easy, long strided trot and headed the direction I asked.

We felt good enough to stop and cause a little trouble.

There were maybe 8 pairs of cattle drinking at a water tank. I came in through the gate and they scattered as we came up to drink.

Mort snorted and played in the water. He'd bury his nose in deep and make waves by pushing his head back and forth. When he felt the cattle edging back in to share the water he would pin his ears at them, sending them back out.

Once I remounted I hesitated before I turned back to our road.

I'd seen the cowboys do it on TV. Herding cattle couldn't be that hard.

I pointed him to the cattle which were still patiently waiting for us to leave them to to the water. Mort pricked his ears and headed towards them with interest.

We walked around them, bunching them up first. They were easy enough to keep in a bunch, especially since we were circling the water tank.

Then I peeled an old cow off the herd. She trotted around the group, her calf snugged in to her flanks.

We trotted behind her, she disappeared into the herd ahead of us.We peel off another pair, then another. Mort was getting pretty good at pushing them out and we both agreed to stay away from the cows who lowered their heads and shook their horns at us.

Then I decided we could hold one out of the group. It took several tries but we finally cut a cow and calf away from the herd. The cow slipped past us, but we held the calf.

Before I could think of what to do next the calf turned tail, whacked through the lower two strands of the barb wire fence and hightailed it.

I ran up and down the fence looking for a gate as the little calf disappeared into the heat waves shimmering above the pale prairie grass. This was not good.

I looked all around and saw no place to go for help.

It occurred to me I could be shot for cattle rustling and trespassing. Or hung. Or both.

With a guilty conscience I hustled out to the road and headed on my way, trying to look as innocent as possible. I never did see the calf again.

By the time we hit Black Forest, Mort was down to a walk. When I finally found a street I recognized the sun was definitely hanging over the mountains. The heat had picked up for it's final blast before the cool evening would take over for the night.

The shade from the thick pine trees gave us a welcome relief.

We walked along the side of the dirt road, finally close enough to home territory to need to stay out of traffic.

I made one last water stop as I came up on Mike Craig's place, Pine Run Ranch. Mike met me in the yard.

"How did you end up here?" He asked.

As I unfolded my day (sans the cow episode) his eyes grew wide. He looked Mort over, ran his hands down his legs and pinched the skin on his neck.

"Go ahead and give him a drink and let him graze awhile," he said, as he loosened his cinch.

"He seems to be in pretty good shape."

"I've let him rest and drink off and on all day," I told him.

"You look about done in too. Should we call your folks?"

"No, no, let's not do that," my words rushed over each other.

I sat in the grass and leaned back against a fence post. It did feel pretty good to sit still. My legs ached and I felt a pretty good saddle sore starting on the inside of one knee.

I visited with Mike until Mort started to pick his head up and look towards home between bites.

"Are you sure I can't call somebody for you?" Mike asked again.

"You know, I think we'll go ahead and finish it," I said.

Mike stood with his hands in his pockets and a worried look on his face while I cinched my horse back up. I noticed my latigo went up another two holes since the far away morning. Mike watched from the end of his drive until we turned around a bend and disappeared in the trees.

I was so tired I kept dozing off. Mort walked on without my help, sure of the way home now. We travelled steadily, Mort's ears were up and his walk was even. We rode by our riding club as the sun began to sink, came down T-gap road, passed Swede's arena and finally, finally, saw the drive-in on Barnes Rd.

Mort whinnied, his voice was raspy and deep, but he found his trot one more time and we cruised in the last few miles.

I pulled off his tack and was grateful I had remembered to fill his water in the early morning. The cool night air raised goose bumps on my arms. The cold was starting to settle on me and I wished for a jacket. I tossed him half a bale of hay before I picked up my saddle and made my way home.

I slid in the door a little after 8 p.m.

"What happened?" My mother's worried face switched gears into pure pissed as soon as she noted I still had both arms, both legs and there was no blood.

"I got a little lost," I told her.

My weariness was seeping through my bones and I went to sit down on the couch. Somewhere in my fog it registered I must have really scared her because she was letting me sit on the couch in my barn clothes.

I gave my parents an abbreviated version of my day. I saw them glance back and forth at each other, resignation and belated worry crossing their faces.

"Couldn't you have called?" My Dad asked.

We don't have a horse trailer! I shouted in my mind.

"I never found a phone," I said instead.

Later, after I had cleaned up and had my much anticipated cold supper I found myself back on the couch, staring into space in a total stupor.

"Have you ever been so tired you felt heavy?" I asked my Dad.

"I swear, my arm weighs about 1000 pounds." I slowly lifted my arm and let it fall.

Dad came over and sat next to me. He unfolded a map and spread it across our laps.

"Let's track this ride you went on," he told me.

"We talked and whispered, my poor Mom had her fill of me for the day, and figured out the route I had taken.

Mort and I had covered a little over 70 miles.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mort/Water Holes

I didn't think this was going to be a two-parter, but it is.

I was a little stumbly at 4 a.m. Enough to wake my mother. She come around the corner and into the kitchen, peering at me drinking milk out of the jug, with my boots tucked under my arm and a Ding Dong in the other hand.

Her hair was a little messed and she was tucked into her soft over-sized robe. As usual she looked coolly beautiful in spite of her tired eyes.

"Where are you going?"

"I have a horse show today, I told you."

"Why do you have to leave so early?"

"It's at a new arena, I want to make sure I get there in time."

"Wait a minute, just exactly where is this arena?"

Even at 4 in the morning my mother was one of the sharper tools in the shed.

"It's out east," I told her, "Karen told me I could get there by following the railroad tracks from her house."

"Is she going? Why aren't you catching a ride with her?"

"She's taking two horses today so I have to ride."

"I'm not sure you should ride to an arena you haven't been to before," Mom said.

Her eyes narrowed and she frowned a little just like she did when she worked on the crossword.

"I'll follow the tracks and if I can't get there before noon I'll come home," I assured her.

I started edging towards the door, hoping to get out before she woke up enough to notice I hadn't finished my Saturday morning chores.

"Make it ten, you haven't done your housework," she told me as I slid into the garage to collect my gear.

I clumped down the road with my jeans still stuck half in my boot tops, loaded down with my saddle, bridle and show pad. The cool gray dawn felt clean and a little damp as I made my way down the street, crawled over the Molines back fence, through the ditch and across the field to the barn.

Mort's welcomed me with a hungry nicker as he waited, his neck stretched so he could get his head over the top rail of his reinforced corral.

I threw his hay and three-way in his feeder and cleaned and filled his water tub. I groomed him as he ate. Of course he had a huge green manure stain on his hip.

"Stop moving, we're in a hurry," I said as he stepped away from my scrubbing fingers.

He snorted and buried his head into his hay, unimpressed with my anxiety.

Finally, finally he was done and I saddled him as he tanked up at the water tub. Mort knew me well enough to drink deep before we started out this early in the day.

"If you ride your horse right after he eats keep him in a walk until he passes his first manure," a sage bit of advise from a horsewoman much wiser than me rang clear in my guilty conscience.

Her words helped me walk him for the first ten minutes until I couldn't take it anymore and released him into his long, rolling trot.

Mort blasted air through his nose several times as he settled into his mile eating gait. The sun was up in earnest and the dew laden prairie grass began to crackle and rise as the dry heat rolled to greet us.

The swish of the grass brushing against his legs and the light blue of the horizon deepening into a bowl high over our heads invited us to roam the day away.

It was exciting to be heading someplace new and the prairie lay open in front of us. Within a few miles we would be out of town and crossing the big ranches.

Mort picked up on my growing anticipation and he gave a huge leap to the left as a prairie hen flew up under his nose.

I laughed and grabbed the horn as he jumped again in fun. He kicked into a lope and began to speed up. I leaned forward and let him go. He leveled out and ran. The morning was too glorious to worry about a sweaty coat at the horse show.

Several hours later I was regretting our early morning run. Mort was walking below the tracks, his coat sweated white and crusty. He moved quickly, anxious to be so far from home without a clue where he was.

I was feeling pretty much the same. We had stayed with the tracks, so I knew we weren't lost, but I sure didn't want to turn around and ride the whole way back.

Mile after mile had rolled under Mort's steady feet. We hadn't passed a soul. I had stopped and let him drink at a cattle tank. While he drank I stripped his saddle and splashed him down with double handfuls of water.

I had looked around us and saw nothing but prairie. The only sounds were the creak of the windmill and the buzzing flies.

The sun was high and hot enough to dry Mort within minutes.

I took another quick glance around and stripped my shirt. I dunked my whole head in the tank and soaked my arms and chest.

I looked into my sweaty cowboy hat and wondered how the cowboys in the olden days ever managed to drink out of them.

"Ugh," I told Mort, "if it's drink out of this or die I guess we're done for."

I saddled him again and soaked my head one more time before we left. I tied my shirt to my saddle strings as Mort trotted off, the breeze against my bare skin made me shiver. I stretched my arms out from my sides and stood high in my stirrups.

Now it was hours later and the only reminder of our our cool reprieve was the sore a drying bra strap had rubbed next to my armpit.

We crested a long rolling hill and I pulled up. Mort cut loose with a long and lonesome whinny. The empty show grounds spread out below us.

We had missed the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Toothy Tuesday (oops)

I can't believe I forgot what day it was, but I did.

Stillearning said: "Unspoken fear can radiate a very sneaky, negative effect; it often masquerades as common sense."

This says almost everything I've ever wanted to say. I want it in a needle point for my wall.

Right next to the needle point which says, "They're all gentle (horses) until you piss them off."

I credit that one to the Big K, he says I said it, I don't know who did, but I love it.

OK, so I don't needle point, but I can dream can't I?

Here's our Mouthy Monday Entry-

Emilie is from another country, you can feel the flavor of her language in the way she writes. I hope she writes us and tells where she's from.

This is a long one, for wordy Wednesday… I don’t have a blog, but I probably should!

This is the story of how horses got into my life.

We had just ended kindergarten and were moving up to grade school. On the first day of class, I was nervous, I was in first grade, used to having my sister around, my twin sister… but since my mom felt we needed to be independent and learn to live without each other, we weren’t in the same class. I was lost without her… and I didn’t want to talk to any of the other kids.

We had a break for a little snack at about 10 am. Then, out of nowhere, this girl starts talking to me, I’d never seen her before, she was new in our school. We exchanged some snacks and were best friends since. I learned she had a horse and got interested in visiting the barn.

Keep in mind, I was 6 years old. So we went to the barn with my new friend’s mom. This horse was great, she was a haflinger and she was an ANGEL! We couldn’t ride her, because mom was a little reluctant to let us get on this horse.

So, in the same year, I guess we had pestered the mom so much, that she brought us to ride… I will never forget the smell, the feel of the horse moving and the leather in my hands.

From then on… I never wanted to be off of a horse. I asked my parents if I could get a horse, I always dreamed of a tall Palomino that I would’ve named AliBaba. So for about 8 years, we rode that horse every day of the summer when we were off from school, and every weekends.

We’d take turns and ride the horse in a large part of the pasture. One day, we were told we could take the horse to adjacent pastures that were much bigger. We put that horse back into shape on a program we had created without even knowing! She was about 20 and stunning!

We always had the occasional fall, but we always made excuses so our parents wouldn’t know that we fell from the horse, otherwise, they would’ve took our privileges! I think that’s where the “be tuff and don’t show pain” came from.

One morning, I will never forget that day… I was 14 years old, in school, I met my friend, as usual. She was beyond sad; I noticed and asked about it. She had brought a picture of Penny (the mare) and told me that Penny was sold. I could barely hold back my tears, I was in High School now and still enjoyed riding as much as I always did.

Her mom never told us why she sold our beloved Penny, but we would have only a few days to say goodbye before she left the barn. She was going to a nice barn, but very far away… I would never see her again. We all had our time alone with Penny to say goodbye and give her one last treat, I cried so hard.

We had been through a lot together from injury to us and to her (her leg had fallen through a bridge while we were leading her over it, her leg was injured and we were far from the barn, we walked the whole way back, that’s another story, she had tripped once and fallen hard, but had only bit her tongue!).

When Penny left, she left a gaping hole in my heart… I never forgot her, it’s been 10 years. I hope that Penny is enjoying old age and retirement, she would be around 30 years old, I guess.
I lacked horses in my life for about 7 years… I was always looking at sales adds and counting my pennies. My dad had bought a land and we could easily keep horses there if we built fence and shelter.

But it wasn’t for another 3 years that I would buy my own. In the meantime, I took care of a lady’s horses, exercised them… she had 8 horses that needed work. So I learned about training, breaking foals, riding wild horses (she had one mare that was 6 and completely unhandled)… I trained her for saddle myself, as well as her 3 year old filly and regularly exercised a 10 year old mare that was already broke. That was the only contact with horses that I had then, twice a week.

I bought my filly (Dandy) from one of my mom’s coworkers that could no longer take care of her. Dandy was 2 the year I bought her. She knew a halter but that was the extent of her training.

I had taken a course on barefoot performance trimming and had studied the hoof mechanism and the best way to trim them and why for 2 years (every day!), I still refer to my material sometimes, to refresh my memory.

Dandy had severely neglected hooves, she didn’t get the minerals she needed, her coat was dull, she was disrespectful and tried to kick me on my first visit, before buying her.
In short terms… I didn’t like her, at all, but figured I would give her a chance, because she was going to auction in 2 days if I didn’t buy her.

I got a fence up in a day and trailered the horse to her new home! She would be alone, but she had lived all of her life alone since she was weaned. I started to work on her training right away, she would not give her feet and I only trimmed one at a time whilst training her, she was impatient, would not stand tied, could not walk on the lead without running me over.

So in a year, I got her from unruly to giving her feet and being patient while I trim them, riding alone on the trails, not spooking for deer or birds taking off. She now respects my space and would never try to hurt me.

She is a solid minded horse! I am now starting to work on her canters at different speeds, she can lope and jog but I have no intentions of showing yet. I want to get her to leg yield and she does a pretty good rollback.

We’ve got 2 other horses, both rescues from the meat truck, a year after Dandy. They are 2 standardbred ex-pacers. One is 16, the other is 18. They were neglected and emaciated.
They are the best ever.

The 18 y/o mare was in foal and foaled a month after we got her. The foal, a little pure black colt, was very tall and leggy and probably lacked good nutrients during his development, eh was feeble and would not get up, he had a deformity to his back or hips. We bottle fed him and cared for him day and night for 9 days, when he finally passed. He was the sweetest foal, but he was very sick.

His death still came as a surprise, since we saw him gain strength and run around. I was devastated and at the same time relieved. We had given so much to that foal and his dam, I was in shreds. I only felt relief to the fact that I could now sleep full nights and would worry all day.
The Standards have finally put weight back on and are now sporting good sized hay bellies. They are on a regular wormer schedule, but I’ve not yet started to condition them. I do not need very muscular horses and prefer to let them fully recuperate from all the trauma. Between all of the hard times, I would never sell one of them. They are my life and will end their days on our farm.

I don’t plan to ever be without a horse again in my life.

I’ve included some pictures of them:

First one is of my mare Dandy, she is my life. She is a black (true black) Percheron / Quarter horse. She is our best riding horse, but I don’t let anyone ride her too much! She is my first horse and she will never leave our farm.

Second pic is of Pearl (registered name: Minto’s Foly). Pearl is 18 y/o and she is the one who had the foal, she was in no condition to raise a newborn and has made a stunning recovery! She is starting work under saddle, she’s a bit nervous and tends to have a mind of her own. She is an ex-pacer and completely sound. She is smaller at about 15 hh.

Third pic is of Peg (registered name: Mattsabreeze) daughter of Hall of fame inductee Matts Scooter. She is an ex-pacer, at 16, she suffers from a bit of stiffness and arthritis. She has worked under saddle and she is a doll. We only use her lightly for short trail rides… and yes… she paces… she even paces in the field! Peg had a badly matted tail and believe it or not… this is what was left of it when we were done untangling it, she had scratched so much that most of the hair in the mat was broken off. Peg is huge! She is about 16.3 hh.

Fourth picture was to compare Peg and Pearl for height… Pearl (the gray mare) is 15hh! The little horse behind his one that is boarding at our farm, he is a 13.3 hh hackney mix, 9 years old.
Émilie Vallière

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here Comes The Other Side....

Do they even have the sense to look sorry they've been busted? Not much. Note the barefeet.

I can tell this one is going to turn into a good discussion, I already have my head racing with thoughts and comments.....and I'm only on my second cup of coffee. My biggest thought comes with coming back on my own points (I am a mugwump after all!)

Adventures - "...had an ol'guy tell me once to never send my horse to a male trainer under the age of 45 because before then they are just too full of ego and fueled by testosterone..."

The thing is, young kids have no fear. Which can be a good thing. Their ego, their lack of sense, their testosterone and estrogen all combine to install confidence in their horses. Youngsters (at least the good ones) have faith in not only in the absolute rightness of their ability and knowledge but they have the same faith in their horses. Kids are so sure they can get the job done, the horse ends up knowing he can the job done too.

Horses gain confidence from confident riding.

I used my young assistants to do the things that made me nervous. Mostly because they did a better job than I did in some areas.

Putting go on them is one.

I'd have my little ones doing a walk, trot, canter. They'd be all sweet and steady, just what us chicken-livered old ladies like to ride.

BUT the Big K was always trying to impress upon me the importance of my colts feeling comfortable and being able to think at high speeds. Our event is fast. If I didn't make them comfortable moving along at a good clip I wouldn't be able to get the job done when speed was called for.

What he left unspoken was how important it was for me to be comfortable on my horses at high speeds.

I used young assistants, including my daughter, for this very reason. I always joked it was because they bounce. Which has its merits.

The real reason was because my young assistants loved to go fast. Their love of high speed made the colts love it too. My young assistants had such faith in their ability to ride whatever came along the colts became confident in their ability too.

Then I would take them back and be able to continue the feel of confidence, because the scary part, the initial run, was taken care of.

I let the kids take colts trail riding too. They just hummed along on them, where I would get all trainerly and fussy and hide my nerves by over-riding.

By the time I went out on them they were happy and confident and needed my intervention, because the kids would have them having a little too much fun.

I had good assistants mind you. I had trained them, they listened to me (kinda sorta) and I trusted them to a point. So it was a win/win for everybody.

I know you guys don't have necessarily have this kind of help, that's why I got paid the big bucks after all, but it's something to think about.

Then adventures said - "What you said about a horse getting broke as a byproduct of using him to get from point A to point B is interesting."

When I had a big gang of youth riders I spent a lot of time watching them just squirrel around on their horses. A group of girls ranging in age from 8 to 16 on horses ranging from 2 to 32 will give you a bunch to think about.

The little kids wanted to keep up with the big kids and the riders on young horses wanted them to behave like the oldies.

Case in point: The gang would blow out and ride a trail course they had painstakingly built out in the fields alongside a creek by the barn.

The basic self-imposed rule for this group was, first one to a gate opens it, last one closes it. Half the time they were bare-back. So the littl'uns really didn't want to get down to open or close a gate, because all the older'uns would be ragging on them to get a move on (not unlike me shagging cattle for the Big K).

If a horse wouldn't open or close a gate the rider had to get down and take care of it.

I watched each and every child get a handle on gates without my help.

It went like this. The horse would refuse, kid would dismount, open the gate, then get back on.

Next time, same deal.

But every time the kid needed to get the gate she would try a little harder. The other kids would boss, tease, and offer decent advice, depending on the day.

Every time the kid and her horse would get from A to B. So the horse's refusal did no good, it just caused a fuss.

Eventually said kid would get the gate opened or closed and it would be done. The horse could do the gate and so could the kid.

This approach worked for all kinds of things. The trail course had some creek crossings, sometimes with a jump down into it, or up the other side.

The horse would refuse, the kid would kick and steer and fuss, maybe get down, maybe find an easier spot to cross, and the group would assist or get in the way or whatever, but eventually, because the kids wanted to get from A to B then they'd get it done.

Each ride eventually became easier.

I busted them using this same technique to climb trees. They would stand on their horses butts in order to climb into their favorite tree. I don't know how they did it because by the time I caught them it was fait accompli, but each horse, from 2 to 32 would stand while they were used as a step ladder. Ahem.

A. to B. = broke horses. So sometimes you simply have to get it done, technique can come in later.

Horses and Turbos said - " When I showed my farrier the map of the trails, he laughed and said I was always about 1/2 mile from the parking area."

I think this is smart, safe and a good way to go. You're riding where you're confidant. When you're ready you'll go farther and your horse will trust that you're making the right decision.

FD said - "D'you think that being a professional and your time literally being money affected how you approached things? I know I've made mistakes in the past because I needed to stick to a schedule. And this despite consciously knowing and (preaching) that less haste makes more speed when it comes to training."

It made me make some mistakes at first. Time pressure is awful and probably the biggest issue in a trainers world.

I ended up becoming very stream-lined, learning how to make each step effective and knowing how many steps could be covered in one session.

This is how I became caught up in my "teaching everything only once" experiment on my colt. It's from studying how to build a horse maneuver by maneuver with a minimum of repetition.

LuvMyTBs said: "I consider myself a somewhat "handicapped" rider at this point in my life (age 53) due to a very serious injury(non horse related) requiring multiple surgeries and a very lengthy rehab. I was told to be happy to be able to walk normally again,let alone be able to ride."

You are so Horsaii.

stillearning said : Sometimes I wish I had a shorter horse.

Why do you think I like cutters and cowhorses? Pete is a comfy 14.3hh.

AareneX said: "Y'all are totally reading my mind.I just finished reading _Backcountry Basics_ by Mike Kinsey, (mugs, did you recommend this book???). He advocates *never* allowing the horse to get the idea that he can make a choice."

I did recommend this book, still do. I agree with Kinsey, my young horses never get the idea they have a choice. I think you guys remember my story of Pete holding a straight line even though it meant I rode him off the trail and into a gully? I was the bone head who didn't realise he would hold his line no matter what. Obviously my horses don't think they have a choice.
Snicket didn't think he had a choice. He thought he was going to die, so he kindly relayed the information.
Both horses crossed the creek, both obeyed.
Snicket sunk in the mud.
He was pissed, but he would obey again if Kidlet wanted him to, he knows his job..
Pete still doesn't want to do water. So I would not listen to Pete. It's my job to keep him safe, not vice versa.
Once he consistently and willingly crosses water (like Snicket) I will listen if he refuses. But he has to have an underlying knowledge that I am the end-all when it comes to a decision.

Muriel said: I know you are not keen on PNH, but they say it again and again, be safe! dismount, but then have a plan, and work &*se off the horse from the ground, or use other strategies, it is not because you dismount that you have lots the battle of will.

PNH did not think of this concept. Maybe this is part of my issue with them. They take practical horsemanship and turn it into a complicated maneuver they call their own.

Sometimes you can't dismount, sometimes your horse can't delay the expected difficult situation and sometimes you have to have a horse who understands he must do what you asked because you said so.

Again, I have to reference Pete. When I wrote about our Mountain Lion incident I chose to take his advise and turn around. I had complete confidence I could make him go down the hill. If I had insisted, Pete would have gone. He would have trusted me to make the right decision.

When we were on the hillside in the near dark, I stayed on and got out of his way. I trusted him not to bolt, buck me off, or panic so we fell down the mountainside. I had to trust him, but I was trusting several factors. Pete was trained to read my cues. I wanted him to walk, so he did. He trusted me enough to keep him safe, because of his training, so he resisted the urge to bolt, buck me off and go home, which is what he really wanted to do.

Partnerships develop between me and my horses as we learn to handle situations based on their obedience and my respect of their abilities. This takes years and years BTW.

Candy'sgirl said: "My husband's horse sounds like Snicket. He'll go through, over or around anything on a trail. The one weekend he REFUSED to cross a log despite me booting the living daylights out of him. He was right. He finally sighed, crossed it and promptly got tangled up in fencing that we assume had been washed onto the trail from the flooding a few months earlier. Then he stood very patiently while we cut him free. "

This horse understands obedience. He is a horse I would trust in a tough spot.

HorsesandTurbos said: "Sitting down for a minute and reflecting...When I rode Starlette last Sunday, ride #2 alone, she was scared of all the trailers we would have to go past to get to the trail we took the day before. I just asked her to take a step forward towards them...which she did, and then we went another direction on a different trail. She did not know I wanted her mind she did what I asked."

This is perfect. Still expecting and getting obedience, but in a safe and smart manner. This is what builds a long term partnership with a horse.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Safety as We Age

My friend Kathy called me last night. She took her good mare Rosie out on a short ride around her neighborhood, or I should say tried to take Rosie out.

Rosie didn't want to go. She wanted to scream and yell at her corral buddy and refuse to leave sight of the barn.

Kathy said she wasn't that bad, but she was thinking about it.

The unfortunate part of this situation is Kathy let her go back to the barn.

"I didn't let her go straight back," Kathy told me, "I rode her past the barn the other way and turned her back before she got too bad."

"She'll give you the "got too bad" next ride," I told her, "she completely won this round."

Which as we all know, guarantees she will be twice as rotten next time.

"I should have made her go, but I got scared," Kathy said.

There are extenuating circumstances here. Kathy is the friend who was put in the hospital by Captain about a year and a half ago.

Captain slung her into an iron rail fence.

Kathy suffered a punctured lung, several broken ribs, a fractured clavicle and cracked vertebrae.

She had a long, painful recovery and came out of her accident with a healthy dose of fear.

Kathy is a hand. Pre-accident she would have straightened Miss Rosie out and continued on her way. Things have changed for my friend.

"I don't think you should have made yourself do anything," I said, "there's no reason to scare yourself and not enjoy your ride."

The fact of the matter is, Rosie's insecurity and resulting butt-head behavior are probably coming off of Kathy's fear.

Kathy has owned Rosie since she was 3 days old. Rosie's about to turn 11. Kathy broke her, trained her and has put hours of solid all around riding on her.

These two know each other inside and out, and the barn sour nonsense isn't really a big problem. They both know it too, but Kathy has very legitimate fear to deal with and Rosie can feel it.

So what to do?

I have had a slow and gradual change in my approach to my horses over the past couple of years. My sense of urgency is slowly seeping away.

I have more fear than I used to also. So I accept this as something I need to be aware of, but not cave to.

Pete is my favorite example lately, since I'm on him most of the time. I went on a beautiful trail ride with my daughter last weekend. We hit some nasty boggy stuff during a creek crossing.

Neither horse wanted to cross the water. Pete never wants to cross water, so I wasn't surprised, but my daughter's horse, Snicket is quite the water hound. He'll crash across just about anything, and is all the happier if he ends up swimming.

When Snicket flat out refused, I decided to step down and look things over.

The kidlet said, "What are you doing? They can ride across."

"I'm over 50 and I can step off if I want to," I told her and I was only joking a little.

Pete and I found a not-so-scary part of the creek and I jumped across. After a second, so did Pete. I hauled my carcass back up on his back and we were ready to go.

The kidlet fought for another 10 minutes or so and finally stepped off. She jumped the creek and Snicket went to follow. His hind legs landed in the creek and he was immediately sucked down into horse gobbling mud up to his butt.

Snicket hauled himself out and was fine, but there was a couple of good points made here.
1. We should have listened to Snicket. He never refuses. He was trying to tell us something.
2. Getting off made everything easier. The horses still crossed, no harm no foul.

I find myself approaching things this way a lot more than I used to. Afraid of the flapping flag in the mailbox? Fine, I'll get down and lead you by.

Don't like the low overhang in the trees? Fine, we'll walk around it.

On the flip side, I do make Pete go by the flag. We don't go sniff it, we just pass it.Then relax a second and go on with our day.

We stop and at least think about the overhang every ride. Eventually Pete decides to go under, it's easier than going around after all.

We're in the process of learning to drag a roping dummy.

The younger, feistier me would have knocked Pete up to it, grabbed the rope and messed and fought until he drug it around.

The older, mellower me doesn't care that much. I end my ride a little closer to it every day. Pete has quit fretting over it. He knows we're about done for the day when I ask him to approach it. So next ride I'm going to pick up the drag rope and rub him with it. I'll do this until I can pull it and move it and he doesn't care. Eventually he'll lope around dragging the thing. It will look great on his sale video.

So will his water crossings, because we're sneaking up on them.

The irony here is this is exactly how I approached things before I carried the trainer label. If I needed to get through a gate, stream, scary place, whatever, I just got it done and continued on my way. If I had to get down I did. My goal was to get from A to B, not train my horse. In the process of getting from A to B my horse ended up trained anyway.

So with this in mind I had a few suggestions for Kathy.
Don't scare yourself. At this point in life we just want to have a good time.
Work the tar out of Rosie in the arena, then get down and lead her out of sight of the barn.
Let her graze awhile.
Lead her back.
Keep this up until one day you (Kathy) don't feel like leading her.
Then ride her to her grazing spot.
Next day ride her to a new grazing spot.
And so on.
Don't get scared, just enjoy the day with your good horse.
My guess is Kathy and Rosie will be riding around the neighborhood in no time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Num, Yum, Snort, Hey! What's that???!!!

Rebbecca said - I have a 9 year old paint gelding, Junior. He was broke enough when I got him and we've been spending a year working on show finishing for western pleasure and hunter under saddle. Considering I'm an amateur (I do have a trainer, but I want your take on this) I think he's coming along well. BUT he is the mouthiest most ADHD horse I've ever known. He looks all around and gets distracted in the arena whenever a horse comes in or goes out. He will put anything and everything in his mouth and when he's bored/irritated/playful he kind of snaps at me.

Rebbecca has two problems with her horse. His mouthiness and his distractibility.

This gelding is a pleasure, hunter under saddle and maybe, a halter horse.

Each of these events requires standing still, or slow steady movement. None of these events are designed to take much thought on the part of the horse. Nor is there a lot of mental stimulation involved.

Most mouthy, easily distracted horses are also alert, intelligent and athletic horses. This is the kind of horse I like to put on a cow. Once I focus all that bubbling energy I usually lose the problem behavior.

I truly don't know what you pleasure guys do to occupy the minds of your more sharp minded horses, so input would be good here.

I also need to point out I have honest-to-God, diagnosed, severe, ADD. If I was a pleasure horse I would slit my own throat. So if Rebbecca’s trainer is happy with her horse’s progress I doubt he has ADHD.

What I do know is that a mouthy horse should not be given stuff to play with when he's being handled. Be it the end of a lead rope or the back of my shirt.

I have a 2 to 3 foot area of personal space that I want every horse I handle to respect at all times. No horse is allowed to cross into my space ever.

I come out of it to approach my horse whenever I want mind you, be it to love on them or discipline them. They don't get to come to me though.

This simple rule saves both me and my horses a lot of grief.

Have you ever watched two horses (usually geldings or studs) initiate play?

Horse #1 sneaks a quick nip at Horse #2.

Then Horse #2 nips back.

#1 whips back with a slightly harder nip.

#2 squeals and lunges.

The next thing you know they're rearing and play striking and acting like a couple of mustangs.

Next scenario: An owner is standing and holding her haltered horse by his lead rope right under his chin. The horse turns to look at another horse being led by him and the owner yanks on the lead rope.

Then the horse turns the other way to watch a tractor. The owner is pulled again and yanks on the lead rope again.

The horse sighs and stands still for a moment.

The owner strokes the horses nose.

He nips at her hand.

She gives him a small slap.

He nips again, a little harder.

Owner slaps a little harder.

Pretty soon they look like a couple of cheerleaders bitch-slapping each other.

Owner is pissed. Horse is thinking this is great fun.

Does any of this sound or look familiar?

So I keep things clean and direct. I don't handle mouthy horses faces below the eyes unless I'm bridling. Period.

There are lots of other places to pet my horse.

I DON'T HAND FEED THEM! (here we go again)

Between my personal space and my no petting below the eyes rule my mouthy horse never has a reason to touch me with his mouth.

Therefore, if he does touch me with his mouth I can discipline him. Not with a little slap or a bump of my hand on his jaw. I'm going to wack his shoulder or hip with my lead rope and bend him or back him around some.

If a horse in the field doesn't want the neighborhood punk horse bothering him he will lunge, kick and chase, making it extremely clear what's expected.

Every time he touches me with his mouth, I'm going to make a big, dramatic, unpleasant movement kind of thing. Then I'll ignore him.

On the other hand, I'm also going to ignore anything he does which doesn't affect me.

He can wiggle his ears, wag his tongue, shake his head, I don't care as long as his feet stay still and he doesn't touch me.

I give my horses at least four foot of lead rope when I lead them or hold them.

They get to do pretty much whatever they want on that rope as long as they don't touch me or bring their nose past my shoulder. They can't tug on the rope either. They have to keep their feet still when mine are. No grazing.

So they spook and spoof and rear and buck all they want as long as they don't break the rules.

I have noticed the only horses who choose to act this way are either stalled or in a small pen and haven't been out in a while.

I would want these rules clear before I started teaching them halter. Which I don't know how to do.

When the Don't Touch me, Keep your Feet Still Rules are clear I start to expect my horses to focus on me when I ask then to.

So if I quit ignoring my horse and look at him he needs to prepare himself to work. Which may be standing for the shoer or vet. Or loading in a trailer. Or being shown at halter.

If I ignore him he can look around, play with his own mouth, whatever, as long as he follows the rules.

I’m the same way about my horses being distracted. If I’m not working and they aren’t affecting me they can look at whatever they want.

If we’re working they need to work.

I expect as much focus from my horse as I am putting on them, on the ground or in the saddle.

So again, if my horse should be working and he’s googling around, I’ll get after him for not getting the work done, not so much for looking. Does that make sense?

As far as specifics, you’ll have to listen to your trainer, because I don’t know nuttin' about halter or pleasure horse training.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

This is a great story, I felt every uneven step, could smell the pines and hear the bawling calves. Now I'm hoping we'll get the name of the woman who wrote it.....

My wife owns the horse Blue Allen rides (Whiskeys Starlight).

I grew up on the western slope of Colorado and my grandad was a rider for the Taylor Park Cattle Pool riding cows in the high country.

A friend of mines dad owned one of the ranches that belonged to the pool, she has started writing down some of her memories of when she was a little girl riding up in the high country with her sisters and dad.

I think her stories are good and I think people need to read some of them.If you like it and it is not to long maybe it will work for Mouthy Monday.

Let me know what you think.

Thank You.

The Cattle Drives

Operating a ranch in the Gunnison valley had advantages and disadvantages.

One of the advantages was the premium hay that grew with proper management in the irrigated meadows of the high mountain valleys.

One of the disadvantages was the ONE chance, ONE crop to supply the entire winters feed for your cattle. In order for the hay to grow, livestock had to be moved to the hills and surrounding mountains to government permits.

As a youth, I spent more time in a saddle behind cattle the most will see in a lifetime. My sisters and I would saddle up and head to the hills to push cattle. Sometimes we trucked in and sometimes we rode to the starting point of the drive. We were always excited and took great pride in our duty, even when it meant getting a tongue lashing for dropping our reins, or forgetting the lunches..ha ha!

We were way too small to reach up and grab a dropped rein and there was never a rock tall enough to lead the old horse up to and climb on! So it usually meant waiting for Dad to hunt us up and help us out.

He usually wasn’t in the best mood by the time he found us, out of worry and stress. Usually a potty break was the real cause to get off and not be able to get back on. Then the reins would be dropped, the whip and anything else we might have been packing along, left behind. He must have had the patience of Jobe!

I recall having to retrace my steps more than once, trying to find the lost whip or gloves! I’m not sure how many we lost, but it was several. Yes, I admit, there were more even after we could get on and off by ourselves! I recall being really disappointed about going to kindergarten, because I wouldn’t be home to ride old “Patches” every day, play with “Speck” the dog and help grandma make homemade tapioca pudding.

I was however, pretty pleased because my feet had FINALLY reached the bottom of my saddle blanket…meaning I still wasn’t making contact when I’d kick my old horse! It was a milestone for me though! Ha Ha. At that time, your age was measured by your stirrup length and I was definitely getting bigger!

We had the drives on BLM and the mountain drives on Forest permit. My favorite drives were the Forest permit drives. I still loved the dusty trail through the sage brush and the happiness of riding up on the lonely patch of trees and the watering hole on the BLM ground.

My favorite of all was the “early morning drive”. Always the third week in June and most likely encompassed my birthday. The drive was termed early morning for a reason as the morning wake- up call came at 2:30 am. Sometimes we pushed poor Dad to his limit trying to “come to life” at such an hour!

The cattle had a long drive on and hot day and didn’t move well in the heat. It was also important to get the herd past poison patches before they wanted to graze. Dad would have breakfast cooked and ready. While we ate breakfast with blurred eyes, Dad was busy saddling and loading the horses for his “crew”. Lunches would be made the night before and we would head out to the old stock truck with our lunches coats, gloves and yes, sometimes winter boots in tow. YOU NEVER FORGOT THE LUNCHES! I only did that ONCE!

My sisters and I would generally be asleep before we reached the three miles into Gunnison and might wake up to finding us turning up “Guerrieri lane” to the Lost Canyon turnoff. I always knew I had a little time to sleep from that turn before we got onto the gravel road up through Lost Canyon. I’d hear the old stock truck gear way down and I knew we were close to Cabin Creek and close to stepping out into the cold, morning, mountain air.

Keep in mind it was June and a frost at Cabin Creek was not out of the ordinary. When you ride, your fingertips and toes don’t get much movement and on little people they would be throbbing cold within a short time. More than once we’d tough it out as long as we could, then Dad would stop and build a little fire to get us warmed up again.

It was still dark when we started out from the corrals at Cabin Creek and my sisters and I would have get our morning doses of hard times from Mark, Dan or Joe Vader. Mark would always try and strike a deal to buy my old horse and I was simply not going to sell!

We could hear the coyotes as they barked and yipped in the trees on the nearby hills and timbers crack as cows were rustled up out of the beds in the trees. The horses would snort and rattle, anxious at the start of the cold morning ride.

You could hear the saddles creak and the packed saddle bags rub with each stride of the horses down the trail. Glendenning was beautiful, open bright green pasture, surrounded by groves of “quakies” or aspens. We would be passing through just as the sun would begin to peek over the mountain and down through the trees. The wonderful smell of heavy dew on the mountain grasses and damp bark from nearby timber was second to none.

You could hear the forest coming to life as the sun warmed the chilled landscape. The youngest crew and oldest crew always got the “Drag”. That was the tail end of a cattle drive, back with the slow, newer, baby calves and a few old cows and bulls. When we were little, it was the best place for us little “cowboys” as there was always someone close and usually the safest.

We would ride along and listen to the low mooing of the cows to their calves and the bawling of the separated calf from its mother. The old horse’s feet would rhythmically hit the ground with the sounds of the rocks clinking on the horses’ shoes.

Sometimes we would lie back over our saddles and let our heads bounce along the top of the horses’ rump. It was a great view to see the trees and scenery through an upside down view! We would move along until we got to the top of the mountain that dropped off into Hall’s Crossing.

This was a high point as the herd would hit a trot and so did we, down through the trees, whooping and hollering the whole way down. The thick dust would rise and sparkle in the air as the morning sun broke through its curtain. The old cows seemed to know a break was ahead and there would be time to pair up and rest.

One of the hills dropping down into Hall’s Crossing, usually had a black bear that my father felt compelled to chase down the hill! Yes, with me in tow! I wasn’t sure whether to fear loping down the timbered mountain side or the bear we were tailing! He was much more worried about us I’m sure.

If we didn’t see the bear, we could always smell what he’d been feeding on – usually a cow that had died from poison, mountain lupine. When in bloom, it was deadly to cattle. The only way to avoid the inevitable upcoming “gag” was to hold the old horse up until the “drag” was well beyond the carcass, then lope by holding your breath!

There it was, Hall’s Crossing. Hall’s Crossing was wonderful, beautiful mountain valley with a couple of old mining cabins at the mouth of the pasture. As kids, we had reached a magical destination, two old cabins to explore and play in, chipmunks to pester as they warmed themselves in the morning sun and a quick break for a snack and juice!

By the time we’d reached Halls Crossing, the horses were lathered white with sweat and the smell of the sweat soaked leather filled the mountain air. Cows would call to their calves and once paired would begin to graze, the calves would nurse and soon would be bedded down in the cool grass, for a short rest. You could tell when the herd was paired when the bawling of calves had ceased and all was content.

When it was time to move on, the herd would be gathered and crossed at the creek and headed up the steep rocky pull ahead. The crossing was usually a little tense until all the calves had either leaped or tiptoed with their tails in the air, through the water to the other side. The next hour or so was pretty hard work as there was a steep rock face on the right and the thickest willow patch ever and bog holes to the left. Perfect spot for a cow or bull looking for a great place to hide or escape and a terrible place to get into and out of with a horse. Usually it took a good cow dog to win the battle. I

t was here one point just past the willow patch we had a young coyote join ranks with the dogs. He trailed behind the horses with the dogs, panting with the rest of the pack. He followed for quite some time until he figured out he wasn’t in his “place”. We didn’t bother him and neither did the dogs, he moved on when he was ready and was no threat to any livestock at the time. I think he was just looking for a little company.

This part of the trail was full of large granite boulders, some as large as a vehicle, just peeking out of the ground. You could hear the slipping hooves of the cattle scraping and sliding as they worked up the trail. Everyone was alert to the sound of a shod hoof loosing grip on the hard granite surface, it was always a relief to see a horse regain footing. Going completely down with his rider could lead to tragedy pretty quick. Everyone was aware and many times would ride with their feet out of their stirrups to be able to free themselves in case of such an event. I remember watching for sparks from the horses shoes against the rock. Definitely not a place for goofing around and everyone and everything took their time.

Once you had reached the top of this long hard pull you were at the top and the rest was down hill. Some of the most incredible views were to be had at the vantage point on top this hill. You could look out across and see the entire northern Gunnison valley.

What a scene, the mountains on the other side of the valley, the lush green meadows below, mirrored with the irrigation water on top them and the crystal blue sky. There you were on top of it all, taking it all in. You were in the high country now. More pines and less aspens. The blue spruce announced the high country with their pungent smell of pine needles and bark.

If you listened carefully above the sounds of hooves against rocks you could hear the variety of birds and squirrels announcing your arrival as well. Their chirps and calls echoed through the pines and rocky terrain as you dropped down into One Mile canyon. The sounds of the cattle, the rider’s whoops and whistles resonated between the granite walls as you headed down the trail towards Taylor Canyon.

The rock walls grew narrower and the dust was so thick you could barely see the ears of the horse you rode. This is truly when the “wild rags” and bandannas came in handy but it was only short lived and a wonderful reminder you had reached your destination, Taylor Canyon.

What a day’s work and it would only be around 10:00 am. The horses were exhausted and whoever was mounted on something full of vim and vinegar at the start was riding a finished horse at the end.

We’d hop off, tie our horses and dig into our beat up lunches and well shook sodas! Joe Vader was always good for a candy bar and we were always thankful to be on the receiving end! It was the end of a long day and one that was going to happen all over again in a short while! We’d be sound to sleep in a matter of minutes, once we loaded up and headed towards Almont. We might make it passed Harmel’s Dude ranch before complete exhaustion took its toll. As hard as it was to wake that early and work that hard- we were still game for doing it all over the next day!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Show is Over as Soon as the Gate is Closed/Sonita

I took Sonita behind the show barns and let her graze.

The grass was frosted over and the misty air was heavy enough to puddle in the hollows of her horse blanket. Water trickled down her sides and rivulets ran down her legs. Sonita shook and stomped as if she was covered with flies but never lifted her head from the grass.

This was it. We had one more go.

I stepped back and admired my big powerful mare.

Tall, solid and quick, both mentally and physically, she had given me everything I had asked for and earned her place in the world.

Sonita had made me a trainer.

I tipped my head back until the brim of my hat hit my back. The cold mist swirled around my face and I looked up into the sky.

We had barely squeaked into the finals. We stood in 10th place. We trailed the 9th place horse by 10 1/2 points. We trailed the leaders by 20 points and more. Since the results would come from our combined scores we had virtually no chance of changing our placing.

My horse was sold and my show finished the second we entered the ring.

I felt light and a little loopy. It occurred to me a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders. I had grown so accustomed to packing it around I didn't know I carried it until the burden went missing.

I reached out and scratched Sonita's withers. Icy water ran down my neck.

"Today is about fun," I told her.

"No scolding, no schooling, you can dink as much as you want. You've earned it."

"Good luck Mommy!"

My daughter came trotting out of the mist on her mare. Loki was still in her blanket and my daughter rode with just a halter and lead. Her voice jiggled as she kept a precarious balance.

I noticed she had slipped into my name from her childhood. It was my only clue she was starting to feel the stress of the show.

"Don't get yourself killed," I said, "I'll see you at the gate."

I headed back to the barn. It was time to saddle up.

We rode into the warm up pen. Sonita was calm and alert. I took a few deep breaths and felt myself relax.

The Big K sat on the rail. I paused for a second as we passed.

How are you doing?" He asked.

"You know, it's funny, but I feel just fine," I answered.

"Good, remember to think ahead and have some fun."


I leaned over and stroked Sonita's neck as we headed out into the warm-up. She shook her head in impatience. This was a show and Sonita was never in the mood for mushy stuff when she had work to do.

I put her into a lope and settled in. The feeling of lightness was still there and I tuned into the steady one-two-three of her lope as she went to work. She rolled her bit and dolphin bucked a time or two, flicking her ears back to see if I was paying attention.

"C'mon now, step up," I muttered and Sonita dropped her head and moved out.

I focused on the ground in front of us, turning off my brain and melting into my horse. We had done this so many times, in so many different arenas, so many different states. There was no need to think, no need to worry. Not today.

The shimmery silver path opened in front of us. The path I could find only when we were totally alone and practicing in a field. I relaxed even deeper into my saddle and we loped our circles, following the silver path.

The only sound was the steady chuffing of Sonita's breath as she found her rhythm.


I snapped my head around and looked to the gate.

"You're in the hole!" The gateman checked my number.

I stood and watched the last horse and rider before me finish a respectable run.

The gate swung open and we trotted into the center. Sonita's head was high, but her trot was steady.

We settled in the middle. I rocked back and forth in my stirrups, sneaking a belated check on my cinch. I adjusted my hat and pushed my glasses up my nose.

Sonita stood like a rock, eye balling the judges.

I lifted my head, looked the judges straight in the eye and smiled.

This was going to be a good day.

"Let's go Sonita, this is it."

As we loped off into our first circle I knew we were golden. Sonita was steady, her shoulders were up and there was no wobble.

My silver path opened in front of us.

I wish I could remember the rest of the pattern but I don't. I felt the rhythm of our ride and the sweetness of knowing my horse as well as she knew me. The only sound I heard was Sonita's steady breathing. She stayed so solid in her bridle, my hand, the romel and her grip on the bit were one in the same.

I simply followed the trail laid out in front of us, step by step. It faded away as we came into our last stop. The hollers of congratulations from my friends told me we had a clean run.

I pushed my feet in my stirrups, smashed down my hat and pushed up my glasses. I felt the quiver of Sonita's back muscles through my saddle and up my spine as she geared up for our cow. I waved at the gate man.

She stood frozen, the clatter of her bit telling me, "Hurry, hurry, let's get that cow!"

The dun and white cow blew out and trotted back and forth, looking beyond us at the exit gate on the other end of the arena.

I trotted Sonita toward it's right ear, trying to make the heifer see us, acknowledge us.

With a flash of her white face the cow jumped left and ran, still not willing to see us.

Sonita jumped too, a perfect mirror and pointed her nose at her hip, sending her across the arena.

I checked Sonita lightly, trying to keep her inner Doberman at bay. We didn't want to get this cow running, not yet.

The cow gave us a little trouble as we drove and stopped her back and forth across the short side of the arena. Sonita settled into her work. I let her box a little longer than the judges probably wanted, but hey, this was our day, not theirs.

We finally got the heifer to turn and look at us.

"Get her down the fence!" I heard the Big K shout.

"Fine! Don't push me!" I thought.

Sonita felt the shift in my focus and her head came up, worried.

The cow, free from our concentration, made a break for it.

I put my cow side leg on Sonita and she faded out. We caught our cow and drove her back, almost to the corner. Sonita rocked back and turned the heifer, I pointed my mare at her hip and we started our drive to the fence. As we passed the middle of the arena I pushed Sonita's hip towards the heifer, creating an opening through the corner.

Sonita dug deep as we went through the corner and we stayed with our cow even as she flipped her tail in the air and took off down the long side of the fence.

I sat back and kept my eye on the cows nose. I held Sonita back and she ran stride for stride until we passed the middle cone.

Sonita felt the release of my hand and flew.

The first penalty cone came roaring up at us, but Sonita stepped past our cow and blocked it in one smooth motion.

I felt the cows head hit my thigh and I gave her a quick glance. I couldn't help but feel a tug of satisfaction. The slobber going down my chaps was a point of pride and guaranteed bragging rights.

We came through the turn still with our cow and flew down the fence for another long run, our second turn was as smooth as the first.

By the time we set up for our third turn I sat up a little, wanting to save our cow for the circles.

Sonita shook her head at me, wanting to jump on this malcontent.

We pushed between the cow and the fence forcing her out to the middle of the arena. Sonita was still arguing and we came out a stride behind. I gave her her head, she pinned her ears and flew, catching us up within two strides.

We circled left, changed sides and circled right. Everything was clean and easy, the way it always goes when the pieces fit together.

The judges whistle blew and I dropped my reins and sat up. Sonita circled her cow one more time, not ready to give her up.

I heard my friends yelling, the Big K's "That's the way to do it!" coming through clear and proud.

Sonita strutted towards the gate, as only a winning show horse can, her ears pricked and her tail swinging.

I had no idea how we would come out, I realised I didn't care. The show was over and we had done just fine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This is a very interesting blog. This young woman is using her head and the help available to her in a way I wish we all did. Is she using techniques I would use? Not always, but that's what makes this interesting, watching her explore things that help her succeed with the horse she has.

I first saw Fox on-line as I was browsing through horses for sale on Trademe as I did on a regular basis. I was smitten. Fox looked like my dream horse. A 12 year old 17hh chestnut Hanoverian x Thoroughbred. And even better, he had a big blaze and four white socks. I wasn't in a position to buy a horse at that stage so I looked wistfully at his photos and moved on. I couldn't stop looking though. Every week I would check to see if he was still for sale. Then one day he was gone. I was gutted.

I kept browsing and waiting till the right time came for me to buy a horse. I never saw one that grabbed my attention like Fox did though. Then one day, nearly a year after I first saw him, he was back on there. I had a deep sense of conviction that he was supposed to be mine.

A month later everything fell into place and I was able to start thinking about buying a horse. The first thing I did was e-mail his owner with a long list of questions. He had mostly been used as a farm hack and had was only just back in work after nearly a year off but the only bad thing she had to say was that he could pull a bit especially when he was going fast. No problem I thought, I can handle that. So we organised a time for me to ride.

The day came and the weather was wild and windy but we couldn't postpone as he lived quite a ways away in Golden Bay. When I saw him in real life, he was better than his photos. He had a real presence. I wanted him.

I knew it was the wrong thing to think, I should be shopping around, trying lots of horses out. But I didn't want any other horse, I wanted this one.

He was a little head shy about being bridled but nothing major. His owner said he had always been like that, just didn't like the bridle being put on. No worries I thought again, I can handle that.

The ride was fantastic. We rode for two hours on Pakawau Beach. We trotted and cantered and galloped and jumped logs. Fox was awesome. His paces felt great, powerful and flowing. His jump was bold and strong. If I hadn't already been hooked, I would have been after that ride.

We organised a two week trial and after some trouble finding a truck to bring him over the hill, he arrived at the place he would be living. I was so excited and couldn't wait to ride him again.
When the dressage instructor first saw him, I was opening a gate on him. She gave me a look and said 'I hope that's not someones fancy dressage horse you're trying to open a gate on.' I laughed and said 'no he's just been a farm hack for the last 5 years'. But inside I was glowing. My horse looked like the real deal!

The two weeks flew by, the decision was already made. Fox would be mine and I would be the proud owner of my very first horse!!
We had about three weeks of bliss hacking round the farm and doing some basic arena work then the first signs of trouble started appearing...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Princess and the Pea

Half Dozen Farms brought up an extremely good point that comes up often around this blog.

It's the issue of sensitivity.

She has an OTTB who is very sensitive. This mare also likes to buck and refuse to give on one side.

This is a very common problem.

Sonita would strike and fret if she got sand in her sport boots.

She would shudder, sweat, roll and generally freak if her blanket was itchy anywhere.

My yellow mare hates sweat.

When she is worked hard enough to have sweat trickling down her face or flanks she flips out, shaking her head, trying to rub her face on her legs, kicking at the sweat on her sides.

She also doesn't like to get her feet dirty or wet.

I was practicing my cutting one day before I quit training. Our cattle were having digestive issues. Cattle always have digestive issues, but this day was particularly gross.

As we were cutting my mare kept blowing up and jumping out of position. This is a horse who normally does a really good job keeping her eye on the cow.

So I pulled up, checked her feet, her legs, under the saddle. Nothing.

I asked my boss to watch her.

I rode back into the herd, kicked out a cow and we went to.

She jumped again and my boss burst out laughing.

Turns out my mare didn't want to step in the digestive issues that were pouring out of our cattle.

I don't call this sensitive. I call it a pain in the ass.


I admit, some are goosier than others. But every horse I've ever known, dull or sharp, will shake a fly off its flanks. That's pretty sensitive.

We want our horses to respond to the lightest touch. Some are quicker to pick up on this than others.

There are countless ways to try to explain over-sensitivity or dullness. It's easy to label a horse as bad, or abused, or crazy when all it comes down to is a sensitive horse that's been mishandled.

The Big K used to tell me to handle the dull ones with the softest touch and to bang and hang and thump and jump all over the sensitive ones.

A sensitive horse needs to survive out in the world. She needs to deal with an unexpected poke with a spur, a saddle thumped on her back or too much pull on the bit.

In defense of the OTTB, they often are very thin skinned. A metal curry is torture, a saddle pad caked with sweat can drive them to distraction. There are plenty of QH's out there with the same issue. So I get it.

BUT. They still have to cope. These sensitive souls don't get to kick at our feet, run through our leg, trample over the top of us, etc. Because that makes them end up in a dog food can.

The way I handle these horses is not particularly different than other horses, except I decide how I'm going to handle them and become extremely precise.

I use my eternal 1, 2, 3 method of teaching. One is the feather light question the sensitive little souls crave. Two is a sharp demand, not hard enough to start a fight, but very clear. Three gets them in trouble. The trouble keeps coming until the horse does what I want.

If I go to step three I will continue with the cue until the horse listens. I'm ready to deal with whatever the horse throws at me. Remember, she was offered step one and two already. She chose to go to three.

If a horse kicks at my spur I will keep spurring until I get what I want. I know if I back off I will be teaching my sensitive horse to fight.

My horse has too clearly understand my spur means move away and until she does I will continue to spur.

If the horse bucks I'll keep at her until we're loping the way I want.

Angry or frightened horses fall back on old behaviors that used to work. I know I have to fix it again but it won't take as long this time.

Now here's where I'm on the side of the sensitive horse. Once I get my point across I try to help them out.

If you don't want to use spurs then get to where you don't have to. Put them on when your trainer tells you to. Give your first cue with the barest whisper from your calves. Then go to stronger leg. Then use the spurs as step three until you win. Then take them off. Only use your spurs when your mare makes it clear she won't listen. Eventually she'll get it.

When you practice on your own do simple work that you know you can succeed at. Practice your cues with a tiny bit of leg, then more, then spur. She will start to respond to the second cue, then the first.

Help your mare learn she doesn't want step three, ever.

Then when it gets down to a fight she'll remember step three.

A horse is only truly light if she understands the consequence of not listening.

Sonita had to work doubly hard in her sandy boots until she listened.

Then I took them off, washed them out, and began to rotate two pairs of boots so she always wore a freshly washed pair. I put a clean pair on right before she showed, I rubbed and brushed her legs before I put her boots on and made sure the boots were wrapped tight enough to keep the sand out.

I would clean Sonita's clock if she rubbed on me or rolled while I led her, but I would try on countless blankets until she was comfortable.

My yellow mare, the princess, the valley girl, the epitome of high maintenance, got ridden through mud, cattle pens, wet sand, anything I could find to gross her out.

When she fusses over sweat she gets worked until sweat is the last thing on her mind.

Then she gets a bath. I will wash her legs off for her every ride, she likes to be clean. I have switched out her pads to find one that didn't create quite as much of a river trickling down her flanks.

I braid her forelock to at least keep the wet hair out of her eyes.

See what I mean? I try to help my horses with their sensitivities, but not until they understand they have to listen, even when they have to cut through cow goo and have it splash in their face.

If I had enough of a problem that I knew I'd back down, I might get professional help. But I would be afraid my horse would get pushed too much. That the fight would be created and the punishment too severe.

Instead I might try to back track to exercises I knew would work, then start to build back up in smaller increments.

Teach her she has to listen in a non-confrontational setting. Then build up to the problem areas and don't be afraid to fix her.

If it is too much then I would get help.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Random, Idle Thoughts

I have been enjoying sliding out of the office and riding my horse during my lunch hour. I have also been horrified on how out of shape Pete and I are after a year of fun in the mountains.

I can't find my marker on my circles. Pete is absolutely no help.

You have to understand, I always find my markers. I haven't had to look after my first set of circles for years.

Now I find myself wandering all over the arena.

So it's back to school for Pete and I. We'll be doing spirals up and down while hitting our mark with every circle.

We'll be transitioning through trot, lope walk, run and finding our mark.

And so on.

I'm not in a panic, I know it will kick in, but I have sure rolled up my sleeves and am digging in.

Which leads me to my next train of thought.

My colt Leland and my only teaching him things once.

It's obvious to me that Pete and I need to school and build our muscle memory again. Which takes repetition.

But, even though I haltered Leland once and decided he now knew how to be haltered doesn't mean I never halter him again.

It simply means I approach him from now on with the assumption he understands what I want from him.

It has been working just fine.

So when we start our reined work when he's four, he will have been treated this way every time, he will (hopefully) be tuned to the learning process I'm using and will actively seek finding the new thing we're working on that day.

So the first day on a circle would be to let me guide him in a circle.

The next ride would begin with the circle, then I would start to ask him to carry himself through on a loose rein. That would be the new task.

Each lesson would involve something new, but he would still be getting the repetition he needs and I would quit for the day when he was successful with the new task.

I'm starting to realize this is a change in my expectations, of myself and Leland, but not so much my training.

This process of one step at a time has also helped me.

I have talked before about my horses having a built in hesitation that I would like to get rid of.

When I ask for something, be it a lead, a spin or a hip, all my horses hesitate for a brief second.

It's like they're saying, "Are you sure?"

When I saddled Leland and sent him out in the pen the other day he went out fine. He was a little humpy, but it was no big thing.

I made him walk and trot until he relaxed.

He showed no inclination to lope around, but I didn't really think about it.

Until I started thinking about my next step that is.

I realize now he didn't lope because he was unsure of the saddle.

I rewarded his hesitation by quitting for the day, even though we have covered walk, trot, lope in previous sessions.

I should have made him lope too.

So now, our next session will be about moving forward when I say, something I have already covered.

So I've created a back track. Dang it.

I also have found where the hesitation I hate so much begins.Right there at the first saddling.

So this is a real good exercise for me, even if it is a little nutso.

I am truly working on the Sonita story. I'm not holding out, I just want it to be right.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stopping, Suppling and Snaffle Bits

I got this letter in an email. I edited it down some, but kept the important parts.

Alexis said: I had a question for you about my 9 yr. old gelding, Smoke.
I bought him when he was 5, and he was just serviceably broke.

Fast forward to now--he has a very nice stop, handles himself well and stays collected in a nice frame, picks his leads up and can carry it on any size circle.

It took me several months to get him to soften on the bit, and drop his nose as he stopped, rather than doing a bad impression of a giraffe. I put so much time and effort into getting that soft, collected stop that now, I have another issue to deal with.

When I stop my horses, I always ask them to back at least three or four steps. With Smoke, he stops, tucks his nose, and backs about 2 steps. If I ask him to back any more, he simply tucks his head to his chest. Now, I admit, I like for him to soften through his poll and neck before I back him up, but I'm at a loss as to how to get the next few steps out of him!

Ideally, I would like to be able to lope a circle, ask for a stop, then be able to back him up a foot or so without having to pull on his mouth. He's not doing any thing wrong per se, simply doing what I'd been asking him before by softening his face and poll.
Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

Hey Alexis -It sounds like your doing a great job of getting your horse going.
I think there is some confusion between you and Smoke on what you want from him and why you want it.
I’m not sure how you got your horse to soften when he stopped, so I’ll tell you what I do and why, and I think it will help.
If I have a horse who is throwing his head as he stops I make sure he isn’t sore before I start correcting things.
Hollowing out and throwing his head will be either a response to pain or anticipation of pain. So if he's afraid of getting pulled on, or knows it hurts to stop he'll give you this response.
If I am working on softening a horse through a stop I work on getting him to soften during the run down, then release him into the stop itself.
I get my horse soft in the face by working his ribs and shoulders, not his face. If his back is up and I’ve got him soft through his withers he’s going to travel soft in the face.
If everything is soft and relaxed he’s going to hunt his slide and travel with his front feet running and his hind end buried, all on a loose rein.
I want my horse to look forward to the stop, not dread it.
So two strides before my stop begins I release all my cues and say “Whoa.”
My hand relaxes and releases the head as my legs come off and quit asking for forward.
There’s lots of ways a stop can go wrong, but I’m going to focus on two problems which seem to most apply to your situation.
The first is if I ask for the stop and, well, he doesn’t. He can just keep going (rare), or he stops hard but then starts moving forward again once he stands back up.
In this case I’ll make him back.
But I don’t just pull on his face. I bump with my legs to get him back.
When I back a horse, I’m essentially bumping him forward into his bit.
My bit creates a wall. My legs push him into the unforgiving wall and he backs to escape the pressure.
In a situation where the horse is stepping back a few steps, then breaking at the poll and sticking, I’m going to look at this as confusion on my horse’s part.
If he’s stuck I take it to mean he has strung out and hollowed out his back. With his neck up and his head giving at the poll he really can’t get moving again until he get’s his body back under control, with his back up and his hind legs under him.
So I would kick him forward into my hand rather than keep pulling back. Then he can step forward, get himself organized and he can back off my legs again.
When I slide a horse like this, or one that hollows out and throws his head I will ask for the exact no pressure stop I described above, then kick him forward into the bridle after he has settled.
I might step him into a spin or two, or just trot some forward circles (depending on his level of training) and then I would go again.
The key to fixing my horse is to consistently allow him to complete his stop before I correct him.
Then I have to analyze what caused the problem and correct his position, either forward or back.

Kel said:I used to ride with an cowboy who started all his horses in a bosal, then to a snaffle and then to the two rein. He was in his 70's when I was riding with him and he said that was the way the old cowboys did it. I find it interesting that now adays that you go from the snaffle to the bosal and that is the accepted way the old cowboys did it. He could make one hell of bridle horse and won alot with them. What is it that you like about the snaffle bit first?

Kel- The most important thing to remember is not all trainers do things the same way, even back in the "old days." If your guy said everybody did it that way, it means everybody he trained with. Trainers who rode 30 or 40 years ago didn't share information like they do now. So there were unique pools of training going on in different parts of the country.

I learned to train from people who will also tell you "that was the way all the cowboys did it," and to their mind it is true.

That being said, I didn't learn cowhorse from cowboys, I learned it from professionals who train for the show pen. They also make lots of money in the show pen. But most of them don't work on a ranch (except Mike Miller, who's about the coolest cowboy on the planet).

The NRCHA (national reined cowhorse association) has futurities for three-year-olds. It's called "The Snaffle Bit Futurity" because most of the horses are started in a snaffle.

The four and five-year-olds are offered the hackamore classes and the derbies, then the bridle classes begin when the horses are six.

So that should explain why I train in this order.

It goes deeper than that though.

I work off a saying, "the snaffle develops soft shoulders and the hackamore develops a soft face."

I truly can't tell you where I first heard this, it's been around a long time.

The dressage guys can probably back me on how the snaffle works through the shoulders.

I want my horses to have their feet under control before I worry about where the face goes.

I firmly believe, from experience and conversation with trainers I respect, that if I have the feet the face will follow.

The hackamore then softens and refines the face in relation to the feet.

Also, after a horse has been in the hackamore for a year he will automatically go to neck reining.

When I turn a horse in the snaffle he will follow direct pressure from my hand. So when I pull left, he will go left.

The hackamore puts pressure on the outside of my horses face, so when I pull left his face is pushed left.

This is how the pressure works in a curb.

So this is why I train in the order I do.

It doesn't mean your old guy doesn't know what he's doing, or that he isn't a hand. But at the end of the day we all train our horses in a way we understand, no matter what the method.

Somebody else asked: Why do you send your horses forward out of a spin, instead of letting them stand?

Somebody else- I don't always send them forward, but going forward and loping a circle on a loose rein is a reward for my horses. I teach them the quiet spot is in their circles as well as when they stand.

A spin is a forward motion. The horse is stepping forward around his pivot foot. If I pull him back he will have a harder time getting around his hind foot.

So if I feel him coming back in the spin I will kick him forward and lope out of it.

If I let my horse stand and rest every time we spin he will start to hunt the rest instead of the spin, which will make him lug on my hand and leg.

If he gets to spin without me using any spur or too much rein he will look to give me a good spin.

If the spin is so perfect I don't need to ask for anything more I let him rest after the spin, but not until it's at least 70% ready to show.

I also drill my with a lope and spin exercise. I lope in a loose circle, I randomly stop, spin to the outside of my circle if I want to keep the same lead, or to the inside if I want to change leads. I do this all over the place. I spin one or two times, then lope directly out.

This speeds up my spins, increases my horses strength and agility and is fun. All without using too much spur.
I only send him forward with my legs, during the spin I sit quiet.

He starts to speed up his spin in anticipation of the lope.