Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here's Pete

We need some questions. Anybody got some? Send 'em on over. I'll go check my email too.

I'm thinking about Pete. He likes to dump on his front end as he approaches his stops. Which makes for a very icky stop. And painful.

Our run downs start nice and collected with plenty of drive. He rides straight with light contact on the bit and and then begins to speed up. We aren't speeding up because I'm driving across the arena. We're speeding up because he's beginning to dump over on his front and he's scurrying with his front legs.

It's a very icky, run-offy kind of thing. He folds over the top of the bit which turns it into a loss of control feeling. Ew.

I can see where this could turn into a honest to God runaway if I was worried about it. I'm not that worried about horses running off with me in an arena, especially a big one. I can just let them rip and practice my queen wave or something until they're done. Then, because it's me and I like to point out the bad side to running away, I will kick them up and we'll keep running and running and running until the poor horse thinks not only was it my idea, but it was a very bad idea at that.
We run until the poor, foamy baby is thinking, "Man, next time she wants to run I'm going to just lope instead. No way will I run again!"

But I don't think Pete wants to run off. I think it's coming at him because he's losing his push from the back and so he begins to pull with his front legs. This gets him all scattered and he speeds up trying to catch up. Does this make sense?

Which, for the first time gets me thinking, what actually creates a run away?

I know about bolt and go for the barn, that one even makes sense if you think about it.

But I'm talking about the oozing loss of control we start to feel sometimes, especially during arena work. Maybe a shoulder will leak out or the horse suddenly feels heavy on my hands and as I reach into my bag of corrections I suddenly feel a loss of connection.

Sometimes the horse leaves and I'm doing the queen wave, sometimes we whip across the arena and out the gate, shoulder first, whatever.

This kind of thing has always pissed me off, needless to say, and we have a bit of a go-round.

But riding Pete and feeling the loss of control during his run down has me thinking.

He's running because he is having trouble keeping his drive and staying balanced. He's such a mellow guy I know he's not trying to be bad. I can feel his anxiety build as he starts to come undone.
He doesn't have this problem in his circles. It's the long straightaway that's getting him. It's hard for a horse to travel straight and something I don't think we cow horse folk work on enough.
We circle and circle and circle. But we don't spend enough time learning to be forward and straight. I've become aware of this problem and am working on it. Which is how I've been able to find Pete's problem.

It's got me wondering how much of our troubles come from not feeling that brief moment when the horse comes undone before he bolts, or takes his shoulder, or bucks. If we can catch the moment maybe we can assure them, help them regather and avoid the problem.

It makes me completely rethink some of the wild behavior I see in the young horses as I train them.

Maybe it's a simple matter of catching them in the few seconds they give us before they come undone.

So while I chew on that (and hopefully you guys too) here's what I'm going to do to help Pete.
It has become clear to me this is a strength issue.
He has trouble keeping his back up through the long run, so he hollows out and starts flinging his legs around trying to rebalance. He speeds up because he can't get regathered.

I'm going to start by lengthening my seat (isn't that what it's called Pandora Mckinna?) before he comes undone. Then I'll drive again by sitting back and pushing with my seat, then I'll lengthen, I'll see what happens.

My other plan is to let him start down the arena, then as he comes apart I'll drive him off the line and start to lope a spiral. When I feel him come together we'll continue down the arena.

My other plan is to take Pete out into the miles of soft, good dirted two-track roads I found which take me all over the back fields of Fountain (hee hee) and just let him run.

He can go on a loose rein until he finds a good place he can hold and we'll work on speed transitions.

Which brings me to my next point on Pete. The boy will never make it as a movie horse.

How many times have we seen Trigger carry Roy home when he's been shot and too delirious to steer.

Silver always knew where the water hole was in the desert. The Lone Ranger could always fill his canteen as long as he rode his trusty steed. And Scout wouldn't carry his name if he couldn't track down the bad guys, right?

I went on a leisurely amble with my friend Kathy yesterday. She brought Rosie out and we went on a ride on the very roads I'm planning running on in the near future.

We enjoyed the sun and exploring some new riding ground. We mostly walked because we were visiting and having fun.

When we came around to head home Pete suddenly got nervous. He whinnied. He slew his head around. He looked behind us.

He rode on for awhile and tried to turn back.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Pete whinnied again and kept looking back.

Kathy patted Rosie and looked a little smug.

He tried to turn back again.

I finally realized Pete was lost. He didn't have a clue where we were.

He kept it up the whole way back. He never jigged or pulled on me. He would just roll-back around and try to head back to whatever fantasy place he had in mind. He always turned back around, but then he would cut loose with his sad little whinny again.

When we came around the corner and he saw the barn he jumped. I swear he looked just amazed. Sigh. Pete, I'm afraid, is kind of a dork.


  1. Ok, Mugwump, I swear to God above that I'm not trolling you, but my horse is afraid of cows. And not just a little afraid, the other night my sister put her in our drylot to feed her. She almost jumped the fence trying to get away from the cows that were a good 50 yards away on the other side of their own fence. My sister ended up letting her out, because she was worried that she'd jump and break a leg in the muck.

    She's had cows pastured next to her for the last 3 years, and is still freaked out by them. They come out and she'll go hide at the bottom of the hill or anywhere else she can't see them.

    I'm tempted to borrow a cow and stick her in with it, but I'm a little worried that she might have a heart attack. She's 20 and probably never saw a cow until I bought her 5 years ago.

    With other things that she's been afraid of, I've gotten her to "chase" them and then I guess she figures that sense she can herd it away she's in charge. This worked pretty well with the garbage truck, I just turned her and let her watch it drive away from her, then let her lower her head and shark it out of the neighborhood.

    With that in mind, I've thought about taking her to the local open cow night, but I don't want to get hurt, get her hurt, get anyone else hurt or freak her out more.

    I realize that this isn't a problem you probably have often with cow horses. I don't want to be able to go cutting on her, I just want her not to flip out about them. So I was wondering if you had any ideas for me, or any advice on where the line is between babying a horse and appropriate caution.

    A picture of Queen Dorkus herself. She's in the front, all 17 hands of her.

  2. She's also teaching my sister's horse (the one in the back) to be afraid of the cows as well.

  3. Interesting issue you have - and thats cute that he gets "lost" so much for horses always being able to find there way home!

    Since i know jack about the actual workings of cow horses - is it possible to do some work in a large paddock where you do an in hand gallop, then let him out for a short time, then collect him up again without bending to build up his strength on the straight line without having to spiral?

  4. Could he just be him anticipating the sliding stop by starting to disengage his hind end in anticipation of parking it? Like he knows what's expected before you even ask for it? If you were here on the east coast I would suggest running him on the beach, where the footing is deep enough to make him have to use his hind end at every stride, maybe there you could use snow? While still galloping, it would slow him down enough to give you more time to sense that pre-issue split-second timing you mention feeling for.

  5. Haaahahahahah, I can just imagine his expression when he rounded the corner and saw the barn. Priceless.
    What about rating him at the canter? Right when you feel him start to disengage, either speed up (quickly- a burst of effort) to try to get him to dig in, or collect to try to get him to rock back on his haunches. Maybe try both- regular canter, extended canter, collected canter, repeat and mix it up. Keep him guessing and engaged.
    Have you considered canter poles? That might be kind of fun. Could you canter him over 5 or 6 poles and ask for a stop right after?

  6. Albigears - good idea with the poles!

  7. I like your second idea and this issue, the one with going straight, if he feels anxious or off balance to lope circles until hes back. I think I will try this on my gelding. Youre so right, we never seem to work enough on straight riding. I just realized this the other day as I rode my gelding, softly collected, and his head kept going from one side to the other trying to find an arch to be on. I realized we need to work more on straight lines.

    Btw, I love the lost Pete. Its adorable, but kinda sad LOL. My gelding is a bit like that too; a dork and a child rolled into one =]

  8. A lot of this was waaaay beyond me. I have the opposite problem, forward/straight, no issues. Circles, problems. I'm sure a lot of it is my horse's mechanical lameness and my balance.

    My friend/trainer/itancan had me show my horse his "ass" by checking him or completely stopping him on a downhill. My horse found his butt and got a really good stop.

    I absolutely can't tell you what to do here, but it's interesting to read you thoughts all the same!

  9. Mugs,
    You said it might be a strength issue; his loin and rump tie in reminds me a bit of my old horse, who was also unfortunately butt high. He found being truly engaged and under hard work, so he never had to do it for more than a little at a time. I'd ask him to rock back a few strides before each jump, but let him move his most comfortable way the rest of the time. He was spoiled;-)

    Pete may feel that circling requires more concentraion and he is better able to maintain carriage, or it could be that he can use the inside hind better on the circle than on the straight due to back/loin strength.

    I think your idea of letting him continue on the straight until he feels a bit off balance and then circle is good... or just riding longer and longer oblongs, so he doesn't quite get to the point he needs correction. What DarcC said about anticipating the stop on the straight runs... can you do stops on the circle (I'm not a reiner, so I don't know if that is discouraged or not) so he doesn't associate the straight with a speed up and stop?

    There's something to be said with turning them out together, but you want excellent fencing... even so, I sadly know of a horse that ran head on into a tree in the pasture (and died immediately) the first time he met a llama, he was so panicked.

    Perhaps a trained halter cow that was lead away from her that she could shark down through the neighborhood? ;-)

  10. Jess-Some of the best cowhorses I know at least started out afraid of cattle. Learning to track them, even from across a field is how we start.It's not uncommon at all.
    Anon.-That's pretty much the plan once we're out in the fields....
    DarcC-I haven't stopped him hard enough to anticipate, there's a distinct difference between anticipation (scotching) and the hollowing out dis-jointed thing I'm talking about. Sand would be good, I have no snow.
    Albigears-I like the pole idea, it would keep the forward momentum going.
    Bif-I don't consider Pete butt high. You can draw a straight line straight from wither to butt, it's the long back sagging in between that bothers me.He's not so bad I worry he can't do it, but it makes us both work.
    We stop them wherever we want, on the circle, on a straight line, wherever.
    I hope we don't get hung up on anticipating stops here, he doesn't, it's not what I'm trying to fix, I don't want to get side-tracked.
    I'm more interested in riding the oblongs. That would give a half circle at each end and allow him to regather.

  11. heh - I guess I just find working out canter/gallop ballance eaiser when you've got about 10 acres of space.... at least there you can make the circles so big the horse thinks it's going straight!
    Just out of curiosity - how many meters/strides can he hold when you're running him in a straight line? (I'm a metrics girl... I'll manage if you tell me in yards)

    I'm just thinking is it possible to work out the distance/no of strides he can handle and then turn into the 1/2 circle maybe 2 strides before and then work on lengthening the straight if he's not ready to go outdoors.

    Being a jumper I found a great way to strenghten the back/haunches was caveletti lines, but I'm not sure that you'd be able to set that up in your barn/arena.

  12. "I can just let them rip and practice my queen wave" Thanks for the giggle....I always learn something and am entertained by your posts!

  13. Pete is a cutie!

    You know the feeling you get when you are out running, and you get to a downward slope? Suddenly your feet start moving by themselves, and if it is a steep slope they just take off?
    I believe that is what's happening with a younger horse on a straight line.
    It starts out with a small imbalance with too much weight on the forehand, and if they cannot rebalance themselves it only gets worse/faster.

    I think all your strategies sounds good Mugs.
    We just have to help them to rebalance when needed.

    Riding straight lines is actually very difficult, and it is not only cow horse folk that practise circles too much...

  14. echoing KD:
    "I can just let them rip and practice my queen wave"
    haha. you're lucky you don't have jumpers.
    It sounds like you've chewed over this Pete thing pretty good, so any advice I can give I'm betting you've already considered.

    It is interesting to think about that 'moment' between a run and a bolt, though. I don't mean the times when --insert harmless object here-- scares the shit out of your horse and you find yourself in a walk-gallop transition. I think that (usually) lessens with experience, and stops as soon as it begins. I'm talking about those moments when you're cantering along, maybe you're with a friend, and suddenly you get that icy feeling in your stomach.

    The horse isn't necessarily going faster, but something has changed that renders you feeling very powerless. I've mulled this over, thought about the times when I've been utterly relaxed at a gallop, or utterly terrified at a trot. It seems to me a combination both of a trajectory of power from the hindquarters to the front, and a psychical change of mind. There is nothing scarier than the feeling that your horse has mentally 'checked out'

  15. Ok, I tried to comment earlier, but apparently it didn't work.

    I'm a horse noob, so I have no thoughts on the Pete thing, other than he's really cute. :)

    I have a couple of questions. I have a pissy little mare. I also have a wonderful trainer that has all but eliminated her bucky, balky hissy fits. We have her solidly walking, jogging, moving off the leg, stopping on seat pressure, and we're working on backing and pivoting on the haunches. She has been ridden for 2 years now, but not consistenty, so we're back to basics and respect right now.

    Anyway, my question is this. While the fits have stopped, she will still jog around with her ears pinned. It's not constant, she'll just pin her ears for a few moments and then stop. My trainer says to just ignore it as long as she's not refusing. Pretty sure this is not a pain or saddle fit issue. Any thoughts? Is she maybe just annoyed but knows that hissy fits now mean getting in trouble? Or, is she just being a mare? There are no other issues when she does this, no tail swishing, hollowing out, or defiance.

    Another question: my trainer has me riding in a D-ring snaffle with a cavesson. She says that you should always use a cavesson with a snaffle so the horse can't escape the action of the bit. My mare seems happy in the bit, I was just wondering what your thoughts are.

    Thanks! I love all the stuff I learn on this blog!

  16. Crap. I meant she stops pinning her ears after a minute, not that she stops jogging. We're past that now. ;)

  17. I think you found your answer - long straight of soft dirt to just RUN! With our barrel horses, especially the 4 and 5 yr olds, they haven't "found" their feet, and they get discombobulated when we ask for speed. Getting them out on a straightaway, or on a real race track, with a solid buddy horse to run with, helps so much! They figure out that they CAN run. It takes a few weeks of breezing, but then they "get it".

    Makes all the difference in the world! Especially if all we've been working on is bend, flex, and collection. A few weeks of good flat out running! They don't forget the slow work. Just make sure it's only at that place where they get to run.

    Another trick we use if a horse isn't firing out of the barrel, is on the same straightaway, we'll lift out of the saddle and push for a suirt of speed for 100 yards or so. Tranisitions.

    Sunglasses help reduce the wind-induced tears.


  18. Ok, I've got a question.

    We want horses to hustle out of our space when we ask them to. We want them to stand still when we walk up with a saddle, walk up to halter, mount etc. My horses seem to mostly figure out when I'm asking them to move and when I'm not. I'm not sure how though.

    Clinton Anderson I think it was, was talking about passive versus active body language. He was waving his hands and making noise and expecting his horse to stand, and when he switched to "active" body language he expected his horse to move.

    What are your rules and how do your horses tell when they should stay and when they should go?

  19. I have a question.

    My four year old spooked last night and landed smack on my ankle. I now have a bone chip on the pointy part of my ankle bone, a sprain, and some impressive colors.

    My pony knows to stay out of my space, but it has always been a battle to keep him there. He's a pocket pony, and just seems to want to be touching you. I work very hard on convincing him that touching me isn't a good idea. Is there some way to keep him from spooking and trying to land in my lap?

    My reaction last night, besides a few words not fit to type on a public forum, was to swing the end of the lead rope at him and back him out of my space quite loudly and aggressively. Then I limped quietly to his paddock and put him up. Then I got to take a trip to the ER. Any other suggestions.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. This reminds me of a realization I had a couple months ago with the Fjord I ride sometimes. He used to bolt with me, I even used the same tactic of making him run (I'm pretty sure I thought "what would mugwump do??). That mostly cured it but I still had moments where he would dump even more on the forehand and run. I realized (duh!) that it was because he was getting unbalanced and as long as I could help re-balance him the moment I felt it start to come apart, or just before, he was fine - no bolting and he even kept the tempo. I agree that it's all about catching it at just the right moment.

    I can't offer much in the way of suggestions but I think your plan sounds good. The Fjord is very green so I just worked on general strengthening...I might borrow some of your ideas :) I would love an update on this issue once you've been working on it for awhile!

  22. I found myself wondering what a video from the side view would show. My horse was "falling apart" at the canter a few months ago, I am not as sensitive or experienced as you (plus I was thinking "Oh expletive!" You probably skip that part.) so my description is not as detailed. My daughter was watching, then she rode him, no issue BUT she maintained a more consistent rein contact. She said he looked like he was lost and needed more input to balance himself. Still light with her hands, just requesting slightly more collection. Has anyone with experience watched, just to get another view? Might help.

  23. Mugs-I know exactly the feeling you are talking about. My current barrel horse had/has a tendency to discombobulate like Pete. The only difference is Moon gets to pulling with his front-end rather than scrambling. Irregardless he will dump on his front end badly if allowed.
    To me, it sounds like Pete is falling out behind, but being as experienced as you are, I'm sure you would realize if that was the case and could easily fix it.

    For Moon, traveling in a straight line was not the problem, he has spent a year working on a ranch in big country. He knew straight lines. But his hindquarters were completely disengaged and it was very difficult for him to sprint and roll-back or rate or stop in the arena.

    Personally, I think it would help Pete if you hit those back roads at a long-trot. It's no problem to break it up with some loping and some walking. But make it all about business. In your mind, you have to be thinking about going somewhere...which I know you know how to do.

    In the arena, I work on roll-backs. Lope off, let them stretch out for a stride or two, roll-back, lope off, stretch out, roll-back, etc. Those I know you are intimately familiar with. But the point is as you say, to catch it and ask Pete to roll-back before he falls apart. If he makes two strides in good form, roll-back. See he forgets about worrying about the straight line and the speed and focuses on the roll-back, pretty quick he will make 3 or 4 strides in good frame, then 5 or 6, etc.

    I also use two-tracking, lope a straight line, if he starts losing it, start two tracking, if you have to you can implement the circle. When his frame comes back, straight line, losing frame...two if you must.

    Got anyone to play arena tag with you? I have found that to be another great way to teach a horse to stretch out, rate up, roll back and take off again.

  24. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on getting control of the shoulders- I've got some pretty good control of the back end and the head and neck, but our shoulders tend to flop around the place a little when Pony decides he wants to dive in to the circle or wander off on his own way. I can normally correct the bend and pick him back out but if that was really effective then I wouldn't keep having to do it.

    One strategy I have found that helps is making sure I have a very clear picture of the line I am riding and trying to think of the big picture rather than where our feet are going moment to moment, that seems to let me correct a little earlier before the shoulders have actually gone, but I guess I'm still looking for what I need to do to stop him wanting to go. It seems like if I ramp up the pace when the shoulders start to go there is more value in dropping them in because then we're working on a smaller shape ( which mr flexible is quite happy to do ) so we travel less far. I don't think I've quite figured out how to make the consequences of dropping shoulders in less desireable than just going where I want to go.

    You said you had something to say a while back on giving up on fear as well, I seem to recall...

  25. Long time lurker :) I love this blog!

    I also have this problem...anyone have any more specific ideas on how to rebalance other than circling?

  26. Brown-eyed Cowgirl: Can you please explain 2-tracking and arena tag?

  27. I've got a 4yo Arab and the things that helped him find his balance and be able to stay collected at the canter on straightaways were two things:

    1.) the whole ride like Ben Cartwright thing. Getting out and just letting him *figure it out* on his own. Sure, he obviously knew how to canter, but its entirely different with someone on his back. Just asking him to *go* and staying out of his way. Mika truly just needed some time to figure out how the hell to keep his legs/back organized with the extra weight.

    2.) Lots of transitions. You know that point JUST before you feel it all go to shit? Ask for a walk or trot. Re-organize then go back up to the canter. I found I was doing a lot more trotting and re-organizing at first, but now he can hold a canter for several laps in the arena without getting that bolty-doesn't-know-where-his-legs-are canter.

    A book I love if you want some specific exercises to work on the canter is 101 Dressage Exercises for the Horse and Rider. I'm NOT a dressage person and its super easy to follow and the exercises are basic ones that apply to any horse you want to be supple and to carry itself correctly. My *I think English is stupid because its boring and slow* husband has borrowed some of the exercises for his barrel horse. You can pick it up on Amazon for $15 or so.

  28. Mugs,

    I wasn't clear in my statement. I wasn't saying Pete was butt high, but my horse Cappy- about 16 in front, and easily 16.2 behind. But the steeper tie in between loin and rump seems to make it harder for some horses to perform self carriage. Doesn't mean they don't have power, though ;-)

  29. stilllearning-arena tag is just playing tag on horseback. You can pretty much make your own rules depending on rider or horse level. For green riders we usually keep it to trotting only. For green horses we might make the rule no tagging the horse(particularly the butt-LOL).

    It's pretty fun because you end up doing a lot of manuevers with your horse without really thinking about it.

    Two tracking is a diagonal movement...probably much better explained by someone with real dressage knowledge. Essentially, you teach the horse to move forward and diagonally. If you ask the horse to move diagonally to the right, his left hind leg will reach up and under his belly and his left front leg will reach forward and over his right front leg. It's excellent for stretching and strengthening stifle muscles and teaching a horse to really reach up under himself when he strides. The deeper a horse can either naturally or be encouraged to reach up under himself and drive with that hind leg, the more lift, balance, rate and stop they will have.

  30. BrownEyed Cowgirls:

    I believe you're talking about lateral movement (leg yield, shoulder in, shoulder out, haunches in, haunches out, etc)--I completely agree that they're useful for suppling a horse. I like how you describe the movements, too.

    In more straight-up dressage terminology we usually refer to three-tracking and four-tracking. When a horse is moving straight forward (assuming no major conformational issues), he moves on two being one front-and-hind set and the other being the other front-and-hind set.

    Three tracking means that, in asking for a bit of that front-and-sideways movement, the horse is now making three tracks in the arena dirt, such as outside hind, inside-hind-and-outside-fore, inside fore.

    Four tracking would be if there was more of a sideways component and therefore each leg has its own track.

    If that's not what you're talking about, sorry! I pay the bills by teaching English and can't resist a vocab topic when it's on the table... :-)

  31. Poor Pete...I'm sure he's the talk of the barn that he can't find his way back home...well, you know not to trust his instincts!

    Many, many years ago, I went to a Tom Dorrance clinic (which I'm still confused over). And shortly after that I went on a day ride with the folks who sponsored the clinic. Part of that ride was a trail ride...walking, trotting and loping. So, as a group we were to lope out and if your horse got strong (chargy) he said not to pull back just ride the horse calmly and the horse would come back to you...Bull Sh*t...sorry...I've yet to figure that one out. It definitely wasn't working on a narrow two-track where the horses were competing for the lead!

    But, with my limited knowledge, I've always felt the horse under me. When they get strung out without some assistance from the rider to help keep them in some sort of frame, the horse gets that rushing feeling under me. Now, I'm talking about young horses since I've never had a finished type horse.

    With this Project that I'm doing with Mike Bridges, I'm going to be watching/feeling every difference with Colt as he develops self carriage on the circus pole. Will he be able to carry it through to the straight runs...?

  32. mlks-That is some interesting information. I did not know that there were three and four track terminology. Makes sense the way you explain it though.

    According to correct terminology, the manuever would be a 3-track.

    Thanks for the info.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. My ex-barrel horse has a short tie-in like that. I think we used to call it a bit 'goose rumped'. But as my blacksmith puts it - He has a big motor. Very strong and fast.

    I had to work almost a year to decompress him from barrels/poles. He used to fall apart at the trot on both front and back and was very stiff, hardly able to pick up the left lead.

    I don't think he was trotted much as he had two speeds when I got him- fast and faster. It has just taken a lot of work to get him solid at the slower speeds.
    My hubby said he slewed like a drunk at first.

    Just riding at the walk and trot for a year - circles - straight- desert - arena - trails. He does like his snaffle and seems to appreciate/rely on light contact.

    I ride him more english style than western as it was bad western that screwed him up.

    Here's a pic: