Monday, December 27, 2010

The Weather Outside is Delightful...

I hope you all had a good Christmas, I sure did. Mild weather and some great riding.

I'm working like a fiend at the paper, so I'll put up my Christmas column and get to the next post later in the week. I edited a little, I don't talk about Horsaii in my column, I just substituted "horse people." Most of the Fountain community already thinks I'm a little off...

All I want for Christmas….
By Janet Huntington

The best Christmas I ever had was the year I didn’t get any presents. I had gotten my first horse, Mort, the summer before with the understanding he was also my Christmas present. Come Christmas morning I could barely wait for everybody else to open their stuff. The second I could get away with it I jammed on my boots and took off down the street to visit my horse. I was in heaven.

I am Horsaii. I know, I know, many people say they’re Horsaii.

What does it really mean? Is it someone who grew up on a ranch working cattle on horses they raised themselves? Is it the show mom who hauls her kid from one event to the other doing everything in her power to get that one last point needed for the finals? Is it the kid at the local gymkhana racing her horse full out around the last barrel?

Maybe. Personally I have always felt Horsaii are born with a horse gene, it is often hooked to the kinda spacey, arty gene. History doesn’t seem to matter, horse crazy just shows up.

All I know is when I was a little suburban kid being hauled around in the Vista Cruiser with my brothers and sisters I spent every moment looking out the window to catch a glimpse of a horse.
As a young teen I willingly gave up ever owning an album (yes, I’m that old) a radio, going to a concert, or any of the various typical teenage things in order to pay for my horse.

I rarely thought about clothes, other than my Levi’s, dates or cars. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to look good in those Levi’s and I was very aware of the cowboys, but nothing came between me and my horses, except the Levi's.

I left my first serious relationship because of two fatal statements the poor guy made.
The first was, “You can’t train horses for a living, you’ll never ride as good as my sister,” and the second, “We can sell your horses for a down payment on a house.”

I don’t think I ever pointed out the error of his ways either, I just left.

My horses have affected most aspects of my life, from career choices to the kind of car I drive (that would be old, rusty and paid for).

I am willing to eat Raman at lunch, never go out to dinner, movies or bars, I don’t even have cable. I haven’t taken a vacation in years. None of it matters and I don’t feel poor, because I have horses.

I can walk into a sleepy barn or bury my hands in a shaggy mane and I will feel better, no matter what has happened in my life. My horses give me security, comfort and strength. They fire my imagination and add fuel to my art and my writing.

Being a trainer helped me establish boundaries and expectations with my family and myself. I learned to be patient, I learned to think before I act, I learned to be kind when I didn’t want to be, but knew it was for the best.

I learned to be hard when I had to and developed a strong sense of fairness. Horses made me strong.

So I guess that’s why this suburban girl thinks she’s Horsaii. I can connect and understand with just about every other Horsaii I meet, no matter what walk of life they come from.

Horsaii don’t have to own a horse. They may have never ridden a horse or even patted one.
But the unexpected catch in your throat when you see a horse race through a field, or the fact that the only reason you’ll suffer through a parade is to watch the horses go by and fill your head with their delicious scent is proof you’re Horsaii.

When you get a glimpse into the kind depths of their dark eyes, feel their silken neck under your hand and your heart aches just a little, you know you’re Horsaii.

So when I was asked what I wanted for Christmas I had to think. My family is a good one and I’m glad to be related to all of them. My horses are healthy and right up the street if I need a quick pat in the middle of a hard day. I can ride with many of the wonderful horse people I have met over the years and still have a blast. I can still experience the thrill of learning something new as I wrestle with a lariat and try not to rope my own head.

I guess I’m in pretty good shape for the holidays. Merry Christmas to all you Horsaii. I wish you a pat, a glimpse or a good ride on a pretty horse for your Christmas present. I know it’s what I want. Yip!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!

I'm not gone. Just been coping with a blown up vehicle and a crashed computer....Rumor has it I'm getting a lap top for Christmas, so I'll be able to blog all the more, sharing a computer w/ my other half has me bumped off most of the time. The computer that is.
I will be back soon!
Have a great holiday and GO RIDE YOUR HORSE! I AM!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The barn was quiet. The horses looked at me over their stall doors in total silence. They stood perfectly still, only their flicking ears told me they weren’t statues.

“What’s up boys and girls?” I called out and quickened my step. There were no happy snorts, no bobbing heads urging me to hurry with breakfast, no impatient thud of Madonna’s foot against the door.

I gave a quick head count and didn’t see Cupcake. I jogged over to his stall and leaned over the door. The horses heads turned to follow me in unison. He stood in the corner with his head hanging.

“Hey buddy, what’s the matter?” I crooned as I grabbed a halter and stepped in the stall.
Cupcake looked at his side and groaned.

“Ah geez,” I muttered.

We had a wicked little virus circulating through the place. It was presenting with sudden colic symptoms and little else. The horses would be colicky on and off for several days, keeping us up nights , worried and anxious.

It would finally end with a violent bout of diarrhea and the horse would be fine. I had been fighting it in the lower barns and had managed to keep it out of my upper one. Until today.

“Of course it would be you, Meathead,” I told the miserable little colt. “I’m never going to be able to send you home am I?”

My standard policy with clients and illness was to keep the horse with me, take care of him until he was recovered, and only charge board until I was back in the saddle.

This usually worked fine but I was ready to be done with this little horse. I didn’t have much use for his owner and knew she’d squawk about having to pay board.

I was tired of sick horses, tired of cleaning their stalls and tired of worrying how I was going to pay my bills with all of these horses suddenly out of training and on the econo boarding plan.

“Well, c’mon,” I told him, “let’s go walking.”

I walked him around the barn and down the road. The boss stepped out on her deck as we walked down the road.

“Another one down?” she asked.

“Of course,” I answered.

She tromped down the stairs and fell in beside Cupcake and me. We circled the house and headed back toward the barn. Cupcake walked a few feet behind me on a loose lead.

“Are you going to call the owner?”

“I’ll give him half an hour and then ring her up, you know she won’t let me call the vet," I kicked the gravel and sent a spray at the dogs. They scattered and sulked off insulted.

“I’ll go saddle what’s still standing upright,” she told me.

It turned out I was right, Cupcakes owner didn’t want the vet out and pitched a fuss about him being out of training.

“He wouldn’t be sick if he wasn’t at your barn,” she sputtered.

“That’s true,”I said, doing my best to keep my voice congenial.
"you can come pick him up if you want to.”
“I don’t want this virus at my place!” she snapped at me.

I hung on the phone and let the ensuing silence stretch out as long as she wanted.

“Fine, I’ll leave him there,” she finally said.

“I’ll call you if I need the vet,” I answered and hung up before she could snark at me again.

Cupcake had a tough time with the virus. He hadn’t been particularly healthy when he came in, his worm load had been pretty heavy and he still was a good 75 pounds shy of where he should have been.

So I spent a lot of time walking him, taking him out to graze a little, or just standing by his stall watching him. Within the week he had gotten over the worst of it and started picking at his feed again.

So when I came in to a barn full of happy hungry horses one morning I was relieved to see his pretty little face looking out at me.

“It’s about time you perked up, you little Gomer,” I told him as I filled his hay tub.”I guess I can safely scrape the worst of the yuck off your stall. Nothing like a stall bound horse with the runs to brighten up a day.

I went to work on his stall, scrubbing off the walls and hauling his water barrel out to scrub it clean.

I stood next to him in the stall, holding the hose as I refilled his water, humming a mindless tune. I felt Cupcake sniffing my elbow and stood relaxed. He nosed at my hand and I moved over to let him get to the clean water.

The little colt buried his nose and played, snorting and splashing water all over. He curled his front foot under him, I could tell he was dying to crawl right in the bucket.

I scratched his withers and hung my arm over his back. He bobbed his head faster in the water keeping time with my scratching fingers.

“Looks like you’ve made a friend this week,” the boss said as she leaned over the door.

“Yeah, he’s decided I’m OK,” I replied.

“Are you going to ride him today?” she asked me.

“No, I think he should just get some turn out. A day in the sun is probably just what the doctor ordered,” I said, “toss me a halter would ya?”

Cupcake turned to me and stuck his face in the halter. As I led him out into the upper arena he walked quietly by my shoulder. I untied the knot and hung the halter over my arm.

Cupcake stood still while I scratched his neck and around his ears. His eye was dark and sweet. I backed away and he wandered off for his first taste of freedom in 50 days. He laid down to roll and came up with a buck and a snort.

I watched him tear around the arena with his head high and his tail flagged and couldn’t help but smile.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Time to Clear Up The Big K- Or “A Minion with an Opinion”

Funder said: I love Big K stories. You make him sound like such a Buddhist guru.

This is when it really hit me, I have to balance out the stories about The Big K. He was definitely my guru for many years. We had a deep and complicated relationship based completely on horses.

The kidlet told me there were rumors flying constantly about what our relationship actually was. Which is absolutely hysterical on so many levels.

All K and I thought about or talked about was the horses. Our mutual obsession was what turned us into people who could read each others minds and finish each others sentences. Of course as all you horsaii know, working through training a horse makes you work on yourself.
As I learned to control my hands, legs and emotion I became a much stronger person. As I became stronger I developed an opinion.

A minion with an opinion is a bad thing when it comes to trainer/mentor – minion relationships.
The level of training I had climbed to was awash in abuse. Abuse towards horses. Abuse towards people. The trainers I met and worked with did things to their horses I couldn’t handle. Horses in my world were investments, commodities, tools, nothing more.

The horses were worked hard and early, we started two-year-olds on January 1. Which meant they were often 18 months old or so.

Colts and fillies were kept in box stalls, isolated from each other and under lights 24 hours a day. They were never turned out. They were in their stall, tied to the rail or being worked.

There was no room or time for kindnesses. Again, towards the horses or each other.

When I first started riding with K he was just coming up in the reined cowhorse world. He had top tenned at the AQHA Worlds and won a few major Colorado events.
He was smart and thoughtful and taught me a lot about riding through issues and how to read my horses.

As he rose in the ranks the pressure of his position began to change him. It began to change me too. I developed a very strong line I wouldn’t cross. It caused a deep rift.

K can be a very hard man. He can be impossible to understand. He pushes himself, his horses and the people around him to the absolute mental and physical limit.

I’m spending a week with him next fall. It will be the first time I’ll have ridden with him as an equal, instead of someone he needs to mold. It will be interesting.

I’ve written about many of the things K and I talked about but I’ve avoided the darker side.
I still haven’t decided how much I’m willing to write about those parts.

K and I have made peace after a very bitter split.

I’m wary, but he seems to have found himself again. We have begun to talk the way we used to, which is great.
But from where I stand and from what I’ve seen, I would never, ever leave a horse of my own in training with anybody. Other than myself…

I’ll toss anybody who wants to ride up on one of my horses, but nobody trains on them except me.

I didn’t go stomping off in a fury and refuse to compete either. I love reined cowhorse, I love cutting and I love the history and technique behind developing a spade bit horse.

I love learning.

I love training my horses.

I can’t morally do to a horse what I saw being done in order to win.

I would have never become the caliber of trainer I did if I hadn’t ridden with the people I did.

See what a Mugwup I am?

I am glad The Big K and I are friends. I’m working out the latest mental knot he gave me and it’s a great problem. I’ll share it eventually. But we have a wall between us now. We’ve talked about it. I built it and I’m not of a mind to take it down. It’s a point of sadness between us.

I’ll compete again. I want to see if I can win on a horse I’ve trained with what I’ve learned and the moral code I’ve developed. I don’t know if I can, but it keeps the future interesting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Splish Splash I Was Taking A Bath

When I was a teenager I owned a big, rowdy, opinionated gelding named Mort. For the most our learning was a mutual experience. I don’t know what he knew, but I knew just about nothing, so we had to start at the beginning for everything.

Crossing water was one of the first trials we went through. I wanted to, he didn’t. It was pretty simple.

There was a narrow creek which trickled below Mark Reynor Stables in Palmer Park. I used this as my first water crossing. I would point Mort at it and kick, he would eventually jump it.

I thought this was great fun and jumped him over it again and again. Eventually Mort tired out and walked through the water. From then on I assumed he would cross, and he did.

I rode the tar out of that horse. He was my major mode of transportation and I rode him all over the place. He learned to cross sand bars and swim in reservoirs. We would run and jump into streams and ponds. I never really thought about it, it was just the way Mort and I travelled.

Once I grew up and began training horses for a living I decided there needed to be a technique involved in training horses to cross water. So I got all “trainerly” and developed a system to get my horses in the brink.

First I would find a water source to train with. It can be hard to find water in Colorado, so sometimes I had to wait for some good sized mud puddles. But I could usually find a trickle somewhere.

I would give my young horse a good work out and then trot him to my water crossing. When he stopped I’d let him. He couldn’t leave, he had to stay facing the water, but he got to air up and relax while we stood there.

The next day I’d follow the same pattern, except this time I expected him to get closer. Usually I’d make him get close enough to the water to sniff at it and play in it a little.
I still didn’t cross, but I ended his training session at the water.

Pretty soon my little horse would cross the water and get his rest on the other side. I took as long as I needed to get this done. Usually it only took two or three tries and the colt would be crossing. If the horse was particularly spooky I would work him up to it little by little. It always worked, as long as I was patient.

Once he would cross at his spot I would meander up and down the creek, crossing back and forth.

I kept him looking forward, got him across with gentle encouragement, and let him think it was his idea to cross. I was pretty proud of myself.

There was a small problem with my method even though it looked cool and horse whispery.

When my colts went home they took something else with them. An opinion. My young horses were no longer afraid of crossing water, they knew they could do it, but they also thought if they didn’t want to cross, they could just stand and look at the water.

This problem went deeper into my training methods. It just tended to show up at water crossings. I had approached most of my desensitizing problems this way.

I would ask the horse to approach whatever was scaring him, then take him away when he relaxed. Then I would move on to the next problem. Eventually all of the problems would fade away to nothing. I figured this was the way to deal with things.

My horses were quiet and confident.

Then they would go home and start giving their owners fits. The little stinkers would hesitate when asked to do a task, and would feel perfectly free to argue about whether or not they completed it.

They didn’t do it all the time, just once in a while, and with a little work with the owners it would generally straighten itself out. But it was definitely a hole in my training.

What was I doing wrong? I started to think it was a respect issue. My colts behaved an awful lot like my daughter. Which isn’t all bad, it’s pretty good actually, but try getting her to do something she doesn’t want to. Like clean her room. Or vote Republican. I raised her to have an opinion too.

I asked the Big K for some input.

“I’ve never felt your horses don’t respect you,” he said, “but I know what you’re talking about.”

I waited while he mulled it over.

“They hesitate for a brief second before they do what you tell them. It’s almost like they ask you, ‘Are you sure you want this?’”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked him.

“Probably not, but the question that comes up to my mind is, how do your horses respond when you don’t ask them, you tell them?” he answered.

Now it was my turn to ponder.

For the next few weeks I studied every move I made with the horses. Every now and then I wouldn’t ask my colts to go, I’d tell them. The Big K was right. My little guys felt perfectly free to sull up and argue. Not bad, no rearing or bucking, just a belligerent stiffening through the shoulders and neck. Which of course turned into a couple of front legs rammed straight into the ground.

This was the hole I was looking for.

I’m sure everybody has dealt with this one. It shows up at different times on different horses, but I see it most when a horse is entering a show ring, a trailer, leaving their buddies, and of course, crossing water.

I could wiggle them back and forth and kick them out of it, but why was it there?

It was because I cared what they thought. If my horse stops and look, I do too. If they don’t want to do something I tend to acknowledge it, ask for a little try and then move on.

I was forgetting something. Sometimes we need our horses to go right now. This second. No thought, just blind trust in me, the rider. My horses needed to know they would be OK if they simply trusted me and did what I said.

All of my approach and retreat training was just fine and dandy, but I had forgotten something I had instinctively known as a teenager.

If you just make then go and they survive, the next time it will be a little easier. Your horse will not only trust you to make decisions, but begin to count on it.

So I let go of some of my trainerly notions. When I needed to cross water I was still patient. But by God, we were going to get across, that day, right now.

A broke horse on the other side and the end of my romel did the job. If I needed to get through a series of gates or open an arena door I started to do it from horseback. We got it done. I would periodically hop on and take off at a high trot or brisk lope, straight from the tie rail. No warm-up, just straight to it.

As soon as they began to automatically respond, the better they behaved in general.

The biggest lesson I learned? Sometimes I had to forget the “right” way to do things and simply “getterdone.” My horses will still flick an ear in question, but for the most time, when I say,” NOW!”, I get it.

During a recent ride my yellow mare crossed a major piece of water she had never seen before. She went first, without a fuss. Every time we cross it’s just getting easier. Our trust is becoming a mutual thing. It's coming from a combination of what I’ve learned and how I rode as a kid.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Help Is All Around You

This is my column from last week. But I have to add a little here. You guys are going to say HA! And I deserve it. When I brought my yellow mare in from pasture my pattern with her changed. I will get her out and groom her sometimes, just to take a break from work. There are days when I just let her graze. It's a completely new phase in our relationship.

The first time I got out my favorite rubber curry and began giving her a good rub down she almost came undone. Not in a bad way, mind you, I swear she was almost orgasmic.

Madonna groaned and worked her mouth and stretched out. She kept looking at me in complete amazement.

It suddenly hit me. I had never really groomed her before. She is 7 years old, I've owned her for the last 5 1/2 years and she's never been just brushed down.

Madonna grew up as part of my line up while I was training. My grooming was extremely functional. I took off their blankets, threw on a saddle and rode. Afterwards they were bathed, blanketed and put in their stall.

I felt like a total schmuck.

So now my horse is enjoying her full share of spa days. And she nickers when she sees me. She nuzzles my face and gently sniffs my hands. It's great. You guys tried to tell me.

Here's my article.....

I was grooming my mare yesterday and had the chance to observe a fellow boarder work his young colt. The sorrel gelding was moving comfortably around the pen at a jog. His owner was doing some bending and flexing exercises, his light hands and subtle sense of timing were what drew my eye.

The colt was relaxed under saddle and perfectly willing to bend and give where his owner wanted him to.

I was thinking how nice it is to watch a colt being given a good start in life. He was happy in his work, his tail swung in an easy rhythm and his eyes were bright and cheerful. The horse was being ridden exactly the way I like to see a young horse go, exactly the way I strive to start my horses. I can only hope mine look as congenial and forward as this one did.

His nose followed the riders hands, his ribs lined up as the riders legs asked, and his hip stayed lively and mobile.

The rider took the colt out in our big arena and loped him out. There was no panic, no skittering, no nonsense. Just an even, relaxed cadence on a loose rein.

What drew my eye was the quality of riding. This guy can handle a colt. I would let him start one of mine, which is not something I say very often.

Here’s the kicker. This guy is a roper. His real job is horse shoing.

He rides completely different than I do, from the length of his stirrups to where he sits in the saddle. His sport is completely different than mine. The propulsion, balance points and way of going are completely different than the ones I’ve learned.

But when it comes to how he starts his colt on life’s path, it’s all the same.

This tells me two things.

I can find quality riders in every aspect of horsemanship.

I know what I want and can recognize it when I see it.

The first point is one I’ve brought up before and probably will again. I have found I can learn something from everyone I meet. This is especially true in the horse world.

I learned a lot about forward and how to grow a tail on a horse from a Morgan trainer I barn shared with. I’m talking about the kind of Morgans that have their heads cranked high in the air, their feet are kept so long you can’t figure out how they move, and they spend their lives in box stalls wearing neck sweats and cruppers.

This is not a discipline I understand, or, I’m afraid, approve of. I hated the way the horses were kept. I hate the bitting rigs, the feet and their life of imprisonment.

I had a problem with the spoiled brat owners, the snotty little girls in their really expensive riding togs, and the concept of money winning everything.

Because I had to barn share with the guy I kept my mouth shut. He was equally wary of me, I can’t imagine what kinds of crazy heathen he thought I was.

One afternoon I was watching him work a horse on the rail in our indoor arena. His assistant was shooting off a cap gun as the horse would pass. The young gelding would drive even harder, his legs would snap higher and he would get even more air between strides. His eyes were rolling in terror and he was soaked in hot, foamy sweat.

I tried to figure out what the hell they were doing to the poor horse.

When he had finished and handed off the colt to his assistant I went over to talk to him.

“Could you explain what you were doing to me?” I asked.

The Morgan trainer was immediately on the defensive. “What are you talking about?”

“I was watching how much forward your horse has,” I hurried to explain,” and even when he knew you were going to shoot off the cap gun he just pushed harder into the bridle instead of shying away.”

The trainer relaxed and explained the idea behind it. The cap guns were to get a higher level of animation out of the horse. The horses were taught from day one they would get a release from pressure by driving themselves straight and forward. As their hind legs drove forward they met the bit and went higher, driving themselves as if they were climbing a hill. It created the flashy look the Morgan show ring required.

Don’t get me wrong here. I hate, hate, hate the unnatural way these horses were treated. I can’t condone it. I am well aware there are many who can’t condone the way I do things either. So instead of screaming from the roof tops how right I am, I try to glean something useful from everybody I come across. I had all kinds of thinking to do about drive and how to get it from my conversations with the Morgan trainer.

I learned that the snooty little girls were just as anxious about winning, losing, looking stupid or making a mistake as my students were. I also saw the horses showered with love and affection and realized Morgan’s were pretty athletic, kind, and social. Spoiled brat owners? Well, they come at all levels, what can I say. The Morgan guy taught me how to grow out a tail with a minimum of fuss.

My second point revolves around being able to recognize good training. I developed my point of view over a lot of years. From the people who helped or hindered when I was kid, to the trainers I rubbed elbows with as I progressed through the professional world, I learned to recognize what was effective handling and what wasn’t.

I’m one of those people who will watch an entire horse show. After I’ve ridden an my horse is put up I still go to the stands and watch until the end.

I watch my fellow competitors from the warm-up to their go in the arena. I watch the interaction between trainers and their clients. I watch the horses, study their build, their legs, their headset. At the breed shows I watch at least part of the other classes, from halter to western riding. I do a lot of deliberate thinking about what I would like to be able to do and how I would go about doing it.

Again, my obsessive nature is probably showing, but I can’t help it. I study the cowboys on their horses in the old Westerns the same way. How do they ride, how does the horse go, what kind of gear are they using?

So now, I’m retired, my horses are pretty much as good as they’re going to get and I’m still watching and learning. Like the roper on his colt. He got me thinking. Is my colt wrapping around my leg as light as the little sorrel colt? Is he moving out as free and easy? I can’t wait to go check myself and my little colt out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Riding It Forward

This was last weeks column...with a plea for input from you guys at the bottom.

Thanks, Mugs

Riding It Forward, The FRRC Steps Up

By Janet Huntington

In September I wrote an article ,”When Do We Step In?” I wondered when was the best time to step in and offer help to a fellow horseman who was obviously in need of some advice about riding or caring for his horse.

Horse people as a rule tend to be proud and stiff necked and they don’t want to feel the fool. It becomes a delicate balance to offer unasked advice to someone who desperately needs it, but not sound like a know-it-all, butting in where we don’t belong.

Other folks would be more than willing to ask but just don’t know where to get help which is actually, well helpful.

The Fountain Riding and Roping Club have taken my question and run with it. The club is planning a series of clinics offered to riders of all levels. The clinics will be free or low cost to anyone who owns a horse or would like to own one someday.

FRRC treasurer, Ardith Bruce, said, “Sometimes people need help and are afraid to ask, in a clinic environment they won’t feel singled out.”

The clinics are currently in the planning stages, but they will begin with some very basic and vital information.

Ideas under consideration are:
Want To Buy A Horse? What You Need To Know
Feed, Feet and Shelter
Adjusting and Fitting Tack.
Horse Safety
Parents of Kids with Horses, What You Need To Know
Manners, Manners, Manners!
Trailer Loading

The FRRC has several members who are working or retired professionals in several equine fields. They have volunteered to lead these clinics and are open to teaching more advanced levels of riding; from horsemanship skills, improving balance and hands, to cattle work, reining and roping.

The clinics will be held at the FRRC arena. Times and dates are still being ironed out.

Many of these clinics will not require a horse in order to participate.

This is a generous community service, it will be interesting to see how it goes.

I received incredible help over my years with horses. As a young girl, Mark Reyner taught me it’s not what horse you ride, it’s how you ride the horse you’re given. Bob Clark taught me how many pounds of hay my horse needed every day. Mike Craig opened the doors to Monte Foreman and training a horse with timing, feel and kindness. Donna Brock showed me what to look for in a quality saddle and the Kit Carson Riding Club acted as a village. As a group they tamed my wildness and pointed me towards responsible horsemanship. They never did get me to comb my hair though.

I learned from my friends too. Karen showed me how to ride a pleasure horse and which side of the hill to dismount on during a NATRC trail ride. Linda made me bold. Lauren let me know what determination was all about and the Jenson sisters created an ache for perfection.

I learned from the darker side of the horse world too. I was sold bad hay, cheap saddles and given terrible advice. I learned to be cautious and to pay attention. I learned to sniff out the least hint of mold. I learned to research.

All of these lessons prepared me for the day I waded into the world of professional horse training . Because of the help I received I was more than ready to begin absorbing the wealth of information in front of me.

I’m can’t begin to cover all of the help and practical knowledge I received as a young rider. The idea of playing it forward in the safe environment of a solid riding club with great credentials is pretty appealing. I’m looking forward to meeting some new members of the horse world. Yip!


Now I have a question for the mugwump bloggers. If you were brand spanking new in the horse world, what would you want to know? I’d love some fresh ideas for these clinics. I’m going to be running many of them and would love some fresh ideas. What solid, practical advice would you like to receive or wish you had gotten when you first started with horses?
We are hoping these free clinics will spread between the area riding clubs. Any ideas you have to add would be appreciated.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Questions and Answers

I know I have been negligent when it comes to answering questions lately. But I'm going to cover the last few I've gotten today.
Keep asking, if I never answered ask again, I'll try to cover these better....

Question #1 came from Anonymous...'Where was her "safe spot"? How did you decide where to put it? She had to keep moving until...? Just the so we/I can see how this was working."
This was about Tally. When I was working her I was just sorting things out. Part of what took me so long with her was she was way more horse than I had ever dealt with. It wasn't just her past history, she was wild as could be.

The most important thing for me during groundwork is to get the horse's attention. I want her to know she has to do what I want. I also teach the horse to trust me to give her her an out..always.

Once the horse understands I want her to move forward, stop, turn and honor my space I start to focus on getting her ridden.

By the time I retired, the average was about three days on groundwork, even with the tough ones.

The sessions lasted from 20 to 40 minutes.

But I didn't have that kind of experience with Tally and she was a tough nut to crack.

I was still shiny eyed in my belief that any horse can be fixed with enough patience and part of me still believes that.

Anyway, I create a safe spot for a horse I'm working with. It carries through the initial arena work when go on to ride them too.

When I've got my horse moving nicely around me I pick a spot away from all of the places the horse would stop at if they got to choose.

So their spot won't be by the gate, close to where they can whinny to their friends , or next to a horse tied on the rail.

I give my first release there. Where I cease all motion, back away and lower my whip, or rope or hand, whatever I'm guiding the horse with. I also quit looking at the horse. I'll talk to whoever is around or study the sky, whatever.

The horse will stop where he feels comfortable within five feet or so of the release.

From then on I release there every time.

So it quickly becomes a neutral territory for us both. If things are going down the can I can release the horse at his spot and we can both regroup.

The horse then begins to hunt the spot to stop. Which is what I, as a cow horse person, wants. I want my horse to hunt the stop.

This is where I first touch a horse I'm working with, in the safe spot...but I can't tell you anymore because that's the next Tally chapter.

The key here is the horse doesn't get to pick when he stops there. He stops on his spot when I say he can.

Once I have my stop established I'll ask him to stop other places, but his safe spot is where he gets to rest.

Once I'm up and riding we'll head to the safe spot when I think we need it. It can be just to quietly stand with me on his back.

The only rule is, the horse must be completely quiet. No pawing, no fussing. If I have to touch a rein I figure little Junior doesn't need a safe spot and off we go.

In return I have my own rules. I don't touch the reins. I don't sit crooked and cock my leg over the horn. I don't fidget. If I do I'm not ready for the safe spot and off we go.

Having a safe spot in the arena has saved my bacon more than once. I've had colts seriously thinking of doing me harm and then relax and let it all go because we stopped at the safe spot.

As time goes on I stop and rest my horse in different places. My cues are the same and it just kind of transfers. Now I'm the safe spot. So my horse looks to me to get his rest. And to feel safe.

I work my horses until they focus on me. So I'll work them around until they are waiting for the next cue. The horse will be watching me, eyes and ears.

Dee Dee asked - Please share your balancing exercises with us. I was never a teenage rider (i was a city kid who took the bus every Saturday downtown to the Art Institute) I never had bareback balance. And have wanted it for years.

My bareback exercises for balance are the same as I teach in the saddle, so start saddled.
You can do these in a round pen, with a partner on a longe line, in an arena or down the trail. If you are in the arena or on the trail go one hand at a time so you keep your reins.

As far as being afraid, everybody gets to hang on when they are afraid or even mildly concerned. I don't care. the horse doesn't either. But success only comes with letting go.


Make sure your posture is correct. I should be able to draw a straight line from your ear, to your hip, to your heel.

Get your seat bones square.

Now slouch and get comfortable, just keep your alignment.

Ride your horse against the wall (we're in an indoor).

Look ahead and expect him to go straight along the wall. If he wanders to the middle guide him back with a single rein.

Drop your reins, look straight ahead and stretch your arms out to the side.

Now make little circles with your arms both forward and back.

Now swing an imaginary lariat over your head, first one side than the other.

Put your arms in front of you and bend them at the elbow. Now pump them up and down like you're pulling a train whistle one arm at a time.

Next you'll move your arms like a runner. Pump fast and slow.

While you do all of these let your body move with your arms. Feel your seat bones. What are they doing? Where are the pressure points?

Do all of these at a walk and trot.

Now we get to the legs. You can hang on to the horn, mane or reins for this. No pulling on the reins!

Take one foot out of the stirrup. Put it back. Now the other foot. Now both. Back and forth. Foot in the stirrup, foot out. Do this until you're good at it at the walk and trot.

Now take both feet out of the stirrups.

Get comfortable with no stirrups at a walk and trot.

Stop the horse. Lift your thighs off the saddle and count to three. Relax, repeat 10 times. Warning...this hurts.

Now do the same thing at a walk and trot w/o stirrups.

Next, scissor kick your legs while at the walk and trot. Try to keep a rhythm going. Keep it up until you're comfortable.

Then go back to the arm exercises. Combine all of them with going around at a walk and trot w/o stirrups.

Find your rhythm.

Side to side with the train, back and forth with the running motion and in the middle with the lariat swing.

Now go do these bareback.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Being the mugwumpI am, I can't write an article about working with trainers without going back to why we should use clinicians. It shouldn't be a surprise. I have said more than once Ray Hunt changed my whole world. And I don't think it's much of a secret why I dropped out of the race to the top in the horse training world.

Buying Local Has It’s Limits

By Janet Huntington

When I first starting taking lessons as an adult I rode with well known APHA trainer Devin Warren.

I was training out of a color breeding barn and needed to update my sadly behind the times show skills. Devin was training my boss’s stud, River, and the boss wanted me to maintain him when he was home.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? OMG. I didn’t have a clue how to ride using the new and improved performance horse. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or legs, my concepts of drive were completely off kilter and the show world was a blur of confusion for me.

Devin was patient, funny and had no problem yelling at me when I needed it.

The problem was I just didn’t get it. I felt awkward and foolish, hated much of what I was being told to do and simply didn’t understand a lot of the information being thrown at me. Devin was busy and had only so much time. I realized I needed to accept responsibility for my horse education.

I was in desperate need of a clinician. I needed somebody who trained to show. I was completely capable of getting a horse down the trail, but I needed some concepts I could absorb and apply to the show world.

I found an introductory offer of a training tape for $10 in a horse magazine. Not quite my clinician, but some sorely needed information for not much dough. It seemed well worth the risk.
When my tape arrived I got to meet Larry Trocha, a cutting horse trainer from California. His method of training made complete sense to me, it reminded me of the training philosophy of Monte Foreman, the trainer I had followed since my youth.

I called and ordered more. I talked to Mr. Trocha and he helped me put together a tape package which would compliment the program I was on with Devin.

It worked out great. Because I could watch my tapes as needed and practice technique on my own. Even though I was listening to a cutting horse trainer and riding all around with Devin, I began to understand drive, balance, frame and leg control.

This opened my eyes to looking at clinicians. I began to go to as many as I could. I rode when I could afford it and observed the rest of the time.

I also began to read. Mainly books about dressage because the theories seemed to come into play no matter what I was riding or who I was riding with.

I also had a great secret weapon when I rode with the trainers who had knowledge so beyond mine. Common sense. Strong convictions about what worked and what didn’t. I had a personal opinion about what was fair or not fair to my horses and I had enough education behind me to back up my thoughts.

If I thought something was wrong it took some honest conversation to convince me otherwise.
If I didn’t agree I didn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I did things during my training years I wouldn’t do now, but I am willing to bet we all have. I developed this conviction through the clinicians I observed and rode with.

My absolute favorite thing about clinicians is they don’t ride my horse. I do.

When I work with a clinician I am learning his opinion by training my horse myself. This is all I’ve ever wanted. To learn how to be the best horseman I could be, so I don’t have to let anybody else ride my horse.

Local trainers can be hard to understand, demanding, short on time, patience and sometimes, just plain wrong. They can be dishonest or cruel. They are jealous of their clients and unwilling to share them.

When you ride with a local trainer you represent him/ her. So he wants you to win. He wants you to be horsed the way he thinks will make you succeed.

This is not a bad thing, but something every horse owner who seeks out a local trainer needs to be aware of. You very well may be pressured to “change up” on your horse. You may be encouraged to put your horse in training and feel it’s the only way to get there.

In a clinic it’s about what you and your horse can do together. The only time I’ve seen a clinician (well, a good one anyway) tell someone they needed a new horse, the horse was in obvious pain.

Clinics can give you a lot of knowledge for not a bunch of money. If a clinician wants thousands of dollars to ride with him I’ll go watch him work instead.

Clinicians prepare you for trainers.

I think a good horseman is a person who spends his life learning. When you first start with horses it’s your primary responsibility to learn how to care for them safely. This includes feet, feed, medical care and proper riding technique. Then you get to learn about how a horse moves, how you can direct them, in other words, begin to advance your knowledge.

It should never stop. The better you get, the better off your horse is. If you ride with a clinician you will come away with knowledge, if you ride with a trainer you will too. It doesn’t matter which route you take, you’ll always be riding with yourself and your own moral compass.

Going to clinics and watching tapes taught me to think. Going to trainers taught me to really ride. Becoming a trainer helped me really delve into what makes a horse and ultimately, myself tick. I don’t regret any of it.

Knowing what I was willing to do and how far I’d go while training my horses came from myself. I rode with people who I admired and hated. I picked up what worked for me and dropped what didn’t.

If I saw a spectacular result from a method I couldn’t condone I would figure my way around it. I do it to this day.

Clinicians and their videos can reach everybody, no matter how far out in the wilderness they are. Help is available for everyone. Videos can arm a rider with enough knowledge and ability to think on their own.

Clinician, video or trainer, none of them are worth a thing if we don’t learn to think.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tally 4

The light in the arena was always beautiful in the early morning.

Cool white beams broke through the dirt encrusted, corrugated plastic windows high above me. Dust puffed in clouds around my feet as I crossed the sawdust floor to slide open the door. When I stomped the dust danced in the light high above my head. When I stepped as soft and careful as a Lakota scout it would still catch sparks of light as it puffed around each foot.

I coughed as I inhaled the first lungful of dust of the day. Fairy dust my ass.

I latched the end gate and leaned out into the cool air. The boss was singing a lonesome cowboy tune, the kind I liked, filled with vast empty plains, jingling spurs and good horses. I could just hear him over the Daewoo as he chugged down the row of corrals, tossing hay and feed to the boarded horses.

Goose pimples covered my legs and I wished I was wearing my jeans and boots instead of shorts and running shoes.

I left the big door open as I hooked up the sprinklers and started to water the arena. Tally watched every move I made, just as she did every morning, studying me between mouthfuls of hay.

Once the sprinklers were chugging away, in a vain attempt to beat down the dust, I crawled up the bars of Tally's pen and sat on top of the fence, right next to her feeder.

I opened my latest in the John Sandford "Prey" series and began to read out loud to her." 'We heard you found a whole bunch of skeletons.' Her jaw dropped open...." I hadn't enjoyed the series as much since Lucas had met Weather. What a cheesy name. But it was a pleasurable enough way to pass the time.

Tally spun away and stood in her corner with her face to the wall. Her feet no longer danced in terror and her head no longer lowered to the floor. Instead her heavy black tail twitched in irritation and she kept swinging her head around to glare at me, her nose wrinkled and her big doe eyes hard as marbles.

I kept reading aloud, gesturing and raising my voice in dread or excitement as the gooshy parts dictated.

"Your going to give the poor little thing nightmares," my boss's teasing voice broke into my one man show.

"Leave me be, I'm training here," I said, only half joking.

"Well, it's only been two months, and at least you've managed to piss her off, even if you can't touch her."

I shifted around until my back was to him and went back to reading.

He broke back into his song and headed into the barn to clean stalls.

After ten more minutes of fussing Tally sighed and came back to her feeder. In order to eat she had to put her head directly under my legs.

I immediately scooched away a few feet and quit reading out loud. We sat together in what I at least hoped was a companionable silence for another twenty minutes or so.

I finally climbed down the fence, and although she snorted and flipped her forelock, Tally didn't leave her hay.

Hmmm, progress, I thought as I went to turn off the water and close the big door.

I closed the door and leaned up against it. The only time I could really stare at Tally was from here, at the end of the arena.

She looked good. Her legs had healed and the scars were tight and clean. She was muscled and sleek from the regimen of good food and our early morning workouts. Her tangled and matted mane and tail made my fingers itch and her muscular back made me ache to ride her. I understood Bill's impatience. If I hadn't seen first hand what happened when Tally was forced I'd have been tempted to try the same.

I was at complete loss. My experience had not prepared me for a horse like this one. She kind of hurt my feelings. I was used to the horses I trained liking me. At least eventually. Tally continued to size me up like she was figuring the best place to plant a hoofprint.

I clung to one sentence I had been told by Ray Hunt. "If you have the feet, you have the horse."

In my mind everything I did with Tally was about gaining control of her feet. I was flying by the seat of my pants.

"Time to rock and roll," I said. Tally raised her head and looked straight at me.

I opened the gate to her pen and she flowed past me. Tally was able to go from head in the feeder to a full smooth gallop in two strides. Her little hammer head stayed level with her flat, meaty withers and her tail hung straight and heavy.

I stayed out of her way as she blew around, getting the kinks out. She whipped through the puddled water without missing a beat and snorted in play at the banners on the walls. She ran through the middle and switched leads without a ripple.

"You're killing me, mare," I called out in frustration and gathered up my longe whip to start another futile workout.

I walked just past the center of the arena and stood in the middle of my great big imaginary round pen.

Tally flicked an ear at me and blasted to the other end of the arena to stand by her pen.

I immediately charged her, screaming and yelling, brandishing my whip like a mad woman.

She waited until I had almost reached her and raced towards the other end of the arena.

She stopped and waited for me, her eyes sparkling. It totally pissed me off to see that Tally, did indeed, have a sense of fun. I still gave her a slow count of ten, willing her to understand the safe place was down at the end of the arena with me.

I walked back towards her, whip dragging behind me, my pace even and determined. I stayed a little to the left of her to give her a way to run away from me.

I had given Tally a vicious lesson about running past me. She could run away from me but never past. The mare was never going to run me over. She knew it and I knew it.

In return I always gave her an escape. I knew I had to keep the feet moving. Which had led to our current conundrum.

As soon as I had reached the midpoint of my imaginary round pen Tally took off for the other end. I ran screaming and yelling at her again.

And so on. We kept this up and would only rest when I stood by her gate, hand on my knees, wheezing as the fast drying dust began to suffocate me. I pretended I was letting Tally air up in the safe spot.

Tally stood on the other end watching me. It cheered me to see she was covered with sweat and

I regrouped and we began again.

I stood tall and relaxed and headed toward my selected center.

She stood tensed and ready to go. As soon as I was even with her hip she began to trot off.

"Ahhhh!!!! You bitch!" I screamed and began my charge, wobbly knees and all.

Tally headed towards the gate but veered right and began to come around me.

I slammed my mouth shut and quickly went neutral. My war cry turned to a strangled gargle.

She trotted around me and stopped at the safe spot. I forced myself to breathe slow and even. I looked at the air in front of her, willing her to stay with me for a few more seconds.

Then carefully, I looked at her hip and followed by pointing my longe whip at her hip too. She trotted off, her ears flicking back and forth and her head raised.

I waited until her shoulders headed toward the gate and her ears left me to point to home.

"Hey!" I yelled and raised the whip.

Tally altered her course and came around me. She stopped in the safe spot and looked at me again.

I turned my back and gave her a release. I counted to ten, turned to face her and she waited until I looked at her hip and pointed the whip.

She trotted off. This time she kept her ears on me when she began to shear off toward her pen.

I whistled, sharp and short and she came around.

When she came to her safe spot I pointed the whip at her hip and she skittered a little as I pushed her through.

Her ears flicked and her eyes were bright. I wished she would relax the hard knot of her chin, but Tally was only thinking things through. She wasn't one to hand anything over.

She went around me at a slow and steady trot. Her head dropped back to level and we circled. Maybe not the eighty foot circle I envisioned, but it was pretty darn fine. I breathed deep trying to steady my pounding heart and shaking hands.

I dropped the whip, stepped to the left and turned my back to her.

I could feel her land in her safe spot, her breathing was up, but steady like a well exercised horse, not a frightened one.

I walked to her pen and opened her gate. Normally I would stand aside so she would feel safe enough to enter, but today was a whole new day. I had her feet.

Tally snorted a few times and kicked out a hind foot in irritation. I was breaking the rules.

"Do you want me to start reading again?" I asked her. "I've got all day."

She paced back and forth a few times and finally began to sidle up the long wall. I looked away, but kept my hand on the gate. As she walked past me into the pen my extended fingers just brushed her side.

Tally jumped into her pen and turned to face me. She extended her nose towards my face and I froze. She sniffed me slowly and carefully, my eyes, my ears, my hair. She sighed and went to her hay.

I went to my car and gathered my spurs and jeans. I walked down the barn aisle and picked up a bucket. I was sticky with sweat and dust and looked forward to an icy cold clean up before I got into my jeans. As I filled it with water the boss came by with his wheel barrow.

"Are you all right?" He asked. His face was puzzled and concerned.

"Couldn't be better," I answered and headed to the tack room with my wash water. Sometimes I just didn't get him.

When I looked in the dusty mirror I was confused to see tear tracks snaking their muddy way down my dust covered face. I had no clue I was crying.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mort and I

Bareback Anyone?

By Janet Huntington

My insides were shaking and my thoughts flying as I walked across the field to the little run down sheds and corrals built piecemeal with silvery gray boards. Mort snorted and began to trot around his corral. He bucked and spun as if spurred by my approaching energy. I grabbed his hackamore out of my shed and crawled between the poles of the corral.

He came to me and I leaned into him. His heady smell filled my nostrils and he curled his neck around me in his best Mort hug. The silky feel under my hand and the metallic shine of his coat couldn’t soothe me. Not today.

I slipped the hackamore over his nose and ears and flipped the reins over his neck. The ache was building and I swung up on his back with a single, fluid jump.

We were through the gates and out on the road at a high trot within minutes. We ignored the staccato beeps from the cars and held our trot across Academy in a careless game of chicken.

The long slow hill leading into the trees opened in front of us and Mort bolted. He was confident there would be no pull on the reins today.

I slid back and a little to the side, I wasn’t ready for his huge jump forward and the lightening fast speed of his surge, but Mort was right, there would be no pull from me today, I needed to fly.

I grabbed his mane and hoisted myself to the middle of his back.

The trail flattened out parallel to Maizeland and we raced the cars up the hill. As we approached the trees Mort slowed to an extended trot. We zigged- zagged through the familiar twists and turns of the trail. A gentle touch of the reins sent us down the trail to the outer loop around the park.

He picked up speed as we came out in the open and we were soon in a full gallop.
I sat up straight as his pace evened out, finding my rhythm with each powerful stride. I let my legs swing free, balanced and easy in my seat.

The knot in my stomach began to loosen and waves of sadness began to flow over me. Anger soon followed and the weight of my out of control emotion sent my thoughts spiraling.

I asked Mort for more speed and he stretched out into the rough 1-2-3-4 of the full gallop. I clung to his mane until I found balance again. The trees whipped by in a blur and I felt everything slowly easing. My anger seeped away, I felt fearless and strong. But it still wasn’t enough.

I leaned forward and slid the hackamore off of Mort’s head. I slung the bridle over my shoulder and stroked his neck. I leaned back and lost myself in the freight train chug of Mort’s breathing.

I clung so tight to his mane I felt my nails cut into my palms. I forced myself to take first one hand and then the other from his mane. I flung my arms out and my head back and we ran.

One entity together, my stigmata marked palms faced up to the sun and I closed my eyes. As we pounded around the far end of the park I finally felt peace come through me. Mort slowed to a canter as I relaxed deeper into him. We were one, we were I, we were him.

This is what your kids do on their horses when you’re not looking folks.

As a teenager I had complete confidence in my horse and my balance. I trusted absolutely nothing else. I wasn’t the only nut job high school age girl out there either. There was a whole gang of us. I would say my friend Melinda and I were the most daring, but the rest of our group was pretty courageous.

Our parents had no clue. Not even an inkling.

Now I’m a grown up. I’m sane and sober and my mare has never been ridden bareback. She is well mannered and steady because I broke her and trained her to be that way.

But a funny thing happened to me last week. I felt sad and angry and scared all rolled into one. I needed to ride with a desperation that surprised me.

I met my friend Kathy at the barn. She had already gotten the horses out and had groomed them both. I got out of my car and realized I had forgotten the key to my tack room. My saddle and hackamore were locked up tight. I ran my hand over my mare’s back. She has a strong, sturdy back, well-rounded and cushy. My thoughts were racing.

“What are you doing?” Kathy asked me.

“Nothing, just thinking,” I told her.

I untied my mare and lined her up by my trailer fender. I put my leg on her back and she danced away, uneasy and confused.

“Have you ever ridden her bareback?” Kathy asked.

“No.” I replied.

“How long has it been since you’ve ridden bareback?” she pursued.

“Oh, probably 12 years or so,” I said.

My mare kept moving away and tossing her head. Clearly she agreed with Kathy, this was a bad idea.

Finally, sanity returned and I gave up. My muscles have tightened over the years and my bareback riding instinct has been buried deep by proper riding, correct horse training and age.

We took the horses back to their pen. Kathy assured me we would try to ride tomorrow.

My mare bucked and snorted around her pen as if spurred.

My restlessness is still here. I may have to bow to my years but I don’t have to give in. I’ve decided I’m going to ride bareback again, but I’ll do it right.

I’ll get on my mare bareback for the first time after we’ve ridden and she’s tired. I’ll ride with her hackamore, not her halter and I’ll begin by walking around the round pen. I have balance exercises I taught my students for years. I’ll use them myself and see if I can find my the muscle memory of days spent bareback on my horse. At least enough to keep me in the middle of my horse. My restlessness will just have to wait.

I had no idea retiring as a horse trainer was going to bring this back. I have to admit it’s going to be fun.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Down Under Horsemanship? - Buy Local

Here's this weeks column, this is definitely one I wanted to share with you guys.

Down Under Horsemanship ? – I’d Rather Buy Local
By Janet Huntington

When I was still in the horse training biz I had a client/student, Lyn, who was a huge Clinton Anderson fan.

She would call and cancel her lesson so she could go to his clinics.

The next week she would show up with a $40 dollar halter, $50 stick and $30 lead rope she had bought at the clinic.

“I just couldn’t help myself,” Lyn would say, “when I watch him I get so excited I just have to go buy his stuff.”

I would give Lyn a bleak glare and sigh.

Then she would hit me with the big one.

“He trains just like you do, it’s incredible, he explains things like you and everything.”

Ay Yi Yi. I would put my head in my hands.

“Lyn,” I would say, “if I train like this guy and explain things like this guy why didn’t you just come to your lesson?”

“I’ll tie you a knotty rope halter, make you a lead rope out of climbing rope with a carabiner on it and everything. Shoot, I’ll cut you a stick too. I’ll charge you $40 for the whole mess and still be about $35 ahead,” I would add.

Lyn would laugh and say, “Your right, but he’s just so cool.”

She did this to me a couple times a year.

She took evil delight in showing me her new Clinton Anderson toys and wearing her Clinton Anderson baseball cap to her lessons.

Lyn was also one of my favorite students and her burly bay quarter horse Ted was one of the neatest horses on the planet. So there you go. I put up with the Clinton Anderson moments from Lyn.

I have absolutely nothing against clinicians. These are horse people who have figured out how to make a living and for the most part help people along the way. I tip my hat to them.

I have studied Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and John Lyons and learned tons from all of them. Through their books, tapes and clinics I became a better horseman. I refined some of my methods, dropped others and learned a whole new approach to working with my horses. So you sure aren’t going to hear me tell anybody not to attend a clinic.

The thing is, after I went to enough of these clinics and read through a bunch of books I realized something. All of these guys were singing a variation of the same song. You can get pulled into huge arguments about who started this training style, but to me it doesn’t matter, it’s still pretty much the same approach for all of them.

Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.

Release as a reward.

Approach and retreat.

All of them preach it and every horse person on the planet needs to use it.

The thing is, that’s all they teach. Everything else is just molasses on the oats.

My first apprenticeship was with a young cow horse trainer from Calhan.

“Horse trainer” had been the only job description on my tax returns for about five years and I considered myself pretty handy.

In the five years I was under the Big K's mentorship my horsemanship and training skills soared. I was pulled into a world way over my head and floundered around for an awfully long time before I began to place in the NRCHA (National Reined Cow Horse Association) and AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) horse shows.

I’m telling you, these people could ride. The horse trainers I got to rub elbows with could get more out of, not just their horses, but themselves, than anybody I had ever had the honor to meet. I busted my butt to learn how to train my horses.

Every horse I came across in my new world already did everything I had seen on my tapes. They learned the majority of this stuff in the first 30 days of training, the rest they picked along the way.

Pretty soon mine did too.

K became one of the top money earning trainers in the country.

He was right here in Calhan.

There are trainers available in Colorado who can teach you anything you want to learn with your horse. I can guarantee all of them know the ins and outs of what the clinicians teach. If a trainer is worth his or her salt this basic horse training has been learned first off. Then they go on to the good stuff. And they’re right here, waiting to share it with you.

I went to the Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tour last weekend.

The guy can work a horse and a crowd. He is engaging, funny and full of common sense. Most of his work was on the ground, but when he rode, he rode well.

He has a great Australian accent.

He covered many of the fundamentals a horse and horse owner should know.

I didn’t disagree with a single thing he said. Because Lyn is right. He trains pretty much like I do.

He also trains pretty much like every decent trainer I know. I assume when he goes home he works on some of the other stuff. Mr. Anderson seems like a good hand.

But it costs $4000 to attend one of his clinics. For 10 days.

That’s the equivalent of 40 lessons by a local trainer. One on one, just you, your horse and the trainer.

It’s the equivalent of 6 months of full time training for your horse with lessons thrown in. With a local trainer who can teach you all of the stuff the clinicians teach plus how to work a cow, show in a horsemanship class, run barrels or compete in Western Versatility classes.

I don’t think my ticket was wasted at the Walkabout Tour. I picked up a couple of things I could add to my repertoire and learned a bunch about how to talk to clients.

Even though I’ve retired as a trainer, Anderson’s P.R. skills are phenomenal and could certainly help me as a writer.

He created enthusiasm and desire to take his techniques and apply them to the horses at home. He has rabid fans who pay to belong to his club and buy incredible amounts of his products.

He is offering clear examples of how to apply tried and true examples of horse training. He goes a long way towards demystifying getting your horse to do what we need them to do.

It wouldn’t hurt many of the trainers I know to go watch this man in action. He is kind, funny and most of all he can explain things in a clear and concise way. Many local trainers could polish up their communication skills. Ahem.

I think everybody should go watch a clinician or two. It will help you at home with your horse and give you a clear idea of where you want to go.

Then you need to find a trainer who can teach you what you and your horse need and go for it. Here. In Colorado. Buy local, save a horse trainer. I think Clinton would agree.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Horse Is A Sissy.

My riding skills are being sorely tested.

My yellow mare has been earning her nickname. A name that my sometimes rotten, always loved daughter gave her.
She calls her Pretty Polly Pocket Princess (4P).
If you knew my family you would understand the many levels of insult buried in this nickname.

Unfortunately my little mare goes to great lengths to prove that not only should she be called 4P, it should probably be her registered name.

Don’t get me wrong; when Madonna’s in the arena she’s all business. Well, most of the time anyway.

Of course the kidlette will tell you it feeds into the reason behind the name. The horse wants to be in the show ring. She becomes animated, almost taller. She just loves to have people look at her. I wish I could say she does all of this stuff because she wants to work a cow, but she just “getserdun” when we’re not in front of an audience.

She also spends a lot of time flipping her forelock, stomping her feet, chewing her bit, whatever it takes to get some attention.

This is hard on me. I’m the kind of person who wears black and brown show clothes. Maybe I’ll go crazy and add a touch of ecru once in a while. Only if I’m feeling particularly wacky.

I prefer to blend into the crowd.

These days it’s not a concern. I’m not showing. I work in the arena only 1 out of every 4 rides. Madonna is barefoot, so there’s no slide stops at the moment.

In the arena I stick to some pretty boring schoolwork.

We are working on a clean, solid lope depart, with plenty of drive and level carriage. We are cleaning up some messy balance issues that have led to tail snapping lead changes.

None of these are being worked on by changing leads or lope departs BTW. If you want I’ll actually explain what I’m doing and the thoughts behind it, but that’s for another day. Today you get to listen to me whine….

4P has never liked getting her feet dirty. It’s one of the fusses that can become downright pathological in a horse kept in a box stall.

The hardest emotional challenge for 4P as she switched from stall horse under blankets and lights to mustang in a field was having dirty feet.

I wish you could have seen her picking her way across a field after it rained. Her pasture mates would be already at the hayrack and she would be a quarter mile out tiptoeing around the icky parts, hollering her batty little head off the whole way.

She seemed to get over it. I mean she was out on pasture for a year and a half. So she learned to slog through the snow and mud of the changing seasons.

4P has been brought into town though. Her new stable has a shed, company and a large pen. I think she’s the happiest she’s ever been. She has people around all of the time to tell her she’s pretty, is back under saddle and she can stay out of the mud.

Yes, she’s back to dodging mud.

Which means we argue constantly as we head out on the trail.

She’s OK with crossing water as long as there’s no mud.

There is always mud.

Can you hear me sigh?

Which brings me back to my original point.

Ben Cartwright’s horse never fussed at mud.

So mine’s not going to either.

Trail riding is proving really, really good for all of us. As in me, my friend and riding buddy Kathy, and our horses.

Kathy’s Rosie will go through anything. She loves water and mud, so Kathy gets to make fun of 4P and me all day long.

Because good old OCD me has been finding as many water crossings as possible on our rides.

It goes like this.

“Do you want me to cross first?” Kathy asks, barely hiding her smirky little tone.

“No, she needs to cross,” I growl.

4P lowers her head, sniffs the mud, wrinkles her dainty little nose and rollbacks away like I wish she would in the showpen.

“Oof!” I say as a whack my gut on my cutting saddle's extremely high, skinny saddle horn.

Kathy sits comfortably on Miss Perfect Rosie Pants and waits.

Here’s where my method of keeping my reins loose and guiding with my legs frustrates me. Just a tad.

So I line her up again, give her plenty of rein and shove her forward with my calves.

4P tiptoes up to the water, sniffs the edge and gathers herself to jump.

“Oh no you don’t!” I say.

I gather her up and angle her a little to get rid of the urge to jump.

I release and she spins.


Kathy and Perfect Pants begin to laugh.

Finally I say, “Go ahead and go first.”

The Perfect Pair cross without issue.

4P stares at them, stares at the water, stares at them, stares at the mud…..and crosses.

So we continue on until the next crossing. Sigh.

I know we’ll get it. I’ve done it with many, many horses. But both 4P and I are such arena babies.

I have created a monster and I no longer seem to have my trail riding chops.

Loping across a field is totally different than the control and ground that comes with an arena.

Keeping my horse’s mind while allowing her to think through problems is an entirely different challenge now that we’re out.

The balance issues we are working on in the arena? I found them on the trail. They are mine and I’ve given the problem to my horse.

I have lost the natural glue that kept me in the saddle as a kid. I don’t think it’s gone forever.

Kathy and I are already braver and rowdier on the trail than we were even a few months ago.

We go for a comfortable canter when we see a good spot.

We’re working on going on uncomfortable canters in tough spots.

This makes me see why I have had problems with confidence in the show pen.

I don’t trust my seat.

The only way I know how to fix it is to ride. Like Ben Cartwright. Even if I’m on Pretty Polly Pocket Princess.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tally/All Mine

So now I owned her.

I arranged to keep her in the little stall in the arena. After I spent my first morning with Tally blasting around me in the 1/2 acre broodmare pen I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere until she was contained.

We built a chute out of panels and ran her into the arena.

Tally trotted into the little holding pen on her own.
The tiny stall had been her prison for months, but it was as close to a safe place as she had.

The boss and I agreed on some basic rules.

Nobody except me was to walk into the stall.
No hand feeding.
No reaching through the bars.
I was going to be the only one in contact with her.

I promised the boss not to be stupid.
He made it clear I was pretty much a fool for taking her on.
Her success or failure was on my head.

I was firmly convinced I could turn her around if I handled her right.
I had complete faith in the ability of any horse to respond to the right treatment.

I had turned Sonita into a competitor hadn't I?

Loki, my 4-year-old "nothing bred" foundation filly was rising to national champion status carrying my daughter and was still in a snaffle bit.

I had ridden a series of problem horses and all but one had been a success. My only failure to date was because of loco weed.

Tally passed a vet exam with flying colors, even if we did have to run her into a squeeze chute to get it done.

So I kept building up the reasons I should be able to handle her and squashing down the doubts that kept crowding up.

She was just a horse.

I walked into the empty arena and double checked the gates.

Then I opened the gate to Tally's pen and walked away.

She ran to her corner and buried her nose. Her feet danced a nervous jig and her tail lay flat against her butt.

I walked around the arena and picked up manure, whistling and singing some Roy Orbison in my usual off-key way. I never looked at her.

I finally sat down and started doing my books. I kept up my awful singing, but I moved on to some Jethro Tull. Maybe some Songs From the Woods would make her feel better.

At long last I saw her glide past me. I kept my head down as she walked around the arena. Her blasting snorts told me her nerves were up.

I sat quietly for another good 15 minutes before I got up and headed to her pen.

Tally immediately bolted away from me.

I shut the gate and turned to look straight at her.

Tally whirled and sped around the arena.

I walked to the middle and watched her race around me.

She ran several laps and I simply let myself melt into the sight of her. In spite of the foamy neck and white eye she flowed smooth and quick like Beaver Creek after a summer rain.

She was my favorite color of bay, bright red with burnished black points. Her heavy mane rose and fell as she ran and I was hypnotized by her steady rhythms.

She slowed and I woke up enough to take a step to her shoulder. She bolted away from me and changed leads in a single fluid stride. If she wasn't good leaded when I finally rode her it was going to be all my fault.

We kept up our first attempt at communication. I kept my jumping mind as clear as I could and simply focused on a single bunched muscle in her hip.

When she would slow I would back up a single step. My movement would speed her back up. I would look at the point of her shoulder and take one step. The single motion launched her the other direction.

My afternoon lesson arrived. She perched on the fence and watched. I never said a word and Tally didn't flick an ear at her.

Finally my student left.

Tally's sides were heaving and foam dripped from her flanks nd chest. Her breath was beginning to roar.

She broke into her long strided floaty trot and I backed a step.

Tally stopped with her head flung high and stared at me. She blew like a trumpet.

I turned and left the arena. I came back with an armload of hay and opened the gate of her pen.
After I filled her feeder I left the gate open and went to help the boss feed. I found a check stuck to the fence. My student had paid me anyway. Good student.

"How's it going?" The boss asked. I thought I could hear a trace of anger in his voice, a double dog dare behind his question.

"I don't have a clue," I told him.

When I went back to the arena Tally was in her pen with her head buried in her hay. Her breathing had quieted and her sweat slick sides had dried to salty streaks.

She looked up when I latched her gate but didn't run to her corner. Her eyes were quiet.

It was a start.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm giving you an article from the paper today. It comes from a recently asked question from you guys, so it's only fair to share it here.

I'm working on our next story.....Mouthy Monday will appear later in the week...but I'm still here!

Sensitive Ears

By Janet Huntington

I was recently asked how I deal with a horse with sensitive ears.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit if my horses don’t want their ears touched, then I don’t touch them. Unless I have to, then we wrestle.

I don’t clip my horses ears so it hasn’t been much of an issue for me.

To be honest, I don’t think horses particularly like having their ears touched, although they can really get into having the base scratched. There is so little in their lives we let them control I figure they can keep their ears to themselves.

But I admit horses should tolerate having their ears handled. We need to halter and bridle them, some need to be clipped or trimmed and all of them need to let us doctor their ears if necessary.

In the past I had horses come in for training which refuse to let anything or anyone touch their ears.

“He must have been eared down,” is what I’m usually told.

This means grabbing the horse’s ear and pulling it towards the ground. Sometimes an added twist or even biting the ear is thrown in for extra oomph. This is extremely painful for the horse and from what I’ve seen not particularly successful.

It can also tear the cartilage in the horse’s ear and at the very least will make the horse violently opposed to having his ears handled.

The thing is most horse people know “earing down” is a pretty stupid way to try to handle a horse. Since the invention of the twitch and Ace there hasn’t been much need for this maneuver.

So most ear shy horses have not been abused this way. They are either in pain or have been in pain and being a horse, have decided to never have their ears handled again.

They can get ticks in their ear canal or fly bites from gnats and no see-ums. Aural plaques are scaly lesions that form on the inside of the pinna (outer part of the ear). They are caused by a virus and are typically asymptomatic, meaning that they really cause the horse no problems, so vets generally leave them alone. The virus is transferred by fly bites. Irritating, painful little fly bites.

All this action can make for a very touchy horse and is more likely the cause of ear sensitivity than a history of abuse.

Which is part of why I don’t clip ears, I want my horse to have the protection Nature, God or Evolution gave them.

I would never start working a horse with touchy ears until he had been cleared by the vet. I once had a young horse just about take off my kneecap when I reached up to bridle him. He struck like a snake when he felt my hand touch the back of his ear. Turned out he had an abscess in his ear It was a lesson which stayed with me.

I have two approaches to desensitizing a horse’s ears.

Most often I simply ignore the problem and bridle or halter him anyway. Which means I just dive in and do it.

This method takes a willingness and the ability to hang on no matter how far they drag you and still put the bit in their mouth.

I like to place the bit before I bring the bridle over their eyes. Then I put the bridle on the rest of the way.

I don’t use a one ear bridle on a touchy horse and I’ll take the browband off a browband bridle so there’s only the crown to worry about.

I have always been able to get my horses to accept their fate and the bridle this way, as long as I was tall enough to reach them and I could hang on.

Once I wrestle a horse into his head gear I tend to leave him alone. If he doesn’t want me to touch his ears, I don’t.

Eventually he realizes all I care about is getting his halter or bridle on and he knocks it off. Then I’ll add the browband and when he’s OK with that I’ll go to a one-ear.

But most people would rather train their horse to handle having their ears touched. They would also prefer not having a Saturday Night Smackdown in order to go for a ride.

So method number two comes into play.

First off, if the horse is truly manic about his ears I will use a rope halter to catch him and undo my bridle and buckle it over his head while I’m working on him.

I don’t want him to associate our ear discussions with bridling or being caught.
I start by scratching up his neck toward his ears until he gets nervous. Then I back off and rub where he wants to be rubbed.

Then I head back to where he gets nervous, but stay there scratching awhile. Then I back off.
I go back and forth until eventually I get to the ears.

This can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, whatever. It depends on the horse.

I try to stop each session before the horse is sick of me.

I try to start each session after I have worked with the horse on something else and he is calm, relaxed and a little tired.

Eventually I’ll be able to handle his ears.

This is where many people teach there horses to drop their head. I don’t, but there’s about a hundred kazillion videos on the subject so you should be able to figure it out.

Then I bring in my regular halter and bridle.

The key to desensitizing is always the same. Patience, patience, patience zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Good horse training is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but it’s always worth it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Newspaper Article...

Here's this weeks news article. And yes, I was with the folks working cattle and I'm as guilty as the rest of them.

I also posted a photo of Stormy on the Cupcake post.

When Do We Step In?
By Janet Huntington

A young couple entered the arena. They were leading a pretty chestnut and white paint mare. She was bright-eyed and high headed, obviously a little nervous, but leading along with a good attitude.

The young man rode her first.

It became apparent within two strides the mare was packing an extremely green rider.
All the signs were there. He sat hunched forward in the saddle, trying to find stability by jamming his feet into the too short stirrups. His knees gripped the horse’s sides and his toes pointed straight to the ground.

The mare loped off at a good clip, wildly tossing her head as she tried to escape the pressure of a mechanical hackamore, adjusted so low on her nose it was cutting off her air.

As they careened across the arena they zipped past a group of competent, solid riders working cattle with their horses.

“Somebody’s going to get killed,” one rider muttered.

“Now, be nice, everybody’s got to learn in their own way,” another rider answered.

The mare grew more and more desperate as she was kicked in the sides and pulled on at the same time. When her rider lost his balance he would pull himself back up in the saddle by hauling on the reins of the suffocating hackamore.

Her head tossing was joined by a wild snapping of her tail, but she stayed patient as she suffered through the painful treatment by her owner.

None of the experienced group of riders said a thing. They simply kept working their cows and kept half an eye on the horse and her very green rider.

After careening around the arena for a few laps the young man stopped to visit the other riders.
He introduced himself and said, “I’m riding her down for my girlfriend, this horse is really hot.”
There were polite greetings from the other riders and then an uncomfortable silence.

Nobody said a word, even though the thought of the young man being the more experienced of the two was pretty terrifying.

This is a situation I’ve seen over and over in the horse world.

Even though nobody on the planet would dream of driving a car without instruction, for some reason everybody thinks they can ride a horse.

If an experienced driver saw someone driving a car who had obviously never had any training or driven the car before, he would do everything in his power to stop the driver, up to and including calling the police.

So why do we all seem to feel we can ride a horse through osmosis?

There seems to be a code of silence among horsemen when it comes to helping out a fellow rider and it is amplified by stubborn refusal from new riders to take offered advice.

If one of those horsemen had stepped up and said, “Let me show you something on your horse here,” and adjusted the hackamore so the poor mare could breathe the entire situation would have changed for the better.

The problem is we horse people hate to be told how to ride. We immediately feel the fool if someone more experienced points out some lug-head thing we’re doing.

If we are taking instruction we’ll sometimes listen to our instructor. But nobody else can say a thing. Even if we’re too green to know whether our instructor is any good.

This kind of attitude seems to be encouraged by riders with experience. We sit frozen, not saying a word, sometimes even in a dangerous situation, because we don’t want to embarrass anyone.

We expect green riders to learn from experience and let’s face it, if you have enough time and enough horses to burn through you will eventually get good enough to get your horse rode. Unless of course you get scared, injured or killed.

I can’t help but wonder how much safer the equestrian world would be if the experienced rider, trainer or veterinarian just spoke up. Of course this won’t work unless the rider we’re trying to help will listen and not become offended.

I also can’t help but wonder about how many horses are labeled “dangerous,” or “bad-minded,” simply because they have been driven to the point of insanity by inexperienced hands.

I think back to Mort, the horse of my childhood and I can’t remember if he was fat or thin. I remember his bony back getting rounder, but I couldn’t tell you if his weight was right or not. I didn’t know what a healthy weight on a horse looked like.

I also rode him with a hackamore that bloodied his chin and a tie-down which kept his head tossing to a minimum by pure force.

Lucky for both Mort and I we had the intervention and instruction we needed. First from Mark Reynor who helped me find my seat and taught me how to use my hands. Then Mike Craig, a young Black Forest trainer who taught me the Monte Foreman training system, where I was able to throw away my tie-down and learn to ride with my seat and legs and properly use a bit. I joined the Kit Carson Riding Club and learned to show in an environment of support. The club was also filled with adult riders who would jump in and help a willing but ignorant teenager.

My horse and I survived our first few years together and I’ll always be grateful to the people who helped me along the way. I am very aware it could have ended differently for both Mort and me.

Since there are no legal requirements for buying a horse I think we have to take a chance and help a new rider when we get the chance.

The couple with the brightly colored paint were on the right track. Their horse was well fed and had good feet. She was wearing a properly fitted saddle. She seemed to be fairly patient and willing to try and so did the young couple.

A tactful intervention could have helped everybody caught up in the small drama.

So what’s the solution?

A good start would be to suck it up and offer a little help when we see it’s needed. Of course it also means accepting said advice with a smile and a thank-you.

Could a free class for beginning horse owners be offered by the highly respected local riding club?

How about a list of things to know before you buy a horse and how to find the information and instruction you need?

This list could be sent to feed stores and tack shops and be not only a help to new horse owners but free advertisement for area veterinarians, trainers and shoers.

I feel strongly enough about this to want to pursue the thought.

It might even get me to show up to a FRRC meeting or two.

I’m inviting anybody who reads my column, from the old time rider to the brand new horse owner to send me your thoughts and questions on this subject. What help do you need? What questions need to be asked? How can assistance be offered without offending? How can my column be of help?