Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Mind Meld Side Note: Our first subject for the mind meld is haltering. Some of you have already gone into some pretty good detail. Now everybody dive in. How do you halter a horse? How have you solved haltering issues? What kind of behavior do you expect?


I led my first two rides of the day down the alley to the tie wall.

The boss was sitting in the middle of a pile of old folding chairs and a picnic table known as the "observation deck" of the indoor.

"You sure know how to pick'em," he told me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I can already walk up and pet all over the grulla, but that bay you thought we needed so bad won't even come up to eat."

"Give her time, she'll settle in," I said, while making a mental note to beg off the next time the boss asked me to help him pick out a horse.

"Bill has taken a shine to her," he said.

I paused with my brush in mid-air and looked at him over my filly's back.

Bill was the three-times-divorced, just out of com corp after his third DUI, 25 -year-old son of my employers.

He was a decent enough guy to visit with but he hadn't even come close to figuring out his place in the world. Bill was thinking he might be a horse trainer. He spent a lot of time wandering through the barn with a John Lyons book clutched to his chest.

I wasn't unsympathetic. I had been just as swept away by Lyons when I first learned some of his techniques. I had borrowed a grainy, poorly lit video on trailer loading from a friend and had been properly amazed.

I had immediately started playing with the new concepts I had seen on my already very broke horses in a solid, safe, wooden round pen.

I didn't progress on to anything wilder until I had worked out a basic idea of how things work.

Bill had apparently decided to start his new career on Tally.

"Well, I hope it goes well for him," I said.

It didn't.

I kept a straight face as I walked past the brood mare pen. Bill sat crouched self-consciously on one knee, halter in hand watching the little bay. He looked just like Robert Redford kneeling in the pasture during The Horse Whisperer.

Tally stood just outside of the broodmares eating hay. She didn't even flick an ear at him.

When I put my horses up that evening Bill still sat in the middle of the pen. I figured he had to be whispering like crazy by now, but Tally was happily immersed in her dinner.

I managed to get into my car and halfway up the steep drive out of the valley before I started laughing.

The next morning Tally had started up the restless pacing which had filled her first week at the place. She trotted the fence line, splashing through the creek and almost hitting the cross fence before she turned the corner and made her way up the hill towards me. She passed by me as if I wasn't there. No spook, no snort, no friendly roll of the eye.

I stood and admired her as she flowed around the pen. Her short, sturdy legs moved with the cadence of a well trained reiner. Her thick, heavy tail was low-set and hung quiet no matter what her gait and her mustangy little head was balanced on an elegant neck.

I looked a little closer and saw her knee was all torn up. It looked bad, but she wasn't lame.

"Hey Janet!"

The boss waved from the deck.

"Come up for a cup!"

The morning was cool and coffee sounded just right. I walked up the trail to the log A-frame.

"That mare hurt Bill bad."

The boss's wife, Carolyn, plunked down two cups of hot, thick coffee and sat with me and the boss.

"Oh no, what happened?" I asked.

"He got frustrated when he couldn't catch her and herded her into one of the holding pens," she said.

I stayed silent and waited for Carolyn to continue. The holding pens were 10 x 12 feeding stations built out of a single strand of hot wire. The boss had them hooked up in every pen to feed the low end of the pecking order.

"He got the mare in there and then crawled in with her," Carolyn said, "he didn't have a clue things would go wrong."

"The mare tolerated him for a minute, long enough for Bill to get a rope around her neck and then she blew," the boss said.

"Poor Bill, he's so tough, he wouldn't let go even when she ran him down and drug him through the wire," Carolyn continued.

I sat with my shoulders hunched, staring into my coffee. This story was going so many wrong directions all at once I couldn't believe it.

"He hung onto her even when she drug him halfway across the pen," Carolyn's eyes began to fill with tears, "he was hanging onto the rope and being dragged between her front legs. She was stomping all over him."

"Is he all right? Where is he?" I managed to say.

"He's in the hospital," the boss finished, Carolyn couldn't talk anymore.
" He punctured a lung and broke all kinds of ribs. He fractured his pelvis. When she spun and blew she hooked him on a T-post."

We sat in silence for a bit. I curled into my thoughts and the steam from the hot, bitter coffee. I didn't know what to say.

"Are you going to bring him home to heal?" I finally asked.

"Yes, his neighbors said they'll feed his horses. He'll need some help."

I stood up and headed out the door. The boss and Carolyn sat huddled together. They looked old and sad.

I walked down the hill and paused again at the broodmare pen. Tally still paced the fence line, her bright bay coat was flecked with sweat and her eyes still looked right through me as she passed.

The boss came up behind me and we watched her ceaseless path.

"I think she's crazy," he finally said.

"Have you got a history on her?" I asked him.

"No, nothing on her at all," he answered.

"She sure moves nice," I told him.

"Bill wants it understood," the boss said, "nobody's to touch this mare but him."

He turned and headed out to start up the Daewoo.

I walked into the arena and started my day.

It occurred to me nobody had mentioned Tally's leg.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mouthy Mondays-

The mind meld is going to be fun. This will be an exercise in patience for all of us.I'll start the new blog sometime this week (in all my copious spare time) and we'll start shaping up this project.

I hope everybody will be willing to put their two cents in. I'm sure you guys know I'm not a Parelli fan or real big on the clicker training.

It doesn't mean I don't acknowledge these methods as legitimate ways to train a horse. Their simply not my methods.

So I'm encouraging all types of thoughts and how-to's. I'll fit them into the piece we're working on and offer them as an option. This is about giving each other the best we have to offer so please join in.

In the meantime, here's a fun, fun post. I could sooooo relate to this one.

My blog is

A Reminder of My Misspent Youth

Today was a gorgeous day. A little breezy, in the 70s, the sun shining. I got to the barn around noonish.

I groomed Dusty first, giving him a long work over with the rubber mitt, really massaging his withers and shoulder and butt. He made the horse faces of appreciation.

I also wormed him, and he made the horse faces of disapproval: tense lips and chin, ears half-back, the hairy eyeball... completely disgusted. As usual, he would sniff but refused any and all treats for about 15-20 minutes afterwards. Shuffling carrot bits and Kashi Bar crumbs around in his grain bucket, he was a pitiable picture. But he got over it - they were gone when it was time to be turned out.

Tico'd been doing his usual jealousy faces at Dusty while I'd been giving Dusty attention, seesaw bucking in his stall: butt up, shoulder up, butt up, shoulder up, ears back, threatening to kick the wall (he's been seriously screamed at when he DOES kick the wall so he doesn't do it that often anymore).

He got growled at a bunch of times today, and each time - my attention now on him - his ears would go forward and he'd give my his angelic face, "Who, me? Wha?" and poke his nose out through the hole by the grain bucket, mugging for a treat. Brat. Sometimes, he got them. OK, most of the time. I'm a sucker for a cute face.

I put Dusty away and got Tico out. I brushed him, cleaned his feet, put on his leg wraps, saddled him up, coated him in fly spray, and headed outside. Of course, this all took more than an hour - I'm a slow groomer, and easily distracted - I like to play with him: tickle and kiss his nose, scritch his ears, make him move his legs by pointing at them, have him do silly tricks, for which he earns carrot bits, so he's a more than willing participant.

I mounted up in the indoor and we headed out the back door. About 5 steps out, he stopped.

Sometimes I indulge him. He likes to sight-see, so I sat still in the saddle while, head high, he gazed fixedly to the right. One of the trailers usually parked there was gone, maybe he was noticing that, I'm not sure. Then, turning to the left, he looked over in the direction of some of the turnouts, where horses were standing around, heads down, ignoring each other. Then again, to the right; then straight ahead.

I was getting a bit tired of the view, so I nudged him. He didn't budge. I nudged again. Nothing. I poked with the spurs and he woke up and started walking, just as Elaine, one of the other boarders, was walking towards us. "He's practicing to be a statue today", I said to Elaine, and she chuckled.

We wove on down the path between the turnouts, heading to the gate to the back field. The clover along side the turnouts was calling to him, I was preventing him from eating it, and so we sort of oozed along from one side of the path to the other, eventually making it to the back ring. Once there our path was a bit straighter - no grass to tempt him, and he knew that in that back field there was a lot of taller grass he could snipe a grab at walking along.

Have I mentioned that he's a pig?

Anyway, we got out to the back field finally, and started walking along. There are paths out there that go alongside the power lines, I was heading out to follow them. I had no other plan in mind - I considered going on the trails in the woods but I'd done that yesterday. I thought I might just take it easy - the view was wonderful, with some trees already turning red and yellow, and the taller golden stalks of grass waving with the easy breeze, the sun shining down... a perfect early fall day.

When we got to the part of the path that paralleled the power lines, I thought I'd ask for a trot. Tico willingly went into it, then up into a canter.

The wind was whistling by my ears, almost deafening, as he went into a full gallop. Wheeee! We galloped from the far end of the field up to where the path gets gravelly; that's where I asked him to stop. He did, eventually - my fat boy whose favorite gait is usually "whoa" had his head up, ears pricked, and actually pranced! He'd enjoyed himself.

I turned him around and we galloped off again, down the same path, until we got to where someone had dropped a tree across the path. I pulled him up (him still reluctant to stop), and we did it again. And again. Up and back.

I felt both afraid (he was, after all, the horse who helped me to invent the "Superman Emergency Dismount" and super-alive. The wind whipped my face, stinging my cheeks. I know I'm 54 and shouldn't be riding like this. I know it's crazy and it's dangerous, and most importantly I know I'm mortal. The last time I rode a horse like this, I was an indestructible teen. And Dusty, in sedate hand-gallops, never felt this wild, this close to untamed.

On the final gallop, from the graveled area to the downed tree, I thought "I wonder if he's tired?" He's in better shape than he used to be, but if pressed to describe what kind of shape he was in, it's still pretty much "round".

I reached forward with the reins, midway up his neck, and leaned a bit forward. I never touched him with my legs; just the opposite, I was trying Very Hard NOT to touch him with the spurs at all.

He shifted into Sixth Gear. I could feel him both coil up and stretch out, close to the ground, flying. Oh. My.God. OH. MY. F------G. GOD!!!!!!! Yeah!!!!

About 20 feet before the downed tree, I started to yell "whoa" and sit back. He galloped on. I sat back more, really trying to grind my butt into the saddle, and took hold of the reins. We turned off to circle to the right, at a *slightly* slower gallop. I finally got him stopped about 20 feet from the gate back to the barn.

He walked a couple of steps, then jogged, and tried to go faster again. "No, no, we're done for the day", I said, and walked him on past the gate to the track on the other side of the field, to get him walked down a bit.

I let him stop and nosh a few times, too. He'd given me an incredible adrenaline rush, it was the least I could do.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mind Meld

Four star sentence of the day from –ellie. “But then I realized that I'm fourteen. I don't want a crazy wired-up fantastically skilled grand prix horse. I want a horsey.”

I have a fantastical plan going here. I'm not sure how to do it...probably a second blog attached to the Chronicles??? A training guide, written by all of us. We start here, and I'll begin building it.
I can start going through my old posts (yes it will take forever) and pick up the training questions. I'll start with the ones I've answered, try to find the ones I haven't and they will be part of the training blog....This could turn into an absolutely astounding reference guide.
You're input and opinions will be included. People looking for help can go with the approach which suits their situation. Whoa baby, is this as good an idea as I think it is?

First Day With a New Horse

My Start –
When I first get to know a horse I turn him loose in a round pen or arena. If it's a round pen I want it to be pretty big because I want the horse to be able to be able to stay away if he chooses.I like to be outside (let's make it 75 degrees, no wind and I've got a beer, ya wanna?) with lots of distractions and noise.I'll sit on the fence and watch my horse as he moves around, looking at the interesting stuff. If he comes over and tries to crawl in my lap I'll push him away. If he sticks to me anyway I'll go get a longe whip.If he'll pause a second while he explores, whinnies, runs, whatever and sniffs my boot I'll be pleased.I won't get in the pen with him until he relaxes and begins walking and sniffing the ground a little. If he is really agitated I'll wait until the next day if I need to.

Bif’s start - It depends on my amenities (pastured or stabled). If stabled, I make sure I am the one leading horse in and out every time for the first few weeks. They have so few memories in the storage banks of proper leading behavior that I want all the input for awhile to be as correct as I can make it. I always slip the lead over the neck before I halter, so they never learn they can get away from the halter going on.I will go and visit them a few times a day in the field, say hi, scratch good scratchy parts. I always end the encounter first, walking away.

If it's a domesticated;-), broke animal, I'd get it into the "barn routine" the first day, always making sure he respects my space and leadership and ignore anything negative that isn't a respect issue, i.e. fear based. I provide calm leadership, and expect they'll follow along soon enough.

Crappyrider’s start - So, for now she's learning she's not all that cute muggy puppy she thinks she is. She's learning to move out of my space right now. I drive her off until she faces up in the pasture. No walking into my space.

Glenatron’s start - I think when a new horse arrives I would expect to put them out in a pen or paddock for a while to let them get a little used to their surroundings and once they had settled to be able to rest off any immediate stress or tiredness from their journey. That presents a good opportunity to get a first idea of what kind of horse they are, based on what they do or don't do, and how they move.When it came to working with them - probably the next day - I would work on a lead. Most horses in this country that are old enough to work with ( which is probably old compared with when they would be started in the US, particularly western ) are accustomed to the basics of being caught and handled. So I would bring them into the arena and start just exploring what they know and how they relate to me. Do they know how to follow a feel? Do they understand about my personal space? Do they push onto pressure or run away from it and by how much? Which eye/side do they find it easier to work on? Are there areas where they are shy about being touched, do they tend to be relaxed or twitchy about that? Where are the thresholds in terms of their responses - what is the least I can do to create a change in them?

Golden the Pony Girl’s start - I like to start my first encounter in the round pen too. I keep it simple and work on just getting the horses attention on me. Depends on where the horse is in their training of course I just pick something that I know the horse can say yes to. I want the first encounter to be easy and simple.

Gttyup’s start - Somehow a lot of the colts I get in to start are hardly halter broke. So, they usually get ran into the round pen (not lead in). My round pen is outside (which I prefer). There are other horses around. My dogs are doing their doggie things. Normal daily stuff. After they've had a chance to investigate the pen and I watch their reactions, I start their round pen 101 which is ditto to Mugwump's.

Tansy’s start - When I got him, the first few days I would catch him, bring him in and groom him. Noticing how he reacted to going through gates, being haltered, being touched everywhere, giving me his feet. I would ask him to move away from me. I did some nice relaxing body work on him. I found the bits he looooves to have scratched.

Shanster’s start- When I brought home my mare and my gelding (different times) I put them in the smaller of my 2 dry lot pens - by themselves and I just watched them for a week. I'm never in any hurry and I'm a huge slow poke.We feed 2x a day and I may walk up to say hello, scritches - that sort of thing.

Rocky mouse’s start - When we got the little Appie a few months ago, he was put in the square pen for a few days, where he could have the other two horses on the other side of the tall, solid fence. He could touch noses and see everybody.The first day, we hunkered on one side of the pen and just watched. If he came up to us, he was patted and urged to move on.

Caitlyn’s start - The first day was all about how the horse would act under the worst circumstances I could come up with. They got enough time to eat drink and for me to have breakfast before I caught one. I didn't waste my time, I wanted to see how spooky they could be and i'd go back and work on things later. I brushed then tacked up quickly, loudly and dropped brushes and such around them to see their reactions, then headed to the roundpen for their first ride. If they acted like a complete idiot i'd teach them to round pen and flex then hop on, otherwise I climbed on up. The first few minutes I rode around at a walk and trot then I got enough confidence to lope. After that I tried to find out their buttons then I acted as insane as possible. I flopped around, yelled, waved my hat around etc. If this horse was going to break in two I wanted it to be with me, not a customer.

Rheather’s start - I start by just hanging around them as much as possible for the first couple of days, both to get them used to the newness of being here(I suddenly pet cats or trip over them alot, and I have screaming, bouncing goats) and to let them start to adjust to a different situation.

Funder’s start-I've only bought (theoretically) broke horses, so my method is to assume that they know how to act and immediately correct them if they don't. I'm a little slower and "quieter" when I go to catch a new horse out of a paddock, but otherwise, I just expect them to behave.

--ellie.’s start- That's how it went the first day. We let her out in a pasture to gallop around for a while, then took her into our fenced arena (no round pen) and lunged her. She didn't know how to lunge, but learned quickly.

Slippin’s start - When I first got my gelding, he had just gotten off the trailer from a 1800 mile road trip. I left him in his stall for a few hours to let him settle in and eat and drink and relax. Then I saddled him up and rode him around in the arena. I didn't work him hard, just enough to get him "Out".

Common Approaches : Most of us agree on an initial period of observation. Observation can entail just watching to see how the horse responds to the activity around him to leading and basic handling 101.

Caitlyn, I've got to tell you, the Big K would love you. The reason we got on our colts and dug in as quick as we did was because he wanted to find out the worst they had right away. His point was that then we (OK, he meant me) would realize we could handle whatever they had in them and then continue to train without fear.

There is a level of horsemanship needed to pull off Caitlyn's approach. Funder's seems to be close too. The rider has to be good enough to live through what the new horse hands her. She also has to be able to find out what the horse has without making the situation worse.

This is not a beginner's approach.

I make the handling of my horse an ongoing process. My horses learn as we go. So I'll be working on handling feet as I'm working on loping circles. They learn a lot just because life shows them, so I use it.

My priority is, standing tied, accepting the saddle, then me on them. It took me 3 days to a week, it took the Big K less. Not always, sometimes we would get a real wild child in and it could take 30 days.

Many of you do things in a progression.

Touching all over and feet seem big.

So lets talk about initial handling. Why do you want these things done first and how do you do it?

I want me horse to let me halter him. So I work them free until they learn to move out, stop, and look at me. I will crouch low (think cougar about to get lunch) and run a them to create my forward. I'll use a longe whip or halter on a rope (whichever is handiest) to get the colt to MOVE when I say move.
I stand up and back away to release pressure and teach them to stop. I haven't said whoa yet.
I do this because I want my colt to know I can control his movement. He doesn't have to like me. He has to acknowledge me.
I don't teach them to come to me. I go to them. I feel safer this way. It plants the seed of personal space.

I want him to let me halter him. I will stroke his neck if he wants me to. So I walk toward his shoulder with the halter clearly in sight.

If I can halter him I do. If I can't we work some more. Not angrily, just quiet. But we practice Go, Turn, Stop until he would like the halter on please. Then I'll let him go, work him and halter him one more time before I'm done for the day.

If he's not quiet and happy I don't mind. We'll just try again the next day. But when I halter him the last time I take him to the tie rail. I tie him up, usually with a quiet, decent minded horse tied nearby, and there he stays.

I have accomplished the first steps of control on the ground and the colt now begins to learn standing tied is a social time for him, a rest time and his first lesson in patience.

I have become very nonverbal with my horses as the years have gone by. I've been told I have kind of a low, muttery conversation going with them. I think I'm just thinking out loud, because in my head I'm not talking to my colt, I'm training him with my body movements. But that's what happens when you work by yourself for too many years. It's not a training technique, it's more crazy old bag lady.

I'll leave leading for another day.

So do we agree on observation as our first step?

I've explained my next step and why. Now it's your turn. Don't worry if it's different from me, philosophically or technique. Just describe and explain.

I am so jazzed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sensitize or Desensitize Part 2

OK, now you have the bare bones of what I'm thinking about. If not, get on it! I can tell everybody right now, if you don't read the comments you won't be able to follow along.

Here's my knotty problem of the week. I'm thinking about communication.

So let's talk about how we first get to know a horse. Maybe describe the first few days we are with one. Let's say this horse is owned by us. There are no time constraints.

It doesn't matter if the horse is broke or not. Just a horse we have chosen to be ours and this is the first period of time we have to get to know the horse.

I'm hoping we can start with descriptions and then get into the why's. Everything we do says something to our horse. What are we trying to say during those first few days?

I have no intention of telling anybody they are wrong and I hope everybody feels the same. I want to get into asking questions about why we do what we do later.

So our first question is: How do you initially communicate with your horse?

Think on this, because I want to be able to ask each other why and what we hope to accomplish.

I'll start off.

Remember! There's no wrong here. If you're just like me, great! Still write it out because there will be differences we can pick at.

If you're at the opposite end of the planet, great! Now the learning will begin.

When I first get to know a horse I turn him loose in a round pen or arena. If it's a round pen I want it to be pretty big because I want the horse to be able to be able to stay away if he chooses.

I like to be outside (let's make it 75 degrees, no wind and I've got a beer, ya wanna?) with lots of distractions and noise.

I'll sit on the fence and watch my horse as he moves around, looking at the interesting stuff. If he comes over and tries to crawl in my lap I'll push him away. If he sticks to me anyway I'll go get a longe whip.

If he'll pause a second while he explores, whinnies, runs, whatever and sniffs my boot I'll be pleased.

I won't get in the pen with him until he relaxes and begins walking and sniffing the ground a little. If he is really agitated I'll wait until the next day if I need to.

Once my new horse is calm in the arena I'll hop in there with him. I'll get in the middle and start finding out how much he'll work off me in the pen.

I'll teach him to move forward with some gas when I move towards his hip. I'll teach him to turn when I step to his head and stop when I release pressure. I'll spend a lot of time admiring him.

I'll teach him to stop, let me approach and halter him.

I'll check to see if he moves his shoulders the way I want on the halter and if he is safe to be on the ground with.

I'll rub on his neck, lean into him and tell him how glad I am to know him.

When I'm happy there we'll go to saddling. I'll put a saddle pad on and off. I'll loop my good cotton rope around his girth and pull it tight.

I'll saddle him up.

We'll start to ride. I'll continue to admire him.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Desensitize or Sensitize? Part One

When I first trained a horse for somebody else I was a punk 17-year-old who thought I could ride anything.

I still would have been the first to tell you I wasn't a professional. Nor could I teach them much beyond go forward, go left, go right, stop and back. I just had complete and utter confidence in my ability to stick it out as a rider.

As I progressed as a trainer I started to study John Lyons, Monte Roberts and of course, Ray Hunt.

During that time I began to break down each step of a horse's training. I would teach them to be caught, haltered, how to stand tied, how to lead and so on, sticking with each step until it was soft and good before I progressed to the next one.

I then went even farther, and began to break each task down into a set of steps before I would progress to the next one. I waited for the ear flick before I asked for the eye contact, before I asked for the hesitation and so on.

I spent a lot of time working on pressure from the ground. How many steps into a hip before the horse moved, did my whole body create the same reaction as a wave of my hand?

My "feel" increased by leaps and bounds.

After a while (when I was starting to get busy) I learned to combine steps to get moving faster. I learned I needed to get riding in order to get paid.

I taught my horses to stand stock still while I got on. I taught them to move a single foot of my choosing over a pole. I figured out my rhythms and pressures. I learned the subtleties of a good seat.

My horses progressed very slowly, yet steadily. They were broke, broke, broke. You could walk them over tarps and sling a milk jug around them on a rope.

They were nicely tuned to me and would extend the same courtesy to their owners.

I became busier.

Then I saw a reined cowhorse event.

I almost lost my mind.

I had never witnessed such a high degree of horsemanship. The horses were magic and the cow work was beyond my comprehension.

Karma plunked a horse in my lap who was made for the sport.

Out of ignorance and wild desire I started on my path to learn how to create a reined cowhorse.

As I progressed in my obsession I found out the little details I had clung onto as a trainer were completely obsolete in my new world.

Our horses were shown before they were particularly broke.

I assumed it was because they had so much to learn there was no time for the niceties I had learned was so important.

I'm sure I told clients and friends this as the years went by and I was beginning to get a handle on the cowhorse thing.

I would have a colt ready to ride within three days. There were trainers I rode with who could get on the first day. The wild young thing may not let me touch his feet, pet his nose or lead him, but he was ready to throw a leg over.

I might not be able to catch him, he might leap and bolt and skitter on the end of his lead rope at the sights around him, but he was going to accept a rider.

We started to train the rest as we went.

I remember when I first started to ride two-year-olds for the Big K. Sometimes they would cower and leap in their stalls when I came to halter them.

They often jumped and blew while I saddled them.

They shook and stamped as I wrapped their legs.

They opened their mouth for the bit, shivering at the thought we might touch their ears. We didn't.

When I led them to the middle of the arena they would jump and start at the end of the reins, but never pull them taut.

I would check my cinch, my stirrups, my bridle and then crawl up.

The little babies would stand still, every muscle vibrating.

"Don't make him wait!" The Big K would call.

I would raise my hands over their necks, my reins loose and my seat as relaxed as I could make it. The colts would scoot forward as if they were trying to run out from under me.

We would find our lead and be off. The second the babies were loping they relaxed into big, perfect, very fast circles. All I had to do was look where I wanted them to be. Rarely did I need my reins or leg.

The little boogers ran like they were trains on a track, every foot exactly where it should be.
They would run with their heads up and their eyes bright.

It was absolute magic.

I threw everything I had away and became a sponge. I wanted my horses to ride like the Big K's.

Showing was simply a way to check my progress. I could compare against the others. I could hang with people who were trying to create the same magic I was.

I didn't start to question what I was doing until about a year before I started this blog.

If you have read since the beginning you have a pretty good idea of the problems, both moral and emotional I wrestled with.

I began to bring back some of my own training techniques. I spent up to two or three weeks getting a horse ready to ride.

They were despooked. I would handle the horse from one end to the other, over and over.

They weren't the same. I blamed the breeding.

But for some reason I didn't think through I left my yellow mare alone. She hates having her ears handled so I didn't. She doesn't like being stroked on her face so I didn't. She shivers, she spooks, she is so hyper vigilant she can make a person crazy.

She will leap in the air and buck like a loon on the end of her lead rope without ever pulling it tight.

My yellow mare spins like a whirling dervish. She slides deep and long, she drives into her bridle and pushes, her head down and her neck level as she flies through her circles. She is a soft and easy dream on a cow.

So everything started to click with my "Only make contact once" theory with my colt. I didn't know why I was doing this. I figured it was just a way for me to create a challenge on an extremely easy colt. I was having fun.

But this game is getting more serious. Because we'll be riding soon and I doubt I'll have handled him more than 20 times.

He's extremely sensitive. He really watches every move I make. He is mentally a colt who would normally be dull and quiet. Potentially bomb proof.

But for what I do I don't need bomb proof. I need an explosion.

The light bulb finally went off was while I was working a mare at the horse rescue. She is a little, stunted, probably could have been nice if she hadn't been starved, bitch of a mare.

She's one of those sneaky things who can strike like a snake over nothing. So I was working with her feet, teaching her to keep her weight on the leg closest to me unless I asked for her foot, and getting her ready to ride.

The last time I saw her the operator of the rescue, Julie, told me about a go round she had with her.

"I went to brush her face and she went crazy," the Julie told me.

"She must have pulled me around backwards for almost an hour before she finally let me brush her face."

I said OK and went to working with the mare. We had to back track a little because she kept hauling backwards every time I tried something she didn't want to do, but she eventually caved, let me pick up each foot with a rope and stroke each leg from top to bottom and was ready to ride.

On the way home my friend and former assistant Kathy asked me, "I couldn't believe you didn't say anything about brushing her face."

You see I hadn't touched her head at all except to halter her.

"Obviously she needs her horses to let her brush their faces. The needs are different here.Julie didn't hurt anything, I have to pay attention to what she wants."

I wish I could say my thoughts lined up like a bolt of lightening but they didn't.

I thought about how I need to start approaching things a little differently at the rescue. The horses there need to be happy and relaxed and looking for carrots when the city folk come out to visit.

They need to be potentially your best friend. They can't hurt Granny or the kids.

They need to be desensitized. They need to learn to tune out outside stimulus and tune me in.
Pleasure horses, trail horses, kid horses, they all need to tune out the outside world and internalize their focus. They need to mentally stay attached to their rider.

So they are rewarded for tuning out much of the sights and sounds around them. If the horse doesn't spook he gets a pet, a rest or a cookie. If he walks through the spooky stuff and tunes out the scariness he gets rewarded again. And so on.

The reward system is based on not reacting.

The reward system I learned as a cow horse trainer is based on reaction. We reward it by release.

Punishment comes to a horse who isn't reacting.

I taught my horses to not spook, or cross water, or put on the slicker, whatever, by ignoring the spazzing and rewarding the positive response.

I would ask them to stand by a fence post, try to pick up the slicker, they jump, I put them back on the post, pick up the slicker, they jump and so on. The point I make is the horse was told to stand by the post. The slicker means nothing. Eventually the colt will stand where he's told and I'll get the slicker on. He's learned to stand where he's told.

This is where the training can get rough. Except this is also where I started to learn to reward the correct effort with less contact.

I would imagine a 1/4 inch of air between my legs and my horse. I would pretend my reins were attached with thread.

My horses were taught to seek my 1/4 inch of air space.

When he stood by the post I released my reins and legs even more. I simply put on the slicker.

They were sensitized.

I have found that if I spend too much time teaching my horse to accept my hand on their ears or a brush in their face they become much quieter. They also start to learn to tune me out

My cowhorses work a lot on their own. If I react it's because I want an action, not inaction.

I ran this thought past the Big K and he said I was totally on the right track.

"I find the less I do the better I'm getting along with the youngsters," he told me.

Can you freaking imagine what those booger heads are like to crawl up on now that he's doing even less? I am so glad I'm just playing with my own horses.

So there's the beginning of my thoughts. I finally understand why we did things the way we did.

I have learned on my own to allow my horses to learn as we go. By just riding I'm getting lots done.

The best example I have of this nonsense is this one.

At my last barn there was a llama who lived down the road.

He would hide behind his little shed and then charge the horses as we went past. Great fun for him. My boss would hang on and get after the jumping horses until they learned to jig past sideways. Not my solution, but hey, you do what you can.

A client of mine spent hours leading the horse up to the fence and letting him smell the charging spitting llama. He started spooking sooner and sooner as she approached the beast. Why not? Every time he fretted she stepped down and started cooing and petting on him as she led him along.

I thought about it for awhile and approached it like the Big K had me go to buffalo.

My daughter and I rode out there and put our horses on that hairy, spitting, rotten thing like we were cutting. They reacted by working the llama. They were rewarded for being wired and alert. We sensitized them to the llama.

So lets dissect this thought.

I am NOT saying it's wrong to brush your horse's face. I'm just picking through how things work. It's fascinating to me.

Mouthy Mondays

I really haven't crawled under a rock. Cross my heart.
There are new structures going on at work and my free lance stuff has taken a new and interesting turn.
BUT I want to lay out my new theory on you so much....I keep picking at my post. So hang with me.
Anyway, here's a neat post on trailer drama.

And maybe just a touch self-congratulatory.
We all love trailer crap so much.....

Micayla writes:


I had just bought a trailer.

The only problem was that it was a two horse straight load.

Well, you see, when I bought Bronson four years ago, I had to pick him up in a two horse straight and it wasn't a piece of cake.

He took one look at the inside and decided, NO WAY. We tried luring him with grain, we tried a butt rope, we tried smacking him with a whip, but to no avail.

He got so panicky at one point that he jumped a barb wire fence. And if you know Bronson, he's no jumper.

Only desperation and a firm resolve not to get in that horse trailer forced him to that measure. We tried sedation, but although he was woozy, his resolve didn't slacken and he still firmly planted his hooves and refused to get in.

Finally we were able to squeeze him in with some pipe panels, but it was still against his will. Now that was four years ago, but he still had the same antipathy towards two horse straight load trailers as he did then. Two and three horse slant? Absolutely fine, he'd walk right in. Straight load? Not in a million years.
I, of course, had to win, so I used this new method that I read on a horse training blog ( What I did was attach a rope to Bronson's halter, ran it through the manger window, then back to where i was standing behind him with a whip.

When Bronson looked at the trailer and took a step towards it, he got a release. If he flew backwards, he got smacked on the legs with the whip and I kept pressure on the halter. When he took a step back towards the trailer, he gets the release.

The premise is this: you make the trailer the best place ever for the horse to be. Basically.

So that's what I did. I started with my red lunge line, but it had been sitting in the sun one day too long, and when it caught on the handle, it simply broke.

I was very frustrated, because I knew that Bronson had now "won." At this point, my dad fortuitously intervened with a rope he found in the back of the truck. Tying that securely on to his halter, I started again.

Pull forward, resistance, smack hocks, step forward, release. Pull forward, resistance, smack hocks, back up, keep smacking hocks, step forward, release. At first it was going pretty well, he was sniffing the floor of the trailer and at one point he tentatively put two hooves up into the trailer, but then quickly backed out again.

Then it all went down hill.

Pull forward on rope, rear up, spin around the side of the trailer, smack him until he faces the trailer again, release.

Over, and over, and over, and over.

I was angry, he was not doing what I needed him to do, but I still made sure that he did not get his release until he faced the trailer.

He reared up probably fifty times, and I knew that pulling on that rope would get that response because he hated that trailer that much. Even though patches of sweat were breaking out over his coat, he still had his mind set: no, he would not go in. Multiply this paragraph times an hour and fifteen minutes, and you get what I was dealing with.

Finally, my dad came down to see if i needed any help - to which i immediately responded with a resounding yes.

I asked him to get a pipe panel and put it up diagonally to the trailer on the side he was spinning around to so that that option of escape was blocked.

This took about ten minutes, but Bronson just stood there facing the trailer about two feet away from it with his sides heaving, content to have at least a little bit of rest. At this point, I looked down at my hands and realized that i had two large blisters that had formed and burst and were now bleeding in the places where i held the rope.

I stupidly did not wear gloves, and was paying for it.

After my dad got the panel set up, I had him stand behind the panel manning the rope while I stood behind Bronson with the whip. At this point he was bushed, and he was pretty much done fighting, especially since his only other option of escape besides getting in the trailer was blocked.

Within about fifteen minutes, and with a couple two-steps-in-two-steps-out, he got in the trailer and stood there tiredly, but contentedly eating the bits of hay that I had left for him. Even though it took me about 5 minutes before I finally got the door closed, he just stood there, not wanting to get out.

Exhausted, but glad that I had succeeded, I shut the doors and took him for a drive around the block. He rode quietly, he always has, it's always been the getting in that's been the problem. I unloaded him, put him back in the pasture, and was done for the day. It was hard work, but I had to continue saying to myself over and over, "the worst is over." I just hoped it was.

The next day, i went out prepared.

I haltered Bronson up in the halter attached to the fifty foot rope, I set up the pipe panel even before I started the trailering session. I got gloves for me and for my assistant who was plying the rope. I was ready.

I brought Bronson up to the trailer, we asked him forward, he stepped in, then stepped out again. Stepped in, stepped out. Then stepped in and craned his neck out to try to grab some hay in the manger.

I flicked his back hooves with my whip and he walked the rest of the way in. All in all, it took about ten minutes. I closed the trailer up, drove around the block, then returned him to his pasture. I was immensely relieved, to say the least. He had learned his lesson well, he had learned that the trailer was a good place and that life was hell otherwise.

The difference between this method and the method we used on the first day to load him was obvious. This way, he chose the trailer because he knew it was the best place he could be. When we squeezed him in with the panels, he was forced to go in even though he did not want to do it.

It took that first very hard session, but by the 4th time, all I had to do was tie the rope around his neck and send him in, thus eliminating the need for me to get into the trailer with him. To this day, he happily tromps right in and stands there waiting for me to close the door, all resistance gone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do We Love Them Too Much?

I have a possibly touchy subject in mind today.

It goes hand in hoof with the decisions I've been wrestling with about my own horses.

I have too many. I can't afford them all. I don't have time to ride them all. I am uncomfortable carrying the responsibility of this many horses on my shoulders.

My extra horse is highly rideable, healthy, a good age (12) and sound. She is a national champion with a solid amount of earnings on her.

She also is emotionally fragile, sometimes anxious and prone to falling apart in the show pen. I take responsibility for her problems because I was her owner when they developed.

My gut reaction is to keep her forever. I am afraid for her. Anybody who rides her will want to show her. I can't reliably say what she would do or how she would behave.

I am afraid she will end up at a sale.

It was pointed out by an astute reader of this blog that I am stopping someone from getting a wonderful horse at a good price because I think I'm the only one who can possibly understand her.

So I have been thinking, when does our ego interfere with the reality of horse ownership?

Why are we so sure we're the only answer for our beloved companions?

Do we really understand the bond we form with a horse?

How much of our own needs do we put on our horses?

I worked an awful lot of horses during my years as a trainer. There were times when they became such a blur I stalled them according to the bit they were in. I couldn't remember their names or color. I couldn't describe them to my assistants.

So I quit thinking about it. I tied a rag to the stall door for every bit change. Then I just felt around on the horse until something clicked and I remembered where we were on our last ride.

It worked fine unless an owner called to chat about their horse's progress after 8 p.m. Then I was stuck.

I have noticed something. Every time I run into a horse I started or trained, even if it was years ago, the horse remembers me and gives me a friendly greeting.

They don't whinny and come running. But they give me a bright look, extend their nose and sniff as I pass. Invariably I stop and the horse's name, training and how things went come rushing to me. I love the feeling.

I also loved the day when a horse accepted me. I often had horses who came in either angry or afraid. I made them angrier or more afraid with each passing day until about the 30 to 45 day mark.

Then one day I would walk into the barn and be greeted by a friendly horse and a look of "What's up today boss?"

I always got a huge rush when this happened. It meant the horse was finally getting the idea and my job was about to become much easier. It also meant the horse liked me. It might be unprofessional, but this was really important to me.

When do we start confusing friendship for undying love?

I was extremely close to my first horse, Mort. When I went away to school he would be quiet for a day or two. When I came home there was a wild bucking display as I got out of the car. Here was a horse who actually came trotting up with a nicker and a snort.

The thing is he was just fine in between my visits home.

My daughter has a horse who is wild about her. When she comes to see him he comes running. If a month goes by in between rides he is still as wildly excited to see her as when she rides him for 2 weeks straight.

When she's not around he is fine.

I have seen a horse mourn. My old mare Annie went into a deep depression when she was first separated from her companion of many years, a ditzy mare named Trixie.

She stood at the corner of her pen and looked up the road in the direction of our old ranch. She went off her feed and was down enough we called the vet. He gave her a vitamin B shot and told us to keep an eye on her. Eventually she cheered up and was fine.

Years later she met with Trixie again. Annie whinnied and hollered and about drug my daughter to see her old pasture mate. Trixie seemed unaware of who she was. Annie got so mad she kicked her.

I know horses recognize old friends, both equine and human, they also remember old enemies.

Does this mean they love us so much we're hurting them by selling them?

Horses are herd animals. They are genetically programmed to form tight bonds in order to keep the herd strong.

Horses are also prey animals. They are eaten.

In the wild, newborn foals are immediate targets. So are the old and sick.

What stronger bond can there be than the bond between old friends and mother and off-spring?

Yet when a horse dies the herd continues on. The horses eat, drink, run. A mare may call for a day or two, but eventually she goes back to grazing.

If horses weren't able to accept the loss of a herd leader, a foal or a long time friend they wouldn't survive as a species. I really think they are hard wired to accept sudden, often traumatic loss and continue on mentally undamaged.

If they weren't as adaptable and accepting as they are we wouldn't be able to ride them. They would never be able to leave their dams.

Humans, on the other hand develop strong fierce bonds. We horsaii develop the same bonds with our horses. We can't imagine life without them. We can imagine all kinds of horror that could happen to them. The sadness we would feel at their loss becomes, in our minds, the horse's sadness.

An old hand once told me, "A horse's best friend is whoever shows up with a hay bale."

I don't know if I can go quite that far, but I think he was wiser than emotional me.

When I have the opportunity to ride a horse for several years there is a level of communication that develops that I do think is irreplaceable. I know if I ride the same horse years later we will fall in sync within a couple of rides.

It doesn't mean the same horse doesn't have an entirely different, but equally satisfying relationship with the person who currently rides them.

It's what makes them so wonderful.

It's what makes them so hard to part with.

But I don't think it matters that much to the horse. When we're not with them I think they accept it. When we come back it's a welcome surprise, but in between I think we're kidding ourselves if we think our horses are dwelling on where we might be.

Food, water, sun, companionship. It's all they want.

So I guess I have to decide what my needs are in this relationship. I have to decide what's the best deal for us both.

I wish I could talk Crystal into another horse.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mouthy Mondays

I am guessing some of you have noticed, my blog is becoming a little more commercial. If it bothers anybody I hope you will be able to ignore it and just read the content. I heard from a friendly little bird there is $$ to be made off these blogs, so I'm trying to figure out how. I can always use some extra hay money.

Here is a story which really applies to my next post. It's kind of a dose of reality kind of thing.....

Becky writes along my train of thought exactly.

Get out the box of tissues........

Don’t get me wrong--- I loved Catarina. She was my first horse. How could I not love her, especially after all the years I spent hungering after a horse of my own?

From the time I was able to talk, I was obsessed with horses. Breyer ponies, my little ponies, plastic horses of any no-name brand... the memories of my childhood circle around the times I spent living life through their plastic, unseeing eyes. They each had names and personalities, and the Barbies in my household only existed as a backdrop for the endless, ongoing dramas I always created for my herd: Would the new foals survive the harsh winter? Would Apache fall in love with King? Oh, no! The new stallion Dark Magic was captured by the evil humans! But, wait! He jumped the 9 foot enclosure and escaped back to the herd!)

When I was 8 years old, my parents told me that if I kept up my straight A’s until the time I was 16, they would buy me a car. I immediately shot back, “What about a horse instead?”

I don’t think they really thought things through when they said yes. Maybe they thought I would grow up, grow out of my “horsey” phase?

Yeah, right.

Don’t get me wrong, when 16 hit, I knew how lucky I was to be able to have a horse. Living in the city, owning a horse was more than we could afford. But somehow, we managed.

After countless hours on the internet researching exactly what to do, and how to avoid being sold a lemon, I bought my first horse. She was beautiful—an 8 year old liver chestnut, quarter horse mare that was sweet, willing, and completely beginner safe.

By the time I got her off the trailer to our new home, she’d turned into a 13 year old mare of unknown breeding (Quarter horse/arab/morgan/pony?) that had severe neck and back problems and had probably foundered severely in the past.

She was also completely apathetic about my existence. The only thing I did luck out in was that she was the most bomb-proof, forgiving horse I’ve ever met. Nothing phased her, and I went from being a complete beginner to being able to doing everything I could dream of doing--- sidepass at a canter, riding with no reins, riding for hours bareback… she was even trained to stop and stand still whenever I fell off.

In retrospect, I think she might have been charro broke, which accounts for her lack of interest, and completely emotionless, indifference to the passionate love I had for her. Even worse, she was unsound/completely lame more often than not. After years of the frustration of owning a horse and rarely riding, I decided it was time to get a new one.

Enter Jubilee.After so much time staring at a hobbling, hurting, horse, I did the only thing I knew how in order to avoid purchasing another broken-down horse: I hunted for a horse with the floatiest, free-est, non-limpy-gate I could find.

With all that I could do on Catarina when she was well, I knew I could handle anything in terms of training. A four year old thoroughbred (gelding) with only six months off the track, Jubilee brought me back to reality. I thought I was an experienced rider--- it turns out that my mare was just an experienced teacher, and I was still completely green. It only took 1 day for me to realize just how little I knew.

I approached him in my normally hasty manner (forget a leisurely grooming! I was going to get a chance to RIDE!) and whipped out the flyspray bottle, starting with his face. He immediately pulled back, setting back and snapping his leadrope, then hitting the back of his head on an overhanging roof behind him. He began slinging his head from side to side, the horse-equivalent of, “OUCH!”

I was horrified. I didn’t even know that such a thing as “setting back” existed, and I didn’t know what to do. I froze, and then sidled up to him carefully, fully expecting another explosion. I placed my hand on his neck, speaking softly.

He stiffened his skinny neck, holding it stiff and high, almost perpendicular to his ridiculously high withers. I continued talking softly, giving him a chance to think. He stared at me with bright glassy eyes for a few moments, then licked and chewed, dropped his head, and pressed his forehead flat against my chest. My first horse hug. “Fix it,” he seemed to be saying.

My heart crumbled.

I’d like to say we had a perfect relationship after that, but life doesn’t really happen that way. He was still 4 years old and fresh from the track, and I was still a beginner rider. In fact, we never got along all that great in the saddle. He was a stereotypical thoroughbred in all the best and worst ways--- one day off, and it was back to square one. He was sweet, but not the brightest crayon in the box when it came to retaining information.

But when it came to an on-the-ground relationship, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel about a horse the way I did about Jubilee.

Maybe it’s because he was did such a terrible job at being a horse--- when turned out with a herd, he always stood about 20 yards outside of it, pathetically uncomfortable and vaguely lonely. He was just as socially inept as I was, and something about his inability to feel like part of the crowd clicked with me.

I spent hours just hanging out in his stall, reading books, feeding him hay one stalk at a time, braiding, braiding, and re-braiding his mane and tail. I learned that while his high withers made bareback riding impossibly uncomfortable, they created a little hollow, right where they met his shoulders that fit my face perfectly, and whenever I cried there, I felt comforted. I’m surprised I didn’t wear that little patch of hair away from all the hours I spent leaning into him, breathing in his healing scent.

Jubilee was there for me when my grandfather died. My grandma and I had been able to give my grandpa his wish--- he died at home, surrounded by family. But dying is rarely as clean as it is in the movies, and after months of round-the-clock care and a heart-wrenching final week of listening to him slowly drown from smoking-induced emphysema, I felt fragile. Brittle. Empty. Unable to cry. Unable to sleep. So I did what I’ve always done when I’m troubled. I drove to the stables.

I’ve always loved the stables best at night. There’s a peace and a quiet that just can’t be found during the day.

Jubilee was long-since used to my unusual hours, and he came out to greet me. It was cold, and his breath curled out in plumes from his nose. I buried my hands beneath his mane, trying to warm them. Then I buried my face in that niche, and felt myself release whatever it was that was holding me back. I cried. I cried. And then I cried some more. I think my cheeks even went to sleep, I cried so long and so hard, and I don’t know how long I would have continued if I hadn’t heard something.Jubilee nickered.

I’d heard him beg for food before, but this sound was different. It was the same sound a mare makes when calling to her foal. Deep, warm, and filled with reassurance. Startled out of my sobs, I pulled back, and saw him staring at me, ears pricked. He lipped my sleeve, and nickered again. Something about it made me laugh through my tears, and regain my composure. “I’m fine, Jubie. I’m fine...”

That was the only time I ever heard that sound from him, and frankly, it was the only time I ever needed it. I ended up having to sell him a couple of years later, and it’s something I still regret. I wish I had the money to keep him. I hope he’s okay. He was an idiot, but he was my idiot thoroughbred, and I miss him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Sonita and I scored high enough to overcome our 10 point gap and boost ourselves to ninth place in the Open Limited Bridle at the NRCHA World Show.

My daughter placed 5th in the Limited Youth class and ended up ranked 5th in the nation too. I on the other hand was ranked somewhere between 300th and 5000th.

We were pretty happy and I ended up getting bamboozled into buying a rat terrier puppy after one too many margaritas. His name is Charlie and he may be the best spent money I didn't have.
I'd love to show you my top ten photo with all my friends and trainers standing along either side of my horse (my daughters too) but I didn't have the money for the photographer.

It didn't matter.

I got to go home with a new confidence and an appreciation for my $900.00 dollar horse. Except she wasn't mine anymore.

Crystal was waiting for us when we pulled up in front of the barn.

As pre-arranged, Crystal unloaded Sonita herself and took her down to a new stall next to Crystal's good horse James.

She pulled her blanket and replaced it with a new one she had bought just that day.

Then we unloaded the rest of the horses and tack. We got a kick at the congratulatory signs and balloon's which decorated the barn aisle.

Again I was treated to one too many Margaritas. This time there was cake and a crowd of my friends and clients. It was a cool homecoming.

Over the next several days I didn't go near Sonita. The first three mornings she nickered the same greeting I had gotten every morning for the last several years. She would stand with her head thrown up staring at me.

She paced and hollered and fretted the first day.

The second day she watched me with a puzzled silence.

The third day she ignored me after the first initial greeting.

I was grateful to be behind on my work.

During this time Crystal groomed her, fussed over her and turned her out daily.

She had planned on giving her a well earned rest, but Sonita soon became so fractious she started taking her out on the trail for short rides.

By the end of the week I heard Sonita nicker a friendly greeting to Crystal as she came into the barn.

That was it. Sonita was weaned. She transferred her attention to Crystal within days and her loyalty within months.

As for myself I learned it wasn't the end of the world to sell a horse. My mare was well trained and well mannered. I had sold her to a rider I had confidence in. Sonita adapted well and once Crystal got her tiger by the tail she adapted too.

I realised it was a good thing. I turned my attention to the future.

Crystal has owned Sonita for more years than I did now. Sonita is fat, happy and still a total bitch. Crystal loves her to death. She hasn't shown her.

Sonita gets long days of turn-out with James, lots of trail rides and cattle work when it's available. The life seems to suit her.

This is Crystal with her favorite girl.

Maybe it's because of Sonita's age, or the change in her life, I can make any excuses I want. The fact of the matter is Sonita likes Crystal a whole bunch more than she ever liked me.

When I went to take this picture I hadn't seen Sonita for about a year. We walked out to the field and she came to me and began sniffing me. She snuffled my hair and sniffed me head to toe. She was especially interested in my Carhart. It occurred to me it might smell like Loki. She made it extremely difficult to take a picture.

I gave her a hug and she hugged me back. Then she gave me a cheerful, "Later, old friend," and went to stand by her owner.

One warm summer night, about three or four years after Crystal had taken over Sonita, we met at a local riding club. The club was getting a versatility class going and were offering a practice cattle class once a week.

The practices were open and I had come with my new bosses and a few clients and friends to see what was up.

The cattle were sour, the folks wanting to cow were green and the gentleman conducting the evening was pretty green himself. There was a long and odd list of rules involved in being allowed to work a cow. The gentleman was there to assist each and every one of us.

As is my habit when I come someplace new, I kept my mouth shut and followed the rules. I expected the people with me to do the same.

"Let's get out of here," my boss whispered,"this is nuts."

"The price is good and we don't have cattle until next month," I shot back, "just behave, ignore him and box your cow."

The night was endless. We had several horses to work and the unsolicited help just kept on coming. Even though we were soon earning our keep shagging the cows nobody could seem to be able to gather and kicking back the strays who kept escaping while the attempt at cutting was going on.

Crystal was her usual self, laughing and having a good time. She was completely OK with sticking to the box work and coming out of the herd. She hadn't worked herself up to trying Sonita down the fence much and never in public.

By the end of the night the ice had thawed a little and we were visiting back and forth with the "cow guy".

He invited us to stay after the crowd left and do a little fence work.

We were glad to.

Crystal rode over to me.

"Would you mind taking Sonita down the fence for me?"

"Why don't you take her?" I asked.

"I just want to watch her go, do you want to?"

I didn't wait for her to change her mind.

I slid off my colt and crawled up on Sonita. She turned around to sniff my boot and I gave her a rub on her neck.

"Are your stirrups OK?" Crystal asked me.

"They're a little long, but it won't matter. It's not like these cows have any gas."

"Let's go play a little," I told Sonita.

She walked off with her quick sure step, her ears pricked and her excitement mounting. I knew how she was feeling.

It was a beautiful night. There was only a little wind and I was comfortable in my shirt sleeves.
I asked Sonita to pick up her lope and we clicked right into place. She picked up her circle and threw a few dolphin bucks before she settled in. She kept looking over to the cattle pen and rattled her bit at me.

"Are you ready Janet?" The cattle guy called.


We trotted up to our cow and I let Sonita crawl right on top of the sour thing. She pinned her ears and snapped her teeth, just about snagging some hair.

The cow woke up a little a feinted away from us.

I decided to try to get some momentum going and let Sonita knock the heifer into one quick turn before we drove her through the corner and down the off side of the fence.

The surprised heifer thought she had found an escape route and all of a sudden we had a fence run going on.

I whooped and settled in as Sonita flew down the fence.

She checked nice as could be and we drove the cow almost to the far corner before she stepped by and slammed the cow through our first turn.

"Oops," I lost one of my too long stirrups through the first turn, "Ah what the hell, lets go,"
I told my old friend and we lined up down the fence.

The surly black thing bumped up against us, trying to angle her way back to the cow pen, but Sonita just body slammed her against the rail and we kept on going.

I lost my other stirrup through the second turn and I scrambled to keep myself in the middle as we pushed off the fence and began to circle.

We hadn't lost a beat of the rhythms we had shared for so long. I knew every stride and breath of this cool, cool mare. She knew where I was and what to expect of me every step of the way. I whooped again and settled back in the saddle, stirrups flying, as we circled up our cow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Thung ith Ober Tha Bith

Get ready, I'm pretty windy on this one.

- twhlady writes-I have a question about bitting my horse. I ride a TWH and he has started putting his tongue over the bit in an effort to evade it. I had been riding him in a low port short shank grazing bit. I just really don't know what kind of bit to go to because I do not want anything that is very harsh. I have ridden him in a snaffle but then I have turning and no whoa. If you could help I would be appreciative.

Hey twhlady,
I have ridden horses who put their tongue over the bit. I truly don’t believe the horse is evading the bit because a bit under a horse’s tongue causes extreme pain. He’s evading the rider.

I was always taught a horse who gapes or puts his tongue over the bit is unsure of where to put his feet, so all kinds of stiff spots develop.

In the past when I have had a horse who wanted to put his tongue over the bit I have tried a few different approaches.

I have tightened the bridle so the bit is too tight for the horse to get his tongue over the top.

The problem here is I now had a horse who was grinning like a fool, extremely uncomfortable and getting ready to start gaping like a madman.

I have also used a drop nose band. If I cranked it down tight enough it worked for a while. Once my horse rubbed his chin and nose raw trying to open his mouth I gave up on that method.

I have also tried a method taught to me by an old cowboy. I took two pieces of baling twine, and tied one to each side of my ring snaffle. Then I knotted them together over my horse’s nose and tied the ends to the horse’s forelock so the bit was tied to the roof of the horses mouth. It worked but boy did my horse look stupid.

The problem with all of these methods is they are band-aids. None of these fixes will actually cure the horse of flipping his tongue over the bit.

I can guarantee any time a rider tries to fix a vice by force the vice may or may not disappear. But if it does disappear the vice will show up somewhere else. Unless the cause for the vice is corrected the new vice is usually worse than the one before.

If my horse flips his tongue over the bit he’s trying to tell me something. He’s usually stiff through the neck and poll and tight in his jaw. Flipping his tongue over the bit is about the last thing he can come up with to try to get away from being cranked on.

I want to be clear here, I’m not saying the poor owner with the problem is hauling away at the horse (at least I hope not). I am saying that each time the horse created a resistance through his neck (which probably began with a hollowed out back) he didn’t find a way out of it through help from his rider.

So he stacked another resistance on top of another until all he had left was his tongue.

If I tie his mouth shut or tie the bit to the roof of his mouth I’m not helping him work through his stiffness. I’m just tying his mouth shut. So the second I untie his mouth he’ll flip his tongue over the bit.

What I’ve had the most success with in this situation is to go back to the beginning. I work in an arena for awhile, just like I would if he was a baby.

If I have no whoa I don’t leave the arena until I do…

I put him in a ring snaffle. No cavesson, no drop-nose band, just a simple snaffle.

Then I drop the bit so low he can almost, but not quite, spit it out. I start with a simple walk, trot, canter. All on a loose rein with the loose bit.

My horse will play with his bit like crazy, tongue over, under, banging the bit around.

I’m not going to pay any attention to him. I’m especially going to ignore the head, tongue nonsense. I’m going to focus on the feet.

Walk, trot, canter.

When my horse’s feet are going where they are supposed to I’ll reward him with a rest.

Then I’ll start to serpentine at a walk and trot.
I’ll work on softening my horse through the rib and shoulders.
I still won’t be worried about his head or his tongue.

I don’t need a whoa because we’re working on feet.

But most of you know me well enough by now to realise I won’t ask him to stop until he really, really is begging me to stop. Because he will be so-o-o-o-. tired. But stopping is another story for another day.

As I work my horse through the basics with his flopping, banging bit he’s eventually going to pick the bit up on his own.

He will realize the only way to control the dang thing his to hold it himself. He will be sick of it whacking his teeth.

I’m not helping him at all by stopping and readjusting it, or stopping and yelling or stopping and anything.

I just keep working, and yes I’m well aware of how hard it is to get anything done when the bit is over his tongue and I know it hurts, but I don’t really care.

Because my horse can flip that bit back into position any time and hold it himself.

Where his reward use to be stopping work and getting me off to fuss with his bit, now his reward is to find out how pleasant it is to keep the bit in place.

In the mean time I am re-educating him on bending, giving, going and stopping.

I’m schooling myself as much as him.

Is he stiff in the neck? Where are my hands? Am I hanging on him?

Is he muscled up against my leg? How come?

Am I backing off when he challenges my cues?

I use this time to think, evaluate and discover just where my problems originated.

The whole time I am letting my horse carry his own bit around. If he’s holding it he can’t get his tongue over it. I’ve never had one not see the sense of this.

When he’s carrying his bit reliably and I’ve worked out most of his stiffness (or at least I’ve found my answers with my legs instead of my hands) I’ll try the bit I want him riding in.

There are a few things to keep in mind here.

1.If my horse is driving forward from the back he won’t have his tongue over the bit.

2 If he flips his tongue over the bit while we’re working I’ll ignore him and keep working until he gets himself rearranged. Then I’ll stop and rest. Unless of course he has no stop, then I'll have too add the stop reward in later.

3.I won’t ride out of the arena until I have gotten him on the bit.

4. I won’t ride in anything heavier than a ring snaffle until we’ve fixed our problem. A curb is too heavy to make him carry on his own.

Besides, if he won’t go in a ring snaffle, than we both have some learnin’ to do. I'd stay in the snaffle until I was riding the horse I wanted.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mouthy Monday

It's too hot.
It's too cold.
It's raining.
They need trimming.
He looks lame.
It's snowing.
I have to mow the lawn today.
I have to take Mom shopping.
My knee is killing me.
Too many bugs.
Saddle needs cleaning.
Wrong bit.
Right bit, wrong bridle.
All my pads are in the wash.
He just ate.
His tail is blue.
I just grained him.
Too late.
Too early.
He needs a bath.
My hair hurts.
He just had shots.
My clippers are broken.

There are roughly 390 days in 13 months. Believe me when I say......I had an excuse for every one of them to NOT ride after I took a minor spill.

And it WAS a minor spill, as spills go. About the third time I rode Cisco, I decided to try my new/used english saddle on him. I'd never been in an english saddle, but I grew up riding bareback, how hard can it be???? I tacked up and headed down the driveway.

I knew Felix saw me coming, so I cut across his 4 acre lawn to show off a bit (mistake no. 1).
I nudged Cisco into a nice trot, then a faster trot.
I leaned forward to encourage him into a canter (mistake no. 2).

He stopped. That's all he did, he. just. stopped.

I, unfortunately, did not (mistake no. 3). I somersaulted over his right shoulder, landed on my feet, and then sat down.
Hard. In the process, I dropped the reins and Cisco took off like a scalded cat......right for ST HWY 44. I had scarcely staggered to my feet, when Felix pulled up next to me in his Suburban.
*Are you all right??*
*Yes. But we have to get that fool horse before he gets splattered all over the road!!!*

We didn't have to go far. Cisco had taken the nearest driveway, to the farm I grew up on, long ago sold. The house was gone, but the barn and outbuildings were there.....and so was Cisco, calmly munching on stray kernals up by the old corncrib. I walked up to him, snagged the reins, and led him to the back of the Suburban, intending to use the bumper as a mounting block.

Felix: *You don't mean to get back on him!!!!*
Me: *Well, I sure as hell ain't walking home in these boots!!!*
Me: *Dad. He didn't throw me. I fell off. BIG difference.*
(there was some throwing up of arms and muttering as he made his way to the driver's door)

I rode Cisco home, untacked him and put him in the corral, and sat down on the front steps. Instead of thinking about what had just happened, about what I might do to not have it happen again (like, oh, I don't know....ENGLISH LESSONS????)......I started to think about what COULD have happened and scared myself into the worst case of the heebie-jeebies EVER. I did not ride for 13 months.

During that 13 months, I helped the vet geld Cisco, did all his follow-up care, worked on ground manners, did the Mr. Hand thing......I brought Gabby the Nubian home in the back seat of my Beretta because Cisco was lonesome. I bought 2Sox. I made hay, cleaned water tanks, all the things you do when you have horses.......

.......except ride them. The thought of throwing a leg over one of them just stopped me in my tracks. My palms would get sweaty, my mouth would get dry, my stomach would start doing flip-flops. I actually got light-headed.
I doggedly led them back and forth to pasture.

I lectured myself, I called myself a coward seven ways from Sunday.......but I could not make myself ride. I fleetingly considered hypnosis. I tried to shame myself into it, but that didn't work either.
My riding life was pretty much in the toilet, and I wasn't able to fix it.

I can't tell you what the turning point was, whether I had some profound epiphany or just basically decided to pull my head out of my butt. Maybe the riding fairy smacked me one up side the head while I was sleeping. All I know is one morning I was taking the horses down to pasture and it occurred to me: *THIS is not why I got back into horses, to LEAD them everywhere.*

I walked back home, and decided to try 2Sox bareback in the field. She's shorter than Cisco, the grass is high, it won't hurt as much if I come when I went down that afternoon, I bridled her up and did a few rounds of the field.
I even ponied Cisco home that night.

Was I back????

About a week later, I was on 2Sox, ponying Cisco home from the field, when Gabby the Nubian ran in front of Cisco. She managed to hook his lead line and drag it right across 2Sox's nose. 2Sox did a fantastic teleport to the right.........and I did one to the left. As I was flying through the air with the greatest of ease, all I could think was: *CRAP, NOT let go of Cisco, because he'll run!!!*
I landed in the most humongous patch of cockleburrs/burdocks I have ever seen. Well, at least they cushioned my fall.....LOL....
.....and I still had a death grip on Cisco's lead.

The first thing I did was look around, to see if anyone had witnessed my oh-so-graceful dismount. Then I caught 2Sox, remounted and continued on home.

Yeah, I was back.
This cool story was written by Diane from Wisconsin. I loved her intro.