Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shoulder to the Left, Shoulder to the Right, Run For the Fence and Fight Fight Fight!

For those of you who can't find Fuglyhorseoftheday here she is
I fixed it on my blog list too. I don't know what's up, but she has had some hacker issues.

Does anybody know how to open up a discussion forum off of this blog? I think that is the answer to the training discussions I was looking for. Somebody brought it up, do you know how I should set it up?

necowgrl78 said - I have a 9 yr old gelding that has trouble circling to the left. His head will be turned and body arched but he'll run through his right shoulder until he hits a fence.

There are some things I wish I had done differently on Sonita.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot. The biggest concept I never quite grasped on her was letting her head go. I was still instinctively reacting to the concept of Head Control = Foot control.

It took me a few more horses to get the reality. Foot control = Head Control.

I kinda got it, but not really.

I had a tendency to babysit her every move.She was a horse who made the thought of “let go, relax” a terrifying prospect, but it would have helped her and me immensely if I could have taken the final step and let her have her head.

And if I had known to do this when she was started instead of when she was about finished.

Sonita would run her circles with her head to the outside. She would keep her feet on track, but her stinking head would be looking outside the circle.

Which meant her rib was bowed to the inside and her shoulders were out of place for her lead change.

It also meant she had plenty of time to look around at a show. She’d whinny to her friends, check out the trucks or trailers passing by that might plan on jumping the fence and look to see if the cows were to her liking.

It drove me crazy.The problem was I didn’t understand how to get her to focus on the job ahead. She could place her feet exactly where they were supposed to go and sling her head all over.

What I was missing was the fact that she wasn’t following her head with her body. I hadn’t developed enough feel to understand where she was ducking me. It was kind of a reverse problem.

I see now I was thinking about bringing the nose to the body and not about the nose dropping as the back lifted and the nose being in line if she was framed up correctly. So Sonita learned to duck me while technically staying correct.

The only time she wanted to follow her nose with her feet was when she was cutting or headed down the fence.

In retrospect if I had gotten Sonita to train farther into my career I would have thought she needed to be a cutter. But I didn’t, I just fought with her head and dealt with the repercussions of her being consistently out of frame.

The up side of all this is I finally learned what I needed control over in order to have my horse. The shoulders.

When it comes to shoulder control I usually find its really about total control of the horse. If I turn my horse to the left and her shoulder goes right it’s an ugly mess.

Sonita used to put her head out and her shoulder in on a circle. When I focused on reeling her head in she would flip her nose, open her mouth and snap her tail. If I used my legs to straighten her up and drove her forward she would get into the bridle like she should. Then she would snap her tail. So she was still letting me know I didn't quite have her. That tail spoke volumes.

I know how to handle this now. Most of the time anyway. I don’t know if I could have completely fixed Sonita. Like I said, she should have been a cutter. But I could have made our life much better.

Anyway, Necowgrl has a horse who takes his shoulder and runs off with her.

This is a version of the problem I had with Sonita.

This is also why I don't teach a colt to bend his head right and left without moving. I want my youngsters to follow their nose with their feet. Period.

I want them to be active on their own and get them to allow me to steer the action.

I 100% agree that there are other trainers ( trainers who make more $$ in a year than I did my whole career) who will think I'm full of it, but this is what works for me.

I'm going to try to go through my "whys" and will cover Necowgrl's issue as well.

When I first get on my colts they know a cluck means trot and a kiss means lope.

If I have a colt who moves off I let him. I stay balanced and quiet in the middle, moving and petting his neck just enough to remind him I'm there. I haveonly one lesson in mind for today. Riding=moving.

If he just stands there I sit quiet in the middle, again, rubbling his neck just enough to remind him I'm there.

I wait until he decides to move on his own. No clucking, dragging on the rope, nothing. Sometimes I sit for a long time. I don't want to create any resistance to me.

If my colt that started moving right away continues to go around relaxed and interested
I'll steer him around some. I ride with either a rope halter and lead rope or side pull. I make sure I only steer one rein at a time. Left hand guides left and right hand guides right.

He'll steer because I've taught him to follow his nose with his feet. He already has it, he just has to translate it from his back. I steer with soft tugs and release, I don't ask for more than a step and I don't worry to much about my success.

The colt that stood in one spot and didn't move? When he finally gets going on his own I might steer a little, but probably not. I don't want to muddle the mix. I want the colt to understand I want him to go forward. So once he does I just relax. When he quits moving I exhale, take my legs off and get down. I haven't said a word. Riding = Movement.

Back to my moving colt. If he steers and is still going I'll ask for a trot with a cluck. They almost always trot off. Then I wait for him to slow to a walk (even a few steps will do) exhale, take my legs off and see if he stops. If he doesn't we'll trot again, then wait for a walk, exhale, take off my legs and hope for the stop.

Eventually he'll quit moving.

Then I exhale, take off my legs and get down.

Both of my colts have learned I will release them from me if they move forward. I have laid the groundwork for stopping. I have never drug them, held them tightly or used leg pressure. So they don't snap their tails in resistance or freeze up against my hand or leg.

See my thinking here?
I inch forward on their progress this way.
They find themselves stopping, turning and going without me having kicked them or dragging their head around.

I bring in my legs, hands and Whos as cues, not muscle.

This way the colts learn to follow my hand with their feet. Control of the head is secondary. It makes my life so much easier.

So now I'll head back to Necowgrl- She has to forget the head and gain control of the shoulders. For this problem I would be riding two-handed in a ring snaffle.

I would begin to think of my life on my horse as a series of straight lines. My circles would become Stop signs.

I would never change direction until I had feet, rib, shoulder and head in a straight line.

So here's my sequence.

I turn left by a. taking off my inside leg pressure
b. take my leading rein (inside) and steer left like with a big open arm.
c. block his outside shoulder and balance the bend in his neck by bringing my outside rein in a direct pull to my outside hipbone.
d. add leg pressure which will buil in a 1,2,3 sequence. 1. squeeze softly, 2. 1 single kick with meaning (some of my students called this a warning kick)3. Kick the crap out of him until he gets his body lined up.

The key here is you can't let go of anything. Your guiding rein, the outside rein or your kicking leg. It may get ugly before he lines out. The second he does then release all pressure. Even if you're 100 yards from your original line. then start again.

It's important to work on straightness before anything else.

This can be a big job, but you can get it done.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mustangs and Barn Babies

Melissa said -Do you do anything different when starting a mustang who just saw people for the first time two weeks ago than with a horse who grew up in a barn?

Actually I do the exact same thing, only it takes less effort on my part, because every tiny nuance is caught by a mustang and a barn raised colt might need to have my nuances pointed out to him.

When I first walk in the pen with a mustang she usually will take off and get as far from me as possible.
So the first understanding between us is when I move toward her she will leave.

Just for discussions sake, we'll make our barn-raised colt a bit of a pet. He was halter broke at a young age, is used to getting his back scratched and will pick up his feet, lead around and that sort of thing.

He will push at people a little for attention and is used to getting pushed away, he usually will kind of lean in with his shoulder and then finally wander off after he's gotten a smack on the neck.

Sound familiar? He's not rude, just friendly and nobody has ever really had to raise a hand to him.

So the first thing I have to do when I walk in the pen is teach him to move away from me when I send him out.

He'll be properly horrified when he gets a smooch and a crack with the longe whip (or rope and halter). He'll trot off a few steps and stop, sure it was a mistake and what I really meant was he needed a pet.

So I'll smooch and send him out again. This time he'll trot a bit and buck.

Crack! He gets smacked for the buck and takes off. He'll show me!

He runs around the pen, My gaze and my whip are pointed at his hip. He slows to a trot. I smooch and raise the whip and he spins around and takes off the other way.

I jump in front of him and crack my whip.

He runs faster, he figures it's time to make a point here.

I yell like a lunatic, smack him HARD with the whip in the chest and he stops, roll-backs and takes off the way he's supposed to.

I back away with the whip relaxed in my hand and he slows. I step forward and raise the whip and he takes off.

I back up and he slows. I step toward his head and raise my whip and he turns and heads off the other direction.

I step back until he stops and looks at me and we both stand there and wheeze awhile.

Now back to the mustang.

I walk into her pen. I almost always work this kind of horse with a rope halter and long soft cotton lead because I tend to trip over longe whips.

She trots to the other end of the pen and snorts at me.

I turn my back and lean on the gate, watching outside the pen until she relaxes and moves a little. Then I turn and look at her again. If she's really reactive I'll do the look, look away thing until she doesn't jump out of her skin.
Then I look at her hipbone and take a step towards it.

She'll move off, I'll relax and go back to the gate.

We'll do this a few times and then I'll head to the middle.

She'll watch me very closely or trot the perimeter because she doesn't know what I'm up to.

I'll move to her hip let her go forward a few rounds, then step to her head and turn her. If I have to I'll raise my arm and swing my rope a little, but usually it's just stepping to and away.

When she gets this I'll back away. If she can't relax I'll just step to the gate and look out so she can stop.

Now both horses know to move away when I go to the hip they know to turn when I step to the head and they know they can stop when I back away.

Same exact approach, but the tame colt needed some muscle.

I will talk to a tame colt and smooch or kiss to tell him to trot and lope, but I'm quiet with a mustang. My words mean nothing to her. They would only be a distraction from my body language, which is what she's interested in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hi Guys!

In my old life I used to go through periods of time when I became extremely quiet, introspective and fairly dark.

It wasn't that big of a deal, because horses don't care if you don't talk.

I would cancel my lessons for a few weeks and just do my thing. Sometimes it would result in a burst of creativity, sometimes I would just be lost in thought for awhile.

In my new life I no longer have the luxury of shutting out the world. As a matter of fact my job requires me to stay receptive to the very things I'd like to tune out.

So I guess the past few weeks have been my new version of a mental vacation.

Anyway, I'm back at it, I'm writing away, but I'd love to just answer some questions, untie a few training knots and discuss for a few days. Are you up for it?

Cupcake and Tally are on a rain delay.

My latest horse news is pretty good. Loki is adapting to her new life. She's riding well. I'm enjoying the sheer luxury of riding my horse in the time frame I think we both need.

She's a little bug-eyed, but keeps her feet pointed where they need to be, so I'm happy. We've been exploring the stable grounds, the arenas and a little of the trails. Her only spook was at the roping steers. I hope she's ashamed of herself.

On our second ride I took her to see the outdoor arena. We had only walked. She hadn't been in there yet and I'm not sure she had quite figured out why she was at the new digs.

The arena is always kept beautifully groomed (I know, I can't believe it either). I rode Loki into the arena, which puts us pretty much in the center.

My lovely little girl, who hasn't seen a show pen for 3 1/2 years, took her first few steps in the nice dirt. She lifted her back, dropped her nose to the vertical and loped off. She thought we were at a show and were heading into our first run-down.

She was going to give me everything she could. I almost cried.

Keep in mind I was slobbing around, she was in a ring snaffle on a loose rein and I hadn't given her a single cue except forward.

So I just circled her down, let her come to a walk and we toured the arena at a walk until she was as mellow and sloppy minded as me.

Leland is adjusting to his new pasture just fine. He was supposed to have his first ride last week-end but we've been having spring blizzards instead. It's OK, we'll get there.

The first clinic was a success. The volunteers are excited and everybody seemed to get something.

The next one is Saturday. I'm starting a mustang in the morning and then the volunteers will work their horses again. The mustang is just groundwork 101, but it's fun to be dinking with things a little.

That's all I got. Ask me some stuff and help me get back in the groove OK?

Oh yeah, the email is up again.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some Things Never Change

Xenophon's birth date is uncertain, but most scholars agree that he was born around 431 BC near the city of Athens. He is often cited as being the original "horse whisperer", having advocated sympathetic horsemanship in his "Xenophon On Horsemanship." He quotes some guy named Simon as being better then he was with horses, so his technique wasn’t new even then.
Since I’m neglecting you guys so terribly I thought the least I could do is share some of my research I’m doping at the paper.

These are quotes from “Xenophon On Horsemanship” which resonated with me.
I’m going to compare them to Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance’s books….kinda fun huh?
I conveniently ignored the part that said to put a cobblestone floor in your stall to toughen your horses feet and a few other horse keeping techniques which are real head scratchers.
Here’s some of the highlights…..proof positive saying none of us trainer types thought this stuff up. Not even Xenophon.

Xenophon says – “A good deal can be done by touching, stroking, patting those parts of the body which the creature likes to have so handled. These are the hairiest parts, or where, if there is anything annoying him, the horse can least of all apply relief himself.

“-if he knows how to let the animal connect hunger and thirst and the annoyance of flies with solitude, whilst associating food and drink and escape from sources of irritation with the presence of man. As the result of this treatment, necessarily the young horse will acquire--not fondness merely, but an absolute craving for human beings.

“The one best precept--the golden rule--in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily. Anger is so devoid of forethought that it will often drive a man to do things which in a calmer mood he willregret.

“This principle, though capable of being stated in a few words, is one which holds good throughout the whole of horsemanship. As, for instance, a horse will more readily take the bit, if each time he accepts it some good befalls him; or, again, he will leap ditches and spring up embankments and perform all the other feats incumbent on him, if he be led to associate obedience to the word of command with relaxation.

“To quote a dictum of Simon, what a horse does under compulsion he does blindly, and his performance is no more beautiful than would be that of a ballet-dancer taught by whip and goad. The performances of horse or man so treated would seem to be displays of clumsy gestures rather than of grace and beauty.

On the contrary, let the horse be taught to be ridden on a loose bridle, and to hold his head high and arch his neck, and you will practically be making him perform the very acts which he himself delights or rather exults in…

“For ourselves, however, far the best method of instruction, as we keep repeating, is to let the horse feel that whatever he does in obedience to the rider's wishes will be followed by some rest and relaxation.

“Whatever the kind of bit may be, the rider must carry out precisely the same rules in using it, as follows, if he wishes to turn out a horse with the qualities described. The horse's mouth is not to be pulled back too harshly so as to make him toss his head aside, nor yet so gently that he will not feel the pressure. But the instant he raises his neck in answer to the pull, give him the bit at once; and so throughout, as we never cease repeating, at every response to your wishes, whenever and wherever the animal performs his service well reward and humor him.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Turns out my yahoo account is all messed up. So I have no email until I get it straightened out. I'm on it, I promise.

You might have noticed I'm not writing much.

Just my usual 3,000 to 7,000 words a week I gaaaaack up at work every week.

My brain fried just a tad.

But I gave my clinic on Saturday. It went pretty well.

My favorite part was when we broke for lunch.

I had just given one of my favorite lectures.

"Your horse cares about four things. Eating, pooping, standing in the sun and running around with their friends...,"you guys know the one.

I was urging the over achievers to volunteer to work, groom, handle more than one horse. I explained that horses, especially the young ones, have the attention spans of a gnat.

Although they may like your company, they get to the point when they want to hang out in the pasture.

So, I suggested, they could work more than one horse, help the rescue and give their horses a chance to digest the lessons they were giving them.

I also recall at some point saying,"You know, once in a while a swift kick in the butt is all they need."

I think I was talking to them about Leland, the colt I've handled about 15 times....

Sooo....there was a guest speaker at lunch. An animal communicator. Who talks to the animals. Who said the only way to talk to your horse is to spend hours listening to them. You will never get to know your horse if you are not with them every day...

The horse will gladly leave his herd mates or allow you to join his herd if you commit to just one horse.


It's all good. I'm going to interview her for the paper.

My guess is if we sit and really visit we'll find out we have more in common than we think.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scared or Mad/Tally

Things seem to be going OK with Bill and Tally.

She was tense and fearful all of the time, but she tolerated him and was getting easier to handle every day.

Bill would come into the arena in the evening as I was gearing down for the day. Tally would go to her corner and bury her head as far as she could.

Bill had gotten her to accept a halter and a saddle pad. She would stand trembling as he slid the pad on and off of her.

On this night he carried a saddle in and slung it over the panels of the pen. Tally skittered up the wall in a half rear, but Bill was able to talk her down and pretty soon she was haltered and tolerating the pad.

Bill stood at her shoulder with the lead rope slung over his arm and gingerly placed the saddle on her back. Tally froze.

Nothing twitched, you could barely see her breathe. He reached under her belly and caught the cinch. He talked to her soft and slow.

His niece, Taylor, came quietly into the arena, crawled up on the fence and perched over the water tub.

Taylor was one of my favorites in the pack of kids that roved the barn. She was a dark and broody thing, but she could ride with the best of them, was intent during her lessons and was kind to my daughter. At 12-years-old she was starting to give her mother a run for the money, but mainly, she was a good kid.

Tally was saddled and cinched and I hadn't seen her move a muscle.

The sharp smell of nervous sweat filled my nose. The air crackled with tension. The sweet sing-song of Bill's crooning seemed as out of place as a hymn being sung at a gunfight.

I was quick to move my last two horses into the alley. I tied them off and stood with my arms folded on the top rail of the far pen. I wasn't sure what was going to happen but I didn't want to miss it.

I was so focused on Tally I didn't notice Taylor until she pushed her hair away from her face. The eternally thick coat of arena dust that covered every inch of the indoor had covered her hands as she sat on the rail. A dark smear of mud streaked her cheek.

I thought through why her hands were sweaty about the time I saw her uncle nod his head at her.

I started coming around the corner as she carefully slid into Tally's pen.

"Bill, what the hell....," I said as I tried to head them off.

Bill stood with a solid hold on the lead-rope and Taylor quick-stepped up to the stirrup. Bill grabbed her arm and swung her on Tally's back.

Tally crouched to the ground and came uncoiled before I got my hand on the gate. She threw herself in the air so high I thought she was going to flip, but she twisted and landed cat-like for a brief moment before she launched again.

Taylor was still on but she had never gotten both her stirrups. She threw a terrified look to her uncle and then centered herself in the middle of the saddle as best she could.

Even in my panic I had a brief moment of pride, she was staying calm and thinking in the middle of an out of control storm.

She didn't have a chance.

Tally threw herself straight at Bill. He reached for Taylor but he was crushed up against the wall before he could grab her.

Tally bucked again and her hind legs rose above the stock panels. She hooked her flanks and came crashing to the floor of the make-shift stall. The panels bent under her weight and came down with her. Tally lay in a heap. A horrible, honking wail came out of her with every breath.

Taylor went flying into the water trough and was smart enough to stay there.

I saw Tally's back cinch was twisted around one of the panel pins. The lead rope was flipped around one of the bent rails. Bill started toward Tally's head to get the lead rope.

Tally exploded upward and brought the panel with her. She blew into the arena with the panel tied to her head and saddle. Blood spurted from her chest and legs as the panel banged and tore at her body.

She was able to buck her way loose when the back cinch broke.

I breathed a sigh of relief. We were all in one piece and Tally seemed to have survived the ordeal.

But Tally wasn't done. She continued to buck so hard she slammed off the walls of the arena. Her wailing turned to a rhythmic grunt and was only interrupted when she hit something. The broken saddle began to slide and she bucked all the harder.

I pulled Taylor out of the water tank and the three of us retreated to the remaining pen. She let me wrap my arms around her and shivered into me. We stood in awed silence as the panicked horse bucked and threw herself at the walls and the ground trying to get rid of the saddle. The dust churned so high and thick we could barely make her out when she wasn't right in front of us.

Finally the saddle slid over her haunches and to the ground. Tally bucked around the arena until she collapsed.

She staggered to her feet and stood spraddle legged. She almost went down again as she turned to face us.Her head hung to the ground and her legs shook. Blood trickled from her nose and mingled with a thick rope of saliva hanging from her slack lower lip.

"Bill, you stupid son of a bitch," I said in a low voice, "what were you thinking?"

I took Taylor up to her grandparents house and told the boss what had happened. On my way home I kept thinking about Tally. If she wasn't crazy before she sure would be now, but I was stunned by her strength and power. She was amazing.

The next morning I came in late. I walked into the arena and saw Tally was gone. I stepped outside and looked in the pens.

I didn't see her anywhere. My stomach dropped.

I hunted up the boss.

"Where's Tally?" I asked.

"Bill loaded up his horses and went home," he told me, "he figured it was time. He took Tally too, I don't know why he likes her so much. That mare is going to hurt someone."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mouthy Mondays

Onetoomany wrote this story about her first dive into the horse ownership pool...

My road to horse ownership was not nearly has difficult as it seemed to me.

I did not have to struggle for years trying to earn the money to buy my own horse and then struggle for years afterward to pay for the up keep of said horse.

I was lucky. I had a dad who loved horses as well and who just wanted to see me happy. That is not to say that my road was not without it’s own share of potholes.

I was lifted up to the skies several times by the promise and lure of my dad saying that it was finally time to get me that horse I had been coveting since I was born and I would suddenly drop into the icy pool of reality as he backed out due to the reality of finances. It seems as though I went through that cycle more times than I can count but finally the time came and it seemed like the real deal.

I was sixteen and in between tenth and eleventh grade. We started to shop around for boarding stables before buying the horse. I wanted to find someone whose second opinion I could count on when I did find some horses to look at.

I finally found a little barn about an hour away from my house that offered cheap board, had an active group of riders and was located right off a trail system and as it would turn out a barn full of horses for sale.

It wasn’t nearly as fancy as the barn that I had taken lessons at for years, it didn’t even have an indoor (practically a must for icy Minnesota winters) but I didn’t know much going into the situation.

Sure, I had taken lessons at a fairly respectable barn for quite a few years and I had been enrolled in the horseless 4H program but how little they prepared me for actually taking the plunge.

I reveled in what I knew but didn’t realize how little that amount actually was. How unprepared I was to actually deal with sellers and my complete inability to spot the bad deals.

Sandy owned the barn and had a small time dealer/con artist that operated out of her facilities that had a number of horses up for sale.

My dad and I chatted with them for a while as I blindly spoke about my inexperience with actually purchasing a horse.

I was immediately given a list of things to do and not do. “Never get on the horse before the owner does, always watch the owner” was the combined advice that came from and Sandy and Marie (the dealer).

“Always get a pre-purchase done.” Was another piece of sage advice from these trustworthy horse people.

As we spoke I began to detail the type of horse I was looking for. I knew that I didn’t want to keep doing any of that slow and pretty pleasure work.

I knew I was destined for speed. Immediately the dealer got a look on her face and, looking back, a calculating look in her eye.

“Well. I have one horse that might work for you but I was thinking about keeping her for myself because I just got this feeling about her.” Her eyes were narrowed in thought and it seemed as though she was sizing me up.

Little did I know about the ride I was about to embark on and am still in fact embarking on. She continued “Her name is Philina and I just bought her about a month ago but due to a back injury (…sure) I haven’t been able to really get on and ride her. She’s an Arab/Pinto cross that could be in foal with a running bred quarter horse. The people I bought her from are big into WSCA and the kid even qualified on her (if only I had known at this point how small of an accomplishment that was, heck if only I had known what the freak WSCA stood for at this point)."

Of course she had been bred. I grew a little reluctant to even look at the horse. The one thing that I hadn’t wanted was a bred mare. I pocked my reservations and followed Marie anyway out to the paddock to catch this mystery horse.

My eye immediately zeroed in on a fancy little black/dark bay horse with a wide blaze running down her face. Her head came up from the stubble she had been grazing on and she stared at us with more intensity than I had ever seen a horse stare with.

There were about three or four other horses standing around her but I was praying that this was the mystery horse Philina. My heart seemed to expand in my rib cage as Marie put the halter on the mare and began to lead her up, and Philina pranced and danced the entire way up but I paid no mind

I tried to keep a poker face on as we led her back to the saddling area, even I knew not to completely disclose all my feelings on a potential horse.

Marie tossed the saddle on Philina while I stood at her head and cooed to her. She paid me no mind and pretty much looked the opposite direction. Occasionally she would turn an imperious and intelligent eye toward me but would quickly disregard me after that. But I paid no mind.

Marie finished saddling her and led her up to the fenced of portion of the pasture that served as the arena and Philina pranced all the way there. She handed over the reins and said something but I can’t recall as I believe the sound of my heart beating in my ears was drowning her out pretty well. As I put my foot into the stirrup a brief thought flashed across my mind about always letting the seller ride first but I quickly disregarded it and swung up onto Philina’s back.

Her walk was quick and full of motion and her head was just about in my lap but I paid no mind. We strolled/skittered around the perimeter of the arena and all the while I was trying to keep myself calm.

I finally understood what all those people had said about just clicking with a horse. She jigged and danced but I just deepened my seat and rode along with her. I felt hard wired into this horse; I had never felt anything like it in my life.

I put her through her paces and it felt like I was riding a rocket the entire time as I swooped about the arena. I pulled her up and rode her back over and quietly agreed to do a lease on her while I continued looking.

I knew that I would not be looking any further but decided to keep that particular card close to my chest. I was starting to get a feel for this Marie and something was just not feeling right to me in my gut.

That night I went home and told my mom all about this horse. This magical, dancing, prancing ballerina of a horse. I danced and leapt across the house as I explained her. I couldn’t say enough. I couldn’t dance enough over her.

Unfortunately for my family, other spectators and ultimately myself- I am not a good dancer and was told to just stick to words as I probably wouldn’t knock a lamp down by speaking alone. Whoops.

Over the next week I tried out two other horses but neither seemed right for me. Each was a complete let down after having ridden Philina. For two weeks, even while leasing her, her name was the only thing running through my head.

I was completely paranoid that someone else would come and snatch her up while I was stuck doing this piddly lease. I was near obsessed. All I could think about was this horse, all I could dream about was this horse. Every time I rode Philina I felt as though I were flying, even at a walk.

I knew I had to own this horse but felt a little hesitant about the pricing. I had begun to learn and open my eyes about the this supposed friendly dealer. I thought I had figured out Marie’s deal pretty well over two weeks through talking to Sandy and Sandy’s daughter.

As it would turn out, things were not well between dealer and barn owner. In fact Sandy was more than ready to tell me about Philina. Philina who had originally been purchased for $600 (and this was when the market was just beginning to sink). Philina, who hadn’t had a dime put into her care while she was owned by Marie. Philina, who according to Sandy, probably wouldn’t do too well at anything. I disagreed.

I thought we would take the world by storm. She would be my barrel/dressage/HUS/WP/driving horse. I was a little deluded as it would turn out but I had high hopes.

I was given pretty much free rein from my dad in the area of buying a horse so long as I stayed in price range. When I told him my decision he helped me to come in and haggle price.

Marie started the price out at $1500 but we talked her down an entire $100.

I was pretty proud of my haggling skills at the time. Currently I wish I could reach back and smack myself. The deal was sealed at $1400. $1400!? What a steal for a mare and a baby (my reservations about baby had vanished)!

Pre-purchase exam? Naw, who needs it! Another point on which I could reach back in time and smack myself.

I tried to keep myself steady and kept myelf from committing to the deal fully until the money was in the seller’s hand and the horse in mine. The morning that we went to the bank to withdraw the $1400, I pranced in circles around my dad. I couldn’t contain myself. My heart, stomach and probably liver and kidneys were pushed up in my throat and my entire body was taut with excitement.

The entire ride out to the barn I kept saying in my head “I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a perfect, wonderful horse all of my own.” Occasionally (frequently) it would slip out of my mouth and after about an hour of hearing this chant my dad was ready throw me out the car. At this threat I stopped because I was getting a horse!

We arrived at the barn and now in addition to my heart, stomach, kidneys and liver being jammed into my throat, I believe my lungs and intestines decided to join them. I believe they had a regular party in there as I was having problems breathing and speaking coherently.

My dad and I signed off on the papers, and received Philina’s registration information. As I slipped on her halter I felt a feeling that I don’t think I will ever fully feel again. It is the completely unique and special feeling of buying that first horse. That first perfect horse that can never be replaced and will always hold a special spot in our hearts.

I still get a spark of that feeling every time I slip that halter onto my horse’s head. I still grin like an idiot as I ride her even if we are doing nothing more than a walk around the arena. We’ve had quite the bumpy road over the past five years but I would trade a second of my time with her for a second anywhere else.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scared or Mad/CupCake

I slid back the heavy barn door and the horses bobbed their heads up and down over the tops of their stalls.

They welcomed the bright sunlight pouring across the dirt floor and up the walls as much as the thought of their breakfast.

I loaded up my arms with hay and headed down the aisle throwing flakes of heavy alfalfa into their tubs as I went.The dogs crisscrossed from the feed room to the hay stack, hoping to scare up a mouse or a ground squirrel.

“Yip!” Charlie the mighty rat terrier cried. “Yip!”

He buried his head between two bales and began to dig.

“Get out of there,” I hollered at him, “your tearing up the hay!”

He backed out and wrinkled his lips in an embarrassed grin. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be digging in the hay stack. I grinned back at him, knowing he would be right back at it as soon as I left the barn.

I came down to Cupcakes stall. He looked just like he had when I left him the night before. He stood pressed against the back wall with his head lost in the shadows.

I lofted his hay over the door the same moment he came striking at me like a snake. The hay hit him square in the head and exploded into the air. His teeth clicked just a hair from the sleeve of my jacket. Just as quick he pulled back into the shadows.

I jumped out of range, shaken and stared at him glaring at me. Cupcake ground his teeth.

I went over to my yellow mare’s stall and slipped inside. I gave her a quick scratch on the inside of her hind leg and sat on the floor. She turned and snuzzled my hair, lipping at the alfalfa leaves that covered my head and the front of my coat. I relaxed into the warm stall,the friendly horse and the rhythmic sounds of her chewing hay. My heart slowed and my hands steadied.

I called my boss.“Is she going to geld the colt?” I asked.

“Where are you at?”Rainie replied.

“Hiding out in Madonna’s stall,” I said and told her how my morning had started.

“We can kick him back to her,” Rainie said, “she said she’d run him through the sale if we couldn’t get a handle on him.”

“Well now that just pisses me off,” I said, “there is no way this is his fault. Do we have any history on him?”

“She ducks most of my questions,” she answered, “but she put him in the barn when she weaned him. I’m not 100% sure, but I think he’s lived there since. Nobody has handled him since he was a yearling.”

I felt my energy for the day ebb out into the straw on the floor.

“But she’ll geld him?” I asked again.

“Yes, she will, but I don’t know why you’re worried about it,” Rainie said, “he won’t figure out he’s gelded until well after he goes home.”

“I’m doing it for him,” I replied, “ he doesn’t have a prayer of making it as a stud.”

“Don’t work him until I get home,” she warned, “I don’t want to be cleaning up Janet parts.”

“Fine with me.”

I dug my dressage whip out of my tack box and threw Cupcake another flake of hay. This time most of it managed to get it into his tub. I saw he had put away almost 20 gallons of water since the day before. It made me wonder how long it had been since he had been watered before I picked him up.Whip in hand, I leaned against the door and watched him. He stood bobbing his head, his ears pinned and his nostrils flared back.

“Go ahead, look as mean as you want,” I told him, “I’m ready for you.”

Five minutes later he walked over to his hay and took a tentative bite. I leaned the whip against the door and stepped to the next stall.

“Hello there you,” I sweet-talked Cupcake's neighbor for a minute. The willing little colt flicked a friendly ear at me as he ate.

It was a good thing my other rides were going pretty well, the little red colt interrupted my thoughts all day. Except for Cupcake I had an easy string. My youngsters were all broke enough to not throw out surprises anymore and my show horses were about where they needed to be.

My lesson hauled in and we passed a pleasant few hours.

"Hey,do you mind hanging around for a little?" I asked my student.

"Sure, what have you got?"

Lyn was a good enough hand not to start screaming if things went south and she could dial 911 with the best of them, so I took advantage.

Once I got Lyn safely situated on a hay bale I gathered up a sturdy rope halter with a tie on lead and my dressage whip.

I walked to the stall like everything was cool and put my hand on the door lack.

Cupcake came flying at my hand and I let rip with the dressage whip. I caught him hard enough to stop the attack and he whirled back into his corner.

I opened the stall door and he flew at me again. I let him have it across the head again. He whirled away a threw a quick kick. The brunt of it hit the door and I caught him another lick with the whip on his leg.

"Are you all right in there?" Lyn called.

"We're doing just fine," I said in as normal a voice as possible.

We eyed each other across the stall.

I stood in the doorway and kept the whip in plain sight.

As we both began to relax I carefully set the whip down in the corner, coiled up my halter and rope and held it secure in my hand. If I had to make a run for it I sure didn't want to trip over my rope.

I took a few steps forward and stopped when he raised his head. I tried to keep my breathing deep and relaxed. I stayed ready to bolt, but I sure didn't want Cupcake to know it. We squared off a few minutes and then he relaxed again.

I leaned towards his hip and kept a little pressure on until he moved a step. Then I relaxed. I leaned to his head and when he looked away I leaned a little harder. He flicked an ear and I relaxed.

Inch by inch I worked my way to him. Every time he pinned his ears I stopped, but I didn't back off.

I finally was standing beside him. His ears were back, but not flattened He vibrated with an anger that seemed more fearful and desperate than dangerous.

I gave him one firm and gentle stroke down his neck and backed up a step before he jumped. I didn't look at him.

When his head dropped a little I stepped up and stroked him again.

I stepped forward, pet, then stepped back maybe five or six times before he quit looking like he wasn't going to run me over to get past me.

Finally I stepped up and haltered him. I kept it businesslike and to the point. His head shot up and he froze, but he didn't fight me. I resisted the urge to look him in the eye.

I tied my knot, took a deep breath and turned and walked out of the stall.

I latched the door and finally looked at him. He stood in his corner with a thoughtful expression. He licked once or twice, pinned his ears and glared at me, then went back to his thoughts.

"Phew," I blew out all my air and let my shaky legs plunk me down on the ground.

"How did it go?" Lyn asked.

Better than I thought," I said.

"Are we done?"

"You might as well head out, Rainie should be here any time," I told her.

"What do you still have to do?"

"I've still got to take the damn halter off him!"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

There is Never Enough Time

I have got the next installment so close I can taste it. My fingers are itchy and my mind is racing. I also have had more interruptions than I can cope with and I won't be able to post tonight. Arrrgh.

I will keep writing, I hope to keep hearing from you.

In the meantime....

I am thinking more and more about the sensitize/desensitize issue.

I am thinking about it so much because I'm giving a clinic to some serious beginners next week. I haven't done this for a long time. I want to clearly explain why and how we choose what we train our horses for.

I wish I had been working on this train of thought when I was training horses and clients. I could have made so much more of a difference.

This is where my biggest argument comes up with Natural Horsemanship. As it is trained by so many, I concede, not all.
You can't use the same routine for every horse. You have to take in consideration so many aspects of the horse. Is the horse nervy? Or cold? Have you had enough experience to know the difference between a hot horse and a spooky horse? A laid back horse compared to dull?

I recently watched a video of a colt being started. The rider was laying here, laying there, leaning and pulling the saddle this way and that while being led around the arena by another person.

This is a perfect example of what I consider Annoymanship.

The colt (a very patient, good boy BTW) was walking along with this completely confused look to him. He was lugging on the lead rope, walking very slowly with his head up and his tail clamped.

They walked and walked and walked.

To me, this is what was happening to the colt.

A lot was going on too. He was being ridden. He was getting hung on, rubbed on and the saddle yanked. He was being led and was hanging on the lead rope.

He was never getting a release from what was being done to him. He was never getting a reward. He was simply confused.

If I was riding this horse, he would have know to turn left when the halter rope guided him left and right when it guided left. He would been acclimated to the saddle. He would be used to me standing up in the stirrup.

The day I rode him I would get on. As soon as he was moving freely, now this could be W,T or C, depends on the horse and my nerves, but he would be moving freely,I would guide him left, guide him right, wait until he stopped, say whoa and get down. That's it.

So you can see where this bothers me. Because the colt in the video seemed duller than dirt. And mildly pissed. Which is not what I want in a horse. Dull and Pissed.


This colt was learning not to spook. He was learning to accept weird weight changes and shifts in the saddle. He was definitely wasn't worried about the rider and he sure wasn't afraid.

He had clearly been thoroughly prepared for the first ride.

This is a good thing.

So how do we keep the lightness and forward that I want and still create the acceptance I saw from the colt?

Do we keep a list?

And that folks, is how I'll open my clinic. Asking each rider what they want from their horse.

Whoop whoop. Thinking while writing is such a grand thing.

So what about all this?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mouthy Mondays

This is a great story from D. Cooper. She has such clear memories from when she was a little girl! Mine are all fogged from spending my childhood in my head playing with my imaginary horses.....

Winter Memories

Lots of memories, come flooding back from the ranch this time of year.

Colder than cold- we fed 400 mother cows with a team of Belgian of mares.

I can remember just dreading, having to bundle up and head out to feed - but wouldn’t think of letting dad know. He had a way of hustling you up and out, to chore or work. There wasn't time to whine, nor did you consider the option.

The temperature would be 20 -30 below zero and everything was just brittle. No matter how much I bundled, my feet and hands would still burn with cold. I recall our old team of mare’s and how you could see their breath from their big nostrils as they waited patiently to be harnessed with the old stiff harness.

Usually a barn cat or two sat at the top step to the hay loft surveying the morning routine. I always enjoyed the clattering sound the frozen harness would make as it was lifted from each of their hooks to the backs of the mares. Can’t tell you why!

Once each was harnessed, they were left to stand while the old feed sled was prepared to haul it’s morning load. I will never forget the sound of my father prying each sled runner from the frozen ground and how each one let off a loud, thudding “pop” when it broke loose from its icy hold.

The sled runners had to be busted free from the frozen snowpack so the team didn't tear the sled from the runners when they started forward. Dad would then lead the two old girls out of the barn and join them up with the lines outside the large barn door.

Each mare weighed nearly a ton and as they each stepped over the threshold of the barn, they were both majestic in their presence. “Flash” and “Strawberry” knew instantly their job had begun and were all business.

Dad would take the lines and drive the team over the long iron toungue and begin to hook them to the sled. Each tug was hooked on top of the harness on the top of the hip on the right and left sides of each horse.

Since many teams were “voice trained” we didn’t make a peep as Dad unhooked each tug from the harness and connected them to the single tree, behind each horse, just above their ankles.

The sound of the metal hooks made their distinctive clatter in the frigid air. After we stepped up on the sled, the signal to begin, a low toned, stern, “gid-up” would start the feeding rounds for the day.

Loved it – every morning was like a rush to hear the rhythmic sound of the giant hooves pressing down into the frozen snow. Squeaking and crunching as we moved along. We didn’t have bells on the harness but the different metal connections and frozen leather on the harness would chime in on the rhythm of the hooves.

I got to have my very own winter wonderland every morning, no matter how cold or tired. The leather lines were like sticks- no bend what so ever in them and your hands would be throbbing, burning, cold- from not moving while you held the lines in the frigid winter air. Your toes usually didn’t miss chiming in on the affects from the cold either!

As the old mares “Strawberry and Flash” worked, the steam would rise from their backs and you could smell the horse sweat as they got hot from pulling loads of hay across the frozen feed ground.

I remember the wonderful smell of the bright green hay mixed with the frigid winter air. Dad always took such great pride in the quality of hay that we put up every summer. Each bale had to weigh 80 – 85 pounds no more, no less.

That would be so it stacked solid in the hay stack, on the sled and onto tractor trailers when we had extra to sell. The hay inside the bales, bright green from being put up just right in summer.

Pops told me horses could count, I didn’t debate and just went along with it until he proved his point. He told me, “They’ll give me exactly five steps after opening a gate, back to the sled. As he made for distinct steps and then paused, Flash and Strawberry began to step and shift in anticipation, but never moved forward until the last step. He proved it several times and we always shared a grin as a result.

The mother cows were always anxious and ready for their daily meal and would gather around the sled, softly mooing until you were ready to flake the hay off as you moved croward across the bumpy, frozen feed ground.

As kids we enjoyed hooking the plastic smooth bottom sleds to the back of the feed sled while the hay was fed off to the cows. We’d take shifts helping Dad and loved every minute of our unbelievebly bumpy ride. Wasn’t fast, just fun. The poor sleds were usually shredded by the time the winter feed season was half through..that would be valentines day!

I recall some dread of stepping out in the shocking cold, yet after I was out and about in it, I seem to forget the frigid temps. My experience was enjoyed and I took a lot of pride in getting to be a part of the few ranchers who still fed with a team.

The fingers and toes? Once you got back to the house.....well, warm water always did the trick !