Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Questions and Answers

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

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

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

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

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

The sessions lasted from 20 to 40 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From then on I release there every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Get your seat bones square.

Now slouch and get comfortable, just keep your alignment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do all of these at a walk and trot.

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

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

Now take both feet out of the stirrups.

Get comfortable with no stirrups at a walk and trot.

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

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

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

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

Find your rhythm.

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

Now go do these bareback.



  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE the balancing exercises you mentioned! Thank you :) I can't wait to try them as soon as I squish the kid out!

  2. I wanted to comment yesterday, on the video. You were too writing. You were living first. The writing may come later, rooted in your living. But confined in a room with a computer on death sentence lock down, commanding yourself to "WRITE" sounds horrid. Go easy on yourself, if not at the newspaper (I know, reality and all) then here. Loved the video.

    like a death sentence "WRITE"

  3. I love the "safe spot" idea. Will have to give it a shot on my two green ponies I'm training for my little girls...both have "past lives" of abuse.

    I have a question (I know you're probably drowning in them). Do you care about a horse's past? I mean, do you want/need/care to know if they were abused or spoiled all there lives? Does it make a difference in how you work with them? Or do you handle them all the same and just start from square one with each horse, expecting that they'll all come around to the same point eventually? (sorry - I guess that's more than one question)

  4. Half Dozen- Past lives certainly affect them, but I don't try to analyze what happened.
    My training style is very, very simple.
    It's the same for each horse, no matter what.
    But, my patience is endless with frightened horses and not so much with spoiles ones.
    When it's a mix of the two it's the toughest.

  5. thanks for the "safe spot" explanation. Very much appreciated. You've referred to it before, but not gone into the specifics--that I know of. Thank you, thank you!

  6. I have lessons with a none-more-classical dressage instructor ( unlike many people you see here he doesn't talk about it like it's an advertising slogan, he's just way deep in that tradition ) and the balancing exercises you advocate are much similar to what we do in lunge lessons to develop a steady seat.

  7. Balancing: I have a mantra I tell anyone who rides my horse - and yes, my mare is *wonderful* with beginners - they don't ask much of her- bareback or with saddle....

    Grab the Mane, Not The Reins!

    I like it because it lowers the hands and helps lower them down onto the saddle/back. Me too, when she's all spooky!