Thursday, February 24, 2011

Talking To Fugly

Because of my absolute idiotic inability to wade through the world of the Internet I lost my password to comment on Fugly. Again.

She had a great post today, I wanted to comment but I couldn't get logged in. Again.

Trust me folks. This is an ongoing issue with me and why many of my favorite blogs hear from me so rarely.

So my comment is over here in Mugwump land.

Cathy brings up a great point. When are we going overboard trying to save a horse who in need? How do we decide which horse gets our very limited time and resources?

With rescues stuffed to the brim with unwanted horses, where do they draw the line?

We have two primary rescues in our county.

One is very careful with their money. The rescue is very much run as a business.They keep a tight control over how many and what horses they rescue. They will put down horses which have no chance to be adopted. If the horse is ancient and weak, mentally unstable, deformed or crippled, or dangerous they will put it down and make room for a horse who has a chance of being safely adopted. This rescue has paid employees, one highly qualified trainer and a few talented riders to help start horses. It has a staff of well trained volunteers at all levels. They rehabilitate a steady flow of horses and get them out into the community with qualified adopters. If a horse doesn't work out this rescue will help place them elsewhere.

The second rescue is well run by a big hearted woman. She has a terrible time turning away any horse, for any reason. She is the only truly experienced horse person on the place and is stretched very thin. She has a lot of horses. There is a herd of old horses out there. Very old. They are a group of sweet castoffs. Most have spent their lives in service and then were dumped. There are close to 30 of them, probably 15 or so that can't graze or eat hay, so they need mash .They all have expensive medical needs and time.

There are horses needing to be broke, there are horses needing to be handled. There is a shortage of tack and usable volunteers.But she tries to save every horse and usually succeeds. They all have her heart.
If an adopted horse doesn't work out they are always welcomed back.

Two different approaches. Two different types of success.

I am very worried about one of them.

My other comment is about when we need to be realistic about what our horses need. I had a very beloved mare named Annie for 20 some years.I've written about her more than once. She had a comfortable retirement for about four or five years after many years of being first my horse, then my daughters, then as a lesson horse. She never let me down.

She began to lose weight. I supplemented her feed, it helped her, but didn't fix her. She lost her sight. Another one of my horses, Loki, would lead her to water and ate with her, keeping the other mares from taking her feed. She kept going down hill. I kept putting off the decision I knew was coming.

I had my vet check her for the third time that year.

He looked me in the eye and said, "It's summer. She's struggling. Last winter was hard for her. You can love on her and feed her up and let her enjoy the sun on her back for the summer. But I know you don't want to be calling me out here this winter because she collapsed in the night and is frozen to the ground."

So I fed her mash and took her out to graze in the good grass. At the end of August I went out with my daughter on a cool afternoon. we pet her and told stories about her. Annie put her head against my chest in the greeting she had given me for most of my adult life. I scratched her ears and began to waver.

"Mom," the kidlette said, "it's time. She's barely here."

Three days later we put her down. She was somewhere in her thirties.

If I hadn't had my vet and my daughter to help me keep my perspective I might have kept Annie going. For me.

That's all I've got.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I try not too get to soap boxy here at the chronicles. But this recently ran in the paper. I will never, ever, go to a horse sale again.

An Afternoon at The Sale

By Janet Huntington

Anybody who owns horses knows what a mess the horse market is in. It’s almost impossible to sell one, even giving them away can be tough.

The current economy is not completely to blame, but it was the last straw for the crumbling horse industry.

The term "Unwanted Horse" was first coined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) at a horse industry meeting in Washington D.C. in 2005. Unwanted horses are defined as "those no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old; injured; sick; unmanageable; fail to meet their owner's expectations; or the owner can no longer afford to keep them".
The fact which jumps off the page and hits me over the head is there are simply too many horses and not enough people who want them.

The closing of American slaughterhouses to horses, backyard breeders and over production of horses by the large ranches have all been blamed for the current equine market. The arguments become so political I have tuned them all out and tried to go on with my life.

Unfortunately my life has been directly affected by the mess the horse world is in and continues to be so.

As a horse trainer I saw the extra funds horse owners used to keep me employed going to buy hay. I saw prices for a horse drop and way too many skinny horses standing in over grazed fields.

It’s a bit of a blow to your ego to realize the career you have carefully constructed over years of back breaking work is the first expense cut when budgets start being trimmed.

Now as a horse owner in the private sector I’m seeing high quality horses with absolutely no market value being given away or taken to the auctions.

I spent last Saturday afternoon at the Calhan horse sale. My thinking was I should see first hand what’s going on out there. It was pretty upsetting.

Most of the stock was healthy and in good weight.

I watched a very nicely broke, flashy dun 4-year-old gelding go for $190. A ’97 registered bay mare who had been the family gymkhana horse and thrown four healthy babies was being sold because “the kids had out grown her.” She brought $220.

A white mare came in. She was eight-years-old, had good straight legs and a sharp handle on her. She was only about 14 hh and she wasn’t very pretty. But she was calm and solid. She sold for $50.

Then a big, flashy, breeding stock black gelding with lots of chrome sold for $230. He was dead lame, but it didn’t matter.

All of these horses were picked up by the kill buyer (KB), the man who is in the business of trucking horses out of the country for slaughter.

Some of the horses were bought up, either for private use or resale, but there were some really nice horses leaving the ring for very little money.

A 24-year-old paint gelding was ridden in by a young teen. He had been a reserve grand champion in 4H the year before but now he was in the auction ring. His owner no-saled him at $150. She later sold him for $225to a man who promised he wouldn’t go to kill. He was a lucky boy.

I have no bone to pick with the KB’s who operate in this area. They’re simply cleaning up somebody else’s mess. They buy the castoffs, the horses labeled unwanted, and sell them for a profit. Kind of like a turkey vulture, not too pretty to look at, but necessary to the environment.

The green-broke horses went for $150 and less. The loose horses sold for between $50 to $100.

There were two foals, so scraggly and stunted they looked to only be three to four months old, they sold for $25.

The one which broke my heart was the ’85 AQHA gelding who went straight to the KB for $150. The description the auctioneer read to the audience said he was well broke and had been with the same family for years. Now he was here.

I saw a mare bred by the Quarter Horse ranch I used to ride for. I didn't know the mare, but I recognized the look and when her bloodlines were read it turned out I was right. She was very sharp and broke. She lucked out and was picked up by a private buyer for $495.00

I can’t help but think the way to crawl out of this current mess is for each current or potential horse owner to take responsibility for each horse they own.

Understand these are animals who can easily live into their 30’s. Decide how you are going to do with your horse as they age or if they are injured and made unrideable.

I don't think for a minute horse owners shouldn't have the option to sell their horse. I’m not even saying there isn’t a time when a horse might have to go to a sale. Let’s just start being honest with ourselves about what’s going to happen to our horse once he’s there.

The mare who raised my daughter and worked as a school horse for me for the 20 plus years I owned her came from an auction. She turned up lame off-and-on, which gave me the opportunity to get my hands on her. Annie was never 100% sound, but she was good enough and ended up being a wonderful horse.

With a little research I found she was a T-cross bred mare, had been shown in halter at the stock show as a yearling and was the horse of a top Colorado reining trainer when he was a teen.

When she was too old and sore to be a lesson horse she enjoyed a few years of well cared for retirement. When it was time I had her put down.

For me, this was the right way to respect a horse who had been my friend for so many years. Our relationship was one of the longest and probably the most solid of my life.

I am not my fellow horseman’s judge. I can’t wade through the right and wrong of each person’s decision when it comes to their animals. I do strongly believe each animal we own deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

I can’t believe selling a horse destined for a long, painful, terrifying journey on a slaughter truck and then killed in a unregulated slaughterhouse is right.

I won’t even denounce taking a horse to a sale. I don’t know what other peoples circumstances are. Things happen.

But take responsibility. Admit there is a high chance your horse will be on the KB truck. Do what you can to prevent it.

Finding a new home for a horse you no longer want can be tough. But it can be done. Be realistic about the current value of your horse. Be willing to take a reduced price to place him appropriately.

The horses at the sale who sold to the private owners had a few consistencies.

They were well trained and mannerly. They were ridden in the arena. They were clean, well-fed and good looking. They were gentle. What saved the 24-year-old paint was his wonderful, kind manner. His wise eyes showed he could babysit the grandkids anytime.

They were broke, broke, broke. If there were papers, they came with the sale. There was a written history by the owners about the horse. With only a few exceptions they were under 15-years-old.

Where I stand now is I will protect the horses I have as best I can. I absolutely will not breed any of my horses. I will geld any stud colts which come my way. If my horse is permanently injured or too old to keep I will put her down.

The cost of euthanizing your horse is not prohibitive, especially when you can get assistance from the Front Range Equine Rescue ( ) "End of the Trail" program. They’ll pay up to 50% of your expenses. They also help with gelding costs too, so there are no excuses for unplanned, unwanted babies hitting the ground. Check out "Stop the Backyard Breeder" on their website.

I’m going to make sure my horses are healthy, broke, and understand their life as a service animal. Each one will be a pleasure to be around and a light and responsive ride. If I don’t know how to make these things happen I’m going to get some help.

Having a plan and accepting responsibility for the lives of the horses we value is the only way I can see of ending this mess.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Here's a nice story about finding The Horse, even if it never should have happened.

I have a favor to ask. When you guys send me a story, don't just send me a web page. It's a pain to scan and get it up on the chronicles.....

Anyway, this comes from Rachael at


It has been almost a year since her death. I am still quite shaken by it, she was taken way too soon from me.

I met Dogde (AKA Dukes Angel) sometime in March of last year. When I saw her I though that I could NEVER take her on; she was skinny, overgrown hooves, and needed a stud chain to even walk 2 ft. The first time I saw her lunged, my eyes just about bugged right out of my head. This horse had zero manners unless that chain was snapped.

I had been taking lessons for over a year and at the time, was VERY unprepared for what horse ownership would bring to me. Though, I don't think that mattered because Dodge trampled over my whole life. All I had ridden up to that time was QH's in my lessons since I was at the moment fantasizing about Western style riding. I was fairly certain all I wanted was a QH. From nowhere here comes this large black Tennessee Walker that took me over in no way a person could, not even my husband.

When I first took her on she needed a bath because she had HORRID rain rot from standing in a stall and being just very un-kept for a year. She LOVED her bath, I still remember her quiet eyes just watching me while I bathed. After that day with the bath she quickly calmed down and just waited for me to do anything with her. I then fell in love with her, nothing was going to keep us apart.

I went out the next week and bought a lunge whip, a lead rope with a chain, treats, and called a farrier. I was terrified she had founder, since she had been standing in grossness and her hooves were HORRID. When farrier came out and trimmed saying that she was fine I was beyond relieved. I had clearance to do whatever I wanted with her. I got her on a better feed and she started putting weight on quite fast. We dove right into training, well half-assed training since I really didn't have a clue what I was doing.

Despite being a total newb, I was out at her place every other day mucking her stall, put down fresh shavings, cleaned out her water trough, made sure she had plenty of food, and did all the care for her. She and I became attached to each other quite quickly and I think we both taught each other a lot.

The first time I rode her was the shakiest thing ever as I was completely terrified. She was bareback, I had just put on her bridle, and I expected her to *at least* not throw me off. We went nowhere, but she tolerated me. We did that quite a few times before I moved her to a boarding facility and learned what blood, sweat, and tears really meant.

I got bucked, ran into a wall, bit, totally worn down, broken toe, and a almost smashed in face, but I would do it all again. We worked through so many issues together and the only one I feel bad about was her woah, I gave too many mixed signals and that was the one we never got put together.

I remember our last ride together, her ears pointed forward; doing exactly everything I asked her to. This was the ride I had been working 3 months for. The ride I had always wanted with her, all the way down to opening and closing the gate with me on her back. I still tear up thinking about the last time I was with her, because it was everything I had ever dreamed about as a kid.

The call from my barn owner was one of tears one rainy Sunday morning letting me know that Dodge had passed on in the middle of the night. The autopsy revealed that she had gotten intestinal colic and it ruptured. I spent many nights after she passed questioning what did it and how it happened. I had her pasture boarded since she had been kept in a stall over a year and I just wanted her to be a horse. I had fed her one cup of grain before turning her out after our last ride together, but that was almost 30 minutes after the ride was over and she was cooled out. The vet said it best to me, that sometimes there aren't reasons for losing the ones we love.

If I wasn't going to school these next 2 years I would already have another horse. What she taught me in our time together was beyond what I got in lessons. I gave her everything and she gave it right back to me. I love you Dodge. May you forever rest in peace and know that because of you, I will always own a Tennessee Walker.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A warm breeze came through the open side door of the arena. The air smelled fresh and clean,even though a hint of dampness warned of a building spring storm.

It didn't matter, for the moment it felt like summer was on the way.

Tally stood next to me, her little fox ears perked and her eyes bright. I scratched her neck under her long heavy mane and rubbed around the deep divots of missing muscle. She stretched her nose out and waggled her lip with a friendly grooming motion.

"I wonder how she got those," my assistant Kathy said as she led two fresh rides to the tie wall.

"We'll never know," I answered, "this isn't the kind of injury someone admits to putting on a horse. It looks like a bad day with a rope to me."

"It probably is why she's such a freak," Kathy added.

"Whatever Tally did to get herself torn up like that must have worked for her," I mused.


"Because she's always so sure a bolt will be a solution. Now we've got to quit talking about this stuff."


"Because I'm going to get up on her today."


"Oh, is he here? If you can get him to hang out until I get my first ride in I'd appreciate it."

I saddled Tally in the middle of the arena. She stood patiently, watching me with a friendly eye as I slung my colt saddle up and cinched her tight enough to stop it from slipping.

I swung the stirrups and banged them around on both sides. She raised her head and her chin tensed, more when I went to her right side, but her feet stayed quiet. When I flipped the lead rope to her off side and around her butt she followed it around in a quiet turn. When I did it again the other way her head dropped and she relaxed her mouth a little. Not as much as I would like on most horses, but pretty good for Tally.

The ball of my foot slid into the stirrup and I eased some weight into it. She turned her head and sniffed my elbow.

I grabbed a handful of mane with one hand and the saddle horn with the other and bounced around a little. Her head raised up, and she gave me a crusty look.

"She's got shark eye," Kathy said from her perch on the fence.

"I'd rather see a pissy mare than a scared one," I told her as I walked to the off side and repeated my bouncing up and down.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Kathy asked me.

"No, I'm ready to wet my pants, but it's time."

I went back to the left side and scratched her neck some. I tightened the cinch again. Tally stayed tense. This was where we usually ended the day, not where we tightened the cinch again. She always got worried when we learned something new.

I stood straight up in the stirrup several times, letting the majority of my weight balance over her shoulders. Tally stood frozen, her eyes becoming rimmed with white.

"Kath, be quiet," I grumbled as I reached over to pet Tally between her ears, "you're making me nervous."

"I didn't say anything," she protested.

I stepped down and switched sides. This time, once I was balanced over the mare's back, I took off my cap and waved it over her head.

"I can feel your freak out," I muttered.

I went back to the left side and pulled on the horn a bit. I checked the cinch again. I checked to make sure my breathing was even and deep. I gathered the lead rope and a handful of mane. In one motion I stepped into the stirrup and swung my leg over Tally's back.

She bolted.

There is always a split second when I get on a horse when I'm totally vulnerable. It's when the momentum of my leg is carrying me to sit astride the horse. It's the briefest of moments, but the only part of me in contact with the horse is the ball of my foot and my hands on the mane and horn.

Tally took off right there. She shot out from under me so fast I was still in the air when I realised I had no horse under me. I hit the arena floor with a thud and sat up in time to see her thick, beautiful tail disappearing out the arena door. I laid back in the sawdust and contemplated the clouds of choking dust swirling over my head. Tally's hoof beats faded away.

"Are you OK?" Kathy came scrambling over.

"Yeah, just a little pissed."

Kathy ran out the door and took off after Tally. I was still laying on my back, thinking about how sore I was going to be, when she made a breathless return a few minutes later.

"She's gone," she wheezed.

"She head East?" I asked.

"Yeah," she answered. "Should I get the car?"

"No, she'll come back. There's nowhere to go but Green Mountain Falls. She'll come back to the barn."

The boss came in, strolling his smarty pants stroll, a small smile playing across his face.

"Somebody forget to cheek their mare?" He asked and extended a hand to pull me up.

"Yeah, I guess somebody did." I replied. The fact that I didn't cheek my colts on their first ride had long irritated him. I figured he had earned the right to give me some flak today.

Tally wandered back to the field outside the stable about half an hour later. Her winter coat was flattened in salty, sweat-soaked waves. Foam dripped from under the saddle and across her flanks. I walked out to the field and stood between her and the barn. She spun and trotted a few steps to the East, spun and trotted back towards me.

I stood and waited while she sorted things out. Finally she dropped her head and walked over to me. After catching up the lead rope, I checked out my saddle. Other than a few scratches everything looked fine.

We walked into the arena and I carefully closed the door.

"What are you going to do?" Kathy asked.

"Ride her."

"Really? Do you think you should?"

I leaned my arm across the saddle and glared at her until she got back up on the fence. The boss picked up his usual chair and put it in the aisle on the other side of the gate.

Once more I thumped the stirrups and pulled on the saddle. Then I cheeked her hard, stepped into the stirrup and swung my leg over. Tally jumped forward, but spun around when I yanked hard on the halter. Her butt swung out and I slammed my foot into the off stirrup.

Settling myself deep in the saddle I let her face go and got ready to rumble. She sighed and relaxed. I lifted the lead rope and guided her nose to the left. After a brief hesitation she followed the lead and walked off. We circled the arena. Her walk was muscular and quick. My weight didn't hinder her at all.

I took a breath and flipped the lead over her head. We circled right. She skittered a few steps when she saw my hand guiding the lead rope, but settled into her walk and calmly walked around the arena again.

I exhaled and grew heavy in the saddle. Tally hesitated. I relaxed. She stopped. I pulled her head to me and cheeked her again. I dismounted, and immediately stripped the saddle.

"Well how about that?" I said as I looped her lead rope through a ring bolted to the tie wall.

"How about that." Kathy agreed.

I turned to the alley, but the boss had apparently left the building.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Very Special Horse

Now here's a story from someone who is in looooove with her horse. Perfect for Valentines Day if you as k me.

Very special horse -

I bought my dream horse back in 2009, she was a beautiful 2001 AQHA Dun mare. I have always loved the duns but always chose quality of color. She was going to be my very first registered horse to I was so excited.

I had rode her a year before I bought her and knew she was started but wasn't broke. She was very hard to catch and was very shy but soon are bond grew stronger and stronger.

The lady that had her offered her to me in foal for a whopping 2500 on payments. I brought her home and we began bonding like no tomorrow. I ended up boarding her a self care place and it was the greatest thing that ever happened.

She learned to trust me, she learned to accept new things and she became easier and easier to be caught. I met a trainer down there and he began working with us. By this time I had trained my mare to so far that I was letting a beginner student of his ride her. We were in training from Jan. to April and then I took her home not knowing when she would foal.

By this time we were walk/trot in the round. pen with nothing on, and she was running barrels and loving it. Now if I could figure out the barrels we would be unstoppable.

I had gotten so comfortable on her that I was loping bareback something I had never done in my life. I turned her out to pasture hoping she was going to foal but no such luck. I started riding her at home and she was loving the attention.

However when the 4th of July rolled around I knew she was safer in a stall then at home so I took her back to the stables. She spent another month there and then I took her home. The day we left I was riding her with no problem walk/trot/lope and the next day I went out to find a nice colt on the ground.

This was Aug. and so I decided only to do light riding and such until start of the new year. However in Feb. we loaded her up and took her to get bred she was only supposed to be gone for a month but things happened and I didn't get her home until May. It was so hard not having her home but my only option was to give her to my mom on a foal lease since I had lost my job.

Luckily I got a new job and I worked 8 on 6 off, mom waited for me to be home to go get her. We pulled into the meeting spot and waited for the lady that was dropping her off get there. Once she got there and unloaded my mare she took one glance in my direction and started nickering about pulling the person over that had her in hand.

She trotted up to me and stuck her head in my lap, I could barely get the halter off and put mine on. I had tears in my eyes this was the first horse in my whole life that had ever done that and it really proved how bonded she was to me.

We have gone on our first real trail rides together over the weekend and she did wonderful. We went out onto the beach and for a horse that has never seen the ocean she walked right up over the crest and onto the beach without a second thought. And to think the bench on the trail scared the living day lights out of her lol.

For the first time in my life I leaned forward and let her go in a wide open space, never having the confidence in myself or my horse to do such a thing. We flew down the beach with tears in my eyes thinking of all the memories we will build together over many years to come.

I could never thank my mom enough for taking her on and making sure I had her even through the tough times. Her name is Dolly Doc Springs AKA Dolly and she fits the name perfect.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trainer Etiquette

This is an extremely interesting question presented to me by a young woman who has a regular reining trainer she works with. She has developed an interest in working with cattle and her trainer doesn’t have offer this area of horsemanship.

She went to a cow clinic offered by a nationally ranked trainer and then had a few lessons with another area cowhorse trainer.

This adventurous rider wants to know if it is appropriate for her to be trying out these other trainers or if she is “trainer hopping,” an ethical no-no in the horse world.

“What is acceptable or etiquette in the world of trainers and clients? Is it acceptable to train with more than one? Is it proper to disclose the trainers you are riding with to each other?” she asked me.

This is a funny problem. To start with, trainers are funny minded, often egotistical, and very insecure. I’m not accusing, I’m just telling you how it is. I can’t accuse, because I was right there.
Unfortunately we (trainers) let the green eyed monster show instead of articulating the problem and it colors the real reasons it doesn’t work for a client to “trainer-hop.”

Each trainer has a different approach for success. There are variations in riding style, horse care, shoes, expectations of horses and clients, how a program is built and how fast progress is made.

We differ in how we teach our riders to sit in the saddle, where their hands and legs are during a stop, a run-down or a fence turn.

I know I prefer to work one aspect of my event each ride. I work straight lines and stops one day, circles another and spins the next. I’ll work on different drills and training approaches, but they’ll relate to the aspect I’m focused on that day. The Big K works on everything every day while concentrating on one aspect specifically.
This affects how we approach our horses and students both.

I have ridden with a reining trainer who based his method on French Dressage. It has him putting his weight to the inside of his turns, circles, spins, and fence turn. I put my weight in my outside hip pockets for those maneuvers. Who’s right? Neither, it’s just what works the best for us. Again, our clients would be deeply effected by the difference.

The principals and concepts of riding are complex and difficult to grasp. It takes years. Switching around can be confusing. Trust me, nothing is going to make your trainer feel crankier than hearing, “Why do start your spins by driving them forward? I went out and rode with “Sexy Rex” and he had me back Fluffy into the spin.”

Why? Because the only answer many of us will have is, “Because that’s how I do it.”

It’s especially hard on us if the trainer is someone we don’t respect. It’s a big no-no in our world to talk smack about another trainer. I reserve the right to rat out an abuser, but I won’t disparage somebody who trains differently than I do. So this puts us in an awkward spot. We don’t want to spell out why you shouldn’t waste your time with Sexy Rex. It makes us look, well, jealous and insecure. Which we are.

There’s also the down time on your horse. If the horse trains with trainer A and then has to relearn with trainer B he will, but his progress will slow way down. He has to quit improving and relearn what he thought he knew. Same with the student. So everybody falls behind.

When you sign on with a trainer then you are signing on to learn his method. This can be a long commitment.

On the other hand, if your going to make this type of commitment it’s best to know what you’re getting into.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with shopping for a trainer or instructor. I never had a problem with somebody giving me a test run, either as an instructor or a trainer. I think it’s fair to ride with someone long enough to get a feel for how they work and how they get along with your horse and then move on to ride for a short while with someone else. My personal preference would be if I knew this was the deal, but I don’t think it’s a requirement.

If your trainer doesn’t compete in the sport your interested in there’s absolutely no reason to not go ride with someone who does. There’s nothing wrong with working for one expert in his area and another expert in theirs.

I think clinics should be encouraged. It’s a great way to see someone else’s game without threatening your relationship at the barn. If your trainer is too fragile to handle a clinic here or there, well, Wah.

There are also times when you have outgrown your trainer and it’s time to step up. This is a toughie, but a completely solid reason to move on.

I know a non-pro breeder who sends her paints to one trainer and her quarters to another, even though they both train and show paints and quarters. But one shows primarily AQHA and the other primarily APHA. So she places her horses where she thinks they’ll get the most benefit.

The biggest point I’d like to make is the need for clear communication. This is another area I have learned about the hard way. When I wanted to learn to cut I decided I wanted to learn from an actual cutter. In cowhorse we cut, but it’s not the same as NCHA cutting. It’s so far removed we call it herd work. I wanted to cut like a cutter.

I was worried about disappointing my trainer (also my boss), OK, maybe I was afraid he’d get REALLY MAD.

So I’d sneak off and work with my chosen cutting trainer when the boss was out of town.

Small problem. My trainer, boss and friend, knew the second he saw me cut I hadn’t learned it from him. See, we know every move you and your horses make. So he saw the imprint of another trainer. He probably even recognized who it was. I know I can recognize student riding styles and the feel of horses trained by the other reiners and cowhorse trainers I’ve ridden with, I don’t know why I thought he wouldn’t.

I hurt my friend by sneaking off. If I had irritated the trainer and ticked off the boss by being admitting I was going elsewhere, it would have been a lot easier than seeing the hurt look on my friends face.

I was cutting pretty good though, I just wish I had been up front about it.

Splitting up with a client or trainer is never easy. Feelings are almost always hurt and tempers can flare. I’ve seen it blow up when people were up front and when they weren’t. So I understand it’s tempting to either get angry and toss somebody out, or to sneak off in the night. I still think it’s best to just lay it on the line when it’s time to move on.

I had two major splits with clients and two major splits with trainers before I retired.

It worked out amicably once and the other three times, not so much. Each time I gave 30 days notice and a clear explanation of why I was making my decision. Two out the three rough “break-ups” ended up with us all becoming friends again. The third has at least become polite.

So I guess my advice is this, tell your trainer if your riding with someone else and why. Don’t feel guilty. Give your trainer time to fix elements of your relationship that aren’t working but be prepared to move on if needed.

My next thought is, be nice, things happen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

Here's a short, sweet and way too much fun post from Patty.

You can find her at:

Ride 10. Too Much Drama.

Ok, so all is not sweetness and light in horse training. I would rather just not tell the real story, but this is supposed to be the real story--the one you never hear about -good and bad, so here goes:

Tabooli the stud colt came on Saturday. May is quite enamored of Risa and I separated them last night. Result: May is unhappy. Tabooli seems to make her nervous and she is pacing in her pen as she wants to get out to be with Risa.

First Mistake. Tied May to tie rack. Tabooli's pen is close to the tie racks and he came right to the fence and started talking and running up and down. May started pawing, moving and tossing her head. I had to move her and go tie Tabooli in his pen (to a tree). He was obviously also excited so he was pawing and wandering around and complaining loudly.

Second problem: Brought May back to the tie rack, but she just could not relax, so I hobbled her. She was hobbled yesterday at the trailer and did great. Not this time. She panicked, sank back, reared, rammed the tie rack, repeat. That's the kind of thing that cannot be stopped and you just have to wait it out. I talked to her the whole time, and really was just hoping some of the hardware would break, but it all held and she stopped 5 plunges later. I stood with her, decided to leave the hobbles on for a bit longer, but untied her so if there was a repeat, she could move some. No repeat. Sigh.

Took May to the arena and mentally she was quiet--the physical restraint of the hobbles seems to affect her like swaddling does a baby. We did the usual ground work and then we rode--walk, trot, turning, move hip, give shoulder, go sideways, bend to a halt, two rein stops. She had some moments of tenseness, but it was VERY good!

Rode out of the arena and all around the property. She wanted to sneak up on the world--one step at a time, so that's what we did. We spent about 10 minutes riding "out" and she was willing but did have some moments when she was very tight.

Bridge and gate and third error: Over the bridge, both directions! The bridge is getting over-grown with grass--here in the desert! This makes it trickier, but she was game! Approached the gate and stood nice and quietly. Opened and walked through it. Very well done (but I should have gone slower). Got through and then she had the need to back away from the gate (i cant do it!). It took a while to get her back to it and close it (probably because she felt my annoyance). I should have just stopped there, but NO! I thought she should be a bit better at the closing by now (three? tries and 10 rides who is a dope?), so I pushed her, upset her and then had to go back and fix it by opening, going through, coming back to close it and accepting that.

Fourth drama. We don't need our teeth. Got Tabooli, tied him in the barn area to a telephone pole that holds up the barn roof. It is bolted with angle iron to the barn. It is sturdy. Really sturdy it turns out. I walked 10 feet to the tack room to get something and Tabooli wrapped himself around the pole (he had about one foot of rope--go figure), got himself snubbed, panicked and pulled back, and kept on. The pole shook! The barn creaked! The roof shimmied! I started talking calmly, waiting to be killed as the barn collapsed....

The rope halter stretched and got into his mouth, and either he just gave it up or my calm (ha! inside I was saying lots of bad words) helped him out. And the barn is still standing!!!! He let me help him with the halter and oh look there is a loose tooth...Nope not loose. Out. Oh great! Well, it was a baby tooth....but it wasn't quite ready to come out. Broke out. There is a fun call to make to his owner, who took the news calmly, while I blabbered on. Clue I am not comfortable: fast blabbering.

Tabooli is a good boy though! I did a little ground work in the round pen and I think he is going to be a real quick study, if I can keep his teeth in his head.....

Last little drama. Brought Tabooli back and let him go. D##n! May (standing nice right now) and Risa (I relented and brought her out to keep May company) are tied at the rack and a tree. Tabooli headed right there and started getting a little excited (just a little, if you know what I mean). Oh big suprise. Double DOH! I ran over there and got him away from the fence with my lunge whip. He tried to go around me about 3 times and then stood and faced me, waiting most politely for me to come get him. Nice!

Tied him up (so I could move the girls). He started talking. I tossed a plum sized dirt clod at him (underhanded, with arc, lest you think I am a true brute) and it bonked him on the side. He shut up immediately and never said another word until much later when I got everyone put away, untied him and let him go!

So, despite my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad training Day (thank-you Judith Viorst who wrote the kid's book from which I stole the phrase), the only casualties: my pride and a tooth.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Here's last weeks column...

What the Horses Taught the Horse Trainer

By Janet Huntington

I spent roughly 15 years training horses. For about 10 of those years horse training was the only occupation on my tax return.

I started out my years as a trainer thinking I knew how to train a horse. I ended my career with the understanding I would never know enough. I rode some nice horses and some rank ones and started more youngsters than I like to think about.

I met people who shouldn’t be allowed in a barn and people who were born to be on a horse. Most, including myself, came in somewhere in the middle.

Training horses trained me more than my entire education in the traditional school system. Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad. It’s true. Most of the lessons I learned apply directly to the rest of my life.
Here’s some of the biggest lessons I learned.

* If I can just shut up and wait, most problems will work themselves out.

* Sometimes a quick kick in the rear can solve a lot of arguments.

* Every year I get older it hurts a little more to hit the ground.

* When your horse bucks you off, you don’t have to get back on right away. The problem will be waiting for you the next time you ride.

* Sometimes you need to walk away and let a youngster sort things out on his own.

* If your mind isn’t on your horse, his won’t be on you.

* Some of the best riders I know shouldn’t be allowed near a horse.

* Some of the kindest intentions are the hardest on horses.

* A horse is your best friend until somebody else starts feeding them.

* If you yell at a horse for kicking his stall door, he’ll kick harder. If you ignore him and pass by without feeding him he’ll keep his feet where they belong in no time.

* When a horse has a vice like playing with her tongue, if you tie her mouth shut she’ll just find another vice.

* A horse knows exactly where her tail is all the time. There is no such thing as an accidental swat in the face.

* The more a person tells you how much he knows about horses, the less he actually does.

* The people who will argue the hardest about a horse’s stupidity are usually the ones who got scraped off on a tree.

* Training a horse without training the rider will not convince people you are any good.

* Finding holes in your training is the best thing that can happen to you. Once you go back and fill them in your program can only improve.

* When your horse gets stuck, go back to the last place he understood. The next step is where you confused him.

* Horses will forgive incredibly huge mistakes.

* If all you get done today is to catch your horse and lead him around the barn, it’s still more than leaving him standing in his stall.

* If a client’s horse is going down the tubes with a bad run, I would rather zero a maneuver and shoulder the blame than have the owner be angry with his horse.

* A horse will only rise to his rider’s level. He’ll sink to it too.

* Horse shows help you see where you stand.

* Trail riding teaches you and your horse to deal with the unexpected.

* Riding bareback shows how balanced you are.

* A horse who sniffs your coat sleeve is curious and friendly. A horse who sticks his nose in your back and pushes is dominant and rude.

* If the horse really, really screws up it always ends up being rider error.

* The definition of a gentle horse is a horse nobody has made mad yet.

* We need a horse to walk, trot, canter, stop, turn left, turn right and back. Everything that follows is a variation of the same theme.

* Teaching a horse lateral work before he can lope is like teaching a toddler to skateboard before he can walk.

* Horses have no guile. If he’s dishonest it’s because his trainer set the standard.

Learning these facts, most of them the hard way, has made me a kinder, more patient person in all of my dealings, with horses and the people I meet along the way. I think everybody can benefit from some time with a horse.

Of course horse training is really pretty simple. I mean, it’s not rocket science. The man who taught me to train reined cow horses summed it up in one neat phrase.

*If it sticks out, poke it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pulling Ice

The howl of the wind was what woke me. I lay buried in my blankets and sleepily took stock of the morning.

My nose was cold.

Sometime during the night my husband had moved to my side of the bed. I might have ended up shoved to the floor but two dogs and a child had magically appeared under the covers on my other side creating a bolster between me and an icy wake up call.

They couldn’t have been there long, their frosty little noses and the popsicle toes poking me here and there proved it.

I crawled out of bed as carefully as I could and hobbled over to the thermometer.

The groan that escaped me must have been loaded down with the right amount of misery because Jim propped himself up on his elbow and said, “What’s the temp?”

“Five below. I just can’t wait,” I told him.

He didn’t answer. He hoped days like these would convince me it was time to reevaluate some of the choices I had made in my life.

I crawled into my sweater and staggered out to the kitchen to start the coffee. By the time I came into the family room Jim was building up a good fire in the woodburner.

I sipped my coffee slowly and let the heat seep through my bones.

It was hard to get moving. But the day wasn’t going to go away.

My car cranked over with little argument and I turned the heater on high before running into the house to add some more layers.

I double checked my bag, making sure it was filled with several pairs of Thorlo boot socks and an extra pair of wool ones for good measure. My Playtex gloves were still at the barn, but I threw in my two extra pairs of heavy fleece gloves still warm from the dryer. I grabbed a few tea bags and an orange for lunch.

“You should wear coveralls,” Jim said, “they’ll really make a difference.”

“Not when you’ve turned into Hot Flash Hannah and have to pee every thirty seconds,” I snapped. ”If the pipes are frozen in the tack room I’ll have to go in the stalls, I can’t be wrestling with tights and jeans and coveralls too.”

“I’d rethink that second cup of coffee then,” he smirked.

I shrugged into my jacket and laced up my heavy boots. When I left I took the comics and Sudoku.
Let him find them, I thought. The least I could do was ruin his morning constitutional.

The dogs didn’t even argue when I told them they couldn’t come with me.

The road crackled under my tires as I pulled out into the gray dawn. There was no movement in the neighborhood. A few lights shone in solitary windows here and there but everything was still except for the chug of my engine as I headed out.

Traffic picked up as I wove through town. Single, sour looking drivers sat in each car. It was hard not to wonder if carpooling was simply too hard to deal with on mornings like this one.

I headed east on Platte Ave. and picked up speed on my way out of town. The road was clear and dry, with gray, gritty drifts piled on the sides. The homeless and lost were beginning to move around, bundled up and trudging without purpose. They carried backpacks or pushed lifted Wal-Mart carts filled with their tenuous lives.

Moving out of town I sped through miles of gray, ugly suburbia. The crowded apartments turned to crowded, tall, cheap looking homes. Within miles the properties grew bigger and the houses smaller as the snow and ice began to reappear on the road. Three horses huddled beside a billboard on an overgrazed 5 acre pasture.

By the time I turned onto the Ellicott highway the land was open again. Still chopped into properties from 20 to 80 acres, the prairie seemed tired and broken. The wind had picked up and was blasting the sides of my car with frozen sparkly snow. It felt like driving through a sandstorm.
A cloud of snow whirled like a dust devil in July across the outdoor arena. The brief image of a running horse on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah crossed my mind as I pulled into the barnyard.

With my seat pushed back and my engine still running I geared up for the day ahead.
Hay first. Start in the show barn, then to the side barn, onto the garage barn and back to my own. Then feed the open pen, the buffs and the cattle.

Then I could start to water. They had taken six head with them to the World Show and three had gone home while they were gone, so the show barn wouldn’t be so bad.

So it would be 33 head of horses, six buff and 25 cattle. I’d only have to do 17 stalls. I could use the tractor to do the side barn when the weather was better.

I sat for another minute and then turned off my brain and the car. I pushed out of the door and the snot-freezing cold slapped me hello.

I started the water in the cattle tank before I began to feed. The trickle should start to melt the ice before I finished haying.

As I worked my way through the stalls the horses stood quiet with their ears pricked forward. I threw each their breakfast and then a third again. checked blankets and slid my hands underneath to make sure each horse was warm enough.

My fingers were already numb by the time I scooped up the cat food for the barn cats. They came running at the sound of their tub being opened, their ratty fur stood out straight from their sides. I rubbed the back of the big orange tom and felt the sharp points of his delicate bones. He crouched over the bowl and growled at the mama cats. They weaved around my legs, they’re tails wrapping around my calves with uncomfortable intimacy until I threw them more food.

The other two barns went quickly enough. The loose horses bucked and ran in their pen, the cold was sharp enough to make them goofy. I could see my yellow mare spinning and kicking in her stall, she was aching to run with the others.

By the time I was around back at the buffs I moved into a jog. My heavy boots made me clumsy and I tripped, landing with a thud on the ground. I jumped up and dusted the snow off my jeans as fast as I could. I didn’t need my knees to get wet with melting snow. The buffalo crowded around and stared at me as I forked big chunks of hay over the rail. Their solemn eyes peered from under shaggy, frozen clumps of hair. The icicles in their beards clattered as they tore into the hay.

The cattle had started to holler when they saw me at the buffs. I picked up my jog again and headed over to the berm. There was plenty of hay pushed out of reach from the night before, so I walked along the cement apron, kicking the heavy alfalfa up to the edge of the fence.

Standing on at the corner of the cattle pen the wind crept up my jacket and wrapped icy fingers around my sweat soaked ribs. The low hanging clouds turned the prairie to an ocean of gray, waving grass.

I’d been out for an hour and a half, my feet were still pretty good, but my hands were freezing, I couldn’t feel my face and I really needed to pee. I broke back into my jog and headed around the cattle pens to the tack room.

I warmed my hands under the blanket of one of the horses in the show barn. Once I had feeling in them again I went out to the car and got my extra gloves. I put on a pair of fleece gloves and then my heavy winter ones. I got out my Playtex gloves and jammed them over the whole clumsy mess.
I walked back to the cattle pen. The ice had broken free of the tank and floated, three inches high at the top of water, which was spilling down the sides of the tank and creating an ice rink on the ground below.

I picked up the four foot piece of pipe that leaned against the barn wall. I held the pipe over my head and let its own weight carry it, wham, vertically onto the ice. A few chips skittered off the surface. I lifted and released the pipe again and again, chips flying everywhere. Finally a crack appeared across the surface. A few more whacks and it broke into pieces I could pull out of the tank. I pulled the ice out, chunk by chunk and threw it outside the fence.

Each pen took a different approach. It became a game to see what the most efficient way to pull the ice from each tank was. The huge tire with the cement bottom in the pen with the loose horses was a bear. It took the pipe, an ax, a lot of muscle, and then a manure fork to pull the ice to me so I could drag it over the lip and dump it on the ground.

“”Hear that lonesome whippoorwill,” I bellowed, “he sounds too blue to fly…”

My breath fogged my glasses as I sang and immediately froze solid. I pulled them off and shoved them in my pocket.

“Blue, blue, blue suede shoes,” I danced a little as I tossed the chunks of ice. The horses snorted and sniffed at the chunks. I was going to have to hurry, I could feel the ice crystals sticking to my cheeks and I was having trouble hanging up the hose to drain, my fingers refused to hang on to the coils.

“These boots are made for walkin’” I segued as I entered the garage barn. I tipped and rolled each water barrel out into the yard. I had only filled them by a third, so I could whack them on the bottom with the back of my ax and empty the whole tub.

I uncoiled the next hose. Hooked it up to the pump and turned it on. The water raced through the hose and stopped. Nothing.

Damn, the hose was frozen.

I walked on the hose, rolling it under my feet as I went. The ice crackled and crunched, but the water still didn’t break through.

I gave up and turned the water off. I dragged the hose into the tack room and hung it on the wall. Tomorrow I’d fire up the stove and thaw it out. I took the hose from the show barn and hoisted it over my shoulder. Its weight slowed my steps and the cold from the rubber hose seeped through the many layers.

The horses drank greedily from their barrels. I made the rounds with the hose twice so they could drink their fill and still have plenty left.

The front of my coat and my legs were covered with ice and it broke off in sheets as I worked my way, only to reform at the next barrel.

When I got to my barn the horses were getting impatient. They pushed at me and nickered as I wrestled with the barrels. Their ears and butts were covered with frost and their whiskers froze as they raised their muzzles dripping with water.

The wind was picking up. The buffs raked at each other’s sides as they fought for position at the tank. The ice flew as I leaned through the iron bars of the fence and chopped the ice. I watched them carefully as they pushed their hairy faces into the water, so close I could see my reflection in their eyes and feel the heat coming off them. Steam rose off their humped backs as they crowded around me.

I hurried to my car and stripped off my gloves and sweaty hat. I turned the ignition and took off around the perimeter to speed up the heater. Once I had enough heat to unzip my Carhart I called the Big K.

“Hello?” he answered with his usual greeting.

“Hey,” I said, “everything’s watered and fed. I’m about to start stalls.”

“The cattle all right?”

“They’re good,” I answered.

“They losing weight?” he pressed.

“No, but you’re going to be about out of hay when you get back.”

“That’s all right, just keep them eating.”

“So how are you doing?” I asked.

“OK, I got two in the finals and it looks to me like we have the Youth about sewn up.,” he told me.

“Well, good deal, talk to you tomorrow.”

“Yep.” He hung up.

I went back into the tack room and nuked a cup of tea. I loaded it with honey and carried the steaming mug out to my car. I drank my tea and ate my orange while the car ran.

The radio announced it was 2:12 in the afternoon. More weather was coming in and the roads were icing over.

I changed my socks before I pulled on my second set of dry gloves and stuck the Playtex ones in my pocket.

If I got a move on I could have the stalls done by dark and still be able to see well enough to pull ice again before it was time to feed.

The big orange Tom trotted across the frozen lot and into the tack room. He carried something big and furry in his mouth. A few of the momma cats followed him, hesitating and mewing every few strides. They stopped at the door and looked back at me. Their round eyes stared straight into mine until another gust of wind sent them slinking after the Tom.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

NRCHA World Show!!!! Yip!

I'm working on a story today. But I am also watching the NRCHA World Championship Show on web cast. If you want to see what I do, go check it out.
Just go to the NRCHA website and go to the galloping videos site. There's a live webcast happening.
The classes I have competed in at the NRCHA Worlds are the Limited Open Bridle and the Limited Open Hackamore.
Today it's the open and non-pro bridle prelims and yes, the Big K competes today.
Watching this is making me all itchy, even if I do still have 2 1/2 years to go before I get my non-pro status back...