Friday, December 30, 2011


My cell phone rang while I was pulling saddles from my last three rides.

"Hey Janet? This is Tyler."

"Still alive I'm guessing," I said.

"Who, me or your mare?"

"Well, I can tell you are, how's Tally?"

"She's doing just fine, you coming out to ride tomorrow?"

"I am."

"Well I guess I'll see you then."
 Tyler was every bit as much as a sparkling conversationalist as the Big K, they were certainly a good fit. My mood was high though, if it had been bad news I knew he would have gone into a little more detail.

That night I couldn't get Tally off my mind. She never left my thoughts as I drove home, she hovered in the corners while I asked my daughter about her day, chatted with my husband and got dinner going. I really needed to sell her, my board bills were killing me and I wanted to move my 3-year-old up to the main barn. Maybe she was truly coming around. Maybe I'd be able to find somebody who would want to buy a 14 hand, muscle bound, hammer headed, Foundation bred mare with a bad rap. Sure, why not? She was everybody's dream horse, wasn't she? I sure knew how to pick them.

Except she could be somebody's dream horse, I knew she could. There was a willingness to her, sometimes a softness in her eye that went straight to my heart and it was impossible not to admire her quick athleticism and strength. What in the world would I do if I was the only one to see it in her?

The next morning broke clear and windless, so I beat feet to load up Sonita and drive the hour and a half out to the Big K's. It was a perfect day to see how Tally had fared.

The miles flew past as I drove the narrow two-lane roads from the mountains to the plains east of the Springs. I was excited, hopeful and nervous, more than likely I was darn lucky not to run into or through anything I shouldn't have. When I pulled into K's place and parked I realized I didn't remember a single second of my trip.

Tyler and K were rocked back in two battered folding chairs, enjoying the sun like a couple of lizards on a rock. Tyler waited until Sonita was unloaded before he came over to chat. K stayed in his chair, giving Tyler time to talk to me one on one.

"She's going pretty good, I think you'll be happy," he said.

"Did she give you any trouble?"

"The first time I rode her out was pretty wild, but nothing like that first ride. Do you want to take her for a spin?"

He had a barely suppressed smile on his face and I could tell Tyler was proud of the job he had done.

"You know what? Why don't you ride her first and let me watch her go. I know she'll let me ride her." Neither one of us mentioned the fact I had never had her outside the indoor at my barn. We both knew I didn't have any other place to go except straight up a mountain and I would quit training before I admitted to the thrill of fear that had gone through me every time I had thought of leaving the safety of my arena. I was still a little uneasy at the idea, but Tyler had the makings of a good trainer, he didn't call me on it, he just smiled and went to get Tally.

He brought her out and she led quiet and calm. She pricked her ears when she saw me, but didn't knicker or tug on the lead rope.

I had Tyler saddle her with my rig so I could ride when he had finished his demo. Tally rolled her eye towards me when he tightened her cinch, but she seemed content enough. He bridled her with the same simple O-ring I rode with and led her to the middle of K's football field sized outdoor arena. K came and stood beside me as I rested my chin on top of crossed my arms and slipped one foot on the bottom rail of the arena fence.

He swung up with easy familiarity and trotted her out for a few circles. Tyler was a big guy, but Tally carried him handily, her strong back raised enough to keep the saddle skirts an inch or so off the saddle pad. Her neck stayed level and she powered along at a steady pace.

He asked her to stop in the middle and she parked it without a fuss. When they loped of she was flying at a good clip withing two or three strides.

"Whoosh," I said, "he's really got her motoring along."

"That's the speed she needs to be at," K said. "See how solid she is?"

K was right. Tyler was riding on a loose rein, completely relaxed in the saddle. Tally's feet beat out a solid rhythm and looked broke and happy, the faster speed suited her.

Tyler rode her through five or six circles each way, changed lead a few times and asked her to stop.

I headed towards them while she aired up.

"She looks good," I said.

Tyler stepped down and handed me the reins. "She's got a great feel," he said, "she could turn out to be quite the horse."

I made sure I had my game face on and stepped into my stirrup. Tally stood still as I swung up and turned her head to give my boot a friendly sniff. She felt the same as always.

I walked off a few strides and asked for a lope. She moved out quick and fluid as she always did and we were flying around the arena within seconds. I gathered my reins and she dropped into the slow and easy canter she maintained at home.

"Janet!" I heard K shout. "Let go of that mare's head!"

I made sure I was breathing and fed her some rein. Tally, bless her pea-picking heart, stayed at the same speed.

"Janet!" K shouted again.

Meet my Maker or tick off the Big K for hanging on my horse? I shook my head a little and clucked to her, touching her with my heel. She jumped forward, but this time I made myself stay loose. Tally sped around the arena, smooth as could be.

It was wonderful, it was exciting, she was a little engine chugging along the tracks, but there was no tension, no worry, just enough speed to make you know you were going somewhere.

"There you've got it!" K called out.

My smile got bigger and bigger. This horse was such a blast. Tyler still stood in the middle of the arena and we flashed past him. I caught his eye and he smiled back as big and broad as the possibilities I felt opening up for my crazy little mare.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Good morning everybody.

I always love it when I wake up with a horse training  problem rattling through my head. I sometimes wish these problems would wake me up a little later, but I don't seem to have sorted out that particular little issue.

Many of you already know I have a tendency to take a single, clear, concise sentence or thought shared with me from a trainer I have ridden with, a book I have read, or a conversation with another horseaii and run a whole training approach off it.

I woke up today thinking about knots.

The Big K and I were sitting on our colts after a lesson, letting them stand with their butts to the wind. We had developed the habit of losing ourselves in conversation after we rode. Sometimes it would start in the middle of a lesson, once in a while we would get going in the tack room and end up sitting in front of the stove, lost in theory, question and answers and beer and never even mount up.

It probably has something to do with why K and his wife eventually asked me to move my barn in with them, we used the whole day when I came out for a lesson and I often ended up riding his colts anyway.

On this particular day we were talking about knots.

"When you start a colt, their mind is a blank slate," K said. "We teach them by creating a knot for them to untie and then giving them the room to sort it out."

He gave me a visual by bringing his inside rein up in the air to tip his colt's nose in and blocking the outside shoulder with the other rein. He didn't shift his weight, use his legs or cluck encouragement. He sat quiet and calm and waited.

The colt swung his hind end around, confused and a little irritated about being pulled out of his conversation with Loki, my sweet filly.

The colt became slightly anxious, then I could almost see the possible answers to his problem clicking through his brain. He rocked back, stepped around with his front legs to the inside and K immediately released him. The colt relaxed, shifted back over to Loki and began contemplatively chewing on his bit.

K shrugged and looked at me with his even, blue-eyed gaze. He waited for me to untie my own knot.

"I'm thinking the key here is to make sure each knot is easy enough for the colt to untie so he would have success," I said.

"There you go, protecting the baby again," he smiled at me to let me know he wasn't getting after me.
"If the knot is too easy then you are going to take away the challenge. Don't be afraid to push, just make sure there is a way for your colt to get to the answer."

'What if he can't find it?"

"Do you give up just because you don't find the right answer the first time? Or do you try again and again until you understand it?"

"So I need to create the desire to figure out a solution."

"There you go."

I've used this short conversation as the base of every horse I've started, be it a colt or a problem horse, or just one I'm riding, ever since.

A combination of success and frustration, with each step applying to the one before has helped me create horses that are curious and interested in their work. It has helped me as a rider and trainer, because I've had to develop patience, strategy and a true understanding of what I'm asking for and why before I ever present it to my horse.

Knowing where the feet are, all six of them BTW, how they function as far as movement goes, how to time a release, when to help, when to wait, all of these aspects of riding have come in to play based on tying knots.

I've made plenty of mistakes while I've sorted this out, but because I don't hurry my solutions and horses are such a forgiving lot, I've been able to muddle my way ahead.

This morning I woke thinking about my own knots, the ones I make for myself and the ones presented by the world.

We create the knots, good and bad, for our horses, but we don't have that kind of control with our own. So many of the blocks in front of us when it comes to horsemanship, are created by outside forces.

Recognizing how those knots create the person we are is the key. How that in turn effects how we relate to our horse could be the key to better training.

If I have a big tangled mess in my head and my instinct is to shy away from it, I can bet you the bank it will show up in my training. I'll find myself ducking a problem I really need to handle.

My sticky shoulder-rib issue is a good example. Do I want to give my horse the knot of completing a maneuver in spite of my own crookedness? Maybe. It will only work if I admit that I'm crooked and understand why. Then I can help my horses work out the steps they need to compensate for my problem.

It's much easier to avoid the whole issue and simply demand my horse do as I say, or abandon the problem and say,"We're not good that way."

Thing is, I won't solve my problem. Not only that, I'll create more. I'll teach my horses to rush, to resist, to ignore, or worse, to panic or fight.

Then I'll have very neatly put myself into the position of disciplining, whispering, or trying to understand the emotional trauma my horses went through in their past lives and no longer have to confront my own weakness as their rider.

If I acknowledge my problem, then find a way to let the horse compensate for it we'll both be ahead.

In my immediate tangle, I'm experimenting with large, clear cues with my legs. An open leg forces me to get back and out of the way. It's not pretty, but it is a clear invitation for my horses to untie the knot I've presented. How to cleanly finish a turn through my crookedness.

Have I solved it? Not entirely, but by untying my own knots I'm finding I can keep it honest with my horses.

Hey! Anybody interested in a book club?

I'll reccomend some, you guys certainly can by emailing me at We'll decide on which one to read, maybe one a month or so and then discuss it here on the blog, or over at Equine Mind Meld (which I'm loving BTW, you guys are very smart).

I'm thinking they don't have to be strictly about horses. The books could be about understanding human nature, writing technique, anything that leads us back to horses, horseaii and stories.

I have two books I'm interested in right now, "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout and Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop by Jeff Anderson.

What do you think?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mouthy Monday

This exciting story comes from spazfilly at I'm thinking there is an awfully fine writer here.


The easiest thing to forget about the ocean is that it can be heard long before it can be seen. Even from our campsite on the other side of the dunes, the rush and roar was a soft and insistent push on the senses. I heard it as I hoisted myself up onto the back of my four-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, settling in as he sidestepped a little, flicking his ears toward the sound of all that water, more water than he'd ever seen until just two days ago when we arrived. I was so proud of him when he walked into the water on the first try, even though he swayed when the first wave receded, like he might drift out to sea while my father's dunskin filly danced on the shore, unwilling to try out this strange place and its slippery, shifting footing.

We stepped off at a brisk walk toward the dunes, my father in the lead. Following behind, we were a shadow, my horse's black coat soaking up the flat light from the overcast summer sky. Hooves sunk deeply into the sand as we climbed the low rise of the dunes, sparse, wispy grass giving way to miles of beach. The sound of the water washed away the presence of the few other wanderers out for a morning walk clothed in warm sweatshirts and braced against the breeze that felt more October than August.

My horse's nostrils flared, taking in the salt air. It wasn't his nature to frisk, but I felt him alert beneath my legs. He was soft, watching the people and the birds, sidestepping a bit of driftwood here and there, but always flicking an ear back to check that I was with him. I patted him on the neck. Good boy. And then something happened that I should have expected from years and years of preparation. Dad abruptly stuck his heels into his filly's sides and she shot forward as though her tail was on fire. In that moment, a rush of memories came over me.

When I begged for a horse at six years old, Dad made a jar with a picture of a horse that we used to save up with the promise that I could have a horse at 11 if I still wanted one. I went to horse camp for a week and then got a hot, reactive four-year-old Morgan that we had no business owning, but I brushed the barbed wire out of his tail and made him mine. Dad helped me muddle through. He pored over horse books and tried to teach me about animal psychology and how to train animals. He walked down the trail with me, trying to help me not be scared of the horse that shied and jumped at invisible monsters. He eventually bought his own mare after enduring a great deal of preteen disapproval from me at the way he liked to gallop down the trail on my horse, who would come back foaming with sweat but still jigging and pulling at the reins.

There were many times we trail rode together and he took off through the woods with no warning, leaving me to cling to the mane of my wild little horse, white-knuckled until he stopped or I was thrown, whichever came first. Blackberry brambles, mud, creeks, and wild tangles of grass were all places I made crash landings. One time I clutched the pommel of my saddle, crying as he chased my horse around a round pen with a whip because I was afraid to go faster than a trot. My horse whirled through the pen at a canter trailing clouds of dust in his wake. I remember only the pure survival instinct of clinging to my horse's back and waiting for it to end. Stumbling back to the barn, I shook and cried. He left me there, driving home to tell my mother to "go pick up your daughter." I remember his disgust, and insistence that if I were a boy, no one would think he expected too much of me. For him it was about speed, about fearlessness - about the rush of flying through the woods and over any obstacle in his path. I was cautious by nature and because of that I failed him. I hung back. The words "trail ride" soon dropped my stomach into my boots every time I heard them.

Through it all he was, in his own way, trying to share something with me.

But things were different now. I sat on the back of a horse I trained myself, a horse who kept walking as Dad's filly bolted, though I could feel his heart beating through the girth. There was only a moment of hesitation before I put my heels to his sides, crouching low over his neck. He moved out into an easy canter, seeming surprised when I nudged him gently again. We were arena babies, destined for circles and finesse, not for speed. An extended canter was our Mach 10, still carefully regulated down the long side of the arena, each stride measured in the steady rhythm of a rocking chair. On the beach his strides willingly lengthened into a gallop, the snorts of his increased breath echoing over the sound of the waves rushing up to shore. I slid my hands further up his neck, clutching handfuls of his mane and urging him onward, to which he responded with yet another gear, and I learned what it meant to ride a descendant of the great racehorses Man O'War and Bold Ruler. The filly wasn't far ahead now. I could hear her hoof beats slapping against the wet sand, her tail flying out behind her, a black flag.

Our speed tore the air from my lungs, wind tears streaking back into my hairline. They were tears of pure speed, of going faster than I ever imagined as I clung to the back of a thousand pound animal bred for just this - for the beach falling away beneath us as we passed my father, passed people who pointed and stared until it was just us, me and my dark horse a northbound blur caught up in the unbridled joy of togetherness and freedom.

It was finally my turn to be in the lead.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mort and Merry Christmas

The heavy clouds had lifted during the night and bitter cold had laid claim to the snow laden ground below.

When I looked out the window, the thermometer showed the temperature hovered just below freezing. I could just see the horses, their shaggy winter coats were puffed out and glittered with a fine shower of  ice crystals. They bucked and spun, rearing up at each other in a goofy mock battle, rowdy with the cold and the clear blue sky.

Their play was irresistible. I slid my bare feet into my boots and pulled a jacket over my pajamas. I eased the basement door open and shut it behind me with barely a click. My parents were upstairs and sleeping at the other end of the house, but raising six rowdy children had honed their hearing to razor sharpness, it wouldn't take much to wake them.

 I wanted to be alone with my horses and delay the chaos of holiday togetherness. My freshman year of college, and first time away from home,was proving to me how much I still needed my family, but it was my horses, especially Mort, that I had missed the most.

 When I slid between the corral rails the horses bolted. They tore up the hill, digging with their front feet, hinds pushing dirt and snow and  their tails flagged in fun.

The three of them crowded together, Murray, the flighty Arab, Oakie, my goofy yearling Paint and Mort, playing wild mustang.

He blasted a warning snort at me and I squared off. I spread my feet and bent my knees, my arms spread wide and my hands open.

Mort charged down the hill,leaping in a zig-zag pattern with lightening speed, the other two came racing behind him. He snaked his head and his mouth opened with deadly intent as he approached.  He skidded to a stop in front of me with his ears flat against his head. His eyes were wild and steam blew out of his nostrils.

"HA!" I shouted and stood upright, my hands in the air. Oakie and Murray spooked and spun away.

Mort arched his neck and we faced off almost nose to nose.

He blasted me with another snort and snot showered on my face, freezing as soon as it hit. When he reared up to his full height I stepped into him, ducking his front feet and slapping him on the chest.

"HA!" I yelled and stepped to the side as he came crashing down.

He whirled and shot back up the hill, crazy with fun.

We were getting in position for another round, snarling and snorting like two WWE wrestlers in the ring, when I heard a door open with a bang somewhere behind me. Oops.

"Janet! Knock it off! You're going to end up with a hoof planted in your head! Good God!"

I ran for the barn, if  I fed and chopped ice it would give Dad time to cool off and hopefully see the humor of the situation. Mort and I had been playing our game for years, it was as inevitable on a cold winter morning as the ache in my fingers from an old case of frostbite.

Poor Dad had about had a heart attack the first time he had seen it and was pretty bent. But jeez, you'd think he'd have gotten over it by now.

I filled up the feeders and gathered up their buckets. A good hot mash was in order for today. It was Christmas after all. I headed to the house, whistling the alto part to the Hallelujah Chorus and banging my buckets in time.

Merry Christmas!!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

To Smack or Not to Smack, That is The Question

Becky brought up a good question in the comments the other day.

She wrote: I really expected Tally to get more of a spank for her beady little shark eyes and deliberate attempt to hurt a rider. Would it have been useless, since she was so quick to anger? Is working them really hard really enough of a discipline? When to pick a fight head-on and when to let it go is something that's really confusing me nowadays.

This is a valid point. I am not a believer in making my horse my best friend, at least not on the same plane as I would a human.

With another person, my friendships develop over time. They are made up of give and take, acceptance of each others foibles and flaws and a healthy balance of power. We need to be of enough interest to each other to want to develop and keep the friendship going. I have the choice of keeping or walking away from any human friendship I make.

Life may dictate a human friendship, but I create my friendships with horses. There is a balance of power in my relationship with horses and it definitely leans to my side. I have recently snagged a phrase from ...Kel?, "benign dictatorship," it sums up my approach to horse training nicely.

Horses don't walk in the barn door wanting to become friends and for the most part, neither of us have the choice of walking away. They come in looking for food and then they begin looking for their place in the herd. If I am going to be part of their daily life, then I will become part of the herd. So the battle of muscle and wits begins.

Horses work off of a hierarchy. There's the boss horse, the bottom horse and all the stuff in between. There are enemies, friends, best friends and so on in the herd, but they all behave according to the laws of the pecking order. New relationships begin with the establishment of power, then friendship happens, not the other way around.

I want to be at the top of the pecking order. Period. So there can be various levels of war waged, or simple clarifications, depending on the horse.

If you watch horses in a herd establish themselves there are some basic maneuvers.

The attack with teeth and striking front feet (Charge!).

The kick with the hind feet (Get AWAY)

Running away (Uncle!)

Then there's the passive aggressive portion of herd life.

Getting into each others space (made you move, ha!)

Cutting in line (Hay in the feeders, water in the tub)

Who gets the best grass (wait, I want that)

Who gets to chase who (your friend's not here, your ass is mine)

Dealing with each of these pieces in a way the horse clearly understands puts me quickly on the top of the heap. By understanding the motivation behind each behavior I can keep discipline quick, simple and fair.

I'll go through each one and my response to the situation.

If a horse comes at me (Charge!) I will step in and try to make them think they are going to die. This is the most blatant form of aggression a horse displays and I want to squash it hard and fast.

John Lyons has always maintained you can whomp on them as hard as you want for three seconds, then you need to quit. This is about the time it takes for a horse to make its point to another horse.

I have to be honest here, I'm not coordinated enough to get the job done and keep an eye on my watch. So I go by body language. If a horse is coming at me with teeth or front feet I yell, raise my arms and charge. I will nail said horse with a crop (preferred "teeth") my lead rope, my feet, whatever I need to get my message through. I don't stop until the horse backs off (Uncle!). Then I completely quit. If I'm angry I walk it off, I make sure I've gotten rid of any grudge before I start in again.

There is training that follows this, but I'm sticking to discipline for this post.

Next comes kicking. From a full barreled two legged power thrust to a cow kick when I try to pick up a hind leg or hit a tickly spot, the idea is the same (Get AWAY). my response is, "Not only no, but HELL NO!"

It's vital for my horses to know I can go anywhere I want and touch any part of them I need to. My horse can let me know they are uncomfortable with where I am by stepping away from me, then I'll decide to either respect the request or continue on. My horse cannot kick at me, ever. If it's a double barrel kick then I will respond in kind, with a longe whip becoming my hind legs. I'll whack that kicking sucker until he moves away from me, then I'll immediately stop. Again, I don't continue with training until I'm sure I'm back to the benign portion of my dictatorship.

If I'm dealing with a cow kick I'll slap the offending leg, just once, again with the crop. Then we start over. I've never had this approach fail me.

Now we get to the tricky part (Uncle!). I reward a horse that moves away from me by releasing pressure. In Tally's case she was definitely running away, but she was using it as a form of aggression. She had to have learned the behavior somewhere and it had to have been taught to her by a rider.

Have you ever watched an old cowboy movie where a horse is jumped by a mountain lion? The horse jumps and bucks and screams and if that doesn't work, he runs. Running is a last resort in the horse wars. If the horse happens to knock the mountain lion off his back by running under a tree, he sure isn't going to waste time bucking and jumping the next time. He'll head straight to the tree. The idea is still the same though, running is the last chance a horse sees for an escape.

Tally wasn't screaming Uncle, but she sure wanted to get away. I couldn't let her muddle the situation by worrying about her temper. She needed to find out it was a lot less work to let the rider stay on her back and that no harm would come to her if she did. She didn't understand that people weren't mountain lions. Hitting her would have only strengthened her position.

A more subtle version of Tally's behavior would be a horse that sucks back and pitches a fit when I approach them while tied. If they are really scared, I'll stand quietly until the horse does too. No soothing words, definitely no screaming and I don't back up. I just stand quiet. If the horse comes towards me I'm back to trying to kill it, as soon as it backs away I'm quiet. This usually makes sense to the horse and goes a long way to curing a horse that pulls.

If it's a horse that sucks back because it's a rotten, spoiled booger head, then I'll step in, scream and yell and wave my arms around, while he's pulling. As soon as he settles, even a hair, I quit. Make sure you have a very sturdy rope, halter and tie rail before you try this one, it gets wild. It also works.Again, if he comes toward me I'll thump on him until he gets away from me.

Then we get to the passive aggressive part. If a horse crowds me it's a modified version of "Charge!"
While you won't get hurt by having your space stepped into, the horse will file the small victory away and remember to be even pushier next time. Plus, I know they think it's funny and they laugh at us with all their friends.

I don't usually hit them for this, I raise my hands and snarl, stepping into their space until they back off. I will slap them on the chest with my reins or lead rope, or kick them in the hoof to move the feet if I have to, but normally it doesn't take much.

Shoving their butt into me is a watered down threat to kick. I drive them off.

Walking in front of me through a gate, racing past me when I'm leading them or asking for a stop on the ground, snatching food from my hands, all of these are versions of behaviors that can escalate into danger for me. How do you translate them?

I have mentioned using crops and longe whips as discipline. I also use my reins. I rarely use my heels or spurs and it's even less to get me hauling at their mouths.

A whip drives a horse forward and away. I use it for just those things. My reins do the same.

Spurs and heels are for cues, lift, right and left. I don't use them for forward.

The bit is for communication. If I'm jerking my bit I'm just screaming and yelling, I'm also adding pain. This doesn't help anybody.

I will set my spurs into a lazy, bored, or just ignoring me horse and drive them into my hands. I'll set my hands hard enough to make them feel like they're getting rammed like an accordion. Call it a pissed off half-halt if you will. I'll repeat it until said horse is alert, lively, soft and sorry.

My main form of discipline is more work. If my horses want to ever see their dinner then they'll comply. By building on this premise from day one, they're usually pretty quick to respond after I've pushed them into their tenth or eleventh circle at high speed.

So those are the basics of my benign dictatorship, hope it clears up a few things.

Friday, December 16, 2011


When I wheeled into the Big K's my stomach was jumping.

This was a big test for Tally. There was going to be no bail-outs on this ride.

I had called the Big K earlier in the week and asked him what it would take to get him to ride her.

"I'll see if Tyler will ride her," K had said."I'm not particularly fond of that mare and I sure don't plan on getting busted up over her."

"I don't know if it's fair to put Tyler up there."

"You think it's fair for me to crawl up on her but not Tyler? He's the help."

"Good point," I conceded.

"He's younger too."

"You're right."

"He bounces, we don't."


"He'll think it's fun."

"I get it K, I get it."

"He's cheaper."

"Oooh, you're right K, Tyler's the man for me."

K was right, Tyler was  more than a little excited when I asked him to ride Tally. She seemed to appeal to everyone and the general consensus was, 'if Mugs would just step up and ride the hair off her,' she'd be a good horse.

If Tyler could get her ridden down for me he could call me chicken as much as he wanted.

I let him tack her up so he could size her up. I was relieved to see he was approaching Tally like a professional. He wasn't cocky and he wasn't nervous, he got her ready like he expected her to be good, but kept an eye on her.

Tally relaxed into his confidence. Maybe this was going to work.

Tyler led her towards the big outdoor.

"You might want to ride her inside, at least the first time out," I called.

"Okay." Without hesitation, he headed for the indoor arena.

They might want me to step up, but Tyler took me seriously. He wasn't used to seeing me this wound up and my time on Sonita had proven I wasn't easily unnerved.The Big K and I followed on foot. I closed the arena doors while Tyler tightened his cinch.

"Give me a sec, Tyler," I told him, "I'm going to close the doors by the cattle pen."

"Do you think she'll jump?" K asked me, with a worried look on his face.

The gates to the cattle pen were only about a foot higher than the one she had cleared with Crystal.

"I'd feel better if we closed the big doors," I answered.

"I'll get them then" he said and crossed the arena to close the doors.

Tally stood quiet, at ease enough to cock her hip. She looked around when K slid the doors shut, but didn't seem concerned. K stopped and talked with Tyler for a few minutes. I wandered over to pick up on what he had to say.

"Stay deep and don't over ride her."

Nothing new there.

Tyler looked at me, a question in his eyes.

"She's going to try to jump out from under you at some point, she's quick and nobody else has been able to catch her. Once she starts running she really gets going."

"OK, I'll be ready."

He gathered his reins, put his foot in the stirrup and gave an experimental bounce or two. Tally's head came up, but she didn't step away, so he mounted in one smooth motion.

Tally took one step, two, Tyler stayed relaxed and open to her.

I saw it coming.Her eyes went hard and small, I finally understood what Kathy meant went she talked about "shark eyes."  I froze as I watched her hind legs step deep underneath her.

K saw it too, there was no freezing on his part.

"Tyler, here it comes," was all he had time to say.

Tyler automatically deepened his seat, pushed his feet father into the stirrups  and relaxed his back. Tally bolted forward, leaping into the air in anticipation of a pull.

When none came she shot forward and they were off. She blasted around the arena, once, twice, three times, her legs churning and her speed increasing with every stride.

"Son of a gun," K muttered and gave me a quick glance, "you weren't kidding."

Tyler picked up his inside rein in an attempt to guide her and Tally finally had the fight she had been looking for. She launched into the air again, shaking her head at the contact from the reins. Her balance was off and she teetered for a second with only one hind leg on the ground. Tyler threw his weight into her shoulder and the other three feet crashed back to the ground. Without missing a beat she was running again, this time careening out of control.

She ran straight into the wall, turning at the last second, intent on slamming Tyler's knee into the support beams. Tyler cranked the outside rein and lifted his leg out of the way, he blocked her turn just enough to make her hit with her shoulder instead of him.

She bounced off without thought and raced around blind, the only thing stopping her was when she would hit another wall with a resounding clang.

"Let her head go and find your middle!" K shouted.

My admiration for the young man grew when I saw him loosen his hold and rebalance himself. I couldn't believe he could even hear K, much less be able to let her go.

Tally settled back into her flight around the arena once she had her head back. Tyler found her rhythm and just rode. The dust was so thick it was getting hard to see them, but the pounding of her hooves told us she hadn't begun to tire.

Finally Tally began to slow. They flew past us and a wide grin flashed across Tyler's dusty face. He had her.

"Great, you're doing great," K called, now try and circle her."

Tyler picked up his rein again and this time Tally responded. They galloped a big, loose circle, by the time they made their third loop she had her head down and was working like she should. By the fifth she was chuffing her contended train sound and her eyes had gone soft.

"Wow, she does look good," K said to me.

I went to the bench on the wall and let my knees collapse. My hands were shaking and there were tears in my eyes. I was embarrassed to no end. K gave me a small smile and turned away so I could pull myself together.

"Now that you've got her, let's make her work," K told him," we'll see what Janet has been teaching her."

"Come through the middle and ask her to change," he said. Tally switched her leads in a single  smooth and fluid stride. So it began.

The Big K and Tyler put Tally through a solid workout. As her focus shifted more and more to Tyler he stepped up the game. I held my breath when he asked for his first stop. She parked it sweet and solid.When he let her rest for just a split second before he put her back into her lope, the surprised look on her face made me laugh. She wanted to quit.

They stopped some more, then spun, then loped out and did a few turns on the wall. When all opinion was wrung out of her and Tally had  given herself completely over to Tyler's legs and hands, K finally said, "OK, let her stop."

Tally stood with her head hanging and her eyes closed. Her sides heaved and the sweat poured off her. Her neck and flanks were covered with foam. I had never seen her so tired. I wanted to step to her head and rub on her, but K stopped me with a look. He knew me way too well.

"That was some amazing riding," I said to Tyler. "What do you think?"

"I think she's fun," he said. Sweat was running down his dusty face making rivulets of mud. his breath was deep but even and his hands were steady. Only a little twitch in his stirrups betrayed the adrenalin still running through him.

"I can ride her for you if you want."

We made our deal and I left her in Tyler's care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Get Bent

Before I get started, does anybody know how to combine my Networked Blogs with the Google Followers? It's driving me a little crazy....

Back to Horseville...A few posts ago I was writing about holes. Finding holes in my training or my riding and being able to fix them in order to correct a myriad of mistakes.

What happens if the holes turn into a a giant black swamp thing that swallows you and your horse whole and threatens everything you've ever learned and believed in?

I don't know either. Because I truly believe you can fix just about anything if you can find where the problem starts and deconstruct the mechanics that put it in place.

What do you do if your problem comes back to a core issue that can't be fixed? Like a sluggish back leg that links back to a stifle area, or a stiff poll that is caused by damaged vertebrae.

How about when it's the rider with the permanent issue?

I discussed briefly finding out I was crooked. There were some good tips on straightening up, but the truth is they were a little depressing, because my "hole" is not only permanent, it's progressive. Once I found out what was going on I confirmed the situation with my doctor and then went to fretting about it.

Once I got over the fretting I began to think things through. My physical changes haven't taken away my experience or knowledge. I still have plenty to work with. I still have the feel I've spent so many years developing. It was my feel that made me realize I was in my horse's way and start to track down the issue.

So what do I do about it?

I approach the problem as I would any horse challenge, break it down to the basics and build back up.

I remember that horses are among the kindest and most forgiving animals out there. If I can clearly communicate my needs, a good horse will try to accommodate me.

Horses are much better at accepting new approaches in their relationships with the people who ride them than the riders are.

I have two primary problems. My seat bones no longer distribute my weight evenly in the saddle and my right shoulder is curled forward and down.

These are the issues I have to accept.

The first thing I have done is to begin an exercise program to slow down my crookedness. Walking and yoga seem to be the best for my particular issues. I walk up and down an extremely steep bluff by my house. It has really helped my strength and balance.

The yoga hasn't begun yet. But I think it will help with my straightness.

The next thing I've done is work on ways to clearly communicate with my horses in spite of the problems I'm creating for them.

I have started back at the walk and worked my way though their gaits, turning, stopping and circling while really reaching for the feel of my horse and how she is responding to me.

I have found if I sit lighter in my seat so I'm not communicating as much with my seat bones and use a clear and exaggerated, leg on, leg off cue I'm getting much closer to solving some of my problems. I also am creating pre-cues for both me and my horses that get us ready for my next weight change, or the change in my hip alignment when I pull my shoulder out of the way.

This is a highly personal approach. It can't be taught, it has to be figured out through careful thought and experimentation. I think anyone can do it though.

It takes an honest evaluation of yourself, an understanding how your "holes" are affecting your horse and working out an alternative.

My last thought is this. My horses can jolly well suck it up and figure out what I need, in spite of me.I feed them, vet them, care for their feet and emotional well being. If I need the Primadonna to take a fence turn with me floating out to the right, as long as I've set her up to be able to complete the task at hand, she'd better do it. Dang it.

The young woman in the video is a Para-Olympic competitor. If that kind of riding can't shut me up and put me to work, nothing can.

If I feel myself fading into a big fat pity party, I can remember a few things. I want to ride no matter what. Teaching myself and my horses to get along in the world in spite of ourselves is nothing more than a training challenge. And you know how I love those holes.

So lets give ourselves a break. If we can'tbe perfectly straight, if we can't get the feel we think we should have, then find a new way. It might turn out to be a better one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mouthy Monday on Tuesday

This letter made me feel just great. It's wonderful to know somebody on the other side of the tracks heard me.

My only suggestion to Beth is, next, get rid of the twist completely and try a smooth snaffle.

Thanks for making my day Beth and please call me Mugs...I'm finally shed of the "Mugly."

Dear Mugly,

First off I know this is an extremely late reply to your post on cavessons in FHOTD, but I’m a college student and finals are coming up, so I’m sure you can understand why it’s late. I’ve been a long time reader of your blog , but I've never posted before, but your post about cavessons caused an epiphany of sorts for me. I also used to read FHOTD, but I could no longer stand the mob like mentality of FHOTD. So I switched to you, and your ideas always leave me assessing my own riding/training. FYI this is a rather long e-mail, sorry!

Before I begin, I’ll give you a little background on myself and my horses, which happen to be half-Arabians *insert comment about Arabians here*. I ride just about every discipline, but my main focus is Saddleseat and the hunters * add another comment about saddleseat*. I own two horses, one is a National Show Horse(Arabian x saddlebred)aka Jack, he’s the hunter. The other is my Saddleseat mount, an Arabian x hackney mare, a very opinionated mare at that, but her work ethic is unbeatable, she will go for hours if you ask her too. She’s also the one I always have trouble with when it comes to hardness in the mouth, which I formally attributed to her being a Saddleseat horse, those double-bridles are a lot of hard-ware in their mouth. The national show horse is a wimp and I ride him in a slow twist snaffle, and he’s pretty soft compared to her. Bonnie, the mare, I have to ride in a hard twist snaffle, both are always ridden in cavessons. I’ve ridden my way up from 4-H, up to the Arabian circuit and have done pretty well considering. I’m a ‘do it yourself’ kind of girl, at shows I do all the grooming, feeding, and saddling, I won’t pay someone to do what I can do myself. Call me frugal if you want, but that’s the way I was raised. But most importantly for our purposes, I do all the training, which at first, was much to the annoyance of my barn owner, but now she ask me to ride horses for her. So that makes me feel pretty confident that I’m not totally screwing up my horses. At the barn I keep them at, it was highly suggested *cough*forced*cough* to me to use a cavesson, all the time, every single ride, and those suckers are cinched up tight too. I never questioned their uses and their purpose until now.

A few days after I read your post about cavessons I went out to the barn and no one was there, so that little hamster in my brain started to run. As I was getting out my mare, magically, one neuron fired to another and I thought “hey why don’t I try riding Bonnie without a cavesson?” As I tacked her up, I couldn’t help but think about what a crazy idea this was, there was no way I would be able to ride the entire time without a cavessons, it would just be one big pissing match. Since I thought I was already in for a fight, I decided to put her in a slow-twist copper snaffle instead of her usual sharp twist, what can I say I’m a glutton for punishment. As I walked her out to the arena I sighed as I swung my butt up into the western saddle, grumbling “this is going to be fun” to myself. I wondered why I ever thought to try this. I mean, I like Mugly ideas, but she only rides quarter horses, not Arabians! They’re totally different! All of these reasons of why it wouldn't work ran through my head. So I gathered by reins, geared up for the ensuring fight, and waited for her to bust through my hands and stick her nose out. But to my complete and utter shock, she gave to my hands and went off quietly, soft and willing in my hands.

I’m pretty sure I had to scrape my jaw off the arena floor; my mare hadn’t been this soft since those first months of training. Being the pessimist that I am, I figured that she would only be soft at a walk, so I pushed her into a trot, and I got the same lightness and ease as I got at the walk. I didn’t get it; she was soft in my hands, she didn’t gape her mouth, she wasn’t evading my legs or hands, she happily moved off my legs and seat, she was being perfect.

I just could understand it, was this really my horse? The heavy, touchy mare was gone; instead I had a happy, soft horse. I pressed my outside leg into her for the canter, which normally is freight train time for us, but this time she just flowed into it. I was doing lead changes, stops, pivots, side-passing, backing, anything I could think of to see if it was just a fluke. But it wasn’t, my mare was soft; she was soft in a slow twist snaffle, which is something she hadn’t been in two years. My gelding was the exactly same way, soft and happy.

A little side note, but I tried this idea on a mare who has a habit of flipping over when she feels trapped, which is often, I'm crazy I know. She's heavy in the mouth as my own mare, and when she feels trapped watch out! Its like a nuclear explosion. So I removed the cavesson, but a simple snaffle on, again wondering if I was headed for an early grave, but again it was like someone had sprinkled her with fairy dust, she was fine. She didn't feel panicked or trapped, I amazed me to think that something as simple as removing a cavesson could fix the problem of flipping, that a a good crack on her butt! She's been fine ever since I loosened/removed the cavesson. So Mugly I though you should know that you saved a good horse from going to an auction, and most likely the slaughter house.

So long story short, it worked, it really worked. (Sorry it was so long!) To be honest I kind of laughed when I read your article, and thought to myself “yeah right, come ride MY horse, she’ll show you!” Well I guess she showed me! Thank you for opening my eyes to what my horses have been trying to tell me, they don’t need all that hardware to perform. It wasn’t my horses being nasty and hard just because, they where looking for an escape from the pressure of the cavesson. Looking back I was just being lazy. I won’t say that I won’t every ride with a cavesson again, because, well that’s a lie, I simply apart of the world I ride in. But now I know that I really don’t need it, and that my horse doesn’t need to either. You got a person who shows Arabians to change their mind about cavessons, whats the world coming too?!

So here’s to you Mugs, thank you for showing me that just because everyone else thinks something works or is right, doesn’t mean it is.
The picture is of my two horses, the bay is the mare, the paint is the gelding 

Friday, December 9, 2011


It was my first "real' training job.

I was the official trainer and riding instructor at a small boarding and breeding barn in Green Mountain Falls CO.

The couple that owned the stable was friendly, outgoing and opinionated. The Chief and Madge were strong believers in the foundation lines of quarter horses and students of primitive color. They stood a buckskin stallion and bred for color.

The look of their horses was a familiar comfort and they were patient with my lack of experience in the current show world. I was good enough to run a small group of students, could start a nice colt, work with a rank broodmare and was more than willing to learn the ropes from the young trainer that was preparing their stud for the IBHA show circuit . We seemed a good fit.

One of my first duties was to work with Madge and her mare DixieAnne.

     "DixieAnne is a special case," the Chief told me. "She's a well bred mare, with plenty of Poco Bueno top and bottom. She seems to have some problems with her way of going. Madge is extremely fond of her and wants to show her, but they've got a long way to go before we can put them in the ring."

Madge came into the barn with a proud strut, leading a coarse, large boned mare with a pretty face and a bright expression. The mare's shaggy winter coat hid her so-so build, but her extreme cowhocks were a standout no matter what the season. Her tongue was in constant motion. It worked busily around her muzzle, reaching for the shanks of the mechanical hackamore, wiping out her nostrils, or just wagging back and forth, slinging a steady stream of slobber.

"This is my DixieAnne," Madge shouted. Her wizened, monkey face lit up as she slapped the pale dun mare's neck. "Isn't she something?"

I took a sip of my coffee in order to delay making any comments that could end my job before it had really started. I scrambled to find some suitable compliments. DixieAnne didn't seem bothered by Madge's habit of hollering every word that came out of her mouth. She even seemed to enjoy Madge petting her with the same enthusiasm, whacking her hard on the neck, shoulder and butt while cutting loose with her air horn praise, "Good girl, DixieAnne, good girl!"

"She seems like a nice, level headed horse." I managed.The mare stepped into me and used her bony head to whack my hand so hard she flipped my cup of very hot coffee back into my face. I was saved from being burned by the spit bath that covered me. The malicious gleam in DixieAnne's eye told it wasn't the first time she had played this little prank.

"Ha!" Madge cut loose with a pleased belly laugh."Isn't she something? I've always said, if DixieAnne came from a litter of puppies she'd be the funny spotted one."

"Uh, yeah, could you maybe back her off a step or two?" I asked. "Why don't you crawl up there and show me what she can do."

Madge led DixieAnne out into the arena and I watched her mount up. The mare stood with all four feet planted while Madge dragged herself up, but the tongue never let up. She rode off quiet and willing.

The Chief stayed with me in the center of the ring. DixieAnne had the weirdest hitch in her getalong I had ever seen. She wasn't limping, she was kind of rolling along, loose jointed and relaxed, yet all four legs were completely out of sync. She weaved and wobbled between the reins, every bit the stagger of an old drunk with one too many under his belt. Madge gathered up her reins and got ready to trot.

"Wait til' you see this," the Chief said with a grin.

DixieAnne wan't trotting, she had sped up her shambling walk, head bobbing first, her tongue began running over her muzzle even faster and foam began flying before she broke into a true, lateral pace. The pace had none of the flow of a Foxtrotter, the strides in the back were shorter than the front and her front legs moved out slightly out of sync with each other.

"What is she doing?" I was in absolute awe.

"We sure as hell don't know," Madge bellowed, "but let me tell you, it hurts!"

"We bought her as a broodmare," the Chief told me, "so her way of going shouldn't have been a problem, but then Madge took a shine to her and decided she wants to show her."

I had nothing. My mind refused to acknowledge what my eyes were seeing and my ears were hearing.

Madge brought DixieAnne up to us and yelled "Whoa!"

DixieAnne stopped a foot from my face and went in for the head butt. I was on to her now and jumped back before she got me. The Chief and Madge laughed with delight.

"Get on her and give her a whirl," the Chief said.

"You've got to feel it to believe it!" Madge shouted.

I was relieved when, other than a few friendly swipes of the tongue DixieAnne stood quiet while I adjusted my stirrups. There were manners in there somewhere.

We rode off at a walk and I couldn't believe what I was feeling. Everything moved out of sync, from the head bob, through her shoulders and hips to her legs.

When I asked for a trot the pace was bone rattling and my back began to seize in protest. After a few laps around the arena I sucked it up and cued for a lope.

I almost fell off.

I was riding an old hay truck, stuck in second gear, down a steep hill.

"Good God Almighty," I said. The Chief and Madge were laughing so hard they had to hold each other up.

We tried the other lead and I got more of the same. At least she was consistent.

I finally asked her to stop, well, maybe begged her to stop, and she parked it very nicely.

"What exactly do you want me to do with this horse?"

The Chief was suddenly all business. "Why, train her of course. Teach her to walk, trot and lope like she's supposed to."

"I'm going to need to have regular lessons too," Madge shouted. "I'm planning on cleaning up at the IBHA shows!"

My life flashed before my eyes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Larry Trocha and Keeping It Honest

Anon said : Mugs - speaking of Larry Trocha what's your take on him? I have always wondered. I have been reading his stuff for awhile and mostly dig the guy. Do you have any personal experience with him?


Part of why I did the Larry Trocha spiel was to share these videos.

His colt starting is very similar to mine, except I don't do the longe line part. I'll get somebody to pony me sometimes.

Notice there's none of this lope the first ride stuff? I like that too. I have loped my first ride, but only if that's where the colt chose to go.

I like the way he gains control using turns on the fence. It seems more productive than my way of bending in circles. That little horse is already using his hind end.

-Smoke, 3rd time saddled:

Smoke, being ridden on lunge line:

Smoke, firt ride with NO lunge line:

Smoke, the 7th ride:

I also wrote a "Horse Training Tips Insider" newsletter about the "Time Frame"
of training a colt.

You can read it here:

I have been a supporter and promoter of Larry Trocha for many years.

When I first started training horses "officially" I was in way over my head. I was riding a bad tempered, poorly handled stud and the only thing I knew about the events I was supposed to ride him in, or stallion management, was that I didn't have a clue.

I was working with a competent trainer, but I felt like a complete gunzel and desperately wanted some more input.

I read every book and horse magazine I could find, but it wasn't enough. One day I read an ad in a magazine for a free training video. A cutting trainer in California, Larry Trocha, was offering a free video called "How to Slide, Stop and Spin."

Free was in my budget so I sent away for the video without any high hopes. How good could it be for free?

I was delighted. I completely understood his approach and was able to apply a lot of what he said to what I was learning with the trainer.

When tax return time came around I looked at his video packages and couldn't quite find what I needed, so I called Trocha training stables to see what it would take to get what I needed.

Larry answered the phone, which kind of threw me. "It's a slow day and the gal who takes care of the business side of things is off today. How can I help you?"

I told him the situation I was in and he helped me put together a great video package. Before we finalized the deal he asked me what my background was. I told him I had studied Monte Foreman's training methods under Mike Craig and had spent one long summer cleaning stalls for Monte in exchange for one, 8 hour day riding with him.

He laughed and said, "That sounds like Monte."

I asked if he knew him and it turns out he was a student of his.

No wonder I got all his concepts about rhythm and timing! We got to talking some more and it turns out we were both there the same summer. I was shoveling and he was riding. He was one of those kids who kept his horse there and rode with Monte daily. One of the kids I was so jealous of I would have spit if I hadn't been choking on my own bile.

The tapes helped me immensely and as the years passed and I finally became competent, I still bought his videos. I've used Larry's tapes for cow work and hackamore training. We have emailed back and forth occasionally and although I don't know him, he's always come across as a friendly, accessible guy.

I would kill to actually ride with him someday.

Larry and I don't train the same, but he's as close as I get to somebody you can buy a video from. I think he's easy to understand and honest in his opinions. I also get the impression he doesn't give a rat's ass about public opinion, he just wants the horse to get trained and for everybody to stay safe.

So here's where I make a slick segue into my next subject - keeping it honest.

One of the biggest traps we trainers fall into is trying to keep everybody happy and to act like we know all the answers for every situation.

Just because I know how to start a colt and train a cowhorse does not mean I can watch a rope horse go and understand why the horse had a slower time than the one before it. Beyond, 'it runs out of the box and the rider catches the cow,' I'm ignorant. I could no more help that rider improve his score by watching his run than I could teach a Mahout how to cheer up a grumpy elephant.

If I keep it honest I could help a roper with horsemanship skills, trouble shooting and behavior issues. I could help limber the horse up and teach him to take both flipping leads, if that's what was wanted.

If I was smart I would get the roper to help me build a loop, explain the difference between a good run and a bad one, why they ride long in the stirrup and what's different between their roping saddle and my cutter.

This still wouldn't make me an expert, but I would have an idea of what was involved in the sport and could provide better training if I got a rope horse in to work.

The next side of keeping it honest is to find my "holes." I just love finding holes. I found a great one this past summer while I was out riding with the Big K.

I have been having a heck of a time with the right side of my horses. From the nose, to the  rib, to the haunch, Madonna and Odin have been slow, stiff and sticky. Fence turns were slow and awkward to the right and smooth to the left. When I was cutting, Madonna was stopping short on her cow to the right and kind of slinging herself through the turn.

I knew it was me, but I couldn't figure out where it was. I had friends and family watch me ride and nobody could see anything. My hips were straight and my legs were even. I rode looking through her ears like I was supposed to.

I emailed and called the Big K but he couldn't figure it out either. It was really frustrating.

Then I went to visit K at his ranch.

Five minutes into our first ride he said, "Why Janet, you're crooked."


"Yes you are."


Turns out my hips and legs, head and neck are even. But my right shoulder has begun to curl in and has also dropped a couple of inches. Kind of like I'm looking to the left, but I'm not. This was causing me to very effectively block my horses right shoulder.

"I wonder what caused that?" I said.

"I don't care, just quit doing it," Mr. Communication replied.

If I had fallen into the easy trap of hiding my weakness it would have caused me all kinds of problems down the road. Hiding a problem I'm having from my clients (back in the day when I still had clients) and especially from myself, can only hurt my horse's performance, physical ability and mind.

I'll use my weird twist as an example. If I had been dishonest with myself I would have blamed my horses. I would have rammed and jammed on them and forced them to work their way through my weakness. They would have eventually done what I said, but it would teach them to tune or what I was saying to them with my body.

Why listen to any of my cues when they only meant something one way? I would have ended up relying on hands and spurs more and communication less. This creates resentment on both our sides and eventually is how horses are labeled untalented, difficult or sometimes, dangerous.

You also can't get in the money riding that way.

Over the years I have learned the hard way to keep it honest with my horses. I've paid my price for thinking I had the answers when I didn't, and by learning to ask for help, I've started to get the answers to quite a few of my questions.

I just love finding holes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

We seem to have a few new readers. Yip!
I thought I would explain some of the Mouthy Mondays guidelines, as a refresher for a lot of us and as new information for those who are interested.

I love stories. I like telling them, sharing them and hearing them. Mouthy Mondays is your chance to share.

It's all about the story here. Please don't duck out on telling us a good tale because you're afraid of your ability to write. This is a conversation and and if there is an argument or criticism from the readers it will be about content or opinion, won't be about how it's presented.

The only editing I ever do is to break things up into easy to read, short paragraphs. I hit spell check too, in case you forgot. That's all.

I have never had to edit the comments before, although I may have spammed a malcontent or two, but I'll start if the comments take a turn to the fugly, er, ugly. We disagree, argue and discuss here, but we don't attack. Ever.
 Let us know who you are, give me your blog or site address and we'll make sure to post it.
So feel safe and please share. We can't wait to read your stories.

This story comes from Kelly.

I first got on a horse at the age of 6. His name was Ginger and he was beautiful. Though I didn't ride with him long (we moved country) I rode on and off constantly from that time, but somehow I never became properly "into horses" until I reached the relatively late age of 17.

This was also when I realised that for all my years of riding I was, essentially, rubbish.

I was looking for activities to boost my University application and a local stables for disabled riders needed volunteers, so I started to work there. This was the first time I'd really spent time looking after and getting to know a small group of horses. I grew to know each little quirk and character. I became steadily more and more obsessed with them. As a lucky bonus for my volunteer work one of the girls who was training to be an instructor used to give me the odd free lesson so she could practice her lesson plans. One day she came out with the words that changed my riding forever "Haven't you been riding since you were like 6?" "Yeah?" "It's just that, well, you really should know a lot more than you do".

I had had my suspicions that the stables where I rode wasn't great, it wasn't easy riding in a group of 13 riders in a 40x20m school, not to mention how often it happened that you would be introduced to a lovely but naughty horse to ride, spend lesson after lesson hitting the dirt and climbing back up, working on this horse with all your heart for the 60minutes you had with him, only to find a few months down the line, when you really thought you were getting somewhere, that the horse was sold and you were to ride a new green thing that they'd bought.

My new school was worlds apart, I'd never actually seen an instructor get on a horse and ride before. Nor had I ever had a lunge lesson. For months my instructor tore apart what I'd been taught; I knew how to sit a buck, I was eager and confident to canter and jump, but I knew none of the basics, the only way I knew to communicate with the horse under me was with huge ungainly kicks and unnecessary yanks of the reins. I was put on horses that knew better, horses who were trained well beyond any standard I'd ever ridden, horses that could teach me.

Then, one lesson, I was introduced to Bottom.

Not the most attractive name for a pony, not the most attractive pony either. He was a scruffy looking chestnut, and he was the most sensitive horse I have ever met. Not his mouth, that was fine, but to weight aids, you could not even glance the wrong way without sending this boy off course. Honest to god I'd be surprised if we spent more than 5 minutes of that first hour together actually going where we were meant to go. Were I more confident in my abilities I probably would have thought him an incredibly naughty horse, but by this point I was quite used to the fact that everything I thought I knew about riding was wrong. Yanking on the right rein and collapsing at the hip had always managed to turn the horses at my old stable right, but Bottom started walking the left. I came away from that first lesson determined to figure him out. Up till now I had been merely sitting on horses, but there was a whole world of "real" riding that I didn't know yet, and Bottom was my key!

My instructor was kind enough to put me on him for pretty much every lesson for the next year or so, at first improvement was slow, but gradually I learned to feel where my weight was going, I got a feel for when I wasn't quite centred, when to put more weight onto this seat bone, or into that stirrup. I also learned that he had a wicked buck when he wanted to, and how to make sure he was listening enough to me so that I wouldn't have to experience said buck.

Some time later my instructor decided to hold a small informal dressage competition, open to anyone from our stables. I had never competed in anything before but I decided this was as good a time as any. A year before I would have thought completing any level of dressage test on this wobbly little pony was impossible, I was nearly right, he suddenly decided there were horse eating monsters in the corner of the school (yes, the same one we rode in every Thursday night together) and that the judge would appreciate a show of his jumping abilities...over her foot, which happened to be just sticking into the edge of the school.
Despite it all we placed second; "a good ride on an obviously difficult pony"

There it was; "a good ride". My good ride.

I still don't own a horse, I still spend far more time than any reasonable 22 year old should reading up on horses and dreaming. But one day it will happen. And when it does I'm sure I'll have just as much to learn and relearn as I did 5 years ago!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Good Morning! Or What I Learned at FHOTD

Whew. I am so glad to be home!

I missed you guys so much.

My stint in over at Styx...I mean FHOTD taught me a ton.

Some bad, some good, all of it a definite benefit for our blog, Mugwump Chronicles.

I've been immersed in the world of snark long enough I might as well purge myself and talk about the bad first thing.

Writing over there was a lot like herding ADD, rabid, feral cats. Trying to dodge all the infected claws made me start to want to bite back. I'm not that kind of writer, horseman or person.

I was continually amazed at how so many readers were intent on dissecting my presumed bias, my writing style, my lack of education (how the hell did they find out I never made it past the 2nd grade and the only training background I have is from Earl Bob's Fourth Generation Parreli Video School?).

It got to where I was throwing in a bone of contention just to see if anybody could read past it to find my real point.

Although it was amusing, at least to me, I was pretty disheartened to see how few actually figured out the direction of my posts.

My life training horses has changed me on every level. I became kinder, more thoughtful, more open to all aspects of life. I'm nice to dogs, kids and people with different perspectives.

I know many an old cowboy who can't spell worth a damn who can train circles around me and most of those who think they know horses. As you guys know, on this blog, I have always wanted to hear from everyone with a story to tell or some training advice and have never allowed any criticism of how they might string a sentence together.

Part of my reasoning goes back to my opinion that horse training isn't rocket science and the education needed to truly become Horsaii doesn't come from books. It has paid off and we've always gotten wonderful input over here from people from all walks of life.

The sheer anger emanating from so many of the posters really threw me. How can you be successful in centering yourself with your horse and not have it seep out to the other living, breathing beings around you? Serial killers start by burning ants with a magnifying glass and build from there. Just sayin'.

What did I like? The discussions in the comments. They would start by screaming and bashing and jumping up and down. Then a few people would start to defend me.

Then the personal,back and forth bashing would commence.

After the slap fest died down an actual conversation would begin. This is where I loved it. There were great ideas and thought provoking insights, there were people who began to look at different aspects of things and intelligent discussion.

That is the part I would like to see over here. I'd like to have more conversation with you guys, more arguments, more opinions. I don't see why we can't and still avoid the fisticuffs.

While Cathy was heading FHOTD I steered away from her subject matter, just as a courtesy. Now, I see no reason to hold back from expanding our horizons. The slaughter debate, bad training methods, current breeding practices, all of these things interest me and I'd like to be more pro-active in writing about them.

Being a typical Mugwump, I can't just come out throwing my opinions around. I'd rather do the research, present both sides and learn from you guys. So I'm looking into adding a current events page. We'll cover the good, the bad and the WTH? parts of the horse world.

It will be in addition to, not taking away from our old format. I have to admit, while it's kind of scary over there, those posters kept me on my toes. I think I was needing a kick in the butt and some new insight to keep the Chronicles fresh and exciting.

Also, I want to get the Equine Mind Meld up and running. We'll present a training question and get input from everybody, different approaches, different ways of untying the knot. This has been a personal pet project of mine for a long time and I'm ready to start playing with it.

Because I'm a complete computer boob, I'll be asking you for help on getting all this stuff set up, but I think it will be worth it.

There are some great people who read FHOTD. I hope some of them stop by and join in on our kinder, gentler sight.

I'm looking forward to a new site design, hopefully with easy to read and cruise additions. Any ideas on how we can expand and grow are welcome.

I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to barf on the keys again and tell you anything that comes to mind.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Scared or Mad - Tally

Tally settled right back into work. She was bright and cheerful, happy to be ridden and learning at an incredible rate of speed.

Kathy may have been holding a grudge, but Tally continued to treat her with the same, pre-hurricane-ride-from- hell, calm, friendly attitude every time Kathy brought her out of her pen to groom and saddle her.

"She's like a shark," Kathy grumbled, "just swimming around, waiting for somebody to fall in the water."

"Give her a break," I told her, "it was my fault, she wasn't ready for another rider, that's all."

"Oh, she was ready for me, don't kid yourself."

I went to work on Tally. No more soft, quiet, careful rides. I swung up on her right off the tie wall and pushed her straight into a trot. I leaned and tilted and poked her in the sides with my heels. I rode with uneven reins and tipped my weight to the left or right.

I mixed up my cues, sometimes riding with just my hands and sometimes with only my legs. I drug myself into the saddle, pulling on the horn and thumping into my seat.

She didn't take it well. Her eyes would go wide, her head would come up, her tail would kink and I could feel her feet start to scatter. She would pull herself together though, all it took to bring her back was a deep exhale and relaxing the muscles in my thighs, then my knees and ankles. With each breath my seat would deepen and Tally would settle. She was trying hard and she never bolted.

I found one huge, earth sucking, black hole.  She couldn't seem to handle her rider "going fetal."

If I tensed up, hunched over her shoulders and grabbed the horn she would panic. Tally would have surely bolted if I stayed that way, but I was able to get her back by simply sitting up and parking my seat bones where they belonged.

"Why do you keep doing that to her?" The boss asked me.

"Because it's the one trigger I can't seem to work her through. I'm never going to get her sold if she can't take a rider grabbing for the horn."

"When are you going to admit the mare is a one-person horse? Nobody else is ever going to be able to ride her."

"I refuse to believe there is such a thing," I answered.

The boss snorted and sauntered off.

I would work her up, bring her down, work her up again, each time she would come back to me a little sooner. When her reaction was slower and her settling quicker I would back off and put her to work. It was our favorite part of the day. She would relax into her lope, chugging around like a little freight train. I could feel the electricity in her muscles channel into the task at hand, her power would shift to her strong hind legs and her back would lift, carrying me forward with a lovely, natural cadence.

When we worked, Tally was solid as a rock, it was easy to let my mind go with the steady rhythm of her feet and become lost in the feeling of being one, not a rider on a horse, but a single sentient being. I hadn't felt this way on a horse since racing through Palmer Park on  Mort, my first horse and the best friend of my high school years.

Tally was a cool little horse and I was sure I could place her if I could just unlock that last little knot.

My long time student and client, Crystal, was the next to volunteer to try her. She knew what had happened to Kathy, but she had also seen the progress Tally was making.

"Are you sure?" I asked her. "Tally might give you a run for the money, you'll have to be willing to stick with her."

"I think I can do it," Crystal said with confidence, "besides, I just drool watching you ride her, she's so beautiful."

I looked at Tally's funny little hammer head and scratched her dented, scarred neck.

"Beautiful huh? That's not a word I usually have pop into my head when I think of Tally."

"Some people think rattlesnakes are beautiful," the ever helpful Kathy pointed out.

I understood what Crystal meant though. Tally reminded me of the horses in a Remington painting. Her muscular little body and sturdy, hairy little legs all flowed together in the rhythm of a time gone by. She didn't meet the standards of the modern Quarter Horse, but everything about her showed an economy and strength that made beautiful sense. Her heavy mane and tail, whiskery face and the wild look in her large, soft eyes made me feel like the very cowboys that had drawn me into the life I had chosen.

If Crystal got it, then maybe she was the next rider that could throw a leg over my wild child and succeed.

We arranged for her to come ride on a Thursday afternoon after a good workout. If she could simply ride her through a cool down we would be on the right track. Thursday was good, Tally would be two days away from her day off, but far enough into the week to have the sass off her. It was the best I could do.

Thursday arrived and Crystal came early.

"I'm not ready for you yet Crystal."

"I'm just so excited," she told me. "Can I get Tally ready? Will she let me catch her? Can I at least groom her?"

"It would more than likely be best if Kathy catches her and gets her ready. Let's keep to her routine for today. Why don't you ride yours first?"

"James or Fallon?"

"I'd ride both." It seemed Crystal needed some sass ridden off her too.

Tally was good for me that day. She tolerated my pulling and hauling better than usual and went through her workout with her usual bright attitude. I worked her hard, there was steam rising from her neck and flanks and a solid two-cooler sweat dripping down her legs by the time we were both happy.

Crystal had ridden both of hers and tied them to the wall. She still seemed eager, but her happy chihuahua excitement had calmed and I could see she was thinking clearly. Tired works on both horses and riders.

"OK, let's get this show on the road," I told her. "It's getting chilly and I need time to cool her out before I put her up." 

The breeze had sprung up and was blowing through the open end of the arena. I debated closing the door against the winter chill, but Tally hated it when I rode with it closed and it would take another ten minutes for me to wrestle the barrier gate open and drag the heavy door closed. I didn't need to rile her up now, so I just blew on my hands and buttoned up my jacket after I handed Crystal the reins.

 "I thought I was going to cool her out," Crystal said.

"Well that would be my intent, but my guess is Tally will get pretty nervous. Maybe not, just take it easy on her...."

Before I could go any further Crystal gathered the reins and swung up in one smooth motion.

"We'll be fine, won't we Tally girl?" She said and leaned over to rub her hard under her bushy mane.

I sucked in my breath about as hard as Tally did, but she stayed in place while Crystal scratched her neck. Maybe Tally liked Crystal's inner chihuahua, because her head relaxed and she licked her lips.

"C'mon Tally, let's go," Crystal said and they walked off easy as could be.

I was tickled to death. Tally was cruising along, head level, tail swinging in a cheerful cadence and Crystal was relaxed and calm.

"Remember," I said, "if she jumps, sit deep and pull her around your leg with one rein."

"She's fine," Crystal said.

"Good, I'm glad you're comfortable. But don't pull straight back and don't grab the horn if things get hairy."

"Fine Grandma."

Crystal's teasing seemed justified. They wandered around the arena, Crystal steered her left and right, asked her to stop and back, and just generally dinked with her, Tally seemed to be enjoying the ride.

"Can I trot her? Crystal asked me. "I'm not worried about her at all."

"I don't see why not, you're looking good, just remember to cluck instead of..."

Before I could finish my sentence Crystal bumped Tally with both heels. Tally jumped forward into a lope, still calm, just a little confused.

When Tally jumped, it was quick and liquid, easy to sit but startling in speed. Crystals hands came up and she pulled back hard. Tally's head came up and her eyes widened, she leaned into the bit and sped up.

"Crystal, don't, you need to either turn her or let her lope, you're fine," I called.

Crystal's face was rigid. I realized she wasn't going to hear a thing I said. She braced her legs, locking her knees and pulled harder. Tally gathered her legs under her and they were off.

She jumped once, twice against the hold Crystal had on her and bolted. They went careening around the arena, with Tally building speed with every stride.

Son of a bitch. I walked to the middle of the arena, trying to present a Zen-like trainerly presence. Crystal was hanging in there, but she wasn't thinking at all.

"You've got her Crystal, you can bring her down," I crooned, as well as I could croon over the pounding of Tally's feet. I stayed positioned as close to neutral as I could, I was hoping I could tune Tally in, but I didn't want to create a turn.

By the third lap I could see Crystal begin to think again. She forced herself to loosen the reins and looked at me.

"Try to tighten your inside rein," I told her. "Bring her in a smaller circle. Don't pull back, just guide."

She brought up her inside hand and I exhaled in relief.

Crystal pulled, hard, and yanked Tally's head almost to her knee. Tally stumbled to one knee and I thought we were done, but I should have known better. Crystal dropped her rein and grabbed at the horn. Her back hunched, her knees gripped tight and her toes pointed down as her fear won out.

 Tally was on her feet in a flash and took off in a beeline across the arena. She headed straight for the five-foot barrier gate and was flat out in three strides. I watched in helpless horror as visions of them smashing into the heavy metal rails filled my mind.

Tally cleared it, with only a click of one hind foot and a flip of her black tail.

Crystal stuck it. She flipping stuck it.

I yipped and headed after them when Tally landed clean and began to slow. Crystal fell off. She just let go and hit the dirt. In the 70's one of my favorite programs was called Laugh In. There was a recurring skit where comedian Art Carney, in a shiny yellow rain coat, rode a tiny tricycle. He would peddle along and then fall over, flat on his side totally rigid and still on the trike. It was hilarious. I had to slap my hand over my mouth to stop the strangled laugh that was fighting it's way to the surface when the image of the man falling off that trike filled my mind. I couldn't believe I was laughing, but I was.

I ran up to Crystal and kneeled next to her. "Are you OK?"

She rolled over and looked me in the eye.

"You owe me a Margarita at Jose's for riding that loon," she said, "and the Deluxe Enchilada plate for laughing at me."

I couldn't disagree.

When I gathered Tally up she whiffled my shirt with her soft warm breath. I rubbed her forward and played with her little fox ears.

"Tally old girl," I told her. "It's time to call in the big guns."