Saturday, May 30, 2009

"A Man Convinced Against His Will . . .

is of the same opinion, still." That is a quote out of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People book. No, I haven't read it, and yes, I probably should. It's a paraphrase from a guy named Laurence J. Peter. The point is, there is no winning side to an argument.

Seeming segue, down the street on the way to Arron's shop is a church marquee. Right now what's been on there for quite some time is "truth is not taught, it is lived."

Both of these concepts spring from the same vein, and I have been giving them a lot of thought lately. Yes, toward, you, my fellow human beings traversing the planet with me, but of course, WAY more as it effects my horses.

I made a comment in another post about the wonder of Jack, my rescue horse, acknowledging me of his own free will and volition and the change that made in him. A few people were puzzled, didn't he already know me? What was the big deal about him recognizing me, that way? I meant to get across the wonder of him reaching for me, and letting me know that I am part of his world. It wasn't that he suddenly discovered me, it was that he brought me in, instead of me reaching for him, and putting myself in HIS space.

I know Colleen Hamer taught this idea at her clinic, awhile back, and I teach it at mine, too. The necessity of getting a horse to acknowledge those things in his surroundings that bother him, whether it's an obstacle, water crossing, a saddle, or whatever. A frightened or unwilling horse can be made to do just about anything he thinks he absolutely has to . . . The horse says, "I Am NOT Okay With THIS! I Do NOT Want To DO This!!" Sometimes there is bucking, sometimes rearing, most of the time, the horse, under lash and spur or just continual urging, will eventually go forward, tear through it, and the rider thinks they've got the job done, because "we made it, finally, didn't we?" Nevermind that the horse is completely refusing to look at the scary thing, blows through, eyes shut, nose pinched tight.

That horse might cross the obstacle more willingly next time or not, but the resistance will show up, again, somewhere. Guaranteed.

The same goes for trying to reach the mind of the horse as well. I used to go out, keep my halter and lead close to my side, get up to my horse and get that rope around his neck as quick as possible before he could scoot away, and I'd have to spend more day chasing him down. I didn't realize how rude that was, and how it set up our relationship from the very get go. I have a dvd of a benefit Ray Hunt put on, there are all kinds of well known names riding in this, first in the colt starting clinic and then in a horsemanship demonstration. At one point they are trying to catch these unhandled young horses, and Ray remonstrates with a guy. "Wait for the horse," he tells him, "let him come to you." The guy leaves his hand available to the horse (all the while looking very doubtfully at Ray), and sure enough, the colt finally turns, LOOKS at the guy, noses the hand, and the fellow is able to catch and go on with him. It sets an entirely different stage for their process than another guy who ropes his, gets it caught and you later see that colt bucking it's head off, a little further into the process. Do they both get their colts rode? Probably. Which one would you rather buy, end of the day?

Wait for the horse. Fix it up and wait. It's taken me a long time to get a handle on this, more truthfully, it's taken a long time for me to have the patience to give it a try, and the willingness to believe it's worth the wait. I'd rather DO something to the horse to get the result . . . but a horse convinced against his will . . .

As far as the catching part goes, there are exercises to teach your horse to hook up with you. How well it goes is your report card for how well you communicated with your horse that being with you is better than not. For those of you who read my blog, you know that my Percheron/Arabian cross, Moonshine, has handed me steady D's in this department. At long last, in the SMALL pen, she watches me, ears up, the moment I come out of my door (and not always at feeding time), she will walk to the gate to meet me, and if I am going somewhere else, she walks along her side of the fence with me. This is nifty, but frankly, I have little hope it will stay with her, once out in bigger spaces, just yet. She has been through a series of trainers, over the years, that all attempted to put their ideas on top of hers, and she's having no part of it. I am making gains with this lovely mare. Once upon a time, as soon as she heard the door open, her ears swept back and she headed for the furtherest corner, back turned. 'Shine rides nice, and has a lot more faith in my leadership once I am on top than she does when it's time to leave the pasture and the herdmates. I will continue to move forward with her, and continue to wait for her and that's how we'll get there. It will occur to her that the things I do have meaning, and that I am a good, consistent and worthy leader, and she will look to me to take care of her when the wolves approach.

It's so not about the catching, the buddy sour, the barn sour, the trailer loading or any of the other symptoms that we run into that tell us the mind of the horse is not with us. A guy named Marty Marten has written a couple of really nice books, they are through Western Horseman, and are Problem Solving 1 and Problem Solving 2. In the first one, Marty gives all kinds of neat solutions to reach the feet of the horse, first from the ground and then the saddle. In Volume 2, he names a bunch of symptoms (in response to reader mail, I am sure . . . "this is good but my horse won't ____, what do I do about THAT?") Marty states, do exercise ______ as listed in Volume 1. If that doesn't work, try this, and then he'll give another nice alternative to go to . . .

Most of the horses (all of them?) on my place are here because they ran into trouble, somewhere else, to some degree or another. I get to see, first hand, what happens when a human tries to force a horse. I get to experience, first hand, how much longer it takes to fix them than it does to build them correctly from the ground up, in the first place, and unfortunately, how quickly the fix can be undone when the horse is placed back in circumstances that remind it of where it came from, in the first place. I have spent a lot of years rehabbing and selling saddle horses. It is a joy to me that on a lot of the rides I go to, events I attend, my alumni are there, and doing well so it is not all doom and gloom on my side of the river.

The ones that do not do well, break my heart. It's one of the reasons I have slowed WAY down on the outside training and trading business. I do absolutely understand that not everyone shares the passion for understanding the horse the same way I do. I really get that some people just want to get on and enjoy the ride. Horsemanship, like any sport, requires a certain amount of education, practice and discipline to get any kind of enjoyment, decent results and at a bare minimum, safety. I think there probably is an okay middle place between the person who saddles up their horse once a year for the big trail ride/social event, and those of us who spend most of our waking moments, thinking, breathing and dreaming about horses and why they do what they do. Darned hard for us humans to put down our ways of coloring everything we look at with our ideas about how they do or should respond to us, what they think of us, and who is going to WIN.

Working horses yesterday, I wanted to fight. My fabulous and wonderful Australian Shepard, Zan, was hit on the road a couple of days ago. One minute he was by the round pen, with me, the next he had run down, unbeknownst to me, to bark at the neighbor's truck as she made her way home. He was barely out of our drive (too much, off the property) but she was deep in her thoughts and did not see him until she hit him. He died upon impact. I wasn't going to share this but I am a writer and processing through my keyboard is what I do. The rage, the pain, the incredible sorrow at losing this dear friend of mine is lacerating my heart. When one of my mares, who is a saucy wench anyway, wanted to bow up and argue with me, I started to resort to the old "you will see it my way as I am kicking your fat butt all over this land" way of thinking that used to be so much a part of me. It lies under the surface, and when I am wrong in my spirit, comes leaping to the fore. As I felt Ginger's surprise at my harsh hands, giving her little opportunity to respond before twisting her some other way, I made myself let her soften. When I picked up my rein again, asking for her hip to move through indirect pressure and she did not do as I wish, I did not growl, or kick, I did not yank. I stayed methodical and even, until I got the response I desired. Thank God it was Ginger, who is not easily offended and is quick to forgive. Had I lost my temper with Moonshine, I imagine it would be a very long time before I got met at the gate again.

Ginger, being the great mare that she is, gave to me everything I asked for. I didn't cry into her mane, again, did the other day, as she wrapped her neck around me in what I think of as a hug, but I patted and stroked her neck and thanked her for being who she is and helping me remember who I am.

Rest in peace, mr. zan puppy. i will miss you forever. i am so sorry i did not keep you safe.

Friday, May 29, 2009

More Fun Than Ice Cream

. . . thinking about yesterday, I have a smile on my face and a glow in my heart. Day sure didn't start that way, as some of you know with the whole can't find my id for the Bomgaar's drug test thing. Did find an acceptable form of id and spent the entire afternoon at the clinic getting that deal taken care of. That part was not more fun than much of anything except I did get a wild walk down memory lane in my fruitless search for proof of birth and identification. (among other things, I found some photos of me from . . . 1984 . . . yeah baby. Nope, not gonna be seeing them, here you won't . . . )

Had all that crappy congestion in my chest again when I got home and went down for a quick nap before riding (where's the fun part, says you? This doesn't sound like fun . . . ) It all got better about 20 minutes later, dogs exploding in stranger danger warning . . . Not an axe murderer, turns out, just neighbor Teri come to see her filly work.

I rallied, like the noble get 'er done kinda gal I wish I were, and saddled Knosie and Ella.

Did Ella's groundwork out in the barnyard. This is a super quiet laid back filly and I'd like a little more impulsion in her gaits at this point. I don't want her hot and jumpy, that would definitely be a wrong result but she does need to move. I worked with her, getting her to reach equally with all four legs and lengthen her stride without speeding up the strides. This is hard, and she really didn't see the point, much. I have watched Buck and some others "drift the hind" while doing groundwork and under saddle. Watching Missy, she explained that the hind needs to travel on a slightly larger circle (I tend to get more bend through the ribs, and that's not wrong but more bend slows a horse rather than lengthens them, makes sense, huh) than the fore but all four legs should be reaching equally. This sounds more confusing than it is, when you can actually see it happen. Says me who was utterly confused by the concept until . . . I saw it happen. Now I get it.

The thing is, it's not only what happens in the body, as it relaxes, stretches and starts working properly, but the mind of the horse engages as well. I talk about how the mind can't work without some kind of physical manifestation, well, it goes the other way too. When the body is working properly, you have the mind. Through the feet, to the body to the brain. That's the way it works.

Ella's brain is not far away at the worst of times, I am not completely sure what her worst of times even look like. This is one of those once in a lifetime horses that wants to please from the tip of her nose to the end of her pretty long black tail. She is the easiest little horse I have ever ridden in my life. We were laughing about how young horses like this make a person want to go out and buy a truckload . . . kind of like having an easy baby first. You have another one with that false sense of security "what's so tough about this" and then hellspawn arrives.

Once I got a little more try and effort out of that sweet girl, I mounted up and rode around. We played on the hillside, letting her feel a rider's weight as she learns to negotiate up, down and sideways. Rode out in the pasture, headed toward the bridge, but I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted her to go by it or cross it, dunno, I was stuck in my head, it happens, and so we kind of stopped in front of it. She looked back at me like "if you are going to drive, please decide where the heck we are going!" Okay fine. We circled the bridge, came back at straight and with purpose, and over she goes. Stop in the middle, pet her, on again.

My life energy was pretty low, I was happier about being outside, but not feeling the best and she dogged out right along with me. We went into the round pen to open up a trot and get some life stirred in us, both. The round pen instead of staying outside because that is the most level spot with the good footing, and Ella doesn't need to lose her confidence slipping around on the grassy hillside while I try to wake her up. Counterproductive in spades, wouldn't you think?

She jogged around like a little pleasure horse wannabe, and nothing wrong with that if you are asking for that. I wanted forward motion. I want a horse to be able to reach out and really extend that trot. Then, when I want them to slow down, they need to be able to do that, too. I started asking for lateral flexion, moving her hip over and really asking her to power out of the turns so as to build the impulsion and movement. Ella felt a little off to me, we just had her trimmed last weekend, but I have never had a horse come sore after Scotty does his work (yes, I have forgiven Scotty, he is still the best traditional farrier I know for setting up a foot that isn't going to be shod). I stepped down and sent her around a little. She flew! Not listening to me one little bit. Apparently, I was not the only one frustrated with our process, she was just too polite to say so, until now!

When she could turn in, face me, and drop her pace back to a trot by listening to my body language on the ground, I could see her stride. There was something, maybe, but it was tiny. Teri and I both thought she could still work, as neither of us was even sure we were seeing anything at all. You know how it is when you have a really good horse, you DO want to take stock in the bubblewrap factory for fear of some small thing turning into that fatal big thing.

Riding her now is a lot more fun (yes we are getting to the more fun than ice cream part. I really do try to get back to the point of what I started. There are no guarantees and sometimes it's a circuitous route, but I do try). She trots out with a much longer stride, not dropping her shoulders, and keeping a decent, light flex to the inside. This is not just her nose pointed in or her neck bent that I am talking about but a flex all the way through her body. We have to pick it up, sometimes, and I might need to weight my outside stirrup a little to keep her rounded out but she has so much willingness, she follows as I lead. When I don't pay attention, she doesn't either, and that gets my head back where it belongs, on top and not off wandering. When the horse is not responding the way I want, the first thing I need to check is me. Am I asking the question correctly, and is it even the right question in the first place?? It's not the horse's idea to be out there, doing that work, so once again, it is my responsibility to carry the communication and be accountable for the results.

We are really enjoying ourselves now (both of us have ears up and smiles on our faces), but Knosie is saddled and waiting her turn. I ask Teri if she wants to ride the filly while I warm up the Knos. We have decided 30 days on Ella will be fine as Teri has another young horse she'd like some time on as well. I won't normally start a colt for 30 days anymore, it's hard to get enough done to make it stick when they go home if they need halter broke and the whole nine yards, in the beginning. So many owners are really not prepared to go on with their young horses after 30 days and can get in a lot of trouble if they don't have their education as well as the horse. This filly is a special case and Teri knows what she needs to do to follow up. I'll send her home with happy confidence and besides, I am right here when and if they need me.

Knosie isn't looking as happy and relaxed as I would like her to . . . but that changes quickly as her body warms up. She gets a little scared, doing her groundwork and is trying to back out of the pressure. I stay easy, go with her, and keep asking for forward motion. I step away from her as the direction she was backing, it presented a squeeze for her to have to move forward past me and she was very worried about that. Giving her a little more open space, without releasing the pressure to move forward, did the trick. When she found the right answer, moved forward, the pressure came off, and her ears went up. Nothing bad happened to her for giving me an answer I didn't want, I just kept asking til I got the one I did. Then came the release and the praise. Most young horses really need help to build their confidence. She's one, and her appreciation when you get there with her is really obvious.

While I started with the buckskin filly, Teri went on with Ella. We are building lateral movement, and had a few decent sidepass steps, using the fence as an aid. Teri calls for my attention, I look up and she and Ella take three very sweet, correct sidepass steps to the right, out in the middle of the pen, all by they onesies. I grin, ear to ear. That's awesome!! Teri says she thinks she skipped some steps, but I told her you know how you know if you do it right? It works!!

Hmm, Ter? I say, do you care if I ride in there, with you? She didn't mind, and this is where the real fun begins. It's all good stuff, working with these young horses, putting the pieces of the puzzle together to help them find themselves and develop as willing partners, but me being as ADD as I am, I like to mix things up, keeps me entertained, and gets the horse trained as a by product. (well, glad you are enjoying yourself, says my clients, whose dollars are hard at work here . . . )

Ella is bottom on the totem pole and a couple of times that they've been together, Knosie has picked on her a little. Whenever we'd come by (Knosie mounted up and rode off like a saddle horse, geez, this is a nice filly!) she'd pin those little ears and look as defensively fierce as she possibly could. I am firmly of the belief a horse needs to depend on it's rider to protect it, not feel the need to use it's own hooves when under saddle and I asked Teri to correct the problem.

What to do? Well, as soon as those ears sweep back in that angry position, boot her. Thump her good. She isn't going to buck or bolt or do anything naughty and if she did, Teri knows how to take her hip away and shut her down. KEEP booting her until those ears pitch forward. Even one, even a little, then STOP. We did this for a few turns. I'd work small circles (asking for lateral flexion in motion, getting Knosie softer and more responsive in the bridle, powering out of the turns, keeping the shoulders upright, still doing my job on the horse I am on) and when we'd be on Ella's side, she go into defense mode, Teri'd do HER job, and Ella figured out a) she didn't NEED to take care of her own self, and b) Teri wasn't going to LET her either.

The trick, I tell my friend, once you cue for a response, do not quit til you get the try. Whatever you release to, that is the lesson learned whether you mean it to be or not. Don't wait until she has done something wrong to correct her, do it WHILE she is, don't wait to release her til AFTER she's done the right thing, release WHILE . . . it was darned cool watching them work things out. It really was not that long before Knos and I could trot by, fairly close and Ella would stay calm, relaxed, ears up while Teri praised and rubbed her.

We rode joyously until the dark almost caught us and Teri had to dash home to shower and get ready to go to work. There are days that take minutes off your life, and too many of them. Days like this give them back.

Ella is going to Stone Park next week for her graduation ride and Knosie is going to Turkey Creek the week after. This was excellent prep work for these young horses to understand there will be other horses with them, behind, in front and passing them, sometimes at different speeds than they themselves are going.

Today, it's pasture riding. I keep saying I am bringing in my saddle horses to pony from, and then other stuff comes up. Today is the day. Teri is husband free for the weekend and will be back over when she gets up (night nurse). I will have both fillies well warmed up and we will ride the pasture, and maybe the roads a little. We can trade off, one of us on a saddle horse, the other on a youngster and then back again.

This is the part that is more fun than ice cream and anyone who has ever met me, knows I love the good gooey stuff. Arron spent the evening raking and building our fire ring over where we took back the jungle by our bottom pen. We have some old hay, downed wood, all kinds of stuff to burn, and after dark fell, we sat in our lawn chairs, ate some cold dinner and watched the flames and the stars. The dogs thought this was a pretty good time as well, they chased imaginary dragons and then lay at our feet in happy exhaustion.

I am not sure it gets any better than this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Particular, Precise, Patient and Persistent

Hah, you'd think I am channeling Pat P again with all the P words! It's what's been on my mind lately. to be particular without being critical, precise without nagging, patient without boring my horse to death with inattention, and persistent that I stay in the game and support my horse until his tries for an answer to my question hit home.

As usual, the stuff of my blog crosses over into other areas of my life as well. Any of you who live on an acreage know exactly what I am talking about when I say the amount of work to keep one functional is amazing, and to keep an acreage looking nice in the process can be staggering. I am one to ride when all else fails, or when nothing else fails, so it's mostly up to my husband (he volunteered for the job) to do the outside maintenance around here. After three and a half years, he has admitted he bit off way more than he knew what he was biting into and needs help. My first reaction was "hey, I told you I don't do yardwork (or windows, or dishes . . .the list could grow) from the very beginning." Then, I look at our beautiful place, slowly losing it's edges to the ever encroaching weeds (why can't the pasture grow even half that fast???) and I know it's time to pitch in and lend a hand.

Being all those P words, plus a little pissy, too, at the start, I manned the push mower whilst Arron mounted the rider (Chrissy, we still owe you for that darned thing and I want you to know that is not a forgotten debt although it must seem like it by now! Christmas is coming, hon). Why does he get the rider? Well, we can't have those money making tattoo machine running digits sore and swollen from bucking a resistant lawn mower taking on the mutant weed crop, now can we . . . I mowed the easy parts, the hard parts and the ridiculously hard parts. At one point, I am pushing that thing up the little hill by our drive and thought my feet might slip out from under me, and the thing roll back and chop me into pate. Well, just be quick about it, says a small voice, then I don't have to finish mowing (and he'll be sorry, too, won't he. . . scraping my icky bloody remains off the mower so HE can finish the job!!)

Okay, enough of all that, this is a horse training blog after all, not a whine about doing what I need to do blog. The benefit is, this morning (why I am awake so ungodly early, I have no idea but here I am, and no one to talk to but the dogs who are outside and you guys.) I am looking out my window at a lovely well manicured yard, even mowed up under the gorgeous white blossoming bushes, have no idea what they are, and my beloved lilacs which are making a good comeback from that early killing frost last year. It was well worth the effort.

Which brings us to horses (at last, says the ones of you still with me, thought I never would, huh). My two training fillies, Ella and Knosie, tops on the priority list. Due to a really awful cold (yes, I was thinking OMG, I have it, I have SWINE flu!! I didn't . . .) I spent a few days in bed and not in the saddle. Knosie was lukewarm about the riding thing, last effort, and sitting a few days could have no good effect, in my mind. One of the things she showed me when my son was on her is that her gangly three year old legs and body are still not real connected to the brain between her ears, and she gets stuck and unconfident relatively easy, even doing groundwork. It's a natural fact, then, that she would also get stuck, under saddle, and amp it up a little with some fear and confusion about that top heavy weight up there (easy, folks, I am on a diet, for heaven's sake, I am talking people are top heavy to horses, in general!).

Pretty much by accident, shortly after we moved here, I discovered working horses on an incline affected miracles in some of the broncy ones. That is when I started paying more attention to why they were bucking in the first place. They'd get off balance, get stuck in their minds, get scared and buck out of it. Working on the hillside helped them collect themselves, use their bodies better and they gained confidence. Can't take credit for the idea, as I have few flat places to ride here and was mostly wishing for a nice level arena at the time, and would never have learned this valuable lesson, so good thing it wasn't up to me ;=)

So, Knosie did her groundwork on the hillside. I wanted proper circles, her not pulling me off center or causing me to travel around after her, an even cadence to her gait, proper arc to her body, the whole nine yards. I asked her to do the job, at an easy jog to start (this is not new for her, we walked at the very beginning) and once her lopsided ovals smoothed out, and she tired of running into her own resistance when her nose would get off track, I asked her to pick up the pace. This was much harder for her, but she tried, and we gained. Meantime I watch her eyes soften, she isn't wanting to leave, is looking into me, asking what comes next. I don't nag her to death with my requests, I tell her, set her to her job and leave her alone to get it done. (wow, wish I'd known this stuff when I was raising kids. It DOES work on my husband, by the by, don't tell him I told you! ;-)

I used some other exercises in the round pen that Sherry Jarvis introduced her colt starting students to, a different sort of synchronized riding from the ground than I use, and I like the sound of it and the results one gets. Starting from Knos's left stirrup, I bring up the energy in my body and ask her to move forward, as if I were in the saddle. She has NO idea what I want. A light touch with the training stick I am carrying that acts as my leg on her side and we move forward. We had some figuring out to do, to make this work, and it was an excellent preview of what the ride would be like. She was predictably jumpy on the right side, and when it smoothed out from the ground, it was smooth from the saddle as well. I asked her to keep pace with me, not run ahead or lag behind, to walk when I did, stop when I did and back up when I did. Again, all those P words. It was not terribly long, before all this was happening and she went from a tight, turned off worried look on her face to ears forward, open expression happy and interested, the same transformation I saw last Fall, and I was sure happy to see it arrive.

Riding was fun. I passenger rode her at first, asking only that she continue in the same direction we started. I didn't care if she walked or trotted, and she walked out with a fine, swinging pace but didn't volunteer anything faster. I changed sides and it was non eventful. Picked up a trot, also easy peasey. Had to ask a little and she was a little slower and hesitant at first, but lengthened her stride, of her own accord and felt really super, under me. I started picking up the reins and putting my legs on her, moving her hip out of the way on the turns This is where we had finished up last year, moving hip over to the left and then leading the shoulder through to the right, and vice versa. She got pretty light and supple, was following her cues like she did this yesterday instead of what, October? Stopped on one rein, then weight pressure, then with two reins, and asked for the back up . . . left rein, left front, right rein, right front. I was just delighted to see that these things still had meaning for her. We quit there, and she really make me smile when I dismounted. She turned her head to me and softly put it against my stomach. We stood there for a little bit, I petted her neck and told her I absolutely remember why I loved her so much last year. I am thinking we'll get some really nice stuff accomplished from here!

This had started out, in my mind as more of a Jack blog, but then it's all of a piece. I am being particular with him as well. Fixing as I am finding. We do a lot of this, he gets really afraid coming through gates (can you blame him?) and I am sending him through a lot of gates. I've done this from the beginning, and the improvements are there, but small and odd. At one point, when he'd get scared enough and not want to back through, he'd rear and strike a little. Not the slicing gonna cleave my enemy kind of a thing, but a timid "will this make you please stop asking me this??" No, it didn't. I have learned to pay attention to the behavior I want, and not get derailed with that kind of distraction. He might have to move his feet, not as punishment but to unlock his brain with motion and then back to the gate, and he'd always go through. Now, I almost never see that rear, but did yesterday evening when he got upset over the line pitched over his back and couldn't back out of the pressure. He rears about six inches off the ground, front feet carefully curled under him. Now, don't think I am an idiot and not aware those feet can come uncurled faster than I can see it done, I am fully aware, it's just a difference, and one, now that I think about it, has been in place for awhile.

Also. NO STRESS FACES yesterday. That's a first since rodeo day, and before that, too, but particularly since then as I have been asking more of Jack to build that emotional stability. I didn't even realize that until I was laying in bed, going over the day in my mind. No stress faces. Wow. We did some stressful things. I am asking him to back softly from halter pressure, nose down, chin in as he ought to. This is very difficult for our Jack, and he has to dive out the back often before he can settle and try again. A step in the right direction, right arc to the body, right softness in the face gets release. Nothing else does. I don't increase pressure, or do anything to make it harder for him. I just patiently persist and if he needs to run into his own resistance, I allow him to do that, just as I allow him to release himself when he comes off of it.

I have watched a lot of people work their horses, and they are doing way more work than the horse is, people's bodies are moving all over the place while the horse watches in bemused confusion and kind of moves to get out of the way. The more I learn, the less I move, and the more my horse does, and the more he moves, without me having to, the softer it all gets.

End of the day, I turn him into his pen and he leaves me before I can leave him. This will not do. I step to his side (I am about 15 feet away), kiss to get his attention, and step back. I have taught him to come to me with this set of cues. Jack stares at me with questioning surprise. He thought we were done! Nope, done when I say done, my fined hoovied friend. He does quite nicely take several strides my direction, starts to waver, looks away (when I lose his eye, I make noise to stimulate him and get him back. If he'd have to leave, that's okay, I'd help him go, then I'd help him come back again.) He chooses to come in the rest of the way. I stand, back mostly to him as he walks slowly up to me, nose out and friendly. I do nothing, let him acknowledge me, I smile and walk away. Jack stares after me, like okay what the heck was the purpose of THAT exercise . . . his ears are up and he watches me all the down the drive to where my husband smiles too. Get used to it, Jack, he says, if you aren't by now, she does things like that.

I really am having doubts at this point that Jack will ever be mentally healthy enough to have a job in the world, other than the one he has right now. He is teaching me to observe and pay attention. To stick to principles he can't survive without, and that other horses (and mebbe some people) will benefit from even more. He's teaching me the value and the reward of doing something without a real goal or agenda attached to the end of it, the joy of a successful moment. I don't know what the end of his story will be, well, I guess I couldn't, not without dusting off my trusty crystal ball and I don't know what box that's still packed in . . . I can't know the ending to any of our tales, but I can refer back to success being the quality of the journey, can't I. A well cut lawn and soft eyed horses may be the measure of no one else's success but my own . . . but hey, I'm the one writing the story!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sometimes Things Don't Go As Planned . . .

There are no photos to go with this blog. I had my hands WAY too full to worry about where the camera was. Had I had it, I'd probably have some award winning action shots, or possibly a broken camera . . .

On a list serv I am on, we are talking about training methods and what happens when you tie something to the saddle of a horse, and they cannot get away from it. The approach and retreat is gone, no way for a horse to get release. Can set the stage for some horrible, dreadful events. Still, there is a place in time when a thing must be tied to a horse, it's his saddle. One would think, with that proper preparation that prevents piss poor performance, and getting the horse ready to saddle before he ever wears one, that would be a non event, and normally it is . . . but not always.

I have seen people create horrible fears and pull back problems in their horses, releasing at the wrong moments, when the horse is scared and having a problem. In a perfect world, we'd never blow through a threshold, never get our horses to this place. I don't know a horse person or trainer alive, and I know some pretty darned good ones, that have not found themselves with more on their hands than what they bargained for when they step across those lines, usually by accident but sometimes you have to take a horse to the hard places in order to ever get to the good ones. Once there, it's pretty darned important to work through the problem. A horse left in doubt today is a horse convinced tomorrow and probably not of a darned thing we want him to be . . .

This brings us to yesterday, the events that unfolded and the reason for this post:

Jack stood tied to the tree just fine, that's a non issue for him now, it would seem. He digests information in very small doses, but when it does get through, it seems to stick. I have done saddle prep with him several times, including holding a rope around his girth to let him feel that. Took him into the round pen yesterday, worked circles with him. His forward motion is pretty broken, he'd learned when he ran, he got tripped and when he gets worried he really doesn't want to move. This is foreshadowing, folks, and is telling you what happened, later on. Sticky go means sticky whoa. That might be the most important thing you learn today. It was the most important thing I learned AGAIN, yesterday.

He did pretty good. Not perfect. My agenda was to see him saddled. Yes, I said agenda. These are important things to pay attention to. I knew that if I ran into trouble in the process, I'd need to readdress my goals but that's where I wanted to be, watching Jack with a saddle on. In my prep to saddle work, I accustom a horse to things going over his back, banging on his sides, noise and clatter. I use that string of milk jugs to start with and with some approach, retreat and release, he carried them around, slung over his bareback with a fair amount of calm. Set the heavy bouy's up there, no problem. Got the saddle blanket, he's used to that.

Now it's time to introduce the saddle. All this time, it's been in the middle of the round pen. He has thoroughly checked it out, acknowledged it, smelled it up and down. Approaching him with it in my arms got a big eye, but he sniffed again and stood calm when I set it up on him. For a horse like this, I pick up my off stirrup and cinches as to not freak him out with a sudden bang on that off side. I have no wish to wear 1000 lbs of scared horse like an unwieldy hooved hat.

He looked at it on the near side and I let it sit there, took it off, walked away with it, came back, set it up again. Had him acknowledge on the far side. Let the stirrup and cinches down. This got a little flinch, but he'd been thoroughly rubbed, down his sides and legs and a little touch there and some noise was no big deal. He was soft eyed, at this point, and the process looked good.

Now we come to the point. The point of no return where the cinch is drawn up and fastened. TONS of approach and retreat, letting him feel the cinch, a soft fat neoprene, touch his belly, little pressure, release it when he breaths, relaxes, and then up again a little. When that touch was no big deal, a little more . . .

Here's what I did NOT do, at this point. I didn't move him around, just holding the latigo on the cinch to make sure he could handle it with movement. I did that before with the rope, but not just then with the saddle. Saddles feel a LOT different than a rope does. A normal horse rarely needs this particular breakdown, but this is not a normal horse and I know that there is no such thing as too many steps for Jack. This might have saved us the wreck that followed, might have got my head kicked off my shoulders.

Fastened the latigo, just snug enough to keep the saddle on. Fastened the back cinch though a little voice in my head told me not to. Didn't do the breast collar as that same voice, louder now, says you might want to have as little to undo as possible if you need to get this off this horse in a hurry. Let him stand, feel the saddle, breathe. Sent him off at a walk. He walks a couple of steps, pulls a bow in his back and hunches. I gently ask him to move on. He BLOWS! That 14' lead is NOT even close to long enough. I drop it and get the hell out of the way.

He bucks around me for awhile, kicking and crashing into the panels. My heart sinks, he's totally out of control, and anything can happen now. He shuts down, stands, comes out of it, freaks and blows several more times. Breaks a panel, which now has dangerous points coming off of it. I have got to get my hands on him before he kills himself.

I run to the barn, get my 22' foot lead. Aren't you thinking I should have started with that? I sure was . . .

He does let me approach him, unfasten the 14', and fasten the 22'. Would you have tried to unsaddle him, just then? The thought occurred, but a) I didn't want to pull it off of him with him hating it the way he was, no way was he done with wanting that thing off of him, and b) I did not want one of those flying cowkicks to rearrange my smile and possibly my thought process. I want to keep my horses safe, but keeping me safe is number one.

I let him stand and blow. He looks better so I ask him to move forward again. He backs into the pressure. I ask him to move forward again, and now he's backing and kicking at me, with some pretty good intent and energy. Well, okay. Let's go backwards then. Didn't do that enough. Don't know why my brain was so stuck on forward, but it was. He'd move forward, blow, buck, run like crazy. He let me keep him away from the broken panel so I knew he wasn't totally insane and he even let me shut him down a few times when I grabbed the rope that burned through my ungloved hands more than twice.

Biggest error of a day full of them, towards the end, I had him trotting around, big progress and instead of hanging there, and letting him trot the bunchiness out of his back (there are some of you out there still reading that have heard me say trot the buck out, a few times, no a LOT of times). I really wanted those feet to loosen up, stuck feet are a stuck mind, and I wanted him free. Well, he got free all right.

In that last explosion, he did blow through the broken panel (the top rail ended up in the pasture on the other side). Now I think he will go through a very near by fence that still has some barbed wire on it, hate that stuff and we replace it as we can . . . He doesn't, turns sharply and dashes madly toward the back fence of the property. This is not much to speak of, strand of barbed, and a hot wire . . . I figure he is in it, or over it, through the plowed field and be headed for the highway. Nope, he turns at that, too, and blows down toward the neighbors. That fence is really good, cable and hot wire, I figure we are okay there, and we are. Now he's coming up through the trees, still bucking mind you, he's got some determination, that horse, and some "athletic ability." Horse sellers terms meaning that horse can REALLY buck . . . if anyone tells you a horse can't run at close to top speed and still buck PRCA proud, I invite them to come watch this one . . .

He flies past the barn and through the open gates into the safety of his pen. I shut that gate, but this is not a huge improvement. My place is so not set up for rank broncs. That pen is wire panels, hot wire . . . and t-posts. Most of them have plastic protector tops, but a couple are missing. I am pretty sure I am going to see my horse impaled, after all we've been though, as he continues to buck and bolt, up and down the pen. Donovan, on the other side, cuts him like a cow. Even in my adrenaline drenched mental state, I notice him flatten his ears and threaten Jack, every time it looked like he might come through the fence. I think Donovan was scared that maniac might attack him but he kept him off the fence, nonetheless. Eventually the stirrup caught on a post, the billet broke and he jumped through the back cinch like a lion through a burning hoop.

Far from done, he's still trailing the 22' foot lead and kicking the snot out of it any time it touches him, he continues to run. Finally, the rope snags under the empty plastic tub I keep their loose salt in. It's on it's side and doesn't weigh more than a few pounds, but he yields to the pressure and circles the tub. He's kicking air now, sometimes the fence behind him and sometimes the nearby innocent water tank (don't you put a hole in that, damn it!) and as disturbed as I have ever seen him. This goes on for a long time. I wonder how badly he's hurt himself, he has some minor scrapes on his legs from the panels, and I can see blood on one front leg too. He's standing sound, and doesn't seem to be in too bad a shape as long as he's not injured internally from the saddle pulling on him before the billet broke.

Long enough story short, he's okay. I eventually went in (had other horses to work and it didn't hurt either one of us to take some cool down time from each other) picked up his rope and asked him to talk to me. All during his melt down, he would look for me and want to come to me. No way do bucking, freaking horses get to sit in my lap and I would not let him. Now, he was unsure. I got to pet him but he was bunchy and tense. Frightened horses are dangerous horses. I pulled the back cinch off the saddle, better late than never, right, and folded it in half. I used that to rub the sweat off his bowed up neck, and got him to relax some. Worked him in some circles, there in his pen, hey his forward motion is much better, sigh. Been nice to have started with that. Fortunately we both get to live and learn.

I thought a lot about this situation, as of course, I would. To do over? I'd have much, much better forward motion established. I'd have him better able to handle his emotional stability under pressure. How to do that, you have to put more pressure on them. I thought I'd put enough, but obviously not, when push came to shove. I'd have him fluidly working over the obstacles, like I do just about every other single horse that comes to me in training. I took longer putting saddles on my colts last year than I did Jack, yesterday.

Will Jack ever be a saddle horse? Who knows. It's back to the steps above . . . Am I putting both of us in danger, continuing his training? That is the question I am asking myself, right this very minute.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Then to Now

Success is in the quality of the journey. That's not a new thought for most of us, but it's what I have been focusing on, lately. Not just for me, but for the horses I ride, the clients I teach and the friends with which I am fortunate enough to share the trip.

As a lot of you know, I received my first pony, Ringo Star, for Christmas the year I would turn three, he was six months old. We "grew up together" and I still carry some of the scars, and a heartful of memories. When I was 9, my folks (who could not have liked me much) gave me a buttermilk buckskin two year old filly for my birthday. She was a "cheap kid horse." Have some scars from her, too. One sunny day, some years later, a big ole truck n stock trailer comes winding up our narrow County country lane, a horse trader who'd heard there might be some stock for sale up that way.

That day, I acquired Cisco, a grade sorrel gelding, flax mane, tail, all the chrome. That is a tale all of it's own, but I'll tell you in this one that trader drove away scratching his head that he was leaving with less money than he wanted to, none of the horses he came to see and a 13 year old girl was walking away with the horse he'd had on his trailer. It was my first unassisted trade, with many to follow. I was thoroughly bitten.

We had, besides that bunch, a motley collection of saddle horses, one of which was a tall black bay Thoroughbred mare with a bad temper at shoeing time, and a tendency run off with whatever hapless rider was up, the bigger the bit the better, she said. That was the dam of my barrel racing horse, who inherited her temper, and her speed. He was the first horse born on the place and we made all the mistakes with him we could think. At five he was considered an unbreakable outlaw, couldn't sell him, wasn't ready to eat him. I started riding him secretly in a back pasture and he became one of my first "miracles." A few more of those to follow too but not so much thanks to me as to the teachers that started showing up.

What I had was a burning desire to have something better with my horses than I had. We showed in our local saddle club shows and play days, I had shelves of trophies, and an unquenchable urge to be first, whatever the cost. I had to whip and spur my game horse, Cisco (who knew so much more than I did, to this day, I wonder what we really could have done, had I a clue) to get him into the arena, once there, he'd blast out, do his job and get out again, as quick as he could.

My hard to catch barrel horse had only one speed, and that was fly. I had no idea that you should gain control of your horse before you introduced speed. What a concept. Didn't know how to rate his gaits, didn't know much of anything except charge through the gates, kill the barrels (or poles) as fast as you can and hope to survive the trip. On the days we were not lapping the arena, we were highly competitive . . . til we wrecked pretty bad, whacking his head on the side of a barrel as he went down in the muddy slop too deep and treacherous for our form of the game and neither he or I saw much fun in that, ever again.

What happened that really started to make a difference, although that difference would not show up for many, many years later (sorry Reb) was a gal named Sally somebody that some "progressive" members of our saddle club brought to our small town to do a "clinic." They said, bring your worst of the worst and this gal can fix 'em. So we did. We brought the Thoroughbred mare, Pretty Girl (RIP, sweetheart) and I saw a collection of horses and people I had known all my life. Broncs, runaways, committed biters, kickers, you name it, we brought them. This was in 1975 (I think) which would have me at 15 years of age, just ripe for knowing everything there is to know about horses and any other subject you'd want to bring up.

They said she was a student of some guy that lived central of us (I grew up in Northern California, Pat Parelli used to rodeo on our circuit though none of us cared about that, at the time.) Sally took these horses and through what was revolutionary to us all, softened bracey jaws, introduced us to the ideas of approach and retreat (she used a garden hose and a stream of water on our mare, who never had to be thrown to shoe again in her life) and just a ton of stuff that I don't know if anyone else even listened to, but it changed my life, and subsequently the lives of more than I can count horses in the years to come.

She taught my best friend and I some subtleties of communication with our horses, she showed us how to "rock" them, refining our requests for motion to tiny shifts of weight, forward, backwards and sideways. We went from mostly out of control speed queens to spending hours, standing in fields, rocking our horses and giggling our silly butts off. We also collected a lot more high point trophies as we found we could do more than dash madly about the place. I got to use some of that early eduation this weekend, playing with my wonderful Donovan, rocking on the teeter totter at the Trail Clinic we attended. We went from having to take a step or two to just standing in the middle, rocking it, back and forth. I was having more fun than he was, though, and when I caught it was beginning to worry him, we stepped down, I quit showing off and went and did some other thing. Man, that was FUN though!

Coming forward about a hundred light years, I started, in the mid 90's, riding a sour, sullen colt my business partner Walt Werre had picked up while I was out of town on a business trip. I was there when the colt came to the barn, a good looking coming two year old, barely halter broke, and then I got to watch a series of wannabe trainers (mostly girls the barn owner wanted to sleep with) put that horse through misery and torture. One chick, I threatened to yank her off of him, as she careened into the wallful of horses I had tied waiting for some sane arena time. They pissed him off and taught him to buck like a banshee. I wanted no part of him, though my heart broke every time I passed his stall. He'd stand, pretty head tucked in the furtherest corner, ears back, eyes dead and angry, butt to the door, it was a tragedy and now, my partner owns him. Great, what were you thinking about? Some pleasure horse guy had been riding the colt and apparently got the buck out, so they said. We had this one and a real good looking bay to bring along, sell and move on to the next set.

In bringing Rebel back to life, I found a partner I didn't know I was looking for. Crooked legged in front, he was one of the smoothest riding Quarter Horses I have ever sat on. As he found out he could trust me some, not always, that temper my childhood horses had came from somewhere and it was still very much alive and present in me, he got softer and sweeter. I bought him.

Reb was my guinea pig as Natural Horsemanship exploded onto the equine scene. I'd watch a video, think, hmm, that's cool, think I will try that. I'd go to the barn and do to Reb what I thought I saw on the screen. I had zero idea of the underpinnings of the what's, the why's, and more specifically, the when's. It did not always work out for us, and least of all for my poor confused horse.

Now, mind you, I'd been riding horses professionally for quite a few years by now. I'd worked for horse traders, bought and sold quite a few of my own, and had worked for a well known Arabian trainer for awhile, I was no newcomer to the deal, and two minutes of conversation with me, I'd let you know that. This was the period of time I started having wrecks, as I replaced parts of my training program with other things, not really understanding the big picture yet, but using stuff I thought looked good and would be good for my horses. It took quite awhile for my hard head to figure out it was going to have to be A thru Z to get results, not A, E, maybe W and then some Z.

I always was interested in building relationships with my horses, I started my colts slow, did groundwork, drove them from the ground before I rode them and turned out some decent, usable saddle stock. The good is the enemy of the best, and my horses were good, but there were many, many that were better. I wanted to improve and this was all part of my learning curve, which got real steep, right in here, as I tried to figure things out.

Lucky for me, the one thing I did understand was that the Natural Horsemanship stuff I was watching DID work and that the part that was not working was me. I don't know why I was blessed with that particular lightbulb but there it was. I knew the problem was not the snaffle bit, it was my lack of understanding in how to use it correctly, my instinct to yank, pull with both reins with all my might and muscle my horse into biding my wishes if I couldn't get them there, nicely. I wanted zero to 60, just like I'd always wanted everything else, my entire life. Collection, NOW, thank you, and where did I put those draw reins? Or, go for my favorite tool, the training fork, I understood that needed be correctly fitted to reach the throat latch, so as to only be in effect when the head was raised and had some pretty good results with that. Giving up that last crutch was hard to do!

The concept that a horse collects by pushing from behind and rounding his back, therefore creating that pretty headset and fluid broken poll was a ways away for me, and when I found out it took hours of hard work, I went back looking for the side and draw reins again. Faster, easier way has always been my first route of choice. I created horses that looked kind of right, except they weren't breaking at the poll but a few vertabraes down the neck, backs were hollow, they'd tend to drag themselves in front and follow along in back as best they could. My horses were heavy on the forehand and I'd study Reb's broad chest and think well, he's just too stocky in front to turn around right, it's the way he's built. And then I'd stick spurs in him to try to lift him, get out the leverage bits to keep his nose in . . . They were innocent, ignorant mistakes. I loved my horse, but he paid the price for my lack of understanding.

Still, as time went on, I studied the Parelli's and did a lot of cool stuff with Reb. We got to where we could do anything we could do with a bridle, without one, including spins (as best I knew how to set them up) sidepass, lope circles and barrel patterns and we were competitive in every Trail class I took him to, except when my own nerves would go to hell and take him right along with me. A course of human events, a series of financial disasters and Reb had to find a new home as he was the only thing on the place worth enough to save it. Life on life's terms, as I understand, brings a series of lessons to the table and you can learn them now or later but the stakes get higher as you wait, and some of the lessons I'd put off cost me my horse. Chin up, figure it out, move on.

I study horses. That's what I do. I have become very picky about who my human teachers are but I learn from every horse I come across. I love my Buck Brannaman video's and get more out of them every time I watch them and I bought them three years ago. I watched with envy, my friend Colleen ride clinics and her horsemanship improved leaps and bounds, every year that she did. We are lucky to have clinicians like Buck and Peter Campbell coming to our area and my priorities are shifting from being content to watching them work with other people to overcoming my fierce stagefright and insecurities (I know, you're saying, WHAT stagefright . . . trust me, it's there) and getting out and riding with these guys. I have taken lessons from a gal named Missy Fladland when she comes up here to Sioux City, and as my friend Annette says, she's the goods. Missy is an accomplished dressage rider, and she approaches it from the natural foundation that I want to preserve in my horses. I understand the language she speaks, she teaches me things I don't know to fill in the many holes in my ADD approach to education and reinforces my commitment to what I do understand. Sherry Jarvis and Kelli Paulsen are also holding clinics and teaching these approaches and last year I took a stab at teaching a couple clinics my own self. Sherry has worked very, very hard on her clinical approach and has a very effective method of getting her message across to her people, Kelli has built a facility that is worth the trip, in and of itself and teaches the same good stuff. Me? Well, I have got a pretty good foundation in what the horse needs, now it's my challenge, if I am going to stand up with those other two and continue to teach people, to be able to give that information to the humans as effectively as I can to their equine partners.

It's been a really cool journey, and as I watch my 40's fade, I turn from that half of my life and can only wonder what the next half will bring. My horses and I will be better for it, I am sure, and maybe some other folks will be too.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Horse HATES Big Groups!!

This started off in response to a friend of mine's question about a big ride that's coming up and her horse that gets antsy in these big groups. As I wrote the response, I got to thinking I know lots of people who feel this way about their horses, and maybe this could be of some help to them too. My thoughts and answers are not the only ones out there, by any means but here is some stuff that works for me.

I always have a game plan in mind when I head out on the trail rides. Sometimes I have to adapt as the horse that shows up isn't always the one I wrote the plan in my head for, LOL! But here's the basics, I like a strong foundation in response on a horse that gets excited in groups. What I really notice more and more though, is that the horse that rides quietly in a smaller group but not in the larger is usually following owner anxiety. They might be a little high, upon arrival and feeling the activity and amplified excitement, but then, inside the owner says "oh no, here we go again." Stomach tightens, nerves tense and the horse really reacts to that and escalates, things rarely improve from this place for either one!

I am human and when my horse's head reaches for the stars, eyes are bright and dilated, snorts start rolling like thunder, I say OH NO, here we go again, and then I have to really work on finding some calm because no way can I lead my horse to peace of mind if I don't have it. That's the first part of my game plan, calm myself. I might need to do some deep breathing, send my horse around in circles from the ground, do some simple stuff that he's done a million times at home, his response to that calms both of us. Once the horse feels good to get on, head will lower, have some licking and chewing, eyes on me, I get on and again do the simple stuff, hip over, shoulder through, lateral flexion in motion (this is easier on an anxious horse than asking them to stand and flex.) Might do a one rein stop or two, just to practice and get us right. I make sure the hip steps over, and if the horse bends, and comes to a stop, but that hip is still out there, I will step it over before I release. It's really best to have my preflight check a habit for me and my horse before taking on the big ride. Then, it doesn't have to take 20 minutes to settle my horse, he knows the routine and so do I. Pat P says "proper preparation prevents piss poor performance" and I could not agree with him more on this one.

Building good habits at home is going to be the recipe for success out in the world If you haven't done so, and you find yourself at a ride with a horse that doesn't look safe and doesn't want to mentally join up with you, this might not be the day to tackle the big ride. Hoping for the best works out for some of the people some of the time, but when it doesn't, that hit to the confidence can take a long time to heal. Stay at the trailer, work with your horse, maybe ask a couple of friends to stay and take a smaller ride with you, once both you and your horse are emotionally in a place to be able to do that.

Usually by now, we are okay and ready to ride. Once in awhile, we still have jiggy feet here and there. When I feel the energy come up in the horse, I make sure I have room around and behind me, and I'll serpentine a little, step the hip over, then the shoulder, but always continuing forward. I pick up a rein and ask for a little give, get a step and release. If I have to hold it for a few steps, okay. I just want to see my horse's eyeball a little, I am not cranking that rein around to cause him to change direction or head off into a circle. Then, I'll pick up the other one, put my foot back on the offside and ask the hip to come over. Just a step is all I am asking for, and while it may take more steps to get there, it gives us something to do and something for me reward the tries rather than get mad at my "damn stupid horse that doesn't like big trail rides." :-)) again. If I really had a horse trying to get out of control, I'd probably get off, rather than try a one rein stop on a narrow trail with people around to crash into if he really resisted. More groundwork, back on, and we try again. There are some cool exercises to step the hip over, bring the shoulder through, that uses the horse's energy and they learn it's a lot easier to just walk down the trail than to have to work that hard.

I like to practice all this stuff first, in smaller groups, plus I like to have friends "leap frog" with me, which is my horse goes ahead, then theirs, then mine, until all the horses are comfortable in any position in the ride and gets them comfortable both passing and being passed by other horses. We also play follow the leader, winding around trees, going over small logs, whatever, this gives both me and my horse a bigger job to do than following the tail in front of us, which bores and frustrates a lot of horses (and riders!). If no one wants to play with me :-) I play these games on my own. Sometimes I will rate my horse's walk, ask for a faster walk without breaking gait, then a slooower one. All of this stuff keeps my horse's brain engaged, and helps him stay more in tune with me than if I am daydreaming or lollygagging along down the trail. There are some rides, I like to do THAT too, but I better pick a horse that's good with my wandering attention instead of one who will find something else to occupy his attention if I am not doing it.

The biggest thing is to catch things when they are small. Feel the energy rise in your horse and put him to work then. Don't wait til the head is in the sky, he's whinnying and yelling for his new best friend that he may have never even met before, but doggone it they are up ahead and I WANNA GO THERE! I see riders wait all the time til their horses are nearly frantic before they start trying to do anything about it, and then they usually whip the head to the side, which really pisses a horse off, when he wants to move his feet. I say, you want to move, well, cool, let's do that, but we are going to do it my way. And then you balance the release and the reward with your directions so the horse doesn't need to be angry or afraid of you.

Lots of work? Can be, but it smooths out, and the difficult trail ride this day turns into lots of easy ones as you stay consistent, your horse learns he can trust you to lead and make sense in ALL situations, and we get the benefit of learning to handle our own emotional responses a little better. THAT comes in handy, all over the place :-)

I am riding in a true snaffle at this point. Rather than go into all the reasons a tom thumb or long shanked snaffle is not going to be a good bet as a training bit, here is a link to a Mark Rashid article on the subject. Hope that helps.

Posting some photographs from our trail ride at Southwoods Park, Smithland, IA with the Shady Brady Saddle Club. Estimated ride count was 21, it was Moonshine's second trail ride in life. We started out slow (had a regressive hard to bridle moment at the beginning that really had my attention), and other than some big eyes here and there, lots of stuff she's never seen before, we had a great ride. I took time to ride her the night before, warm her up in the round pen that morning, and we never needed most of the steps I listed above. She's a really level natured mare and is going to be a ton of fun. The horse I am riding on the Friday Before Mother's Day Ride, Oak Creek Trail this Friday ( for more info) is a little different story, but hoping for equally nice results.

Thanks for reading, SOOO glad the good weather is here!!! If you love to trail ride and want some friends to go with, check out the Platte River Riders group that rides out every Wednesday evening from points North, Omaha, Lincoln and Central Nebraska. A lot of us ride on weekends too!

Happy trails, all!