Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Dreadful Dilemma

What compels people to breed horses? Well, if you're a responsible breeder, there is an intended purpose for the horses you produce, and you're proud of those animals. You've either got high hopes and big dreams for your foals, or you're going to sell them a nice profit. Then there are those other elements of society. Which brings me to my topic tonight.

Here I sit at one of the local low-end horse auctions this fine evening, and once again there are several weanlings being dumped. Two of these babies are even wear a fresh brand on their hips. I'm astonished at the fact people would breed horses, wean the foals and they're going to end up at a place like this.

Last week there were a nice group of Quarter Horse yearling fillies that were run through another local low-end sale. Other recent auctions have also had babies. In fact, this is the story with most of the sales recently. What in the world is going on here? What kind of self respecting breeder would do such a thing?

I think I've answered my own question, though. These folks aren't reputable breeders. Because no self respecting breeder is going to want to see what they've produced wind up in a place like this. Now, a disclaimer: As a seller you really can only do so much when those horses leave for their new homes, hoping they're going to be well taken care of and loved.

A common theme these days is sheer disgust with humanity. I'm sure feeling that tonight as I watch this drama unfold. And I feel sick in the pit of my stomach this still goes on in the 21st century.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

If Horses Could Talk...

This is just going to be a quick, fun post since it is a holiday weekend and I'm musing today instead of working on bringing you all training insight. So, I hope you will enjoy.

Have you ever wondered what your horse would have to say if given the gift of (human) speech? I've had a few who would likely have some choice words, or a strong sense of sarcasm, if they had the opportunity. How about the mare who's constantly in season? Or those grumpy old geldings who never seem to like any of their stall neighbors?

"You want me to do what? Step into that puddle? Are you crazy?!"

"No, I don't remember what a leg yield is. I also don't have any idea about these 'lead' things you keep talking about. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure why you bother expecting me to listen at all!"

"Hey!! Are those treats?? Can I have some, can I, can I, can I??"

"Take that, Starbright!! A good bite on the neck ought to teach you not to try reaching over to eat out of my feeder! What's wrong with you, anyways? No wonder your Mom never wants to ride you!!"

I mean, can you imagine? Some years ago, I'll never forget looking out my kitchen window every morning around 4 o'clock after turning on the lights so I could make coffee, and having an entire row of impatient mares staring at me from their paddock awaiting their breakfast. In my head I'd thought up a voice for each of them, and I would chuckle at what I'd imagined them saying.

Horses are incredible creatures. They are sensitive, intelligent, amazing listeners and always seem to know how to make their humans feel better, no matter what's been going on in your life. I'm pretty sure most of them have a grand sense of humor as well. ;)


Saturday, September 2, 2017

It's That Time Of Year Again...

For tonight's post, since we are once again smack in the middle of not one, but two massive Southern California firestorms where there are homes being burned, hundreds of evacuations taking place and horses in danger, I thought it would be a good time to share my Fire Emergency Evacuation post from 2009 once again. It is always a good one to repeat this time of year.

We have had a bustling community on Facebook over the past 8 years as well, which you can find at -- come join our community of 5,000+ members in helping to keep local horse owners and heir horses in 10 Southern California counties safe during emergencies. SCEEE. Southern California Equine Emergency Evacuation.

To find my aforementioned Fire Emergency Evacuation post, look here:

Here in California we have already had a dreadful year for fires. Stay safe, everyone.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Just Marking Time!

There is a lot to be said for the some of the nastiness we see in the horse industry, none of it good. From jealousy over who does what, to tit-for-tat pettiness in regard to personal opinions on training methods and a wide variety of other subject matter, it's just disheartening.

As I enter my 50th year of life this evening, I've been pondering why so many horse people have such a knack for being really ugly folks on the inside. None of us do things the same way as each other -- it simply isn't possible to all successfully employ the same methods with the same degree of success. There are, however, many techniques which are better and less difficult for the horse or less abusive than others. We've just all got to find our niche that works for us.

That said, we all have a responsibility to help others with (or point out to others) things we see them doing which may be harmful to the horse. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the horses we serve. This isn't an easy industry to make a living in, and a huge factor in that is the amount of competition for recreational dollars, and that's something I have said for years. While I wish things were more like they used to be many years ago, we simply have to adapt and roll with the punches, so to speak.

Our industry is definitely a place where only the strong survive. And I'm very proud that after so many years, I'm still surviving. Good night, all!


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stand By Me! Why Ground Manners Are Important

Ground manners are probably the most important thing your horse can learn. Everything you will do (or want to do), requires impeccable ground manners and evolves from your horse behaving like a lady or gentleman when being handled on the ground. No horse will become a good citizen under saddle without first learning to possess the ability to be easily caught, stand while being haltered, lead nice and quietly with his or her neck adjacent to your shoulder, stand quietly to be groomed and tacked, then stand quietly while being mounted.

But, how to we get there from here? I always explain, ‘Whoa’ is the most important command a horse can ever learn, hands down. This will be the basis for all other interaction we initiate with our horses. When I say ‘Whoa’, I expect all four feet will cease moving, no matter what, immediately, until I tell the horse to move on. That is where ground manners begins. It’s something I’ve written about before: Back in 2009, I wrote this one [], and in 2010, I wrote this []. Both are relatively comprehensive in discussing the mechanics of this topic.

Whenever we discuss ground manners, we must start at the beginning. In this case, let’s go with the age old “hard to catch” horse. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had more than my fair share of horses brought to me for training who didn’t want to be caught, and there are a plethora of reasons behind why this occurs. It could be the horse was never desensitized to humans, maybe the horse had a traumatic experience and fears humans, or it could be the horse simply likes to play games – and those types of horses are abundant! J My horses always begin to look forward to being caught, after we've quickly and calmly tackled this issue. We just always want to remember, patience is paramount.

So, how do we catch those hard to catch buggars? I prefer to start with the ignoring method, which works on the very curious nature of most horses. Going into the horse's pen or stall, you essentially ignore the horse until he or she becomes curious and starts approaching you. Some other methods which have value are -- if you want to catch the horse at feeding time, keeping the horse away from where he or she is used to being fed until the horse submits to being caught; making the horse work when they evade being caught (not recommended, for obvious reasons, when you have a horse that's fear motivated); using another horse as cover to show that hard to catch beast it's safe (yes, I am being facetious...don't shoot me) or using the catch-pen method. I'm not a fan of using treats for this purpose, or using a bucket of grain, though in the past I have done both.

Any of the above methods will work, but keep in mind as I mentioned above, patience is key and waiting for the horse to relax, become receptive and submit is the only way to teach him or her everything is okay. You also want to continue stressing a firm (albeit quiet) 'Whoa' command whenever the horse stops and stands still during this type of training, followed immediately by a great deal of praise. Once the horse has stood still, you'll approach. If the horse tries to evade, you must make a split second decision whether to back away, work the horse by blocking or utilize another tactic. Timing is essential. And so much depends on the horse's state of mind.

After you've caught the horse and established trust, been able to halter the horse and begin instilling the 'Whoa' command, comes another of the most difficult parts of dealing with hard to catch horses and most significant aspects of good ground manners -- unhaltering. One of my biggest pet peeves is the horse that will pull away as you are taking off the halter. Not only is this dangerous to the person who has to handle the horse, it can also be dangerous to the horse if, for instance, they run off before the halter is completely unbuckled or untied. This, again, is where 'Whoa' command training becomes essential. I insist the horse stand completely still during the entire time I am unbuckling or untying the halter. If that horse pulls away, he or she is immediately re-caught and we repeat the entire process until the horse acquiesces. This is an example of the importance of 'Whoa', which I cannot stress enough.

I always want to be the first to disengage, or walk away, after taking off the halter. This is another vital part of foundational ground manners training. Once a horse has gotten away with leaving first, they tend to push that envelope until you have a horse who resorts to that pulling away I brought up above. Too many people have been trampled or dragged by a horse with poor ground manners. All of this is the gateway to creating a willing and responsive partner under saddle. These exercises and this type of training is even more important with a horse you're intending to train for driving (pulling a cart or buggy).

We'll revisit this topic again at another time, where I'll continue to discuss the mechanics of how to train your horses so they are well mannered and easy to handle on the ground. If you take just one thing away from this article, it should be that a horse with impeccable ground manners is a safe horse and one that will have a useful life as a partner.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In Focus: What You Need To Achieve Your Riding Goals

Goals. Do you have them? In my opinion in a life with horses, we all need to have a clear cut goal during the training process. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours thinking about what discipline your horse will excel at, nor does it mean you must have any aspirations beyond just becoming proficient at living with horses. Horse ownership is about creating a partnership with your horses. That partnership could be as complex as wanting to win a World Championship in the show ring, or as simple as being able to confidently enjoy your horses as companions.

In this installment, we are discussing goals for riding your horse, so we’ll concentrate on that idea. When my day begins, I always have a game plan, so to speak, regarding what I am going to be doing with each horse on that day. It could be getting the horse used to standing to be mounted…it could be to have nice, calm and forward trot circles…it could be teaching the horse to navigate trail obstacles…whatever our goal for the day, that’s what we focus on after warming up. I’ve discussed this subject before, but it never hurts to revisit.

Warm-up time is essential, no matter what you’re doing with your horse. That’s a point I can’t stress enough, a lack of warm-up time can create many unintended issues because the horse may not be either physically or mentally ready to begin work. Just as a marathon runner needs to warm up his muscles before undertaking a marathon, so should a horse be allowed to warm up those huge muscles in order to comfortably carry us riders and be able to concentrate on the job at hand.

Let’s get started. My first order of business (after catching the horse, of course – if that’s something you are needing assistance with, a difficult to catch horse, we’ll visit that subject another time!) will be the daily grooming process. If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you might be familiar with my DGP. If not, you can search the blog for ‘daily grooming process’ to read up on my routine for preparing each horse ahead of the day’s work. I use the DGP to not only make sure my horses are clean and presentable, but also to get my hands on each horse before tacking up. Many times you can catch small issues before they become a major problem.

When I finish grooming and tacking the horse, it’s time to begin that warm-up. My preference is to free longe in a large round pen, though you can just as easily (and harmlessly) longe them on a line, jog them out while ponied by another horse, or let them loosen up while mounted. There really is no right or wrong way – whatever works for you, and most importantly, for your horse. Warm-ups should be for as long as necessary to feel the horse’s body become ready to perform at the level required by the rider.

At this point, I want to stress having the ability to differentiate between a sound horse and an unsound horse. While there are some obvious signs of lameness, “head bobbing” during the trot being one of the most commonly noticed by laymen or those new to horses; a shortness of stride, dropping of shoulder or hip, and any of a number of other telltale actions by a horse that’s in some kind of discomfort should be noted. If you have a hard time spotting these things, spend some time observing horses and talking with either your veterinarian or a skilled and knowledgeable trainer, or both.

Now it’s time to mount up, or if you’re already on the horse, get the real work started. What is your defined goal for the day? This is when most problems arise, and the reason for this article in the first place: Having that game plan outlined long before you swing a leg over your horse. If your homework was done, you know exactly you need to proceed. So, get out there and enjoy this time building a better relationship with your horse, all while strengthening the horse’s foundation.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This Isn't The County Dump! These Are Horses!

Pardon me, everyone, but I am about to go on a bit of a rant here. We hear the term "unwanted horses" more and more these days, and there are an ever growing plethora of rescue organizations which keep cropping up dedicated to saving horses. At face value, that's not a bad thing.

Keep in mind though, this is California -- horse slaughter for human consumption has been illegal here (as in, a felony) since 1998. That's 19 years now. It's not a secret, and one reason why some of our low end auctions ceased running horses through years ago. We don't have "kill buyers" here. Horses cannot be shipped across state lines, and yes that includes to Mexico, for slaughter.

Folks (particularly those who make good money getting donations to "save horses from slaughter") will say the law isn't enforced, or that the traders and dealers just ship to other auctions in other states where slaughter IS legal, then it doesn't matter where the horses end up... but I'm here to say, nonsense.

Here's the bigger issue: Why are so-called rescues putting money in the traders' pockets instead of intercepting horses before they wind up in the traders' hands? Why are they letting the traders buy at auctions, then paying the overinflated markup, instead of outbidding the traders? Trust me, no horsetrader wants to bid up a rescue, because if the rescue backs out, they don't want to be left paying way too much for horses.

Then there's this, another sordid issue. Why haven't any rescues put resources together, or held fundraisers, to close off the so-called "slaughter pipeline"? I mean, it's this pipeline to slaughter they all rail against online, right? How about a caravan fundraiser, to follow these "slaughterbound" California horses to the slaughterhouses, since these rescues claim horses are being illegally shipped to slaughter anyhow, despite the law? Put an end to it!

But the bottom line is, without the ability to cry, "These babies are going to die in a slaughterhouse if we don't save them!!" ... these rescues won't be able to rake in the funds from their bleeding heart donors. I am NOT against rescue, in fact I've dedicated many years to the rescue cause, however what I'd like to see is a lack of need for having rescues in the first place.

Join me in helping to put rescues out of business. Let's choke off the slaughter pipeline where it counts, in the pockets of the supposed kill buyers. Can I get an Amen?