Thursday, December 31, 2009

When The Clock Strikes Midnight...

...2009 will be history. I am sure many of you will agree that saying goodbye to this year won't break your heart. I know it won't break mine!!

Now is, however, the time to reflect back on what went right, the successes garnered as well as the triumphs and victories, all individually unique, of the past twelve months.

This past year started with a bang as *Noble Lord JP was awarded a Top Five with his owner in the elite Freestyle Liberty Championship, after winning his section, at the prestigious Scottsdale All Arabian horse show in Arizona. As an added bonus, his grandson TF Sir Prize was also named Top Five in the Freestyle Liberty, plus Top Tens in both AOTH and Open Stallion Halter (winning the Reserve Championship in the AO). A great-grandson, Sirpremacy DP also brought home Top Tens in both the AOTH and Open Two Year Old Colt classes. It was truly a family affair!

We also brought home more blue ribbons and high point awards than we can count from both the Mojave River Valley Horsemen's Association and the Sun Country Horsemen's Association, in addition to taking home the SCHA Yearling Longeline Futurity Championship.

Our year culminated in multiple Year End High Point Championships with several clients, horses and students; with a couple of YEHP Reserve Championships and a Trainer of the Year award from Sun Country Horsemen. On various levels, 2009 was indeed a very good year.

In store for 2010 is another long show season with hopefully many, many more shining moments. We will definitely share them through this blog, in addition to continuing to offer more equine-related wisdom and training advice. All of you readers really make my day, every day. :) This is, after all, an online horse training resource for all. I thank each and every one of you for your participation and patronage.

We'll see you next year!!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Everybody Loves A Parade!

Who doesn't? Pretty much all kids (and kids at heart) are mesmerized by all the floats, the marching bands and, you guessed it, the horses.

Equestrian units have been a hallmark of parades for well over 100 years ~ likely a whole lot longer. In fact, the first parades in the USA consisted almost exclusively of horse-related entries. There seem to be very few that do not feature horses prominently, from the small town cavalcade heading through Main Street America to the (inter)nationally televised processions down the boulevards of our largest cities.

But what if you want to ride in one? As a rule, you're not going to get picked for the Tournament of Roses extravaganza with no experience, so you've got to start somewhere. Most parades are organized by cities or civic organizations. If you are familiar with when parades in your area are happening, keep an eye on the local paper so you can catch the contact information for whoever hosts those events. They will have entry forms you will need to carefully fill out and turn in, and an information packet available which you'll need to study and follow. Pay special attention to the timelines of when you need to be mounted, in line and ready to go.

Many years ago my earliest experiences as a parade participant were with our region's ETI (Equestrian Trails, Inc) club. After riding back in the group a couple of times, my lovely grey *Raffles-bred Arabian gelding and I were tapped to carry the American flag. Flag training was a fun and challenging endeavor. I started by using a flannel bed sheet attached to an old rake handle and practiced riding with it in the arena for a while each day until my horse was fully comfortable ~ making sure to also practice on windy days!!

By 1984 I was invited to ride in the Rose Parade itself, which was the honor of a lifetime. There are no words to describe the feeling of receiving one of those very special invitation letters, let alone riding your beloved mount down Colorado Blvd on New Years Day! Keep in mind, though, it does usually take some years of experience before reaching that pinnacle of parade-dom.

Since then I have ridden in many parades, both as an individual and as part of a group. Riding by yourself isn't such a big deal, however grouping horses (as well as the choreography involved) can be a challenge. First, you need to pair horses of similar size and stride length. Color can be a consideration, too, then designing a formation based on how many horses you have to work with and what they look like.

Practice makes perfect! Once that formation is decided on, work on several key points. Keeping time with each other, maintaining a consistent speed (you can ask the parade organizers approximately how fast or how slow they will expect you to be...generally relatively slow) and building up your horse's patience and endurance for a longer parade. I like to use a car driving in front of us to set the pace for the first time or two of practice, so we can get into the mode of speed we need to be in.

Another major consideration, especially in picking horses to be in a parade, will be how well they each handle distractions and behave themselves in noisy or stressful situations. Be sure ALL horses deal well with traffic, lots of people, a great deal of noise and that they have no problem with walking on pavement or blacktop. Also make certain that they are fine with crossing painted lines on the street. This is a must to avoid issues during the parade itself and all part of training the parade horse.

After you're entered, you've practiced and you are ready to go comes deciding on attire and decorations, if applicable. For a 4th of July parade, obviously red, white and blue are in order; when you are riding in a Christmastime parade, stick with reds and greens, silver and gold. With a large group, all riders should either be wearing the same simple costume (such as a white shirt, black jeans and a black hat, for example, and you can purchase or make matching saddle blankets and even colorful leg wraps that match your saddle pads) or you can all be attired in proper show clothing, which is what our show team generally does. On our horses, we only use simple, classy embellishments like bows, roses and/or neck garlands based on the theme of the parade. For a Christmas parade a few years back, we bought beautiful silk and velvet poinsettia garlands to go around our horses' necks. See picture below:

Most of all, have fun and make sure someone takes plenty of pictures for posterity!

In two days' time, once again there will be horses marching through Pasadena, this time heralding the arrival of 2010, along with all the additional pageantry that is the annual Tournament of Roses parade.

I wanted to make special mention of the fact that Region One of the Arabian Horse Association has a group riding in this prestigious event, along with my dear friend (Region One Director) Nancy Harvey and her breakthrough Carriage Driving horse. Nancy and her beautiful mare are National Champions in Carriage Driving! Watch for them ~ these guys and gals (as well as their gorgeous Arabian show horses) are making us all so proud!!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Battle Of The Breeds

Today I thought I'd offer something for a little bit of fun, just a little post because it was something I have been thinking about since I wrote the original article over a year ago. As everyone who reads this blog no doubt is aware, I am fairly partial to Arabian horses, which does not necessarily mean that I cannot appreciate horses of a variety of breeds.

In addition to Purebred and Partbred Arabians, I have owned Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, a Mustang and even Welsh Ponies. Over the years I have also had Andalusians, Appaloosas, Morgans, Paints, Saddlebreds, Standardbreds, a multitude of various Warmblood breeds and even a couple of gaited horses of the TWH/SSH variety, among others, in training. They each have their good points that's for sure.

But what attracts us to our favorite breeds? For me, my attraction to the Arabian horse is their breathtaking beauty, their incredible personalities, their amazing intelligence and how well they retain what they have been taught. All that and the loyalty these horses show their human guardians.

Some of the most unforgettable horses in my life...

My Quarter Horse mare, "Spook", was a daughter of Joe Reed II and quite possibly the best moving, smoothest Western Pleasure horse even born. In our years showing, I don't recall that she ever lost a class. She was also the horse who taught me how to master both Showmanship and Horsemanship...and win.

My Thoroughbred mare, "Brandy", was an OTTB bought off a Southern California horse trader who helped me learn an immense amount of patience. She was my first show horse many, many years ago and cemented my love of equestrian competition. This gallant girl was first and foremost an educator.

My Section B Welsh Pony mare, "Sugar", was an exquisite silver dapple who became my best friend on planet Earth. Our adventures and mis-adventures include some of the most memorable times I can recall. We explored trails and hit the show ring under both English and Western tack, bringing home the blue ribbons. Then she was just always there to 'talk' to in my early adolescence.

My Mustang mare, "Babe", was possibly the most patient equine soul ever foaled. She was the cornerstone of our lesson program for many years and was adored by by children and adults alike. I trusted this grand lady with my most precious 'student', my daughter Lisa, as a wee tyke. But she would come alive the moment I settled into the saddle.

Then there were my two equine partners-in-'crime', Kassaul++ and Samir Hadji. Grey Arabian geldings of two different generations (foaled in 1972 and 1980 respectively); they were both exceedingly versatile and brought home many Halter Championships in addition to excelling in a plethora of performance divisions, with Championships in Western Pleasure, Hunter Pleasure, English Pleasure, Hunters Over Fences, Sidesaddle among others.

I have purposefully not included any of my present horses here, though I could fill two million blog posts about them alone. :)

My point this time around is to get you all thinking about what each of the special horses in your lives have truly meant to you.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I have!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Halter Vs. Performance

These days many breeds seem to be splintering off into various factions, however it frequently boils down to Halter or performance as though the two are not (or should not be) intrinsically linked.

There are still a few stellar performers who can also win in the Halter ring, but they are disappearing in a myriad of breeds. My question is, why are there not Halter judging standards across the board which reward overall good conformation, movement and form-to-function in a horse? Both segments of the industry would benefit from such a thing, in my opinion.

One of the most glaring examples is the difference between a World Championship Quarter Horse from the Halter ring and a Western Pleasure horse of identical quality within his chosen division. Add in the working performance horse (Reiners, Cutters, Reined Cow Horses) and you've got three distinct types of horses. When judges are pinning post legged, crippled moving beasts that often look more like beef cattle than horses, there is likely a problem.

We have a similar issue in the Arabian breed, which was a major reason there was such strong support for a numerical scoring system from the performance enthusiasts. A good many Arabian Halter horses have lost the breed's trademark athletic ability, rendering them virtually useless as performance horses. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Another issue along the same lines are those folks who just prefer one over the other. This is something I've never really quite understood, because I enjoy both ~ whether watching or competing. Some folks just seem to have that preference for either Halter or performance. That's fine, I guess. It just doesn't resonate with me.

Here is how I view it: You judge a Halter horse based on two basic criteria; how he most exemplifies his breed and how well he is put together for a performance career. From my perspective, you cannot have one without the other. Some may say, what about the horse who becomes injured and cannot reasonably compete to win under saddle? As long as he is conformed correctly in the first place, there is no issue. He is still a correct individual and had he not been injured he likely would have excelled as a performance prospect.

Getting back to basics, here is why to my way of thinking it is important that Halter judging needs to become based more on form-to-function and conformation as opposed to remaining strictly a beauty contest. We have some truly beautiful horses out there, however, National or World Champion Halter winners are held up as each breed's ideal. So, what happens when folks who are looking for a nice, solid, sound horse who's going to have longevity in a performance discipline are swayed by images of "perfect" Halter horses held up as the epitome of what their chosen breed is supposed to look like? See the problem there?

When the naive public views those Halter winning horses as what they should be searching for to have a distinguished career in Dressage, or Reining, or Endurance (for instance) and the vet bills are mounting after purchase because it wasn't wise to buy that "pretty Halter horse" to begin with, making such an investment can be viewed as throwing good money after bad. Which, in turn, causes people to flock away from the horse industry in general (and the show ring specifically) having been burned by reality.

Nothing is wrong with owning, breeding, training or showing Halter horses. I would just rather see judges rewarding what they should be and see better horses being pinned as the "perfect" or "ideal" representative of any given breed, that's all.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Breeding Preparation Checklist

For today just a quick little post in anticipation of more breeding-related subject matter in the upcoming days and weeks ~ just swamped busy today putting in a lot of hours on some horses, so this will be a short one. Now it's off to bed early so I can get up bright and early at 4 AM to do it all over again tomorrow!! :)

Now that breeding season is almost upon us, and before it gets into into full swing, I am presenting the following tips to make sure the experience of breeding your mare goes as smoothly as possible.

First you have to know whether your mare will be bred live cover or AI (artificial insemination) using shipped semen. Of course, sometimes when you bring a mare to the stallion, she is still covered via AI, however we’re just using the two different scenarios here. Plan well in advance so you know when you’re breeding and be sure to let the stallion owner know when to expect your mare, or your order.

Then you have to be sure when she is cycling so that you don’t send her to the stallion, or order the semen shipment, with no hope of breeding her within a reasonable time. In both instances, you will save yourself a lot of money as well as time for both you and the stallion owners or managers (and your vet if breeding AI). If breeding live cover, you’ll have to get a culture done to make certain your mare is disease free and will not be infecting the stallion. This is also a good idea when breeding AI, just to be sure there will be no complications with the pregnancy and foaling.

Once you know when your mare’s cycle will begin, you can plan with the stallion owner, their vet and/or your own veterinarian to get her bred at the optimum time for her to get in foal. No stallion owner, manager or reproductive specialist vet likes to waste time with a mare not ready to breed!

Following these simple steps you can be assured that your mare will get in foal in a timely manner and present you with that adorable baby come next year!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

True Collection ~ What Is It, Really?

Our question for today: What is real, true collection anyhow? Some people view it as merely a headset, but they could not be more wrong. I define collection as having the horse engaged, rounded and elevated.

Now, that 'elevation' does not necessarily negate the long-and-low traditional daisy cutter open Hunter horse or the stock breed Western pleasure horse from ultimately being able to properly collect, it is in my view simply a more difficult task for those horses, not because they lack any specific physical trait, but because of how they tend to be trained. We can ask that the horse 'elevate' by using and raising his shoulders and that does qualify as elevation.

To achieve that real collection we'll look at and implement elements of the traditional training scale (most often discussed in terms of Dressage, but compatible with all disciplines) and seek to put all of the pieces together while focusing on engaging the horse from behind. What does that mean and how do we go about it? "Engagement" is actually the flexion of a horse's lumbosacral joint. Getting that engagement of the hindquarters is paramount to collection.

Our first task must be gaining a steady rhythm through relaxation. With some horses it's easy, others take more time. We have already discussed how to supple your horse as well as how best to plan and prepare for your training sessions. But getting to the heart of the matter, how is rhythm best accomplished? I use the same lateral flexion exercises described earlier, beginning at the halt, moving into the walk, then the trot and eventually to the canter. When the horse relaxes, he will find his rhythm. We begin with bending and flexing when standing, advancing to circles and figures of eight while moving forward ~ which is yet another key term.

By this time, you will have gained the necessary suppleness as outlined previously. Then we need the horse to learn to seek contact. Contact. That word perplexes many, and has been undermined by too many re-writes of even the most basic of rules. Case in point the language which allows for an extreme draped rein in a Western pleasure horse of most any breed. Yes, there is a difference between the expected contact in a Western pleasure horse and a Dressage horse, or a flat saddle English horse, however the concept remains the same.

It is necessary to acquire contact through driving the horse forward, not taking hold of the horse's face. Nothing positive will be accomplished by trying to work front-to-back, though a great many riders and trainers do just this. To me, it is nothing but a shortcut and creates far more issues that it might solve in the short term. I want my horses to seek my hands as opposed to me pulling on them, I liken it to the difference between playing tug-of-war versus pedaling a bicycle. You use your legs to propel the bike forward, instead of getting into a pulling match.

We are now seeing the the beginnings of impulsion, when the horse steps up under himself and moves off freely forward with full compliance. Some equate impulsion with speed, but they too would be incorrect. Impulsion might infer that the horse is traveling faster, however what you actually see is a lengthening of stride (generally accompanied by a lengthening of frame).

Often people get stuck on the speed versus lengthening and believe pushing the horse to move faster means they are showing greater impulsion. Here is a tip I've mentioned before, which will show you if you're getting that true impulsion ~ using the short sides of the arena, ask your horse to shorten his stride; then push him to extend down the long sides. By using your seat as well as your legs, independently of your hands (the horse must come to you), the level of impulsion will become evident.

Finally we get to straightness and balance. One myth is that a horse must be traveling in a straight line to be considered straight. The trouble with that is, we need the horse to be balanced and "straight" no matter if he's going down the rail, giving us a leg yield, circling or performing any maneuver. What does straight mean? Quite simply that the horse is balanced, his body is in alignment with his nose and his hindquarters are in alignment with his forehand.

To create and maintain that straightness, it is necessary to determine the horse's "bad" direction, all horses have one way they prefer (and are better at) than the other. I compare this to being right-handed versus left-handed. For me it is incredibly difficult to write with my left hand, though thoroughly natural with my right. All my horses are worked longer on their bad direction than their good, in order to gain strength and even out their performances.

Which brings us to collection. It is said that when you have all of the elements of the training scale present, collection will happen naturally. In effect, the horse's weight will be shifted back, he will drop his haunches (flexing that lumbosacral joint mentioned above), his steps will become shorter, lighter and higher and ultimately he will appear to be traveling...even if ever so slightly, as in the case of a Western horse...uphill.

You must connect each element and put them together. They are all equally important, no skipping or leaving things out ~ that will only lead to holes in your horse's training big enough to drive a semi through. Take it step by step, then as you progress revisit the prior steps on a fairly regular basis to be sure your horse maintains his foundation.

All of the above will bring you and your horse to gaining and maintaining true collection. Congratulations, you made it!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas ~ Happy Holidays!

As it is Christmas Day I'm just going to put up a quick, short post then get back to the day's festivities.

First off, I'd like to wish you all a wonderful Holiday season. All of us here at Sunlit Farm and our extended family are hoping for all the best to you and yours now and in the future.

Though this has been a trying year for many of us, we are also blessed with having good friends and excellent horses which makes the tough times a whole lot easier to bear. Reflecting back, we have made incredible strides and progress this year, both personally and professionally ~ which has been a very pleasant surprise.

It is my sincere hope that every one of you has had the same blessings in your lives. I know it would have been far more tough to get through 2009 without them.

In store for today after breakfast and presents, I'll be saddling up a few horses and getting some quality time on their backs. Then bundling them back up snug in their stalls and giving them a Christmas feast before heading over to a dear friend's home for a delicious Christmas dinner.

Hope your Holiday is one of the best ever!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Forums, Articles & Blogs...Oh My!

Today we're going to talk about online reading material. I know, some topic. ;) But the fact is, there are a number of really terrific places to read depending on what your interests are and what you like, as well as what you can tolerate. Some are terrific, some are good, some are bad, some are really bad.

Suffice it to say, I'm not going to get into the bad forums here, though TJM of Shame in the Horse Show Ring did a blog post about [both good and] bad forums in her opinion. I pretty much concur with her, though I could add a few real gems.

Of course, my favorite places are Arabian forums and there are two I frequent; and the Ammy Army. Both revolve around discussions of the Arabian show ring, Ablackhorse is more for the passionate debates about the state of our industry and the promotion of our horses, while the Army is all about helping amateur owners condition, train and present their own horses in the show ring.

Another of my few favorite places to lurk are Chronicle of the Horse, Ultimate Dressage, Reining Talk, the Cutting Horse Forum and the Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center.

There really aren't any general non-breed or discipline related forums I like, though there are a ton of them out there. Most are too cliquish for my liking, though I encourage you to go searching for a place you fit in to enjoy!

As for blogging, the hallmark of horse blogs is Fugly Horse of the Day. I also like the Mugwump Chronicles and Juli Thorson's Horse Talk. There are dozens more, but I just simply don't have time to search for more to read and no time to read all that anyhow! Often clients, friends and readers send me links but I still have a mile long list of both blogs and forums I haven't even had a chance to look at.

If you like, feel free to share other good places to talk horses. I'm sure many readers would love to know about sites where friendly, knowledgeable horse owners or trainers post or discuss the equines in their lives!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Matter Of Insurance

Some of the topics we have covered here allude to necessary insurance, but now we'll get into detail. First there are a few imperative questions to ask yourself.What sort of coverage do you need? Are you operating (or thinking about operating) a public equestrian facility? Are you or will you be offering professional services?

For the average horse owner keeping your personal equines at home, all that's really needed is a basic farm and ranch rider added to your homeowners policy, plus any additional insurance you want for your horses themselves. From mortality to major medical to surgical, or some combination of the above, they're pretty self-explanatory.

Mortality insurance for horses, of course, protects the owner's investment in the event of the horse's death. Most accidental causes of death are covered, as is loss caused by illness or injury. As a rule, there is an age limit of animals eligible for such insurance, plus some excluded pre-existing conditions. Most of the time a veterinary exam is indicated in order to purchase a mortality policy with your vet's signature on the application generally considered mandatory. For higher insured amounts you will usually be asked to justify why the horse should be covered for so much, such as a show or breeding record for a horse you'd like to unsure for $5-$10k and above.

Major Medical insurance covers most serious illnesses and injuries, and in some cases there is a deductible. Again, pre-existing conditions may prohibit your horse from being eligible for benefits, as well as age, however it's an invaluable resource for your younger, healthy horses.

Equally worthwhile is Surgical insurance for essentially the same reasons as major medical, though (as the name suggests) it pertains to surgery. Impaction colics, impassable enteroliths, tendon repair and any of a multitude of potentially necessary procedures are covered, once again as long as your horse meets the criteria.

If you offer boarding services to outside clients, with or without training included, Care, Custody and Control coverage is a must. This protects you in relation to all outside horses on your property and offers added benefits by insuring you against claims of damage or injury to the horses in your care. Also, as a rule if any action is brought against you as a result of a covered loss, your CCC policy will also require your insurance company to defend you. Definitely worth having.

For any trainers of riding instructors, or if you are one yourself, trainer's liability, instructor's liability or both are also mandatory with a $1 million aggregate limit, naming the owner of the facility as an additional insured. These policies protect you (both the professional and the facility owner) against claims of injury relating to the training and horsemanship/riding lesson portion of your business, as long as such claims are not due to negligence.

During my long career, which spans three decades, I've been fortunate enough to have never had a claim against me ~ knock on wood! ~ though having the piece of mind in knowing you're covered goes a long way toward being able to concentrate on business instead of extraneous matters like liability.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Your Horse And The IRS ~ What You Need To Know

Something I generally do not advocate any longer is to choose horse breeding as a business venture due to the difficulties in establishing that you're operating a profit driven entity. It is not so much a lack of desire to be profitable, merely the hardship of proving your profitability in today's economy.

Let's face it, the IRS is looking to catch us all not paying our fair share to Uncle Sam. Many people fib numbers, some hide assets or income and some just set out to commit blatant fraud on several levels.

But what really are deductible expenses in relation to your horse business? As long as you are using services and items, purchasing memberships or so forth for your business, they fall under the guidelines. For instance, if you have a cell phone used exclusively for business use, that's deductible. Even computer repairs and maintenance of machines used for business purposes are an allowable deduction. There are also percentages of other expenses which may not exclusively be related to your business which can be taken on your tax return, such as vehicle costs.

Acquisition of breeding stock or animals for use as lesson horses, for instance, along with all expenses associated with them and their upkeep are included on the allowed deductions list as well. Going on a buying spree to find your husband the right trail horse or looking to purchase a barrel racer for your daughter to compete on isn't. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

I keep track of all expenses associated with my business and make sure I'm keeping everything that's business-related separate from our personal expenditures. Some of my horses are used for lessons and as such they have an explicit place in the business; others are not and nothing associated with them is allowable.

Recently I covered developing a comprehensive business plan for your horse-related endeavor. Adding to that advice, I think it is essential that you consult a tax professional, an accountant and an attorney all specializing in equine issues before jumping in with both feet. This is what I did many years ago and to me it just makes good business sense.

Here is another piece of advice too many young people who wish to break into the industry fail to heed ~ go out and talk to those who have been in this industry for many years and take what they have to say to heart. You may not always like what they tell you, but most of us are more than happy to impart our wisdom to the public and it's likely to save you a great deal of heartaches and headaches if you listen. Being stubborn and thinking you know it all because you've been riding since you were five years old does nothing constructive for your business.

What does the above have to do with the Internal Revenue Service? If you're audited (been there, done that) and all your records are in order, they will still be looking for your intent or lack thereof. When you can show how much research and thought you put into your decision to go into business, you're that much closer to surviving that audit unscathed without losing your shirt...or your business.

If after reading this you still are intent on pursuing horses as a vocation and hanging out your shingle, or starting a breeding program, welcome to the club! Truly the most satisfying thing in the world is to create something yourself and build it into a success. I wouldn't trade it for anything on this Earth!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't Lean On Me ~ Softening The Hard Mouthed Horse

Well, let's start by saying there really isn't such a thing as a "hard mouth". Some horses do, however, become unresponsive for various reasons, normally caused by things as simple as the rider constantly pulling on his mouth while riding.

Pulling and hanging on the reins creates a horse that will lean on you and ultimately begin ignoring more subtle bit cues or even ignoring the bit (and rider) altogether. A mantra of mine during lessons, don't get into a pulling contest with your horse, you will not win. With that in mind, why would you even try?

More often that not, an owner or rider's answer to dealing with the issue is to put an ever increasingly severe bit in the horse's mouth. Unfortunately, that is never the correct answer and only serves to reinforce his aversion to the bit, often leading to a far worse problem than you had in the first place.

Sometimes an owner will bring a horse to me where the major complaint is the horse being difficult to control because he fails to respond to the bit. Your stereotypical hard mouthed horse. Since control really never is the issue, it's important to make sure the horse has the raw foundation of training and I spend a little time reinforcing those early steps. So, I go back to the basics and concentrate on a lot of lateral work, coupled with staying out of the horse's mouth.

Now, it does indeed depend on why the horse is "hard" to begin with, be it simply an issue of helping the horse understand that no one is going to pull on his mouth, a lack of training or whatever else may have caused him to shut down and refuse to respond. I want the horse to tell me how to proceed. Let's assume the horse is just shutting down and tuning his rider out.

If possible, I prefer to use a round pen because it gives me more of an opportunity to let the horse learn to carry himself instead of relying on the bit. I firmly believe in the concept of one rein stops, teaching them is important in getting the horse more soft. Also, using almost exclusively seat and leg cues along with a shifting of weight is imperative in helping the horse to learn the process of becoming "weaned" off his dependence on the bit.

With some horses, they'll 'get it' fairly quickly. Others take more time. One important factor to remember is any time you take hold of the horse's mouth, there must be a good, solid reason (as opposed to grabbing for control or picking at the horse) and you need to follow through with release so the horse begins to comprehend you're not going to be yanking or hanging on him like before.

All that said, I do expect and allow some horses (depending on the discipline) to work on the bit with contact. How can that be accomplished with a horse who's had a "hard mouth" issue? By offering release whenever possible. It's really as simple as that.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Executing A Business Plan For The Horse Industry ~ A Step-By-Step Blueprint

How many people do you know who would consider opening a craft store, or a car dealership, or even a real estate office without fully researching their potential market and coming up with a comprehensive business plan to present to investors (or the bank) before actually getting started? My guess is not many.

So why is it that a majority of folks who decide to jump into the horse industry head first choose to do so with virtually no planning whatsoever? If for no other reason than to give yourself an idea of what your expected income can (or should) be and how much capital it takes to really set yourself up for success, here are a few guidelines, some handy tips and what you should be thinking about before you get your feet wet.

First, you need to have an idea about what service(s) you will be offering to the public and be able to commit an overview to paper. Are you interested in boarding horses for others, developing a breeding program or offering training and lessons? Some combination or all or some of the above? If operating a facility that boards horses for the general public, are you interested in hiring a trainer or instructor? Come up with a thorough description of your business and highlight what you have to offer.

Another consideration you need to give some thought to is who your competition will be and how what you can or will provide excels over and above them. Do you have the ability to offer something others do not? Examples of this would be a covered or indoor arena when no other facility can boast such amenities, or enclosed wash stalls with hot running water, for instance. Also, is there a special niche you can fill that no one else in your area can claim? While these are not mandatory in order to begin operation, they can assist in leading you toward success.

Next will be how to market you business, and in the 21st Century you'll need to take a multi-faceted approach. Combining print advertising with the internet can gain your business maximum exposure, though this brings up one of my major peeves. Good advertising sources, on whole, ARE NOT FREE. That's a major problem with a variety of online outlets, there is no one to edit and send you blueline proofs of your copy.

It's all about you, so making 100% sure everything you post (every ad, any video captions, all website content, etc) is proof read for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors is a must. In addition to a professional looking website and any additional web-based advertising you do (I recommend avoiding Craigslist...), be sure to have advertisements in print. Local newspapers, local and regionally based equestrian publications and even flyers at nearby feed and/or tack stores will be sure to garner you clientele if you have something worthwhile to offer.

Here is another thing to remember ~ word of mouth is always the very best form of advertising. 99.9% of my clients over the past ten years have been through word of mouth, even though we do regularly advertise (though not on a large scale). Your reputation is golden, treat it that way. No doubt, you will encounter those who dislike you and will seek to tarnish the reputation of your business for whatever reason, be it because you said something they perceived as wrong, because of personal or professional jealousy or any of a myriad of other rationales, however it is important to try your hardest to rise above it. You may slip up and fail to do so every once in a while. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go on about your business. Only YOU know who YOU are, and hopefully your clients or potential clients know you well enough to see through those who seek to damage you. Having been there (and anyone who has been in this industry for any length of time has a similar story), you can prevail!

Then you will have to address the ever-important issue of operations; plus who is in charge of each business related task and how you will go about hiring staff. Let's examine a basic boarding facility with resident trainers and instructors. A ranch or farm manager will oversee all areas and handle dealing with client complaints related to the facility itself. For additional tips, please refer to my previous installment about good barn management. All of that information should be integrated into any business plan. On complaints ~ believe me, you will have them. But you must make sure whoever you hire to be in charge of such dealings is competent and diplomatic in the utmost.

Your barn manager should be ordering feed, bedding and any of a number of other necessities. You will also need employees to feed the horses, clean the stalls and make sure there's clean, fresh water for all resident equines. Also necessary will be someone in charge of landscaping, maintenance and repairs. Then you'll need to determine if any trainers and/or riding instructors will be direct employees or independent contractors running their own business yet operating out of your farm. There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach.

Which leads us to insurance, a topic in of itself that I'll be covering in the future. Having adequate coverage is a must, including a care, custody and control policy for facilities where horses are boarded; major medical, surgical and mortality insurance for your bloodstock in a breeding operation; as well as trainers and/or riding instructors liability policies for any staff or outside businesses ~ all with an aggregate limit of not less than $1 million with you named as an additional insured for independent contractors ~ in addition to your basic farm or ranch coverage and homeowner's insurance.

Be sure to have financial data, income projections, capital outlay and expense information charted out, plus any supporting documentation that you are actively involved in organizations related to your endeavor and have the background to prove how well versed you are in the industry. These will be crucial if you seek outside investors or financing of any kind. Also, watch for an upcoming installment regarding horses, equine-related businesses and the IRS for more information as well.

Finally, know your limits and know when to consult others or ask for advice. There's certainly no shame in doing so! Best of luck, 'cause you'll need it!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dealing With Dangers On The Trail

First I want to mention how much fun today is going to be. My daughter and I were invited, along with some very good friends, to go Christmas Caroling on Horseback over at Mustang-Spirit Rescue here in Pinon Hills. It should be a blast! There is a potluck lunch first starting at 2 pm, then we'll ride out at 4 pm and spend the next two hours riding the neighborhood singing! We can't wait. Nothing like spending quality time with good friends, fellow horse lovers and our beloved mounts. :)

Now on to the post...

How many of you as a matter of routine take off down the trail alone, just you and your horse? Did you ever stop to think about what could happen if you encountered any number of dangerous situations out there? Alone? Possibly injured? Particularly if your horse is not a seasoned trail mount, or if you are not familiar with whatever area(s) you'll be riding in, you could have a great deal to be worried about.

Maybe you don't ride out in the wilderness, and perhaps you're under the impression that there really isn't anything to worry about just hacking around the neighborhood, but you couldn't be more wrong. All it takes is one of the many dangers to present itself and your life could change forever. Personally I would rather be riding in the wilderness, or open Desert (the most often location in my case), because there is less of a chance I'll encounter dogs, dirt bikes/quads or other potential dangers.

Lets create a scenario: You saddle your horse, who's relatively fresh after sitting for a few days during a spell of bad weather, but decide against longeing him first. He doesn't usually need to be longed, does he? Down the driveway you ride, with your mount bouncing and jigging. No problem, right? Until some kid on a dirt bike blasts around the corner, spooking your horse who dumps you unceremoniously in the middle of the road. The guy's not stopping, either. Chances are he never knew what sort of havoc his sudden appearance wreaked.

Here's my policy on bikers ~ you can hear them when on a horse...they cannot hear you. Whenever I hear a bike in the distance that sounds like it's headed my way, I seek high ground if possible to draw attention to my presence, or at least make sure my horse and I are not on dedicated dirt bike trails (those known to be used by the bikes). Can we (bikes and horses) share? Sure. But if you notice evidence of regular use by dirt bikes on a wash, trail, right-of-way or any other roadway, beware. Keep in mind that you may need to stay off the trail for a bit until danger passes.

Another danger can be loose dogs, I deal with them all the time while out on our local trails. While this problem is worse in the neighborhood than it is in the "middle of nowhere" on a little used trail, some dogs can be downright dangerous and possibly harm your horse.

My landlady Tina and I were out trail riding recently, she had asked me to ride one of her beautiful mares, Katrina, because she has difficulty with her on a regular basis. For the entire ride, Katrina was absolutely perfect for me, my landlady was in awe she was so good. :) However, on the way home from our ride, a neighbor's large dog came out and not only charged at the mare I was mounted on, but began biting at her hocks. Had we not been able to show the dog an imposing presence by turning toward him and scaring him away, he might have been able to do some serious damage. Thankfully the mare was completely fine ~ that was not the first horse this particular dog had tried to go after.

Several years ago in the neighboring town of Hesperia over at the Mojave River (some 20-25 miles away on the far side of town) a horse was savagely attacked and literally dragged to the ground by two pit bulls. TWO dogs brought a large Quarter Horse gelding to the ground. Fortunately the owner/rider was able to chase the dogs off, but not before they did significant damage to his horse. That should be enough to frighten most anyone away from riding alone, even in populated areas.

Something else I regularly find out here are old barbed wire fences that were built long ago for cattle and the perimeter marking of properties. Most of them are not standing, but strands of barbed wire criss-cross various areas and unless you really keep a lookout for them, a horse could get badly tangled up. Over the years I've seen the ugly result of this, though thankfully I have never (knock on wood!!) been through that. Being careful will generally save your horse from that kind of grief.

Out here in the Desert we also have a wide variety of wildlife to look out for, from rabbits (especially the large Jackrabbits) that like to jump out from under a bush right in front of the horses spooking them, to snakes (mostly in the Summer, of course) ~ we have several varieties of rattler here ~ to coyotes, though they generally are solitary when you see them, and either run from the horses or try, often unsuccessfully, to remain unseen.

There are a variety of other hazards you'll potentially encounter depending on where you live and the time of year. Summertime hazards such as those above-mentioned snakes and other creepy-crawlies really are pretty easy to avoid, though monsoon season dangers like flash floods and the possibility of bogs or quicksand after a particularly heavy period of rain can create a complex set of problems. I have seen the result of horses running into boggy, swamp-like flood control basins, and it ain't pretty. Having had to assist in two such rescues, it really sinks in (no pun intended) what the power of mud and water can do. Then you have the Winter riding issues like more or worse mud, snow, ice and frigid wind (though in some nearby areas there can be wind year-round) that can blow things onto the trail which could potentially spook your horse or hurt you or your horse.

Any possible peril must be addressed and having a little bit of foresight (as in thinking about what might happen) can save your life. Riding a 1000+/- lb creature with a mind of it's own, especially when combined with both natural or man-made dangers, is often a recipe for disaster. That's why you might want to be like the Boy Scouts and be prepared!

Other than all that, have fun and I'll see you on the trail!!


Friday, December 18, 2009

The Meaning Of Friendship

It's Fabulous Friday again! Today, our topic is going to be all about the meaning of friendship.

I have been lucky over the years to have made some very good, incredibly dear friends. Most of them are still very close friends, while others have moved away and then of course there are those whom the world has lost. Most of those who have moved or drifted away in some manner we still keep in touch with.

Today's post is dedicated to all of them.

This time of year generally is a time of reflection, looking back on our lives and how we not only bettered things for ourselves but how we affected the lives of those around us. With horse owners, we include our beloved horses in that equation.

Recently I have made so many new friends, from a vast swath of the horse industry: Fellow professional trainers, riding instructors, facility owners, folks involved in pretty much every aspect of the horse world. I am learning so much from so many of them, as their experience and expertise is so diverse.

Horses can bring so many people together just because we have something in common ~ our love of the horse. Having dedicated my life to them as a professional more than three decades ago, it still never ceases to astonish me how full my life is with amazing ad truly wonderful, caring people because of the horses I love so much.

That's all for today, back to yet another horse training related post! :)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Horses...And Coping In Today's Economy

There is a lot of hurting that's going on out there. Just look around you and I guarantee you will come across someone who's life has been torn apart because of the current economic climate.

Frequently these problems are exacerbated for horse owners as people struggle through layoffs and foreclosures. One look through just about any newspaper's classified section and websites like Craigslist will reveal a horrifying truth ~ a vast majority of horses have zero worth these days.

So what's a body to do if you have a horse you just can't bear to part with and you're worried about his future if you do decide to try selling? There are a few options to think about, though for your horse's sake be proactive.

As long as you do your homework on any potential home, including personal research and ensuring a way to keep tabs on where your horse is if you allow a lessee to take him off your property, leasing is one way to maintain ownership while having someone else assume the costs of upkeep. A lease allows another party to keep and enjoy a horse without laying out the purchase price.

When negotiating leases, I always outline everything that the lessee can expect to pay for (board, feed, farrier, veterinary care, etc) and add to those costs an insurance policy with the lessor as the beneficiary. Standards of care are covered, allowable uses, locations where the horse can be kept and other caveats can also be included but make sure you have a binding contract IN WRITING to cover both you and your horse. One more tip is to clearly outline that surprise visits will happen, so the lessee should expect them at any time.

Another potential work-around would be to offer labor in exchange for board costs. While this won't help if your horse is at home, thinking about moving your horse to a stable and making such an offer can cut your costs exponentially. Good labor and hard workers who are reliable and capable is hard to find, believe me. Most barn owners are glad to discuss options, especially if they have plenty of satisfied paying customers.

Sadly, the fact is I don't see things getting better any time soon. Easing your own burden is often at the forefront of our thought process, which leads to the barrage of animals offloaded into rescue. This is why I so strongly advocate doing all that you can to support your local legitimate rescue groups. You can find out more about rescues in your area by searching online, calling local equine professionals and retailers as well as contacting the IRS for a listing of tax exempt 501(c)(3) organizations local to you.

One final note ~ this is the holiday season. Consider being nicer (and more charitable) to your fellow human beings as well as horses and other animals in need. There are more out there than ever.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Developing A Great Feeding Program For Your Horse

Before I start with today's post, I wanted to mention that this entry marks the 100th post on Laying The Foundation. Wow! I began this blog to help my fellow equestrians, and five months later we are still going strong. Thank you so much to those of you who religiously read this blog ~ we average 50-60 regular readers per day, with about 85-90 individual visitors per day. Not bad for a little blog that's never really been advertised or promoted. Thank you as well to those of you who comment, making this such a wonderful and interesting place to communicate, and to all of you who email me about how much you enjoy the blog. You all warm my heart!! :)

Now, on to the topic at hand:

This is a subject that really has a great many "right" answers and actually, I have long said, ask 100 different folks about how best to develop a feeding program for horses, you will receive 100 different answers.

Over the years I have developed a feeding program designed to optimize each horse’s health, performance and attitude in the working and training environment by looking into the benefits of each feed product, doing a vast amount of research, attending seminars with some of the world's leading equine nutritionists and having had one of the most trusted people in the field do a feed nutrition analysis for me. Our program is based on that analysis, the above mentioned research and continued education in the field of equine nutrition. I also consult my vet on an annual (or as needed) basis and we go over each horse's diet. One product we have not yet integrated into our program, though we are looking into doing so and what it could replace is the Platinum Performance. Ramard, Inc also has some excellent products that we are looking into.

Getting on with it, for the basis of our program at morning and evening meals, we feed a #1 fine stemmed alfalfa hay that has a slight amount of bloom, which is suitable for 99% of the horses we care for. Some are substituted (or mixed) with oat hay, grass hays (Bermuda, Timothy, Orchard, Teff, Sudan, etc) or pellets (either . We do not feed cubes of any sort.

In pelleted feeds and packaged feeds, unless otherwise noted, we exclusively use Ace Hi®/Star Milling® and Nutrena/Farr® feeds.

Regarding pelleted feeds, we exclusively use the following: from Ace Hi®/Star Milling® their Alfalfa Hay Pellets, Alfalfa-Grain Pellets, Alfalfa-Oat Pellets or Alfalfa-Bermuda Pellets; from Mountain Sunrise® their Alfalfa-Timothy Pellets. For all horses who are on a diet of exclusively alfalfa hay, we use a mixture of Alfalfa-Bermuda and Alfalfa-Timothy pellets.

All show horses are fed at lunchtime the following mixture, in different amounts specific to the individual horse - Performance Plus 606™ (Ace Hi®), XTN™ (Nutrena/Farr®), Alfalfa & Molasses/A&M (Ace Hi®), Red Flaked Wheat Bran (Ace Hi®), Red Cell™ (Horse Health®), Corn Oil (Mazola®).

All horses are supplemented with Equi-Aid® Psyllium to help prevent sand colic due to our sand based Desert environment, Pro-Bios® Probiotics to enhance digestion and Electrolytes following lengthy or stressful workouts, or following/during horse show events. All horses are also supplemented with a high protein diet of rice bran and soybean meal pellets.

Horses of advanced age are supplemented with a mixture of Ace Hi® Equine Senior feed and Integrity Senior feed. Horses at weaning age through four years are supplemented with a mixture of Ace Hi® Equine Junior and Integrity Growth feed. Horses deemed “hard keepers” are supplemented with Horse Guard® Super Gain™, Nutrena® Empower™ or Farnam® Weight Builder™, depending on the needs of each individual horse.

Horses with less-than-desirable hoof and hair growth are supplemented with Biotin Plus™. Horses in demanding performance careers and/or with arthritis problems are supplemented with Four Flex® (MSM/Chondroitin/Glucosamine/Yucca) or Joint Combo® (MSM/Chondroitin/Glucosamine).

Broodmares are supplemented with Ace Hi® Mare and Foal (in lieu of Performance Plus 606™) and Farnam Mare Plus™ (in lieu of Red Cell™). Suckling and weanling foals are supplemented with Ace Hi® Mare and Foal (in lieu of Performance Plus 606™) and Farnam Grow Colt™ (in lieu of Red Cell™).

For certain indications dependent on the individual horse, the feed is soaked.

Additional indications or conditions may require additional feed supplements or changes to the horse’s diet. We closely monitor all horses on a daily basis to adjust feeding schedules as needed for the individual.

Basically, we have to understand what's best for our horses, take their work load and environment into consideration and develop a plan that meets their needs. Everyone really does have their own opinions, and that's fine, though I wholeheartedly recommend consulting with your veterinarian on a regular basis about your feeding program, too.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hi-Ho Silver! Handling "Problem Horses"

Here's a scenario that plays out every day in arenas and round pens across the country: Something frightens, upsets in some way or causes pain to a horse and the horse reacts negatively.

Let's face it, horses are just not wired like humans, they don't think like we do or process situations in a complex fashion the same way a person would. Though horses can become explosive, so to speak, and dangerous, such a thing really isn't an inherent quality in equines.

So, how do we label a horse as a "problem"? There are generally two types of problem horses, those with issues related to ground manners and those who we encounter trouble with when they're under saddle. Each must be dealt with differently and how you approach each horse's issues depends largely on the horse itself.

I approach ground work issues by maintaining a calm, cool demeanor and allowing the horse to have every opportunity to do the right thing (which should be true for any training issue). If he chooses not to, there must be consequences.

For instance, biting. One of the most dangerous behaviors in horses in my opinion, no one enjoys being bitten. Any horse who chooses to attempt to bite me (note the word "attempt") will be met with a sharp tap on the muzzle simultaneously with a firm verbal reprimand in the form of a loud "NO!". If consistent, this behavior will wane quickly, but consistency is the key. Never, ever allow your horse to bite. It's not funny, it's not cute and one day that horse will hurt you.

With horses that pull, rush or otherwise get pushy, giving such a horse room will allow him the opportunity to decide to stay out of my space. Should he choose otherwise, I will be ready to send hm backwards several steps to establish my "herd" position. He does not have a right to invade my space, ever. Previously I've covered leading, tying and trailer loading, so we'll move on to issues under saddle.

When saddled, the three most common bad behaviors, in order of severity, are rearing, bolting and bucking.

My aversion to the horse that rears is rather well founded: I'm not fond of being flipped over on. Period. But for most horses, it's either pain related or a learned behavior to get out of work, making the fixes relatively simple. The first step I'll take, of course, with a horse that habitually rears is to have a thorough vet check performed, paying special attention to the cervical spine and the back (including withers loin and hip), mouth and feet/legs.

If there is no physical reason for the horse to act out, we get back to work on prevention. There are a few simple rules for dealing with an obstinate rearer: Going forward and requesting lateral movement, disengaging the hindquarters, is the quickest means to bring a horse out of a rear. Don't grab hold of his face, lean forward and encourage the horse to move. Getting off is NOT an option. If you have ever dealt with a horse who has successfully unseated a rider in this manner, you'll agree.

Fear is a whole different matter, though I don't necessarily consider a fearful horse a problem horse. Generally, once the horse comes to understand that he's going to be sent forward and rearing isn't getting him out of work, the behavior will cease.

Next on my list is the serial bolter. While not quite as high on the danger scale in an enclosed space (round pen, arena, fenced field, etc) as a horse who rears, things can go wrong in a hurry when you're out on the trail and your horse decides he's leaving. Taking off isn't such a big deal to correct if the behavior occurs anywhere he's ridden ~ in other words, if you can abate the problem in an arena or round pen. It's the horse that only bolts with you intermittently on the trail that is the real troublemaker.

When dealing with a runaway, the absolute worst thing you can do is panic. Unless something horribly dangerous is imminent, stay with the horse and ride it out. If the sequence tends to start with a spook, go back to ground training and work on both fear and stand-your-ground issues (otherwise commonly known as "spook in place" training). Your first step should be to reassure the horse and make him face that fear. Be it a wind blown tarp, a barking dog, scary dark trash can or even that odd looking rock near the arena gate, he has to understand it isn't going to harm him and he need not try to get away from it. He can be afraid but must stand his ground. Once he's mastered that, get back on and put those same principles to use from the saddle.

Something I cannot stress enough is how important your "Whoa!" command must be in your training at ALL times. If the horse tenses up and begins to exhibit behavior which leads you to believe he's getting ready to run, remain neutral and ask him to halt. That word means freeze and don't move until you are told. NO questions asked.

If he's the to take off without warning, working through the problem can be more of a challenge because it's next to impossible for you to feel it coming. Be sure he's not grabbing the bit between his teeth (if he does, bump him to dislodge it while distracting him with your weight, seat and legs), rock back and begin a circle in a safe location out on the trail ~ in the arena, it's easy. Send him forward fairly hard, but control the direction and speed. Be consistent, just as with any training issue. Eventually he'll overcome whatever fear he has or there will be zero fun in trying to get away with the naughty behavior.

Last we'll address bucking, though 99% of the time it's not as huge of an issue as the previous two topics. Most horses cannot buck without being able to get their heads down, and a majority of horses really don't give more than a half-hearted crow hop (which definitely can unseat an unsuspecting or unbalanced rider) when under saddle.

Just because a horse does buck when turned loose to play or does so on the longeline doesn't necessarily mean he's going to try tossing his rider. I'm not fond of allowing a horse to buck when it's time to work, so a reprimand is in order at that time ~ every time.

Now, what to do with the horse who habitually tries to unseat you? For starters, don't let him get that poll below his withers. If you do, he's got the leverage to really let loose and you've already lost much of your ability to prevent the buck. For the "playful" buckers, I'll stick a sidecheck on them and soon it's too much of an effort to fight against it. Gradually you work such a horse for longer periods of time without the sidecheck and soon you can remove it altogether.

But, if bucking is a more serious endeavor for the horse and is accompanied by attempting to twist or rear, I'll throw the horse (figuratively speaking, of course) into the tightest circle he can maintain while staying in a trot or canter, always continuing to maintain forward impulsion and not allowing the horse's head to drop below my hands. That part is important.

Forward = lacking the ability to rear...head not allowed to get lower = lacking the ability to buck, unless he's a contortionist. Most are not, so as long as you follow those rules you should be just fine.

Remember, any issue you do not feel confident enough to resolve on your own should be handed over to a skilled and competent professional trainer. There is nothing wrong with enlisting help, especially when in the end it's likely to mean the difference between you getting hurt or your horse overcoming his issues.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Something None Of Us Want To Think About...

...and something that is very necessary. That's what today's post is all about. I'll explain, but read on.

Well, someone finally got around to it. Making and seeking to maintain a website based "Blacklist" for the horse industry. My impression? It's about damn time! Unfortunately, due to our litigious society, they were forced to cease publication relatively quickly due to pressure from the targets of their listings. I cannot say I'm surprised, though I find it a tragedy.

I've spoken with the folks who started "The Official Equestrian Blacklist" website back in 2008, and it seems they started this project with the best of intentions. Trouble is (or was, as it were), the inherent nature of the equine world's bad seeds lends itself to a great deal of hassle when bringing their actions to light.

Why, might you ask, does the world need an equestrian blacklist? Your answer is pretty simple ~ there are just too many crazy people, scam artists, abusers, frauds and worse in this business. Not only that, they also tarnish the image of the industry and damage those professionals and others engaged in horse-related endeavors who are honest, as well as those who do not conform to their twisted sense of 'ideals'.

I love my profession and deeply appreciate the vest majority of my peers. We deserve to have our reputations protected while making sure people are alerted to who they should stay away from, though the source must be unequivocally above reproach.

My hope is that one day someone else, with zero ties to the industry so as to be completely impartial, and with an unimpeachable character will offer us a seal of approval of sorts with a means to instigate investigation of the less than savory individuals, making those findings public.

Truly this would be of benefit to we, the professional trainers and others involved in the industry, as well as to our clientele and it can certainly boost public confidence in the industry as a whole.

On a similar note, I also wanted to touch on legal issues which can affect both horse owners and equine professionals alike.

Unfortunately, due to a very strong trial lawyer's lobby in the great state of California, we still have no Equine Limited Liability law protecting those who own or make our living with horses, many years after efforts were first undertaken to try changing that. This translates to higher insurance premiums and no guarantee that we cannot be devastated by costly frivolous legal action against us.

How can you do your best to protect yourself? First, supervision at all times when anyone (and I do mean anyone, from your best friend to your neighbor's daughter, to your boss and his nephew ~ but most assuredly clients, students and the general public for professional trainers and facility owners) interacts with your horses.

Second, signage. Having simple signs that state the danger of horses (and what can happen) posted, as well as disclaimers of non-responsibility if someone does something which results in an injury to themselves might not necessarily prevent any lawsuits, however, they can show that people visiting your facility were sufficiently warned about those potential dangers.

For professionals, well written contracts are also a must, but remember to be sure you have the correct verbiage included, so run them by an attorney experienced in the field of equine law prior to incorporating them into your business. Here in California, there is no guarantee that you will not be sued if Little Suzy gets bucked off one of your horses, even with an agreement in writing signed by Suzy's mother, though you stand a far better chance of being able to defend yourself in court under such circumstances.

Another important consideration for riding instructors is insuring that all equipment used on your lesson horses is in tip-top shape, so regularly check, repair and/or replace anything that's worn or broken. Yes, leather repair can get pricey and new tack is expensive these days, but so is defending yourself against a lawsuit which arises out of a preventable accident caused by a tack failure such as a frayed girth or a broken buckle on a bridle.

Then we get to helmets; my rule is ALL minors wear them, at ALL times when mounted. Period, no exceptions. Adults have the option of using a helmet if they so desire (which is written into my contracts), but they can opt out. Not so with the kids, it's the law and you are bound to follow it.

What about if your horse gets loose, runs into the neighbor's yard and tears up a fence or causes other damage? Well, that is what homeowners insurance coverage is for, right? Okay, this one goes under the heading of prevention. There is plenty you can do. Check and double check your stall latches and gate chains. Make sure your property is fenced sufficiently to keep your horses in and unwanted critters out.

Bottom line, make sure you cover your bases and provide yourself with as much protection as possible.


Hip Hip Hooray!!

Just wanted to put up a brief post about what's been going on in the equestrian community locally and update our area readers. Then we'll get to the heart of tonight's subject matter in a whole other post. As to the title of this post? Things are moving and shaking in the Tri Community (Phelan, Pinon Hills, Wrightwood)! That's not a bad thing, it doesn't have a bit to do with the earthquake fault our lovely community sits on. ;)

On Sunday our local horsemens association, Tri Community Corral (soon to be ETI Corral 88 pending final approval), held a get together celebrating the National Day of the Horse ~ designated by Congress as December 13th ~ and elected our 2010 board of directors. I have been named President for the upcoming year and wish to send out many thanks for all the faith shown in me by this incredible group of equestrians. We have many events in the works, including trail rides and a high point horse show series among other things. The club's new website is Tri Community Corral.

Tonight, a large group of us in the local equestrian community attended a meeting of the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District Citizens Advisory Committee on Parks to discuss the planning and development of a brand new 80 acre park in Phelan. I was asked to be on the Equestrian Subcommittee and graciously accepted. It is an honor to be able to represent our vibrant equestrian community and work alongside the amazing, dedicated folks who are working so hard to make this park a reality for our community.

I want to issue a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has expressed such faith in me. I will definitely make you all proud! :)


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding Stability: Practicing Good Barn Management

Here is a subject that causes much discomfiture for many horse owners, both those who board their horses out and folks lucky enough to keep their horses at home. If you have horses, they are going to be stabled somewhere. Therefore, it's in your best interest to have a complete understanding of what it takes to care for them correctly.

Lets say you are fortunate and don't have to go any further than out your front door to visit with your favorite equine. There are just a few basic "must's" here ~ water, feed, shelter and exercise.

Water is a given and making sure it is plentiful and available in a clean receptacle is of utmost importance. My water barrels and waterers are cleaned twice per week, rain or shine. In the Wintertime, ensuring pipes are not frozen and that you remove any ice formed on top of the water container is mandatory, too.

Having a feeding program to optimize your horse's well being is also paramount. The right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates for your horse will largely depend on his job, remember to balance your forage and your grains. I recommend talking to your vet to find out what he or she suggests.

One of the most expensive parts of providing for your horse is the shelter aspect, which can be as simple as a roof to block the sun and rain in any type of paddock or pasture, or as complex as a barn with box stalls. Keep in mind that in addition to the structure itself is making sure where your horse lives is clean!

Last will be plenty of exercise in the form of being ridden, another form of what we call "forced exercise" (meaning longed, free longed, worked in longlines, even walked, either by hand or on a mechanical hotwalker) or just turned out in an arena, a large paddock or a pasture.

Now here's the nitty gritty: My list of what it takes to be a good facility owner and barn manager. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Frequently, however, they are not. Here we go...

Knowledge. Nothing is a substitute for knowing about horses, having a basic understanding of equine health and nutrition, understanding horse behavior and having a tangible grasp of basic first aid. If you know little to nothing about horses (or worse, pretend that you do, thus making yourself look like a fool to any potential boarder), you have NO business in charge of any facility where people pay to keep their horses. I have encountered this on a number of occasions before, and it's not pretty.

People skills. There is a great deal to be said for being able to communicate intelligently and rationally with your customers. It never ceases to amaze me when I encounter folks in a position of authority, especially one where they must interact with the public on a daily basis, who utterly lack the ability to be diplomatic and look for the most constructive means of dealing with a complaint or other issue. Please do not put your mentally ill friend or your relative who's a convicted child molester in charge of your business! Such a thing ranks right up there with barn owners I have come across who lack any substantial knowledge of equids and who insist that there's nothing wrong with feeding moldy hay to the old broodmares just because they are too cheap to toss it into the trash bin. Ugh!

Professionalism. Always, always be courteous and professional when dealing with your customers (and potential customers). Anything less is entirely unacceptable and any savvy horse owner is going to shy away from dealing with you no matter how 'convenient' your facility may be. Under this heading would fall dealings with those who provide a professional service to your clientele, too, such as trainers, farriers and veterinarians.

Always provide the highest quality feed or bedding available, always make sure the stalls and paddocks are cleaned at least once per day (here it is twice daily), counsel your staff in how to deal with the public, DON'T hire your children or the neighbor kids to work for you and stay away from relaxing the rules for anyone, not even "just this one time...".

There you have it, straight from the (ahem) horse's mouth.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

It Was A Very Good Year!!

Today marked the 2009 Sun Country Horsemens Association awards banquet. It was a fabulous event hosted by a wonderful club and filled with great people. :)

Our clients Kathy Brown and her family were on hand with us to pick up the Year End High Point Championship for Melodys Ravishing Luna in the Late Foals of 2008 division as well as Luna's Year End High Point Reserve Championship in Arabian & Half-Arabian Halter. We've got pictures that will be on our website soon of the proud owners and their beautiful belt buckles!

It was truly my pleasure to handle and exhibit this beautiful filly for them all year and we look forward to next year.

This club is dedicated to our equestrian community and supporting us all ~ they also honored all of us trainers who have supported this club, by naming "Trainers of the Year" and I felt so blessed to have been awarded a custom bridle bag and a lovely new halter and lead.

I want to issue a heartfelt thank you to Nancy Payne and the entire SCHA group for trudging forward and with the demise of Hesperia Horsemen working hard to maintain a high point show series. Also, to Cheryl Padilla at who's beautiful facility, Hidden River Ranch, the shows have been held. All of you are so greatly appreciated and hopefully you know this!!

Next year we're shooting for a whole lot more awards, including the drop dead gorgeous Western show saddle that was awarded to the overall high point winner of the year. ;)


Friday, December 11, 2009

Are You And Your Horse A Good Match?

Some of us just know that we're well matched with our horses. It's perhaps just an innate feeling we have when we ride, but it's definitely there. How can you tell, though?

Well, for starters, you need to know what you're interested in doing with your horse, and that horse must be capable of accomplishing those tasks. If you wanted a nice Western horse but your mount prefers to move out in a more extended gait or at a faster pace than you think is necessary, there is a good chance you aren't going to be compatible.

Ensuring that your horse is a good match for you begins well before the purchase transaction. Any time I embark on a search for the perfect horse for a client, we will sit down and have a thorough discussion about wants, needs, likes, dislikes and goals. Without having an idea about what they are truly looking form I'd be searching blind. Also, often during those talks there will be an epiphany of sorts related to what the client thought they wanted and what would really suit them. It is truly disheartening bordering on devastating when you've already invested in a horse and then you find out the horse is all wrong for you.

You know that saying about different strokes being for different folks? In the horse world, it's true, too. Some people like 'stock' breed Halter horses, some prefer gaited horses for a nice easy ride on the trail, some folks want a Thoroughbred or a Warmblood because they seek to excel in the Dressage or Hunter/Jumper world, some love a flashy Arabian Saddleseat horse. What does this have to do with being a good match with your horse? Simple: It has everything to do with being happy with the horse you've chosen.

On a daily basis I see people who are not well suited to their own horses, yet they fail to realize it. My personal barometer of how perfectly matched a complimentary horse and rider are to each other encompasses several criteria. One, are they happy to see each other? Two, does the owner consider any task related to the horse a chore rather than a joy? Three, are both parties pleased and satisfied at the en of a ride, with a sense of accomplishment as opposed to frustration? Is the answer to any of these questions is no, Houston, there may me a problem.

Take into consideration how much time you have to devote to your horse and how you feel about that. If you can't wait to get home from a long day at the office, or a weekend home from university, just because it means you get to see and enjoy the love of your life (and I don't mean your significant other of the human persuasion) chances are the two of you are a match made in Heaven.

It's a fact – well matched horses and their riders are far happier than the alternative. Here's another saying that might be appropriate: You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip! If you just don't have that unbreakable bond with your horse, it may be time to think about finding a replacement (after you locate the ideal home for your present horse, of course). Somewhere, out there, will be the perfect match for him, too!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Here We Go Again...

Yes, it's another post on show ring tips and tricks. :) There is just a lot to cover on this topic, so here we go!

Picking up where we left off, you will find that there is SO MUCH you don’t know or think about when readying yourself and your horse for a show, which is the purpose of this little learning exercise.

A few tips on ring etiquette:

When you are asked to back your horse, don't forget to check behind you...the same goes for the reverse. Many judges appreciate this and doing so will sometimes give you a leg up on your fellow competitors.

Try to be sure your horse's performance is consistent. You can have a horse that isn't quite as pretty or talented and still place well if you have consistency in your rides.

Please, PLEASE do not train your horse (or allow him/her to be trained) in a manner inconsistent with what is correct. There are tons of "trends" and fads in the horse show world, but there is no substitute for a well trained, correct moving, mannerly horse that moves properly with good self carriage. Quality of your gaits is essential.

Don't fall for trends and the judge wont care if your turn-out isn't perfect as long as it is respectful and your horse looks nice. Spend as much time as you can grooming, conditioning and schooling your horse (within reason ~ don't overschool) at home and it will pay off!

Be sure you are showing your horse from the moment you set hoof in that arena until you leave the ring at the end of your class, no matter how bad of a ride you had. That one is imperative! Even if you are waiting for the previous class to be pinned and your class is lined up awaiting instruction, or you're lined up at the conclusion of your class. You are STILL in the show ring, act like you belong there.

Definitely be ready to enter the ring when your class is called. Nothing is more aggravating than being in your class, ready to rock and having to wait for some slowpoke to show up. There is a two minute gate call for a reason! Also, nothing peeves off a parent like paying for classes their children miss because they were not listening or goofing off instead of getting in the ring.

Remember that the warm-up ring at many shows can be chaos. Be prepared for horses to go blowing by you in various directions, horses running up on your horse's tail and horses cutting you off. Too many riders, including trainers, do not pay attention to where they are going during warm-up! Additionally there are sometimes those exhibitors who will purposefully and deliberately try to blow your ride ~ this goes for in the show ring during classes as well as in the warm-up pen. I personally have had this happen, you simply have to ignore it (sometimes you can take it as a compliment, that you're tough competition and they would rather take you out than compete against you). Don't allow it to bother you, because if it does, it will bother your horse.

Only YOU are responsible for your one else. Keep that in mind at every show, during every class. In the show ring, no matter your discipline, show your strengths and hide your weaknesses. At least, try to. ;)

Many riders will try to correct problems with their horses behind the judge's back. I have news for you! Perhaps they can't see what's happening when their backs are turned, but they CAN hear it. It's all good to know where your judge is (as well as the horses around you), but continually glancing around the ring to see if the judge is looking at you is a big no-no in my book. Some folks advocate doing so ~ I do not. Checking over your shoulder on occasion is fine. Making a small correction to your horse when you think the judge is watching someone else is okay, too, as long as it is minor and quickly accomplished. You don't want to allow your horse to get away with bad behavior, but there is a difference between major discipline in the show ring and a little bump here or a little tap there.

Along those same lines, make sure your horse is ready at home BEFORE you take him to a horse show. Train your horse! To be sure, you can never know 100% how a horse will react the first time at a show, and your horse may be perfect in your home arena. Horse shows are not the time to be trying new things and you should not need to have a major knock-down, drag out fight with your horse at a show.

Some horses have fear issues, but a confident rider can overcome them in most cases. A number of horses are afraid of being handed a ribbon, some hate the loudspeakers, others spook at a camera's flashbulb. I have ridden in many arenas where the show committee will place sponsor banners or signs on the arena rails and I have had horses that hated another horse passing close by or running up behind them - ALL of these things can be scary to some horses. Get them used to things like that at home and they won't be such an issue when you get to the showgrounds. Set up situations in a controlled setting where you are in charge and let your horse learn to deal with them at the horse's own pace.

Try not to punish your horse if he's truly afraid. Scared horses are not safe horses, however I've had the best luck in trying to work them through whatever they're frightened of as long as we end on a good note, just like at home. If your horse is just plain out of control and you cannot get him in hand, scratch your classes. Better to waste a few dollars on class fees than have a bad wreck or worse, wreck someone else. Along those lines, if a rider is unseated, halt your horse. Some say to dismount, I would rather you stay on your horse, it's usually a safer place to be. Consequently, if you come off your horse during a class, it's preferable that you ask to remain in the ring, because you don't want your horse learning that they can get out of working in a class by tossing you! Inevitably they will try it again.

Many times judges will pick their favorites and even start placing their classes (especially if they're rather large) from the moment you set foot in the ring, so make your entrance count! Set your horse up so you can easily head through the gate and down the rail giving the judge a great first impression.

Remember: Impulsion, impulsion, impulsion. In English classes, your judges will appreciate a horse with good forward gaits. Likewise, if you have a Western horse, keep in mind that you want your horse to show proper collection, not just a lethargic stroll down the rail or that horrid looking "crippled shuffle" with the hip moved over toward the center of the ring. Yuck!

Take the time to give your horse a pat after the cards are turned in while you're in the lineup, and as you're exiting the ring. You will leave the impression that you're really thrilled with the ride your horse gave you (even if the truth is, not so much) and that you have respect for your horse as your riding partner. It looks professional and like you care. Every little thing can count, good judges will take notice.

Drugs ARE NOT FOR THE SHOW RING! Things like Bute have their place, but don't come to a show with an entire pharmacy. More than likely you will be caught and nothing good can come of that.

Don't forget to school your horse at the walk as much as the rest of your gaits. It never ceases to amaze me that even trainers will not concentrate on the walk! Walking accounts for 25%-33% of most classes - don't skimp. Also, refrain from allowing your horse to dawdle, wander or gawk around ignoring you, the rider. Performing a good walk can mean the difference between bringing home a ribbon and getting the gate.

There is no prize for rushing into the ring as the gateman is closing that gate. Be prepared and have your horse ready to perform. I prefer to get in there early, even though I don't like being the first one in...unless I know my horse is going to knock the judge's socks off and I want to be the first one he sets his eyes on. Be prepared long before the class is called to order and ready to ask your horse to move off in whatever gait is asked for.

When the announcer calls you to the lineup - LINE UP! Be prompt, don't continue around the arena for another five minutes just to show off. Making that last pass down the rail in front of the judge is okay, but don't make a scene. You don't want to make a spectacle of yourself. For myself, I like to get a spot on the end of the line, because you have a 50% less chance of running into a problem with backing. Many horses do not back straight (which is something else you need to work on at home before you ever think about going to a show) and if the horse next to you backs crooked, you run the risk of your horse moving into him.

Most important of all, relax, and DON'T forget to breathe! I have had students that rode out of the ring out of breath. While this can happen under normal circumstances in some classes (Over Fences events are notorious for this, as is the English Show Hack division at an Arabian show!), this is not something you expect with a Walk/Trotter coming out of a four horse Equitation class. I've also had some kids exit a class and mention that the judge told them to breathe. Sometimes we need little reminders. This is one of those times! Anything you can do to calm yourself, which will in turn help keep your horse calm, will do wonders for your performances. A lot of kids like to listen to their I-pods or other mp3 players. Which is fine as long as they don't miss their classes!

I'll continue this again later on, finishing up with some tips on how to handle yourself as an exhibitor and the parent of a child who shows. Meanwhile, enjoy immersing yourself in the wonderful world of preparing to go show!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Arabian Scoring System

This is one of the first "editorials" I wrote about a year and a half ago, though I know quite a bit of what I write could all into that category...sort of. ;) This is an updated version. Anyhow, without further adieu, a topic that became the hot discussion subject online in the Arabian show horse world: Scored Halter classes.

One of my major pet peeves for many years has been the trend we have seen on a continuing metamorphosis to emphasize how well a horse shows as opposed to judging them on their actual structure, conformation and movement, which is of course what we’re actually supposed to be judging Halter (in the Arabian breed what we call Breeding or Gelding In Hand) classes on. Right?

However, it became a question of when you bring a spectacular specimen into the Halter ring at an Arabian horse show and the horse just stands there refusing to “show”, you’re not going to do well, particularly at the higher level shows, no matter how nice your horse is. You could lead as perfect a horse as possible with spectacular movement, but no show, no ribbon.

Okay, I get it that we’re talking about a “horse show” here, and I love a well trained and shown horse as much as the next person, but honestly, it should never be more important to have your horse trained to tighten up, stretch his neck and act like he’s scared to death of you than how well he is put together and can move. Other breeds don’t need that, not even the breeds who are exhibited similarly such as Saddlebreds, Andalusians and Morgans. Why us?

Back in October of 2006 a resolution was brought forth at the annual AHA Convention to implement a means of scoring our Halter classes based on certain attributes of the horse, including movement, as opposed to continuing on with the status quo. Implementation was delayed, however, because a segment of the Halter industry (trainers and owners) were against it and wanted to be given an opportunity to formulate a means by which to rescind the earlier resolution.

By the 2007 AHA Convention, the Arabian Horse Association of Arizona (sponsoring club of the annual Scottsdale show) came up with a resolution to rescind the use of our new scorecard or at least make it’s use optional at the discretion of the show committees and judges. Fortunately, that resolution was soundly defeated and the new rules were set to take effect as of April 1, 2008. Many of us felt, it‘s about time!! Another assault on the scorecard was brought forward at the 2008 Convention which was resoundingly defeated (the same just happened again at the 2009 Convention in Reno last month, again defeated almost unanimously).

Here's the lowdown: There are seven areas where our horses are now judged in the Breeding and In Hand division classes, which are 1) Arabian Type; 2) Quality, Balance, Substance at the Walk; 3) Legs and Feet; 4) Head; 5) Neck and Shoulder; 6) Back, Loin and Hip and 7) Movement. In each category, there are 20 points possible per horse. A score of 1-6 per category is considered below average, a score of 7-13 is considered average, a score of 14-17 is considered good and a score of 18-20 is considered excellent. Your highest total possible score is 140 (for each judge).

Additionally, judges can assess penalty point deductions (from -1 to -5 points) for things like poor manners, undue stress, inhumane treatment, excessive use of the whip, a horse that appears intimidated by it’s handler or excessive grease/oil on the horse.

Now, keeping in mind that under a scored Halter system horses are being judged against the breed standard as opposed to against each other, the option also exists to have the horses come in the ring for judging one at a time like we do in Sport Horse In Hand classes, as opposed to them all being in the ring together where they can be comparatively judged. Personally, I love that idea and AHA has chosen the “exit the ring procedure” option for US Nationals in October these last two years, which has been fabulous!! Those classes have been beautiful, far less stressful than the traditional Nationals Halter classes and a whole lot less intimidation of the horses. Hopefully we can eventually get all shows required to run their Halter classes in this manner.

Now, looking back when we were only one month into the new Arabian Scoring System there were already unhappy exhibitors with judges seeming to give either far too low scores for the quality of horses or unrealistically high scores to some horses, as well as those who appeared to be judging horses against each other (with scores reflecting that by uniformity across the board, rather than judging each individual attribute of each horse) instead of against the breed standard.

Remember, these scores are to be given based on each horse against the entire pool of Arabian horses in the nation, not just against those sharing the show ring. Therefore, you would hypothetically expect those horses, real show horses, to be consistently in the above average, or good, category. In the early going here, that didn’t necessarily seem to be happening, though it has gotten better over these past 20 months.

Were some judges gaming the scorecard? Indeed it would appear so and some sadly still are. I have friends who have shown under this system who had their horses low-balled by a few different judges ~ there is NEVER any reason for that. Some folks made a decision not to compete with their horses at AHA approved shows in Halter classes until the mess gets straightened out...and then there's the case of the annual Scottsdale show, which has chosen this year (and next for 2010 as well) to not use the Scoring System. Those classes are of course not qualifying classes for either the Region 7 Championships or any of the National shows, but of course most folks who show Halter at Scottsdale go for the promotion of sales and breedings. If you want to qualify, you go to another show or another Region.

It remains somewhat of a "wait and see" as far as the scorecard goes, and there is still a great deal of funny business going on, but it is a step in the right direction. We're keeping our collective fingers crossed because, as we all know, nothing worthwhile is ever easy to achieve!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Horsemen’s How-To on Hoof Care ~ Part II

There are probably equally as many shoeing techniques are there are farriers, and there are some extremely skilled farriers out there (formerly known as blacksmiths). But there are also some shoers I wouldn’t let touch my horses, and unfortunately I’ve used a couple of them in the past.

One notable example was hired when we first moved to the Desert area after having been recommended by a local feed store owner. I explained exactly what I wanted and what my expectations were, with specific instructions on how and what to do. I am an owner who prefers to be there when my horses are worked on, particularly with a new farrier, however this guy was only available the week I needed him to show up while I was not home. He had four horses to do, two regular shoeings and two trims. Both horses that needed shoes got them, and the job he did was relatively decent, though not exactly the best. It would do. He also trimmed the colt, who had excellent feet -- but he skipped the old Mustang mare, complaining that her hooves were just “too hard” for his nippers to work on, so he suggested I get them softened up and he’d come back. Now, that should have been my first clue that something was amiss, but I apparently missed it. I’d lectured him on precisely how I wanted that mare trimmed, that she was a special case and needed a special touch. Two weeks later, he came back, again while I was away, though I didn’t realize he'd been there, as by the time I arrived home it was dark and already feeding time.

Early the next morning we noticed the old mare laying down in her paddock, and kept an eye on her until feeding time an hour later. When I went out to feed, she nickered at me but would not get up to eat, at which time I began to worry. As it turns out, the new shoer I had used ignored everything I had told him about that mare and he tried trimming her to be at an angle far different (more like a “normal” horse) than her feet would take. She was so sore in the hooves that she didn’t want to stand on them! I felt to badly for that poor horse, I fired the farrier, refused to pay him for that trim and found myself an excellent young farrier who listened, pain attention, did an outstanding job and charged less that the first shoer. Lesson learned.

Similarly I have used another farrier wannabe (my term for those who resemble the aforementioned) in more recent years who could not even balance a horse’s foot and flatly refused to measure either toe length or angle on my horses. He wouldn’t work on the horses I had that needed specialty shoes like toe weights, trailers or the like, either, which in hindsight was probably a good thing. He was unreliable and had a habit of either not showing up at all, stopping by at a time other than what we had scheduled or even getting there a day early. Annoying to say the least. I’d finally had enough of that one when I looked closely at one of my geldings, noticing how far off both front feet were from each other. That was it, he was gone.

I have no excuse other than I just didn’t want to begin the farrier search again and used this guy because he’s who the facility I was training out of used on their horses. As I said, it really was no excuse. Thankfully, I have found another couple of real gems who are outstanding farriers, do their jobs right, listen to my input and neither second guess me or argue with me! Both my farriers I have used now for a couple of years, and there is another who I've used in the past and some clients prefer that I can call in a pinch if I need something done and one of my regulars cannot make it out in a timely fashion.

Speaking of horse shoes, there are a large variety of shoes, which have many different purposes, from your standard machined “keg” shoe, to action enhancing toe weight shoes, to half rounds that help with breakover to egg bar shoes which help support a foundered or navicular horse. Many more specialty shoes exist, along with options like plastic pads, leather pads, toe clips, trailers and various other configurations and appliances.

We live in a rather rocky area, therefore I prefer to have shoes on all my horses that are being ridden, especially those who go out on the trail where I have less control over the terrain. Some horses have naturally great hooves that simply need a trim, others tend toward brittle, dry hooves or just have weak hoof walls.

For a majority of horses, regular keg shoes are just fine. With my performance show horses, I prefer a half round shoe and I use toe weights of 14 ounces on my flat saddle English horses (though now in the Arabian breed we have no set weight limit for shoes but utilize a specially designed gauge instead for measuring shoes).

On most of my show horses I also use plastic pads, to help with concussion and allow them a bit less hoof in total length, since I like them to have between a 4” and 4.5” foot (Purebred Arabians) or a 5” to 5.5” hoof in my Half Arabians.

There are pro’s and con’s to the use of pads, just as there are with shoeing itself. Some folks swear by barefoot trimming, a lot more folks today are having their horses half shod with just shoes in front with the back barefoot, and you have a whole new generation pushing what they call a “Natural Balance” aluminum shoe. For me, I really dislike aluminum shoes, because they tend to wear out quickly and wear uneven unless you have a horse with perfect feet. Which, most of us truly don’t. I prefer the motion I get out of a well shod horse, and movement is paramount in the Pleasure horse arena.

Much of horseshoes versus trimming is personal preference, and there is no one “right” way, other than how to correctly trim and shoe a horse!

If there is a moral to this story, it’s choose your farrier wisely based on a number of recommendations, and if possible go watch him work on some of his customers’ horses before hiring him. When you like what you see and see what you like, hire him on the spot. Good shoers are very hard to find!