Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Starting the Young Horse Under Saddle, Part 1

Every trainer has his or her own method of starting a young horse under saddle, and that’s not to say any one opinion is wrong. As long as the horse gains knowledge and experience at the proper pace for his mental and physical development, many methods can be equally successful.

I have always believed horses should be started slowly and never rushed. Of course, no owner wants to pay for six months worth of training, only to have the horse return home barely knowing how to yield to the bit. My philosophy has always been to first get the animal used to carrying a bit attached to the halter while being groomed, longed, washed and so on. I’ll use trigger snaps or very small double-end snaps to hook the bit to the halter, always being careful not to bang the horse’s teeth when inserting the bit into his mouth.

Using a lightweight, sometimes hollow-mouthed, preferably an inlaid copper or sweet iron smooth Dee-ring snaffle, the horse becomes accustomed to the bit and can gradually begin wearing a regular headstall. The reason for this particular type bit is simple: The bit should be lightweight so it’s less of a burden to the horse -- after all, if he’s never worn a piece of cold steel in his mouth, we want him to get used to it rather than be traumatized by it. Also, the thicker the mouthpiece, the less severe the bit is. Many people don’t realize this, but an extremely thin smooth snaffle can be much harder on a horse than a thicker twisted wire bit. Last, a copper or sweet iron mouthpiece, which helps keep the animal's mouth nice and soft. I'd like to stress that preferably it should be inlaid copper, since solid copper bits get chewed on, which often results in sharp edges that can hurt the horse.

Always making sure the bit fits properly and comfortably in his mouth, the trainer should use common sense and his or her own judgment to decide when the next step should be taken. Depending on the reaction of the horse (and each individual horse is different), the surcingle can be introduced separately or in addition to the bridle. This very important tool teaches the horse to respect the girth, which is the first step toward getting him under saddle.

Ideally, horses should be started in a non-stress fashion such as this at about three years of age so they are ready to ride at the beginning of their fourth year. (I realize that with some breeds the animals are started much earlier to prolong their careers, but I firmly believe a young horse's legs are not developed enough to withstand the stresses associated with intense under saddle training until at least the age of three -- however, that's another story). Some can physically and mentally handle being ridden as three year olds, but any do not.

When the horse accepts the surcingle in conjunction with the bridle, a cavesson noseband is added to discourage gaping of the mouth when rein pressure is applied. A standard running martingale is another piece of equipment my horses are often not without when worked in a snaffle -- and that applies to horses of all ages. Adjustable side reins should be used at the longest length possible, attached by snaps to the bit and run through the rings on the martingale, snapping to the center rings on each side of the bitting rig. The martingale used should have rings that fall on the side of the horse's neck rather than those which come up from the chest area (which applies unnatural leverage on the horse's mouth).

Next time: Getting the horse accustomed to being bitted up and longed, working the horse in long lines (also called ground driving) and mounting the young unbroke horse for the first time. I will also discuss the safest way to start a green horse under saddle and techniques for working horses in the round pen.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This will be a short one, and it's getting late ~ whoops. But we are on "firewatch".

There was a fire only a few miles away today. I was giving a student a lesson when her grandmother noticed the smoke. Then, later on as I was heading into town, I saw a massive plume of smoke coming over the mountains. That one isn't all that far away, as the crow flies maybe 25 to 30 miles? Rough terrain, steep wilderness and it hasn't burned in that area in many years.

Keep your fingers crossed for us out here. California is on fire ~ again.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Whoa! Stopping & Spinning To Win ... and Flying Lead Changes, Too

This is a real oldie, but I thought I'd share it. :)

"What’s the single most important thing any horse, no matter his age, can learn? The stop command, or “Whoa”. It all starts when, as a baby, he must understand how to respond properly when we ask him to stop. That, of course, translates to when we’re teaching him to longe later on, and behave correctly under saddle even later. There’s nothing worse than a horse who does not understand he needs to stop immediately when asked. Not only can it be annoying if they don’t, but dangerous as well.

By the time he’s under saddle, it’s imperative that the horse understands what “Whoa” means to ensure he will become a well behaved mount. We must make certain he learns your body language, too, as you’ll teach him that “Whoa” is coupled with your sitting deeper in the saddle and shifting your weight back, which should encourage him to do the same. You may ask how I’m leading up to stop and spin maneuvers and it’s really pretty elementary -- your horse has to be in tune with your voice and your body in order to perform as he is supposed to.

Some trainers like fairly green young horses to begin as Reiners, while there are those of us who want a pretty fair foundation in place first. I fall into the latter category, though I’ll outline briefly the means for achieving satisfaction with both and the methodology used on each.

The preference for youngsters who haven’t had much education is that the horse will be easier to teach the maneuvers themselves without having to sift through the requisite manners, 'frames' and 'headsets' of a pleasure horse. He ought to know what the bridle means and he’s got to be comfortable with the saddle on his back, but any more than that is thought to just get in the way. For me, I want to be able to ride the horse down the rail comfortably and have him know his leads and how to carry himself prior to any continuing education. Rail manners are a must in my barn -- anything else is secondary, because he still may be asked to be that pleasure horse in the future and more importantly, I don’t like riding a speeding bullet that you can’t point, steer or decelerate very well.

At the outset, once I’m ready to familiarize a horse with the concept of stopping and turning (the precursor to spinning), I’ll practice teaching him to set himself on his haunches and do what we call “rollbacks” against the fence. Initially, he must understand what legs and seat mean, much moreso than hands on the reins. That’s accomplished by lots of circling and serpentines, instilling in him a good understanding of moving off my legs and turning when I shift my hips and my weight in the saddle. I should also be able to freely move him off the rail and back onto the rail while going straight, just by shifting my weight slightly and using my legs. Only then can he progress another step.

He has to understand what I’m asking him to do, so I’ll start by walking him down the rail first, moving him ever so slightly off the rail (about 5-8 feet out toward the center of the arena) and then, not too abruptly, turning him back into the rail using precious little rein and relying almost entirely on the shifting of my weight on the stirrups and in the saddle. As described above, he should already know what that means and he ought to respond properly.

Once he’s comfortable with “rolling back” at the walk, you can start to put him into a gentle jog down the rail and ask for another rollback. I don’t like to work too long in each session on rollbacks, but would rather spread it out over a number of days and/or weeks until I’ve got utter confidence from the horse in what he’s being asked to do.

The idea is that he will be learning how to rotate his weight back onto his hindquarters and begin to almost “sit”, digging deeper with his haunches with the practice of each turn -- and by listening to your body language alone. Should he begin to lean on your hands and rely too much on the reins to guide him, you’re pulling on his mouth and you have to go back a step or two until you can achieve the desired result without so much contact on the reins.

Pretty soon he should be capable of jogging off down the rail and, with the slight shifting of weight, sit his haunches down and turn, moving off your legs with ease. Then you can begin to ask for rollbacks at the lope and, eventually, the gallop. Remember the old adage, you have to walk before you can run! It’s even more true when training horses than just about anything else. A good, well performed rollback will look effortless and give the appearance of the horse and rider working entirely as one. Once the horse (and his rider) have mastered the rollback, you can begin to work on the other aspects of a beginning reiner or working western horse, but that’s the foundation.

When you’re looking to start working on your stops, the most important thing you will need to remember is how well your horse responds to that shifting of your weight. As long as he’s in tune with you and understands (as he well should by now) what it means when you use your weight, hips and legs in the saddle, you’ll be able to get lovely stops out of him with minimal scotching. “Scotching” is what we call the actions of a horse who doesn’t sit deeply at the stop and instead bounces along until he’s come to a halt. A very undesirable trait, indeed, and you’ll want to avoid letting him do so.

Again, start at the walk and keep him just a little bit off the rail. He should already be familiar with that “Whoa” command, as well as what the shifting of your weight means, so when you ask him to stop, he’ll do so on cue. Gently lift on the reins, or ever-so-slightly bump him, and move your weight back (rotating your hips essentially ‘forward’ from your pelvis, sitting ‘on your pockets’) and deeper into your saddle’s seat. The desired reaction should be that he immediately ceases all forward motion and you should feel the horse dropping his hindquarters, as taught during your sessions on rollbacks.

Another helpful tip is to remember the rule of legs. If you keep your legs into your horse’s sides while in forward motion, taking them away while requesting a stop will help the horse understand you’re no longer asking for that forward movement and the created impulsion that comes with it. I'm not even going to broach that spur stopping topic here!

Once he’s got the idea, you can move him into a trot and practice more stops. The faster he’s moving, the LESS movement you want with your hands and the quicker he should react when you shift your weight back deeper into the saddle. All it should take is a very slight lifting of your rein hand(s)...not necessarily a noticeable contact with the bit, even...while you sit down deeply, and the horse’s reaction should be immediate. If he is not giving you a nice stop on the haunches and wants to be scotchy, you’ll need to back up again and re-teach some of those steps, because he’s not responding the way you want him to. Doing your homework is important! Repeat as often as it takes for him to give you an automatic response, but once he’s got it down, don’t overdo your schooling. You don’t want to sour him.

Executing spins is yet another extension of rollback work, although some people have the idea you can get there by teaching the horse how to pivot on the hind. Pivoting (both fore and hind) is entirely and vastly different, because you’re using leg alone to get the desired result rather than a shift of weight.

Now that your horse will do effortless rollbacks and has the concept of stopping and sliding etched in his memory, you’re going to teach him how to channel that forward motion into the spin itself. No worries if you start slowly, as he becomes more adept he’ll find more balance and with that will come the speed, but do not make the mistake of rushing him. Go through the steps methodically. He knows how to move off your legs. He understands what the light contact (key word: LIGHT) with his mouth means. He will respond when you ask him to sit and turn with the shifting of your weight. Now is the time to meld it all together into those dazzlingly accurate spins.

We don’t want him to get lazy or misplace his feet, confusing him or making it more difficult for him than it needs to be, so we’re going to take little baby steps here, too. Which means, to start we only want to ask him for a rollback -- sans the forward motion. Don’t reprimand him harshly if at first he attempts to move off as if completing the rollback, but be sure you keep your weight firmly centered in the saddle unlike during a rollback itself, where you’ll be shifting your hips to one side or the other. What will guide him into the spin is your legs alone, coupled with a very slight laying of the rein against, not across, his neck.

Once he understands the concept, you can ask for more of a turn and gradually more speed, but precision is the key to start. If he’s rushing into sloppy spins, you’ll lose more points than you would if he were slower and more steady. It takes time and patience on the part of the rider/trainer, but the reward will be a horse who gives the correct response and does so flawlessly.

The last thing I plan to address here this month is teaching lead changes, and that, too, is easy if you’ve gotten the basics down as described above. All it boils down to is how well the horse responds to the shifting of your weight and using your legs, and it should only take a very slight bump of the reins, if any, in order to get the desired reaction from your horse.

When I begin to teach any horse how to change leads, I’m going to use two different approaches to accomplish that goal. First, I’ll use his own natural instincts and second, I’m going to effectively trick him. If you’ve ever watched horses out running loose in a field or pasture, especially one that has dips and rises, hills and gullies, you should have noticed how the horse naturally changes his lead with each change of direction, and you’ll see the he leans into those turns using his inside shoulder, dropping both shoulder and haunch. So we begin there, giving him the challenge of learning to change when asked utilizing a simple change of lead.

Simple changes vary from flying changes on the basis of how the horse’s feet move when he leaves the ground. In a simple change, you put the horse into a canter or lope and bring him down to a trot or jog before requesting the opposite lead when you ask him to pick up that canter or lope again in another direction. Take a figure eight, for instance. Begin the circle to the right and when you head toward the center of your circle, instead of addressing the circle in a perpendicular fashion, you’ll arc across the arena heading straight for the opposite corner. Once you get to that corner, of course, you’ll need to be on the opposite lead as well, before you head back into your circle to the left. “Perfect” figure eights may have perfectly round circles on each end of the eight, but that can come with time. First we need to teach the horse how to give us those lead changes we desire. He already knows how to complete a nice, round circle, right?

When you near the center of the arena on your path into the middle of the eight, you’ll bring him down to the trot or jog for anywhere from six to ten strides (no more, preferably no less in the beginning) before asking for the alternative lead which you’ll need before heading off into the next part of the circle to complete your eight. I’m ordinarily going to ask for perhaps seven or eight changes of lead during a series of figures of eight in a single lesson before wanting to get my elapsed time between the actual change itself narrowed down. Being smooth is more important at this time than getting closer to the end goal. If the horse is rushing too much or has a tendency to disobey, I won’t ask him to lessen those trot or jog strides just yet. He needs to be completely comfortable with what I want him to do and what I’m asking of him before we’ll progress.

As I ask him to pick up each lead from the trot or jog, I’m going to be sure to not only use my legs but also my weight in the saddle and in the stirrups, just as in other maneuvers described above. It should become automatic that he understands a shifting of weight means a change of direction, and going back to your rollbacks, have you noticed how the horse will *automatically* take the opposing lead when he’s completed each rollback and is sent down the rail by his rider? Why do you suppose that is? If you guessed because he’s trying to stay balanced naturally, you’re absolutely right. The same concept applies to lead changes.

Once he’s confident in the figure eight and giving me simple changes of lead, I’ll start making the circles smaller and gradually asking for fewer trot or jog strides between those changes. Here’s where the “tricking” part comes in. Now I’ll add in a ground pole at the center of my eight.

The horse knows what I want, he is aware that when I request a change of direction at the canter or lope I need him to be on the opposite lead when we move toward the completion of each circle. He understands my cues as asking for him to change. The pole is simply a little bit of friendly persuasion, and it gives him a reason to lift himself and, most important of all, to think. If I bring him down to that trot or jog just before the pole and ask for the change of lead right after we cross the pole, he’ll begin to associate going over the pole with changing his leads. Of course, I can’t forget to use the cues we’ve taught him!

Soon I have a horse who will change in mid-flight (a flying lead change) as we travel over the pole, and soon I can remove the pole altogether and he’ll respond by changing leads for me as soon as I cue him to. Then I have a horse trained in the art of the flying change of lead.

Remember, this should all take place over a number of lessons, don’t try to get everything in one day and burn him out! I tend to prefer not to spend too much time each lesson on any one thing, as mentioned earlier, and the above described maneuvers are no exception. Spread your lessons on each maneuver or concept you’re instilling in him out over a number of work sessions, so he doesn’t get bored. You can always add in new things while continuing to work on what he’s already mastered, so don’t let that be a deterrent when planning out what you want to do with him each day. There’s no harm in keeping him guessing.

I’m also one of those trainers who subscribes to the “less is more” theory in training horses, and I’d rather work an individual horse for a brief twenty minutes (after warmup) before cooling him down and putting him away if he’s responding perfectly to everything I’m asking of him. There’s no sense in picking a fight by asking for the same thing over and over again, especially when he’s being perfect as a horse can be. He may get resentful and not understand why you’re drilling the same thing into his brain time and again right in a row when he believes he’s not misbehaving. Ask him and give him a cue a couple-few times, and if you get the desired response, move onto something else.

If you encounter trouble in any specific area, work him through each of the steps necessary to get what you’re requesting from him, then praise him wholeheartedly and dismount. But remember also, if you just can’t get what you’re asking out of the horse, there might be something wrong, either physical pain or he just didn’t “get it” well enough in your earlier lessons. Of course, it could be that he simply wants to be a stinker, but you’d better be able to recognize what the real problem or issue is on the spot. If there are holes in your training, it will eventually show up, so you’re going to want to have those rough spots ironed out long before you ride into the show pen.

Now that you (and your horse) are ready, go take on the competition!"


Sunday, August 23, 2009

How To Purchase A Horse Wisely (Post for Sunday August 23, 2009)

Here is the second part, today's post!! :)

Buying a new horse is probably the most exciting experience in the entire world for someone who loves horses, It can be the most frustrating experience as well. Like a journey into uncharted waters, the decision to purchase or not purchase any given animal can be trying on even the most patient of souls. This time I wish to dispense some advice for making this journey a little more tolerable -- perhaps even fun!

First things first, you really need to decide well in advance of beginning your search what you want the horse to be or do. You must decide what area most holds your interest, and if applicable, what breed of horse you are most interested in. If you want a jumper to show in open competition, you should look at breeds which excel in that field -- Thoroughbreds and any of the Warmblood breeds are good choices here. On the other hand, if you love Arabians and also want to jump, you most certainly can find an Arabian with superior jumping ability. This is the area you need to put the most thought into before you actually go shopping, since such a decision can narrow down the list of prospective horses to look at, and you won’t be spending a lot of time running around to see horses you really aren’t going to be interested in.

At this time you can even get more selective in what you want. Whether you prefer a mare, gelding or stallion, what color you prefer most and a size range you would be interested in. You may not find exactly what you are searching for in your price range, but having a list of what you really want is most helpful, especially if you enlist the assistance of an agent to look for you.

Hiring an agent to find a horse is generally thought to be reserved for the more wealthy horseman (or woman), but if you don't have a lot of contacts and even less time, this might be the way to go. The fee for these services can be anywhere from 5% to 20% of the cost of the horse you eventually purchase (and sometimes more -- depending on what kind of horse you’re buying), but to the person who has the money, I would certainly encourage you to hire your own agent.

One thing I must stress, however, is never, EVER be in too much of a hurry to make a purchase. Definitely don’t buy the first horse you look at immediately, even if you eventually do decide he’s better than any other you’ve seen, and never buy on impulse or just because you “felt something” about a specific horse, until after you’ve had the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of many horses. Take your time and see as many horses as you can. I tell my clients who are seriously in the market for a horse to try at least 20 different horses before committing to that all important purchase.

Another very significant point to ponder is make certain that you are absolutely ready to make the commitment of buying a horse before you embark on your search and before you waste the time of any sellers who are trying to market their horses. Be sure you always keep any appointments you make to go see any horse. The consequences to the seller (or whoever you’ve made the appointment with) when you stand them up are significant. Besides, if or when you decide to sell a horse, I seriously doubt you would want any “lookie-loos” just calling on your ad for the heck of it and wasting your time.

The final criteria for horse hunting is your price range and determining your budget. You need to be very specific on how much you want (and can afford) to spend on your dream horse, keeping in mind that your investment will be greatly increased by the simple monthly upkeep of said horse you intend to purchase, not to mention any training, show or breeding costs you will incur in the future with your new steed.

Be realistic in your demands and expectations, but also don’t buy any horse you really might not want just because someone tried to talk you into it, or because it was a really great bargain. The prevailing thought when purchasing horseflesh should be, “This is a horse I truly want and I’ll always cherish.” Don’t ever approach the subject of buying a horse as strictly an investment you can resell, no matter how attractive that idea might seem. That’s exactly how thousands of horses every year end up being sold to slaughter. Be a responsible horse owner, and be ready to take on a lifelong commitment. Sure, someday you may want to sell any horse, but buying and selling them like commodities on the stock market as was common practice in the early 1980’s nearly destroyed the horse industry, and certainly changed the business as we knew it.

Once you find a horse (or horses) that you are seriously interested in, you need to have an intensive pre-purchase examination done by your own veterinarian, including complete and thorough musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory exams, plus, for breeding stock you’ll want exams of the reproductive organs of the horse. In addition, x-rays, blood work and flexion tests are always in order. The costs are not cheap, but keep in mind you are making an investment, not buying a pair of socks to stick in your dresser drawer. I have an in-depth report on what I recommend for a pre-purchase exam, and you can get a copy of these guidelines at no charge by contacting Sunlit Farm Training Services.

Now, armed with this new found wisdom, you can get to the task of creating the image of your dream horse, then go out and find him or her! Whatever you do, be specific about what you want and don’t budge very far from your ideal.


Preparing Horses For Sale ~ Tricks of the Trade (Post for Saturday August 22, 2009)

Whew, intended to post this after getting home from our "Saturday Night Date Night", but it got too late and I was exhausted. :) Here you go...

One of the most significant decisions a horse owner can ever make is the one to sell a horse. Sometimes, although it’s a big step, it can be fairly easy, such as when a child has outgrown a small horse or pony, if there’s some kind of personality clash and you don’t get along with the horse anyhow, or if the horse just isn’t capable of the type or level of event you want for him and you wish to “upgrade”.

Even though actually making the decision to sell is quite difficult, the rigors of parading your horse around for others to scrutinize can be a trying experience, often made worse when you have people you thought were interested call and make an appointment to see your horse, but never come by, or worse -- the ones who come to ride him, say they love him and think he’s “the right one”, but say they want to look a little while longer than never, ever come back to buy him. That, sometimes, can be heartbreaking.

There are some simple steps you can take to make your horse a whole lot more attractive to potential buyers without deceiving them. First, even though it’s sometimes tough to do when you’re at a public boarding stable, always insist on an appointment time or time frame around which to work. If you know approximately when to expect the customer, it’s easier to make sure your horse is ready to meet his possible new owners. Of course, if you put up an advertisement on the barn bulletin board or post a “for sale” sign on his stall, everybody is going to know your horse is for sale, so you can count on uninvited traffic looking at him at any given time. Usually the word gets out pretty quick that a horse in the barn is for sale, too, and other boarders may be pointing him out to those who wander in looking for a horse to buy.

Assuming that you have someone who has called on your ad and set up an appointment, always plan on them arriving at least fifteen minutes early. That way, if they do get there early you won’t be running around trying to finish grooming him as they’re walking down the barn aisle. Make sure you have clipped and bathed him, so he looks his best. Even with a clean horse, the more you rub on their coats, the more that coat will shine, and a nice, healthy, shiny appearance is always a good selling point.

If your horse is high strung and tends to need a lot of “working down”, I would suggest either longeing or riding him that morning so he’s tired enough to behave well and won’t appear too energetic. Naturally, if a buyer is in the market for an endurance horse, you’ll want to play up those qualities, but don’t let your horse over do it! The key here is to explain fully to potential buyers just what your horse needs in the way of schooling or longeing, because you do not want to mislead them!!

One absolute rule in selling horses is to be honest. If the horse has faults, and they ALL do, mention them. If the horse has had any major injuries, illnesses or surgeries, disclose them. If you’re trying to sell your horse as a broodmare, provide a past breeding history -- and if you know the customer is in search of a breeding animal and you also know that your mare is as barren as the Sahara Desert, explain that to them before before they ever make the effort to come look at her. Don’t be afraid that you won’t get that horse sold if you tell a prospective buyer about his quirks, and never, ever administer any medications or tranquilizers to him before the customer comes to see him. Most buyers will greatly appreciate your honesty and if they’re genuinely interested in your horse, will come back and consider him seriously before making a purchase decision.

Another point of major importance to remember is this -- well trained, well schooled, well behaved, well kept and well presented horses sell much faster than horses who don’t possess any of those qualities. Also, keep in mind that the concept of “potential” is difficult to convey to most people. Any horse can have potential, but if you can prove to the buyer that your horse is exactly what they’re looking for, you have a far better chance of closing the sale.

A lot of people don’t want to put time and money into a horse they want to sell, but that’s exactly what you have to do in order to get him sold. If you’re trying to sell him as a show horse, yet he’s thirteen years old and he’s never been to a show in his entire life, chances are you won’t be getting any offers any time soon. Take him out and get him some show ring experience, even if it’s only at the small riding club’s local horse show -- at least you can prove that he has been a show horse before!

One final thought to ponder: Would you spend a lot of your hard earned money to buy a horse who didn’t look or act like exactly what you wanted? Most buyers who are in the market for a horse feel just that way. They want the most horse for their money, and when hanging a price tag on your horse it really pays to be realistic -- that’s probably the most important lesson of all!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Selecting, Starting & Competing The PERFECT Saddleseat English Horse

When someone brings to mind the ideal horse, generally their individual personal preference dominates the vision. For me, it’s a long-legged, graceful, tall, long-necked and high trotting English horse.

In determining what’s going to constitute that “perfect” prospect for the Saddleseat disciplines, I’ll be looking at animals with certain, specific qualities like a well laid back shoulder, neck set high out of the withers with a really flexible hinge at the poll, a good open shoulder angle that will dictate freedom of movement, low, well angulated hocks for that necessary power, a deep hip for added strength and, above all most importantly, the attitude.

As a rule when I evaluate horses I like watching them on a longeline and either ridden or at least in longlines, but the true tale is told when watching a horse at liberty -- this gives you an idea of their natural carriage, which is a must see when selecting candidates for a flat saddle career. Despite popular opinion, however, most good, naturally gifted English prospects aren’t notably fancy movers while turned out. A good way you can get a hint at such ability is merely observing front end carriage (as opposed to knee action itself) and the ability to fold their hocks tightly.

Weeding out unsuitable horses is fairly simple, if for no other reason than there are so few of them, particularly if you wish to acquire an English Pleasure or Park horse as opposed to a Country English mount. An innate talent is also easy to spot: He’ll be the aloof horse with his tail flung over his back, prancing all about and signifying to you, “Hey, here I am!!!”

My first challenge, after selection and purchase, when embarking on the training of a Saddleseat horse is to teach him forward movement and how to carry himself naturally in that high, elegant frame. I want to stay out of his face as much as possible to start and for that reason, like all other disciplines, I’ll begin with longlines in the round pen. Not until much later will I even ask for a tuck into the bridle, right now I just want to see a long, free stride, an effort to pull his hocks well up underneath him and bending his lumbar-sacral joint correctly, as well as elevating his neck clear into raising his shoulders.

Let’s assume this horse can give me a nice, unrushed, flat-footed walk, he can trot up square (even if it’s sloppy) and he can canter straight on both leads. I don’t like a horse who anticipates gait changes and I want a horse who will calmly ease into the gaits he is asked for.

My next challenge is to transform that easygoing, forward, flat-footed walk into a pretty animated walk. The horse should be able to understand the beginning elements of collection from the rear (through the hindquarters...NOT simply a headset!) and should readily half-halt when I request it. Elevation depends on a minor amount of such collection, that’s where the flashy English horse walk will come from.

Trotting is a bit more difficult, but using the same concepts I want the horse prohibited from going off too forward, instead focusing his motion up with a free, raised shoulder rather than out like you would for a Hunter-type horse. At first, especially with the trot, I want to completely stay out of the horse’s way. It’s not enough to ride them up into the bridle so soon, because all that will do is hamper their forward impulsion.

Same with the canter, I’d like to see a horse who will freely lift his shoulder and rock backward toward my hands. The departure should also be easy and smooth, with his rear end tucked up under himself and STRAIGHT. One of my pet peeves is a rider or trainer who literally throws a horse into the canter by shoving their nose toward the rail and pushing them off balance in order to pick up the right lead. So many do this, but I have an idea, guys: What about training them how to do it right in the first place?! You know, a little bit of extra effort?

With the flat saddle English horse divisions, there are several options. Most of these animals will fall into the Country English Pleasure division, where they need to be more laid back, not as fancy a mover and have more qualities suitable for a small child or petite lady to ride. English Pleasure horses are higher trotting, more extreme in the level of collection required and a bit further up the ladder of the English disciplines. The absolute pinnacle of a flat saddle mount, the Park horses are our show ring’s ‘fire breathing dragons’. In addition, there are a variety of other classes and divisions best suited for the elegant English-type horse, including Driving (and like Country English Pleasure/English Pleasure/Park there are Country Pleasure Driving/Pleasure Driving/Formal Driving events), Arabian Native Costume (although an Arabian horse of any type can compete in these classes, the flat saddle mount is almost always the most popular choice) and English Show Hack (which is what I characterize as a rail class based on Dressage principles, though the trend is toward an upright, trotty English horse).

Once I have consistency out of the horse over a period of several months, building each step so the horse is confident and strong, I’ll be planning for a few smaller schooling-type horse shows to make sure he’s ready for a new and exciting environment in which to show off that English horse attitude, plus his flash and vigor. All I’m looking for out of him at these early outings is cooperation, an ease of adapting to the show ring and keeping his wits about him when unexpected things happen ( encountering banners on the arena fence or having donkeys start braying loudly as he’s trotting down the rail!).

Not unlike their Western counterparts, how English horses handle the excitement as well as those new sights, sounds and smells of a horse show in this low key setting will tell me a lot about how proficient they’re going to become as show horses. With a youngster, we’ll be shooting for the Futurities if all goes well. Scottsdale in February has a big one for English Pleasure mounts, then it’s on to the Fall show in Santa Barbara and hopefully to the Nationals in October. As I have already explained, I don’t like even entering a horse in a pre-entry show unless he’s READY when entries close (usually about 1-2 months before the show). It can be tough when you have a three year old, because only the very best students are going to be ready in February, because that means you have to start them at least in October or November of their two year old year in order to know they’ll be ready by mid-December when those entries are expected to be in the show secretary’s office. This is exactly why I prefer to show four year olds as Futurity horses as opposed to the three year olds.

Campaigning an English horse is no different than his Western and Hunter cohorts, outlining the ladder steps to qualifying shows, Regional Championships and National Championships, so please refer to postings over the last two days for all the minutiae and details. Happy showing!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Selecting, Starting and Competing The PERFECT Hunter Pleasure or Hunter Under Saddle Horse

Previously I have discussed Western horses, and I'll be covering flat saddle English horses tomorrow, yet mounts well suited for those disciplines are far more specialized than one of the current (and perennial) favorite classes of many in show ring circles -- the Hunter.

One reason why Hunt Seat classes are so popular, particularly within the Arabian breed, is because the frame and movement asked for is so naturally easy for the horses. They don’t have to work with such extreme confines, limitations and collection as does the Western horse, nor are they required to push the limits of elevation, impulsion and action we see in English horses.

I look for an athletic yet subdued horse who isn’t necessarily lazy, an animal with a good reach (length of stride) who can both cover ground as well as move fluidly. Hunter horses should give the impression that they could easily navigate a course of fences as well as gallop down a country lane; bright ears, a long nicely arched neck and outstanding use of hock makes for a sharp entry in the Arabian world of Hunter Pleasure (not unlike that which you would see in the Morgan, Saddlebred, Andalusian and National Show Horse breeds, albeit slightly -- or NOT so slightly -- less fancy).

Something I wanted to briefly touch on here, I am focusing this post on the Arabian breed, which are my specialty. In Stock breeds, such as the Quarter Horse, Appaloosa or Paint, there exists no specific division called Hunter Pleasure...they only offer Hunter Under Saddle. With Arabians, we have both, however, our HUS ‘classes’ are actually one part of the Hunter division, where entries also compete in an Over Fences section in order to determine the winners. That said, let’s get back to describing our ideal Hunter as well as what our options are with him.

For today’s competitive show ring, bigger horses tend to occupy the winner’s circle most frequently, though smaller horses can do fine as long as they have the needed length of stride, suspension of gait and “wow” factor necessary to stand out in a crowd. If I am searching for a show ring flat Hunter to compete at the National level, however, my preference will be for a horse which stands between 15-15.2 hands and up, but make sure he’s flashy enough to stand out in those 30+ horse classes! Paramount in a Hunter Pleasure horse is also a relaxed, happy attitude and the ability to perform with ease and fluidity coupled with impeccable manners and a desire to please.

These days, owners of Hunter-type Arabian horses also have the option of entering the Sport Horse division, though a number of differences do exist. First, what we call our “main ring” Hunter Pleasure classes are judged by those folks carded by USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) to judge most divisions in the Arabian show ring. Sport Horse classes, however, will be adjudicated by judges with exclusive experience in the traditional Sport Horse venues of Dressage and Hunter/Jumper (which is not to say that some Arabian judges do not or cannot have experience in these areas, some do and they regularly officiate in the Arabian Sport Horse ring). Therefore, a horse which may be a tremendously competitive Hunter Pleasure horse could conceivably ‘get the gate’ if shown as a Hunter-type entry in the Sport Horse Under Saddle classes, since most are bold, round kneed movers, which is a distinct no-no to Open Hunter savvy judges. They look more for a ‘daisy cutter’ long, low, flat-kneed moving animal and I suggest showing the more fancy horses as Dressage-type rather than Hunter-type since that choice is given to the exhibitor.

Also, something to consider is bit choice, though Junior Horse and Futurity entries are shown in snaffles, most of today’s Hunter Pleasure horses wear the kimberwicke, which is not an acceptable bit in the Sport Horse ring. They must either be ridden in a snaffle, or a pelham which can be cumbersome and difficult to handle for relatively inexperienced riders.

Ultimately our goal is Tulsa in October (or Sport Horse Nationals in September which is held in either Nampa, Idaho or Lexington, Kentucky). Therefore, we will begin our quest for roses by selecting shows which give us both points for qualifications as well as an idea of how competitive our horse will be against the best in the country come Nationals time.

When planning a show season, I look for the most bang for my (or my clients’) buck. Meaning, I want to exhibit a Nationals bound horse just enough to gain him experience (if he’s a greenie or a baby) and get him qualified, but not burn him out by over showing him.

When picking qualifiers for each Region we plan to compete at, my first choices are generally those shows which attract the most horses of the best quality, such as Whittier Lions at Pomona, CA, in January for Region I (held in late May or early June), the February Scottsdale, AZ show for Region VII (held in mid-late April), Nor Cal during April in Rancho Murieta, CA for Region III (held in early to mid-July and Santa Barbara over Memorial Day weekend (which doubles as another Nationals qualifier like Regionals since the Pacific Slopes Championships are also held during this show) for Region II in late June. That’s basically four (five counting Slopes) opportunities to qualify for Regional competition and four Regional shows. Chances are, by that point if my ‘Nationals bound’ horses are suited for competition at that level, they should be qualified and perhaps adorned with multiple Regional titles. Then, after at least a month off, with the Futurity horses I’ll target the Santa Barbara Fall show for one last tune-up before heading to the big time.

Keep in mind that how many Regions we plan to take any particular horse to largely depends on a few factors, such as how well he handles the show ring environment as well as how quickly he becomes qualified. Some horses need the extra exposure, while some are natural born stars!

Most importantly, as long as showing remains fun, your Junior Horse should go on to have a long, successful career, and that’s the whole point.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Selecting, Starting & Competing The PERFECT Western Pleasure Horse

Today I'm going back to an issue I've already covered in a manner of speaking, but getting more detailed. We have already discussed choosing disciplines for your existing mount. But what if you’re expressly looking for a horse to perform a specific discipline? How do you go about finding the perfect beast (and I use that term with the utmost respect for these critters...) for any given trade? This time, I’m delving into one such area of expertise: The Western Pleasure horse.

When looking at prospects, you first have to keep several things in mind. Number one, the term “potential” can mean many things to many people. Number two, ANY horse can possibly be a ‘Western horse’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the horse you’re viewing at the moment has what it takes to be a National Champion Western Pleasure horse. Number three, many sellers will tell you what they think you want to hear about their horse just to get him sold.

I look for certain specific qualities in a young Western Pleasure prospect, such as a quiet demeanor, a well arched neck that ties in relatively low (lower, at least, than an English horse), a very good hinge at the poll and the propensity to be slow legged. That means I want the horse to like moving in a soft, slow yet cadenced fashion. He needs to be pretty, not to mention substantial, I especially want big poppy eyes and small, rather tipped ears -- the kind of head and face that will look just right through the bridle.

Once I find a set of prospects to look into further for a client (or myself), my trusty evaluation form always accompanies me. If it’s a baby, naturally the under saddle portions of any eval are not going to be applicable, but then I’m generally not going to look at anything under three years of age when purchasing a performance horse anyhow, ‘prospect’ or not.

The evaluation itself consists of watching the horse in it’s stall or home environment, during grooming and during tacking (these are especially important if I’m looking at possible youth or amateur horses), then observing the horse turned out loose and then on a longeline. If the horse has the laid back demeanor, low and slow carriage and basic fundamentals of a good Western pupil...and, every bit as important, the horse is sound...we’ll move on to watching the owner or trainer ride the horse. Depending on what I’ve gleaned about the horse’s level of education, I’m going to be watching for different reactions on the part of the horse and the rider. Youngsters just started are obviously going to be less steady in the bridle and a whole lot more fidgety overall than a seasoned show horse, plus they’ll usually have far less balance and not be able to round up their backs and collect to the extent a fully trained animal will. That’s okay, as long as there is no physical reason why the horse can’t do it. Finally I’m going to get on the horse and give myself an even better idea of where he’s at in his training and how much it may take before he’s ready to tackle the show ring.

Okay, now let’s fast forward. The Perfect Western Pleasure horse has been purchased and stands in the training barn. We’re going to assume he isn’t a finished mount, that we need to take him down the road to being successful in this, his chosen career. He’s got the basics down, he knows how to walk, jog, lope, turn, circle, stop and back. What are the differences between starting a horse under saddle with our ground work and longlining, and the process of getting him to really become a show horse, to perform as required? How will we know the horse is progressing toward a future show career? That ‘foundation’ I’m so fond of talking about is basically the same for any horse, whether bound for the show ring or who’s destined to become solely a trail mount.


After the foundation, which is the same process for any horse, we want to start to concentrate on specific target areas: We’ll start with the walk. [remember, this horse is already at the point where he knows the basic stuff, now we are formulating a plan to take him from whatever to wow!] I like a smooth but unhurried walk, though I want the horse to cover some ground. The manner in which I teach the horse my idea of an ideal Western walk is to utilize the half-halt principle and get him to collect his stride. My goal at first is a noticeable shortening (and along with that a slowing, of sorts) which will probably be full of hesitation. So at the outset, I know it’s not going to be smooth, at least not yet. But once he’s figured out what I want, it will start to become more natural and I’ll have a pretty Western walk. The process might take more than just a few days, it may take a week or two, or even a month or more, but if I’m consistent, it won’t be a major ordeal.

His jog will then get the lions share of my attention during our work sessions. After all these years, I’ve come to a conclusion: Either a horse will have a real nice, slow jog naturally and his lope will need the most work, or he’s going to need a lot of effort put forth on my part to bring his jog into compliance, but his lope is outstanding out of the box. It’s almost always the case that one is immediately (and noticeably) better than the other.

Back to that jog. After the horse understands what I want at the walk, it’s fairly simple to translate that concept to him during the jog -- slow and consistent. Half-halting and circles that gradually get smaller will go a long way toward getting him to learn how to shorten that stride. Slowing his legs takes a little bit more work (and that can be hampered by hooves that are out of balance or too long, so make certain the horse is up to date on the farrier’s schedule), but just means you have to be more persistent in asking the horse what you want. It’s all done using the same concept.

Then we’ll advance to the lope, and that’s where many horses trip themselves up, so to speak. If the horse has a nice, easy lope to begin with, it’s no problem teaching them to slow down and collect. If he tends to want to run off and play when you ask for the lope, you’ll have a much tougher time getting it slow and pretty, but with persistence and patience that lope will come around. Just don’t rush him! Lots of circles and bending or flexing will help him understand how to use his body correctly and round himself up.

Once he’s got the concepts down, it will be time for testing him out in a horse show environment. I always bring my horses out for the first few times in a low stress venue such as a local open all breed or schooling show, sometimes even taking them into walk/jog or trot classes or simply riding them on the showgrounds without the added stress of competition. If we're already going, it's no big deal to put an extra horse on the trailer.

Showing a Western Pleasure horse, while not benefiting from the wide array of classes offered to Hunter or English mounts, can encompass a variety of divisions, depending on the athletic ability of the horse. Of course, in addition to the Junior (for horses five years and younger) and Open classes, there are events for Adult Amateur and Youth exhibitors, plus Trail, Western Riding, Reining, Working Cow and Cutting.

Okay, back to the task at hand. If they handle little things like trail rides away from home without aplomb, it’s not going to be a big deal to ride them at a horse show. For the purposes of this article, we’re making the assumption this horse is an Arabian or Half-Arabian, although I train Western Pleasure horses for the show ring of all breeds exactly the same.

After that ‘trial period’, I have an idea whether or not the horse is actually going to make it as a show horse and how successful he’s going to be on the campaign trail. Once I’ve determined the horse doesn’t sweat the small stuff, it’s on to bigger and better things. If this is a baby (that is, a three or four year old), I’ll be looking at the Fall performance Futurities, provided we have enough time to enter them and ensure he will be ready, rain or shine. Otherwise, we’re going to start out with a few smaller rated (USEF Class “A” Arabian) events before tackling the big time. One rule of thumb, however, that I am adamant about -- I do not ever enter a horse before I know positively that they are ready to be shown, when pre-entries are required. If the owner is paying anywhere from $250-$500 and up for entries, I’ll darn sure make certain that horse is going to be competitive and look like he belongs in the ring. Nothing chaps my hide more than watching unprepared horses [and riders] out there wasting money on entry fees.

Now it’s time to formulate a game plan: We’ll assume the idea is to compete with him Nationally, so it’s my job to decide how we’ll proceed. Ideally, we’re going to plan out our show year with a few goals in mind. Number one, the horse needs to ‘peak’ in condition and mental fitness for the biggest of shows...those Fall Futurities if applicable, Scottsdale, any of the Regional shows we attend (Regions 1, 2, 3 and 7) and the Nationals.

Our next step is to qualify for each Regional show. Region Seven is first, in April, so I like to hit at least one of the previous Fall’s qualifiers and the big grand-daddy, the Scottsdale Extravaganza in February. January, March and April bring Region One qualifiers, with the Championships in late May/early June and so on for each Region. Once a horse has achieved the requisite amount of points per division in each Region -- and if this is a Junior Western horse it will just be the one class -- we’re done. It’s on to the next set of qualifying rounds until he’s fully qualified and proven himself to be a viable contender. By that time, I’m hoping he’s already earned enough points to enter Nationals without placing at the Regional Championships, but I really don’t like showing a horse to the National level without at least one Regional title (a Regional Top Five qualifies for the National Championships just as points do).

If I play my cards right, we’ll be rolling into Tulsa that October with a fresh, rested and brilliant horse, because he’s been brought along just right, in time to be perfect by then. Of course, the only way to know if I’ve reached my ultimate goal, of course, is when the horse wears those roses in center ring. But there you have it!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rating Your Horse Over Fences

Alright, I have several topics I really want to cover, however I'm pulling an older article (again) because someone specifically asked me for it. This one is about circa 1993.

"Anyone who’s ever thrilled at watching show jumping on television, perhaps catching the Olympics or World Cup competition, has wondered from time to time, “How DO they do that?!”. Most novice horse owners or young equestrian enthusiasts are riveted by the sheer power and dexterity exhibited by both rider and horse alike, even if the closest they’ll ever come to that type of riding is making an obstacle out of a tree fallen across one of the nearby trails.

For the local level horse show exhibitor there can be a wide variety of over fences events you can enter, just as most circuits and breed shows offer such classes, too. One of the more popular and widely held is called Hunter Hack, which combines standard pleasure class rail work with executing two fences in a combination. Most smaller shows offer a Hunter Hack class even if there are no other jumping events on the premium.

The higher you climb up the ladder of competing, the more variety you’ll encounter as class schedules go. For those who relish a challenge, jumping can be the perfect outlet...and just about any horse is capable on some level. While the big rated shows require expensive, world-class mounts, my focus here will remain the ‘regular guy’ on his all around steed, and I’ll be more concerned about your getting results in the show ring than winning awards for style.

When you’re embarking on a different endeavor and going to teach your horse anything new, you start from the beginning. In the case of turning him into a successful hunter (or jumper, depending on his skills, abilities and potential), that means ground poles. My personal preference is a minimum of six wooden poles, eight to ten feet in length, and I recommend avoiding PVC entirely. For one thing with PVC poles, being lightweight makes them far too easy to displace when struck by a lazy hoof. Unless you’d rather spend more time putting your poles back in the correct place than riding, don’t use them. Also, they are hollow and thus prone to being crushed, cracked or broken when a horse lands on them. And sooner or later, that will happen. When wood becomes old, weather-worn and more brittle, this can be an issue, however, that generally takes years of use before becoming a real worry.

You want to begin with a horse trained well enough in rail manners so you won’t be fighting him about his headset, frame or canter leads, for instance, so make sure you’ve done your homework and that you don’t try to start with too green of a baby.

So now you’re out in the arena, and your horse has been properly warmed up on the longe line and done at least a little bit of bending, flexing and relaxed trotting under saddle. Your first concern should be making sure your horse is willing to walk over the poles, of course. Then you can set them up to trot over, according to your horse’s stride. As a general rule, I like a good four feet minimum between poles for trotting, and the more you can stretch them the better, without ruining the horse’s rhythm. The idea here is to teach the horse how to get into that rhythm, and to be able to remain cadenced throughout a set of obstacles. Ordinarily I’ll work on ground poles along with my rail work for quite some time until I’m sure the horse has a grasp of what I’m asking and doesn’t scatter the poles with every try. If he smacks one every once in a while, it’s no big deal, but it’s not going to be any boost to his confidence if he’s clumsy.

After you’ve got him moving over the poles in a a steady, quiet yet authoritative manner, you can begin setting up cavaletti’s and other low gymnastics. My cavaletti’s are no higher than one foot, depending on the horse’s height and scope of stride. At first I want to only trot over them, no more than two during the earliest lessons, and not allow him to break into a canter. But instead of reprimanding him too severely for breaking, I’m only going to calmly bring him back down to a trot and not make a big deal out of it before asking him to navigate them again. After he is going forward in a bright, happy fashion you can add a number of cavaletti’s to make a nice gymnastic row.

Once he’s comfortable with the concept, and this may take several weeks or longer, depending on the horse, I’ll go back to ground poles briefly before asking more -- but this time I want him to begin learning to stretch (lengthen) his stride,which means we have to spread them out farther, then we’ll realign again and start cantering over them. Here’s where it can get tricky. We don’t want the horse to “jump” the ground poles, yet we’re not going to let him get lazy going over a fence. He has to know the difference. What I prefer is to have one set of poles that are closer together and one set where he’ll have to lengthen stride. Remember: The concept is to teach him to adjust his stride when asked, and then it should be quick, automatic and seemingly effortless. It’s up to the rider to ascertain when the horse should be shortening or lengthening stride and to ask accordingly. When these training sessions are complete, it may look automatic, but there must be a cue behind what the horse is doing. These are important steps to take before he’ll be ready to graduate to actually jumping any fences.

When it’s time to begin cantering a line of gymnastic obstacles, keep in mind the same rules you’ve followed going over ground poles. The horse must, a) be under control at all times, b) not rush any obstacle, c) shorten or lengthen stride depending on what his rider asks of him and d) keep moving in a straight line over each obstacle, maintaining the same speed, neither slowing or speeding up. Remember not to make any big deal out of any issue you encounter, and to approach each session as a learning experience for both of you. When the horse runs out, refuses, knocks a pole or any other disobedience, bring him down to a walk, go back and start the line over again without a fuss. The more you make an issue of something bad he’s done, the more he’ll do the same to get a reaction out of you. Just as in other aspects of life -- any attention is good attention. Now, if you haven’t been able to accomplish this, you’ll need to take a step or two backwards to reinforce your foundation.

Once you [and your horse] have advanced enough and are ready to take a real fence, there are a few guidelines and certain protocol I generally follow. I’m going to want a ground pole in front of the fence to help give the horse an idea of a “takeoff point”, there should be a guide pole at least one stride (preferably two) before the fence and I may choose to have side guides to help prevent running out.

An important note: If your horse tends to refuse, this is an issue which must be addressed immediately and resolved. Once horses think they can get away with refusing, many of them will continuously try. That’s not to say even the best horses in the world don’t occasionally refuse or act out disobediently every once in a while, but you don’t want that to be a habit.

Don’t begin the session with asking for a jump, make sure your horse is plenty warmed up first, as always. Do a little bit of flat work, then trot a few lines of ground poles. After that go ahead and put him into a canter and head for your first real fence. A few things to keep in mind -- First, use your seat! 99% of the time if you have a horse who becomes prone to refusing, it’s because his rider was too far forward and up on the horse’s neck, rather than sitting and driving him forward with the legs and seat. This is also a really good (or bad, depending on your perspective!) way to find yourself flying over your horse’s head when he stops...and you don’t. Second, remember your good equitation posture, and this includes where your hands should be and where your legs need to be. Having correct position is essential to aiding your horse in what he needs to do. Third, keep track of your fence long before you turn toward the line to jump it, and this goes for each fence. Looking down at your horse when you’ve got a fence coming up in six, five, four, three strides and then not being prepared for the takeoff will do far more damage than the good you’ve created by following all the steps I’ve outlined up until now.

What does “rating” mean, anyhow? Simply put, it’s judging where your horse needs to be as you approach each fence on a course. Now that you have the tools necessary to do so, and you’ve taken the time to train your horse to understand what his job is, you’ll have a much easier time of it in the show ring. Keeping all the above points in mind, you’re bound to excel out there in the spotlight!"


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Horsemen’s Guide To Ground Manners: Tying, Leading & Loading Safely

What is the single most important skill you can instill in your horse? Aside from getting the word “Whoa” ingrained in his mind from the outset, which of course comes in extremely handy while working on the ground manners phase of training, teaching him to tie and lead are paramount. One of my personal pet peeves is a horse who won’t stand tied without pulling back...and naturally that horse who decides he’s going to drag you all over creation instead of going where YOU want to take him.

Perhaps some of these little annoyances don’t really bother you, but I can guarantee your safety will at some time be compromised if your horse has issues in these areas. With a new horse (or any horse, for that matter), I suggest you go back to the beginning and be sure that “Whoa” lesson is well learned. This is covered in a future installment of “Laying The Foundation” that addresses halter breaking of foals, but the method and process is identical for horses of any age.

To start, I’ll tell the horse “Whoa” in a firm, moderately loud voice -- though not loud enough to scare him -- and insist he stand still in exactly the spot he was in when I gave him the command. When he moves, make him return to the same spot and tell him “Whoa” again, giving a slight tug down on the lead. Repeat each time he makes even the slightest step away from where you’re working him. He should plant those feet every time you tell him so. Skittish horses do tend to require a bit more sensitivity than more tolerant creatures, but the firmness with which you speak is of utmost importance. As soon as he’s gotten that down, you can begin to walk around him, again, telling him “Whoa” and insisting on his staying put every time he moves a hoof even the slightest bit. Generally this doesn’t take more than a couple of lessons for him to get the point.

Now we can begin teaching him to tie. Tying a mature horse who hasn’t learned respect for his lead rope means taking a little bit different approach than teaching a baby to tie. I’m going to want something VERY sturdy to tie him to, that he’s not going to be able to bend, break or pull over, along with a heavy duty halter and lead made out of virtually indestructible materials and hardware. No brass snaps or leather halters, please! For me at this stage, a bull snap is a must.

As a rule of thumb, with an older horse I’ll teach tying before asking him to master walking politely on a leadline, because it doesn’t generally sink in that he needs to yield to his lead unless and until he’s decided he cannot get away from what’s on the other end of that lead. Telephone poles work well for this purpose, or any large diameter pole, pipe or railroad tie -- just make sure it’s sunk into the ground at least four to six feet and set in concrete. Where you would not actually tie a baby at this stage, I’ll generally assume the mature horse (or one older than the weanling stage) knows what tying IS, he just doesn’t like to stand there and deal with it. For the sake of this column topic, let’s just say he’s really bad at dealing with the whole concept.

With a horse who fights being tied, the lack of ability to get away from what he’s tied to is my number one concern. Once he’s gotten free that first time, he’s going to be ever more likely to continue to fight each time you try to secure him to something. In fact, that’s usually why they fight it in the first place. Remember how a horse’s mind works on instinct. Chances are, there was some trigger that made his mind snap in order to cause the violent reaction you sometimes see from a horse to being tied. Fight or flight. If he can’t get away from it, he’s going to fight with it in order to possibly facilitate fleeing it. Our job is to teach him there’s nothing wrong with standing still being tied, no matter how long we’d like him to stand there.

Although I have seen some horses who would rather hurt themselves than be tied for any reason, most of them do ultimately come to an understanding that I mean business and that being tied is a fact of life. Try to remove any scary obstacles or anything that may have the potential to make the horse think it poses a danger to him in your working area. If the horse actually is visibly frightened by the act of tying itself, and just WON’T tolerate it, you’ll need to spend a lot of time reassuring him that he’s okay, but unless he’s putting himself in a position to hurt himself or especially you, DON’T untie him until he settles down. Then calmly yet firmly release him from being tethered. My manner of choice by which to do this is to use a second lead rope. You snap that rope to his halter, and then unsnap the one he’s been tied with. But should he try to pull back or fight again during your attempt to let him ‘off the hook’, so to speak, don’t do it. Make him stand still while you switch the ropes. It’s got to be understood that he has to stay put until YOU say so. Sometimes you may need to let him take a break (SAFELY yet quickly getting him unhooked from what he’s tied up with) if there is a danger of injury, giving him just a short breather while you rub on him and/or groom him, still making sure he respects your command to ‘WHOA’, but he will need to finish the lesson eventually and stand there behaving while he’s tied.

For my purposes, I also want the horse to be able to stand quietly in cross ties, too. This facilitates ease of grooming and tacking up inside the barn. Once the horse understands he will be made to stand tied to a post or pole, I’ll begin the cross tying portion of his schooling in a 12 to 16 foot wide pipe corral, preferably at least 24 feet long. There is plenty of room on either side of the horse to move around him once he’s comfortable with being tied, but you won’t risk injuring either him or you, or damaging your barn or tack, if he throws a fit. There will also be enough space in front and back of him to get out of his way while he’s having that fit. Make sure the panels you’ll be tying to are secured in concrete or are bolted to a permanent structure so when (not if) he fights the rope he cannot move any panels. Use two fairly long leadropes, with bull snaps, attached to each side of the halter and use your quick-release knot to tie him from either side.

Now, if he’s really learned the previous parts of this lesson, he should ultimately (within ten to fifteen minutes at the longest) stand tied quietly and understand he must tolerate your moving around him and touching him without throwing a tantrum. If he does not respond reasonably quick, you need to go back to the post or pole and let him stand there tied for a good, long while.

Okay, now that you’ve conquered his naughty streak and he both stands still when told as well as stands tied nicely, it is time to teach him how to behave properly while being led. Most horses who don’t have any manners on the ground will try several ways to get out of control when you simply want to lead them from one place to another. They may try to run over you, bolt away from you or just stop and stand there, not wanting to go anywhere. I’ll briefly cover those three scenarios.

I’m going to first work him inside his stall or, preferably, outside paddock. I’d like plenty of room (24’ x 24’ works best) but not too much in case he decides he’s not going for what I’m asking. If he’s inclined to want to occupy the same space I am in at the same time, the goal must be to insist he respect my personal space. When I halter the horse to begin this lesson, I want him to understand from the start that I’m not putting up with being crowded. He is not to be allowed to make any contact on me with any part of his head or body. If he attempts to rub or push me, he will be reprimanded by getting a quick tap on the nose along with the word “NO!” exclaimed rather loudly. It’s got to be lightning fast and before he even realizes it’s done -- remember, I also never want to make a swing at his head, because I don’t want him to become headshy. The other important thing is to always follow-up with a firm “WHOA” cue.

If he doesn’t get the point of my actions, I’ll be a little bit more aggressive the next time. The worst thing I can do is allow him to think he’s getting away with something he knows I do not want him to do. By aggressive, I don’t mean in an angry way, I just want him to know I mean business. Instead of that tap on his nose, he will get more of a slap with the back of my open hand. Again, not swinging my arm at him, just very quickly and measured. The point isn’t so much that he’ll feel a sting, but that he will hear the contact of my hand on his face somewhat akin to the effect using a bat-end crop has on a horse. It’s not the feel of it but the noise of it that works.

At this point, I’m going to ask him to move forward with me using my left hand on his halter rope and my right hand near his shoulder. Not on, but near. Should he decide to sidestep into me, he’ll get a shove of my hand pushing him away from me, a firm “NO!” and a slight downward shank on the halter. My primary concern is that he’ll respond to my request for forward motion in a relaxed yet direct way. In other words, he should be amiable to my request to move forward with me (rather than on me), and he should be going in the correct direction -- straight ahead -- rather than trying to drag me around in a circle, for instance. Each part of this lesson should be slow and methodical. The moment you try rushing him, you will reinforce his need to argue with you, because his nature tells him what it means when you push him too hard, too fast, is danger ahead.

If he’s the type of horse who would rather run away dragging his handler behind him, instead of walking calmly beside said handler, the foremost thing I need to remember is to keep myself from getting behind his shoulder. The instant I’m behind that shoulder, he has the advantage over me by sheer body mass and strength, and he’s going to use that against me, guaranteed. As soon as he tries to pull his head away from me, I’m going to need to use my weight to counter the pull he’s trying to give. My immediate goal needs to be getting his hindquarters swung around so that he’s facing me. Then we try again. Ordinarily this need not be a major drama. Once most horses start to understand their handler demands respect, the horse usually gives it. This means both respecting your space and having respect for your intentions.

The last and probably most frustrating leading problem we may infrequently encounter is the horse who just refuses to budge. For this type of horse, the most important thing to remember is the need to keep his feet moving, no matter what. With babies, it’s a pretty simple task of getting them to understand pressure on the halter. Once they comprehend that, no sweat. The recalcitrant horse, on the other hand, who simply wishes to be obstinate, is a different story entirely. If, after the horse is haltered and I attempt to lead him, he stops dead in his tracks and won’t lead at all, my first action will be to get him to think he’s off balance by pulling sideways toward the left. This will cause him to shuffle his feet generally in that direction and when he does, I’ll praise him for actually moving. He may not be headed in the right direction, but he at least did something right.

Sometimes on the tougher cases I’ll need to use some ‘friendly encouragement’ such as a long crop or, in a pinch, the end of his lead rope. The key here is not to make him think I’m trying to hurt him or scare him, just urge him forward. I would rather tickle his flank with the crop than let him stand there with smug satisfaction that I can’t get him to heed my request. Most of the time all it takes is once, because he’s already determined that I do mean business. If he’ll take even one or two steps when I ask, even if it’s not in the exact direction I desire, I’m ahead of the game. My only requirement of him at this point is that he move.

After I can get him to move around me in a circle, again, using the crop if I absolutely have to, I’ll graduate to using a mild stud chain on him -- always up from the bottom ring, through the near side ring, over the nose and back through the far side ring, attaching to that bottom ring. Of course I don’t want to hurt him, it’s the pressure I want to use to encourage him to move for me. If he doesn’t need that chain, all the better. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.

After he’s gotten the point that I want him to move when I ask, I’ll encourage him once again to move forward with me, and if he doesn’t respond right away, he’ll feel a good, sharp jerk on the stud chain. Now, this will generally send him backwards, but that’s okay. He moved. This results in praise. When he flat out refuses, I’ll pull his head toward me and get him to at least move a foot or two in some direction. As long as it’s movement. Soon, he will start to calmly walk with me when I ask him to, and after a short while I won’t even need that stud chain. Magic? No, plain old common sense. I don’t really care what side we start with, although I tend to prefer the horse’s right side (or counter-clockwise), because that’s the opposite side from which a horse is usually led. These leading lessons do, however, need to be done equally on both sides -- I spend as much time working off the horse’s right side as I do his left, and I’ll work him just as long clockwise as I will counter-clockwise.

Finally on the subject matter agenda for this post is trailer loading. But if the horse has learned to mind his manners when leading and tying, getting him into that trailer will be a snap. He trusts me, right? Knows I won’t let anything bad happen to him? So he should hop right in and allow himself to be transported anywhere I want to take him. But what if he doesn’t? My first line of defense against a horse who I’ve tried to load the easy way (leading him up to the trailer, letting him take a sniff of it then asking him to step on in) and gotten rebuffed, is to make being outside that trailer more unpleasant than being inside of it. I won’t beat him, hurt him or scare him, but I do want to encourage him to do as I ask and will reprimand him for disobeying. This is a lesson that you absolutely have to set aside a lot of time for, just in case. Feeling rushed will only exacerbate the situation and cause the horse to be wary of why you're trying to get him into that trailer!

First, using a long buggy whip and tapping the ground behind his hocks to get my point across will start driving him forward. If he resists and begins to move backward, I’m not going to spend a lot of time allowing him to drag me all over the place -- after the second time of insubordination, I’ll actually tell him to back up, because if that’s what he wants to do, fine, we’ll do that until he decides he doesn’t like backing up all that much. Pretty soon, going forward in the direction of the trailer doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Most of the time having a helper behind the horse with that whip is more effective than me trying to coax him by myself. Remember, unless he tries to kick at it, symbolically kicking at me (or whoever has the whip in their hand), we won’t be even so much as coming close to tapping him with it.

If he still resists even attempting to step up into the trailer, after the fourth or fifth try I’m going to change gears and put a stud chain on him. My philosophy is, I’m not about to take all day to get him to do something this simple. The method isn’t meant to hurt him, merely let him know this isn’t a game and I’m not playing. If he steps on the ramp or up into a step-up trailer, then backs out again, I’m not going to make much of a big deal about it. However, he’s only going to get a couple of chances to do that without progressing further. Personally, I prefer a trailer with a nice, wide ramp as it’s a whole lot more conducive to getting the horse loaded instead of having them launch up a big step.

At a certain point, if he’s just plain ignoring me, I’ll briefly go back and reinforce those leading and tying lessons by reminding him all about the word “Whoa!”, then moving off the pressure I place on his poll via the halter. Afterward, once more I’ll request he step forward in the direction of the trailer. As a rule, this process shouldn’t take longer than fifteen to twenty minutes at the most. Especially if I did my homework and made sure he fully understood those tying and leading exercises. Sure, you can park the trailer in a field, pasture or arena and feed the horse in there, but it’s no guarantee he’s going to want to go in when you want him to. Most horses under those conditions will jump in, grab a huge mouthful and hop right back out, gaining distance on that big box. It really doesn’t teach him anything other than ways to get out of there even faster.

My absolutely LAST resort will be the “butt rope”. It isn’t something I recommend, but for the most difficult cases it can come in handy at times as long as the individual using it is skilled, quick on their feet and remains calm should the horse pitch a fit. There is a distinct danger of the horse deciding to flip over and injure himself and/or the handler(s) working with him. I use a good, sturdy cotton, not nylon, longe line tied instead of snapped (lest the snap break when the horse puts pressure on it) to the right side of the trailer, and run around behind the horse to the left. This allows me to be on the horse’s left side (where he’s generally been taught he should be led from, not to mention more comfortable with me on) and asking him to move forward into the trailer. At this point, the rope should be against his rump, below (not under!) his tail above his hocks, but there should be no pressure placed on it yet. It won’t be until he tries to balk that I’ll ask for a tightening of the rope, pushing him toward the trailer. I want to give that horse every opportunity first to move on into the trailer without physical force.

No matter how I ultimately need to get the horse into that trailer, it is vitally important that I understand the crucial moments when the horse will start to walk in on his own and when he’s going to try refusing. Most horses decide eventually that they don’t have it so bad in a trailer, but I always want to get them hooked in and secured, FIRST having someone hold the lead rope as I close the door or divider, before he’s tied or snapped to a trailer tie. Also -- if I know the horse will have a tendency to try running backward out of the trailer and/or pulling back on the rope or tie before I can get that back door closed, I’ll have a third party there to hold the door mostly closed or be quick with the ramp while I get myself out of harm’s way before he “explodes”. I want an escape route!

Pretty soon trailer loading will become as routine as the simpler things like tying and leading. It’s all in how much time you want to invest in your horse and his education. I recommend taking the time to be sure there are no holes in any part of your horse’s training, to ensure you and he will both be safe in everything you two do together.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dressage Is For Everyone!

Here is another LTF article that's a number of years old, I dusted it off for your enjoyment. :)

"It seems that every two nickel cowboy out there today competing for your dollar is advocating how even your horse can be the next top level Dressage performer ~~ using his patented “whisper-to-him-and-play-these-games-while-using-my-specially-designed-horsey-guru-thingy-mahoohaw”. Well, maybe you do own the next Keen, Avontuur or Brentina and don’t know it. But even if you do unfortunately fall into that Natural Mumbo Jumbo trap, in reality, Dressage as a basic foundation really is the best thing you could do both for your horse and your horsemanship.

What does the term ‘dressage’ mean, anyhow? All it boils down to, is training. Dressage as a concept is simply taking steps to train your horse and make sure he’s fully trained through each step, or level, of advancement. As a sport in of itself, Dressage is learned (by horse and rider) in levels, from the most basic of maneuvers to what we see on the Grand Prix field at the Olympics. Do you need to push both yourself and your horse to perfect a pirouette, a piaffe and single tempi lead changes in order to consider yourselves an advanced pair or be sure your horse is really well trained? Of course not. But when you have mastered the basics of good, beginning (or basic Training Level) moves, incorporating them into your daily riding program or regimen, I can assure you both horse and rider will be far better prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead, whether in the show ring or on the trail.

All my horses, no matter what their lot in life, are trained using very entry-level Dressage principles, which carry them through life in whatever endeavor I (or their owners) choose for them. No matter if he’s a Western pleasure horse, a Jumper, a Reining horse or just a trail mount, it works because he’s taught to use himself correctly.

With the ultimate goal of a responsive and willing partner, teaching your horse how to supple and to relax, to flex and to respond, to accept contact and to listen...why wouldn’t we want these things from any horse?

Let’s begin by taking a look at your horse. When you first climb aboard, for instance, to go down the road on a nice relaxing trail ride, can you lift the reins, giving him a cue to collect himself and have him respond by rounding up his back, engaging his hindquarters and moving off softly yet obediently? Or does he shake his head, hollow out his back and balk, leaving you sitting there kicking the heck out of his sides until your legs hurt? Personally, I want a horse who’s going to be a joy to ride, not a chore.

In order to correct some of the issues many horses have, I’ll take them back into the arena and deal with whatever is going on both in his head and in his body before I can expect him to feel good about being out there in the open -- or being ridden at all. Most of the time it’s as simple as a stiff neck or sore back somewhere in the past, causing the horse to think he’s going to be in pain when he’s ridden. A horse will overcompensate by locking up his shoulders and dragging his rear quarters out behind him.

Following a good, relaxing grooming session, I’ll start out by saddling and bridling the horse (making sure no part of the tack I ask him to wear is causing the horse unnecessary pain or discomfort), then head out to let him stretch his legs on a longeline in the round pen for a while before climbing aboard. Once he’s listening to me, he’ll be ready to work and I’ll be ready to begin sorting out his problems using the most basic of Dressage concepts.

Utilizing his instinct of wanting to get relief from pressure on his mouth, I’ll pair my inside hip and leg with my outside rein and ask for a simple bend toward the rail in a pseudo-shoulder in, keeping him counter-bent (meaning, bent toward the rail) I want him bent around my outside hip, moving him off my outside leg. Once I release his head, I’ll change how I’m asking him to bend in the opposite way, requesting a marked change to a shoulder out. All I want from him is to respond by bending his body yet still moving forward away from the pressure of my hips and legs.

These types of exercises will help keep the horse supple and responsive, so when you ask for collection he will be quicker to respond properly without giving you a fight. The same techniques can be applied to circling and bending through the corners of the arena.

Another Dressage-based exercise for helping the horse to use himself better (and lead his rider to better understanding the benefits of a collected horse) is allowing him to extend, or lengthen, his stride down the long rail of the arena, and asking him to collect, or shorten, his stride down the shorter rail.

Let’s stop here for a moment. Most folks don’t understand that there is definitely a difference between extending/lengthening and speeding the horse up, just as there is a difference between collecting/shortening a horse’s stride and slowing him down. Extension is not merely a lengthening of the horse’s stride, but also of his frame. The same goes for collection in the reverse situation.

To properly collect a horse, he must shorten his frame along with his stride. We’ve also got to understand that “collection” of the horse is far more than just a headset, and it comes from the horse’s hindquarters, by using our legs and seat. Basically speaking, a horse is a ‘rear-wheel-drive’ vehicle. Or, perhaps better stated, a horse is a ‘rear-engine, four wheel drive vehicle’. The motor is in that powerful hind end. How to we get him to propel himself forward the way we want him to? By using our legs, of course, along with our seat.

To begin, I’ll use a very basic ‘lifting’ of the horse with my legs and hands, asking him to elevate his front end and shorten that stride. Naturally, I’m going to start at the walk (you can even begin by doing similar exercises when halted, by asking him to round up his back underneath you and flex his neck upward, while standing still ... but that’s generally harder for the horse than doing so while walking) and work up to trotting, then cantering.

He must respond by giving me a noticeable elevation of his entire body, an arching of his neck and a shorter step with each stride. That’s true collection. What if he’s not perfect when I first start these lessons? That’s not something I’ll ever be concerned about, as long as he gains an understanding of what I’m trying to teach him.

The lengthening, or extension, is essentially just the opposite in terms of how we ask the horse to perform. I’m going to let the horse stretch out his neck and lower his head, though not to the point of getting distracted and forgetting to pay attention to me. I’d like to see him take longer steps until he’s overstepping -- which means each hind hoofprint lands into or in front of the forefoot’s print.

I’d like to see (or, perhaps more aptly, feel) a noticeable changing of both frame and stride each time I ask going down the rail. He should move off freely, low and long when I request an extension then collect up and shorten himself akin to an equine accordion upon being asked. Simple. Really! It’s not vital that the average pleasure horse look or move like a World Cup Champion, just that he’s getting the benefits of these training exercises and becoming both more motivated and more consistent, not to mention giving you a better trained partner.

How about out trail riding where you’re taking the horse up and down a lot of hills and he wants to rush along? I’ll utilize the half-halt in this instance, again, going back into the arena to show him exactly what’s expected out of him before asking him to apply these concepts to the ‘real world’.

A half-halt is simply explained as a preparatory move to get the horse to listen and be prepared for a change in gait, direction or otherwise make a transition to something other than what he’s presently doing. When riding down the rail, I’ll shift my weight back in the saddle, lift my reins and almost ask the horse to stop, yet still propelling him forward with my legs.

Should he decide he’s not listening (liken his who, me? response to the insolent teenager who defies both parent and teacher), I’ll give him a rather sharp reprimand with my seat by sitting deeper in the saddle while lifting him a little more, actually supporting his front end with my hands, for a split second until he gives to the pressure. Usually, with most horses it doesn’t take more than a time or two before they understand what you’re asking. You can apply this concept while out on the trail and in most any situation where you need the horse to be better prepared and more responsive to your requests.

As you can see, the really basic fundamentals of Dressage can be helpful to most horses in a variety of situations, disciplines and venues. Don’t be afraid to venture out and try new things. Now is the time to ensure your equine friend is a partner rather than a combatant. So, get out there and ride!"


Saturday, August 15, 2009

"You Sold Them WHAT?!"

This is an issue I have been bothered by for an eternity. Piggybacking on yesterday's post somewhat, the ethics of folks who sell entirely incompatible horses to beginners, or just horses that are totally unsuited for the buyer's purposes. Another one that tends to burn my hide is the flocking to an innocent bystander with sales pitches on horses, much akin to how potential buyers are descended upon when shopping for a vehicle.

I had a client a couple of years ago who brought me a beautiful yearling Purebred Arabian filly for basic groundwork (leading, tying, trailering, wash rack, hotwalker, etc) in preparation for a potential show career as a Halter horse. Awesome people, just wonderful, caring owners who loved their "baby" more than anything in this world. What truly frosted me is how they actually ended up with this filly. They were looking for a pair of riding horses, as first time horse owners, to enjoy trail riding after having bought their dream property and put up horse facilities. They acquired a gentle old Paint gelding who was a retired rope horse but dead broke and gentle, then found an advertisement for an Arabian mare from another local trainer. They went to see her and promptly fell in love.

Trouble was, this mare had precious little under saddle training and she was in foal. That and she was a definite Alpha who had little respect for humans. Why in the world would anyone, let alone a trainer, sell a mare like this to beginners? It boggles the mind.

Similarly, that feeling I sometimes get when at a horse show, that there are buzzards circling, just waiting for the kill.

Sometimes when jaunting around a showgrounds, we'll take a look at various horses, particularly after having seen them in some of the classes and I want a closer look. There's not necessarily any particular reason sometimes, but perhaps I'm interested in what the sire produces or have another, equally cogent reason for peeking in on a horse. Inevitably, a trainer or other representative of the farm or owner of the horse comes running up trying to shove pictures, pedigrees and videos in my face.

Now, when I am in the market either for myself or a client, my first stop is going to be directly talking to the trainer (or owner if there is no trainer or agent) as opposed to stopping in to look at the horse. Otherwise the chances are, if I am just looking, you're not going to make a sale anyhow so why bother hovering over me and trying to convince me why Ibn Mr Fabulous is a horse I just can't live without? It's not unlike car shopping where the sales associates act like vultures. Been there, done that and I'm not giving my business to someone who acts in this manner.

Times are tough, I understand that, and more people than ever are selling horses these days. Adding to that sentiment, more people than ever need to sell their horses for financial reasons. This is why there are so many horses being given away ~ it's the economy. However, using some of the tactics I see in trying to get horses sold just rubs me the wrong way.

Here is another similar topic that often gets me raging, if only because of the implications involved ~ trainers going behind the backs of other trainers trying to spirit away their clients. Not only is this in my opinion highly unethical, but it reeks of poor sportsmanship. I have been fortunate in that I've only had a couple of brushes with this sort of thing in the past, but I hear stories about it happening to others frequently.

It's yet another thing that's wrong with the horse world. But I'm off my soapbox now!


Friday, August 14, 2009

Fabulous Friday!!

Today marks the seven week countdown to the Apple Valley Equine Extravaganza!!

Seven weeks from tomorrow afternoon, we will be presenting a showcase of fine Arabian show horses of extreme quality in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from Halter and Sport Horse In Hand to Western Pleasure, Hunter Pleasure, Country English Pleasure, English Show Hack, Dressage and Mounted Native Costume.

We will have a booth set up where folks can come by, ask questions about the breed and pick up literature about these incredible horses, as well as having membership info available for our local Arabian club. I am working on getting a great group of people together to help man the vendor booth while we're doing our presentation.

Then, I am going to be doing a clinic and demonstration on Showmanship In Hand, which is getting really fun to plan out, and I'll be joined by a couple of my outstanding students in assisting me which is going to be a whole lot of fun! Afterward, I am going to host a question and answer session with the audience where they can interact and we can get into more specifics about the subject matter.

For my Showmanship clinic, I have enlisted the assistance of Paint horse trainer Dave Dennison and his website. What a fabulous site!! This is the first time I've ever endorsed an outside website, but I love this one.

What is going to make this day particularly special is that we'll be attending a horse show that morning in a neighboring city, the last in our second High Point Series (the other one wraps up September 20th). So, in all an extremely busy day.

So, if you are nearby and can make it, please plan to drop by at Horsemen's Center in Apple Valley, California on that day, October 3rd. There will be a wide variety of vendors offering just about everything horse-related as well as food, many clinicians touching on all sorts of different areas of horsemanship, many local trainers specializing in a wide array of breeds and disciplines, but best of all, it's FREE.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Newsworthy Again! Plus, A Very Important Issue...

So very cool, today there was a writeup in the local newspaper on us for the second time in the past three weeks, this one included a picture of one of my students!! I am so blessed to have awesome clients, fabulous students, incredible horses and the best support network of colleagues, friends and family any trainer could ever ask for!!

Here's just one of the smiling faces from our last show on August 1st:

That said, on to other things.

One of the issues I have been wanting to touch on, which relates in many ways to yesterday's post, is ethics as it relates to the horse industry in general and horse trainers specifically.

I can't count the times I have been approached by someone, involved in a discussion with folks or otherwise engaged in talking about the fact that so many trainers just seem to want to suck every last dollar out of their [often unsuspecting] clients without delivering what the client is paying for. This boggles my mind, because it so often hurts those of us who are forthright and honest, in turn damaging every trainer in some way.

For the life of me I also cannot figure out why any client would allow themselves to be taken advantage of or abused. Just for a blue ribbon? Some points? Bragging rights? To me it's no better than trainers who abuse horses just for the sake of winning in the show ring. This very issue is also why so many people have flocked away from the show ring and into other horsey endeavors, along with the politics and frequent conflict of interest, whether real or merely perceived.

Do a lot of folks just not get it?? Apparently not.

Why is this sort of thing acceptable to so many? Why on Earth do people allow themselves to get suckered in? Both with themselves and their horses? Whatever happened to personal responsibility for yourself AND your horses?

We know the breed associations are not going to do anything about these issues, and often neither are the other sanctioning bodies. Breed associations exist for one reason ~ to make money registering horses, or enrolling horses in their programs. They are unconcerned about holding anyone accountable for anything, unless they have something financial left unpaid. The same goes for other sanctioning organizations, though sometimes they will take moderate action in cases of drugging, for instance, or extreme instances of abuse toward a horse.

Alright, enough on that rant, though I could go on forever about this subject.

My policy has always been to do the very best by my clients and their horses. If someone ever feels that they are not getting what they have paid for, I'm quick to offer refunds or rectify the situation immediately to the customer's full satisfaction. If someone needs a referral to another trainer because I for whatever reason cannot deliver what they need in the way of training or instruction, I always do my best to ensure they find the right trainer or instructor for their needs.

What I have long wondered is, why can't more professionals in this industry be that way?