Monday, November 30, 2009

Exercises For Horse & Rider Part I ~ Rider Fitness

In the coming days once again I’ll be addressing fitness for your horse, whether you compete or just ride for pleasure on the local trails, but I thought I would begin by talking about getting YOU fit, as the rider.

We all know, if we spend any amount of time in the saddle at all, that it takes some stamina and pretty decent muscles in order to comfortably ride for any length of time. A lot of us also don’t go to the gym, so our workout options are somewhat limited.

Aside from just telling you to go join the local 24 Hour Fitness (if you happen to have one close by -- we don’t!), I’m going to give you some tips on how to go about increasing your ability to ride for longer periods of time without breaking the bank or physically falling apart (which is what we’re trying to avoid here!).

There are plenty of things horse owners, at least those who have their horses at home and must take care of them, have to do on a daily basis which can immensely help us get in shape and stay fit. Stall cleaning, for one, is great exercise! Lifting those manure forks and rakes and pushing that wheelbarrow is good exercise. So is hauling hay, carrying feed buckets or even grooming your horse. Unloading hay from your truck and stacking it? Great way to build your arms and work on those abs!

It can actually be fun to see how many things within a normal day you can do to help further your cause of getting in shape, and kind of chart your progress. If you have specific “trouble areas” (like we all do), you can look for more things to do around the ranch which will help you tone them.

But seriously, it is good exercise, as is actually getting on your horse and riding.

You might be asking, why do you really need to be in good shape to ride your horse? Well, you might want to ask yourself that question again after you get back from that first three hour trail ride with your friends in the Springtime. Ouch! Even those of us who ride horses for a living, often riding many horses per day, have to stay in shape for the activity, and how do you think we manage? I know I don’t have time to run across town to the gym, so it works in my favor that I do a job that’s physically demanding.

Believe me, by late Spring or early Summer, you will be thanking me for covering this subject, even if it seems silly about now! :)


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Marketing: Developing A Successful Ad Campaign

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “To make a small fortune in the horse business, you have to start with a large fortune.” I have previously covered the subject of preparing a horse for sale and trying to get him sold. As most folks understand, it takes a little bit of effort and laying of ground work to close a sale on a single horse, not the least of which is making sure the public actually knows the horse is available for sale.

Something most horse owners never really think about, however, mainly because it’s not a necessary part of their activities as their lives revolve around horses, is a serious and successful advertising campaign.

Of course, many trainers, breeders and stable owners or managers spend a great deal of time strategizing their plans on how to promote their programs and facilities. But how did they get to the point where they needed to market their products (breeding stallions, foals, sale horses) and services? You can bet in the beginning it was nothing fancy, but rather, ideas that evolved regarding how best to promote what they have to offer.

In today’s world, the fact is, people want to be told what you can offer them and how they can benefit from their association with you. But there are some very important rules ~ number one, BE PROFESSIONAL! Always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Check, double check, triple check your spelling in any advertisements, websites and so forth. Nothing makes me run away faster from dealing with a so-called "professional" than repeated mis-spellings and grammatical errors. I don't expect everyone to have a Language Arts Degree, but for Heavens sake use your spell check!

If someone questions you about your horse(s), answer those questions honestly without losing your cool. Sure, it's not pleasant to feel like you are being challenged about facts or other things pertaining to your horses and business, and no one wants to be interrogated like it's the Inquisition, however it is imperative to the health and long term well being of your business that you always take the time to be courteous and give complete, satisfactory answers no matter how small the matter may seem.

Let’s examine how a breeder or stallion owner approaches the concept of marketing. It all starts with having a ‘product’ that you want the public to show some interest in, hopefully purchasing that product. Any knowledgeable stallion owner, for instance, understands the vital importance of having good, professional photographs of their horses taken. Sure, your best friend or spouse may have snapped some cute pictures of your horses before, but stop to think about if those sort of candid shots are really going to attract the attention of someone who will want to lay down good money for a stud fee.

Photographs of a stallion who looks ragged and is dirty screams that you don't care about the horse or your reputation. In this business (like any other), reputation is everything. Every negative comment or statement about you, your program or your business will wipe out twenty or more positive comments.

Honestly, the same goes for anyone trying to sell any horse. After all, that’s what stallion owners are selling, of course: A product that produces baby horses (or those baby horses themselves)! Breeders who have young stock for sale will splurge for quality photos as well, because they know that attracts the interest of buyers looking for a quality horse. Most breeders today will have a photographer out to shoot all of their youngsters from each year’s foal crop. True, it is a lot of work and quite costly, but if you want your horses to bring top dollar, the investment is money well spent.

Another consideration will be where to market your horse(s).

There are a variety of options, and they range from free to rather expensive. On the internet you can find various websites which offer free listings, some will be free text ads, others offer free photos or even video, while many do charge a nominal fee. To be truthful, I’m really not a big fan of internet horse sale sites. The single most important factor in choosing one upon which to list your horses, though, is site hits (otherwise known as page views). Sites people just don’t visit are not going to be effective in selling your horse! Not only that, there are sites which generally attract people who are not interested in paying good money for quality horseflesh ~ Craigslist comes to mind as the most glaring example. Stay away from it!

My personal preference is regional print magazines, avoiding the text-only classifieds. Naturally, if you have a National or World Champion quality horse (who is proven at that level), seek out the nationally distributed glossy publications for your chosen breed or discipline, otherwise, stick to what’s published locally. Remember, you should expect to at least recoup some of your ad costs when selling either horses or breeding, so keep in mind what you will be paying when utilizing the glossies. If that full page, four color print ad costs $800-$900, you won’t be making much back if your horse sells for only $1,000! The fact is, you get what you pay for. If you have quality horses and are interested in selling them for decent prices, invest a little bit in promoting them right.

Another thing to keep in mind will be how recognizable your advertising is. Of course, this isn’t so important if you’re just a private owner with one horse to sell, but keeping some continuity to your ads will begin to establish your name. All of my ads, flyers and my website are distinctively mine, so folks pretty much know what they are looking at, who they are dealing with and where they can expect to go when they see what I have available. Along those same lines is a consistency of having your advertising out there in front of potential customers. Again, not so vital unless you have a stallion to promote or a boarding/training barn to fill, but I consider it a really major part of my advertising budget. One flashy, expensive ad in one magazine or advertising paper may make a statement, but ads running on a consistent basis where your name is out there in front of the public on a regular basis makes it harder for them to forget you.

Let me say in closing that no matter what, your advertising will speak for you, so be sure what you say is inviting and makes people want to contact you for more information. That is what it boils down to if you want to exchange your offerings for money.

Remember that old saying ~ IMAGE IS EVERYTHING. It might be an old cliche in advertising, but still rings true throughout all walks of life and every industry.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Trailering Secrets: Tales From Hitting the Road

Note: This installment was completed with the assistance of Steve Nichols from SJN Enterprises and Home Services.

How many times have you been driving down the freeway and spotted someone on the shoulder pulled over with the hood up on their minivan or small SUV and taken shocked notice that they dared to attempt pulling their horse trailer with such a vehicle? Welcome to my nightmare.

We have a saying around here that goes something like this: There is no such thing as “too much” pulling power. Of course, part of that comes from being married to a gearhead husband who thrives on horsepower and gets giddy at the smell of high octane fuel.

There is truly nothing worse than thinking you’re headed to that early morning class at the local horse show (or making an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital for surgery) and breaking down by the side of the road, which is bad enough without having horses in the trailer stamping and neighing. That’s why this time around we are discussing what steps you can take to prevent as many catastrophes on the road as possible.

Of course, everyone knows there are basic steps to keeping your vehicle maintained, such as regular oil changes, replacing the oil filter and air filter, transmission service, radiator flushing and so forth. Those things are doubly important if you’re towing a trailer. Correctly inflated tires with optimum pressure for hauling and ensuring that you not only have good load handling tires with the plenty of tread but that they are in good shape (preferably without the dry rot!) is essential to a stress-free trip. Periodically check your spare tire to make sure it will be suitable if the need for it arises, and certainly replace it if you need to. Getting stuck with no spare is one of my biggest pet peeves. Another add-on that makes life for your truck that much more manageable, helping your vehicle last longer is an oil cooler for both engine oil and transmission oil. Most heavier duty trucks have them factory installed these days, but you should check if your truck falls into that category. If not, I suggest heading to AutoZone or your local auto parts retailer and purchasing one to have outfitted under the hood.

You also want to make regular checks on your electric trailer brake controller to be sure it’s in good working order, and thoroughly check your hitch and ball mount. Trailer balls can get worn and loosen up (I have had two different clients who’ve had their trailer actually come bouncing off the truck while driving!) so keep the ball well lubed. In addition, look over the pin which holds the ball mount inside your hitch for signs of wear and replace it if necessary.

Now it’s time to look over your horse trailer, and for me the first two places I check before every trip are the floorboards and the tires. Having properly inflated tires which are made for horse trailers and have the load capacity it takes to carry thousands of pounds is essential, and the same as above goes for the trailer’s spare tire. Lift the mats, pull them out and thoroughly inspect the boards for cracks, warping or other signs that they need to be replaced and do so promptly if you find them deficient in any way.

Now, many folks keep shavings in their trailer year round, and here is why I don’t -- shavings tend to hold in moisture (read: urine) and that tends to damage the trailer’s floorboards. Since I’m not fond of the idea of my horses falling through the floor of my trailer while tooling down the freeway doing 65 miles per hour (ooops, the trailer pulling speed limit in California is 55 mph, my bad!), I’m going to do all I can to make sure that won’t happen. I thoroughly clean and hose out my trailer after each trip, then allow it to air dry. The only times I’ll put shavings in the trailer are for trips more than a certain mileage or when the horses will be in the trailer for more than a few hours at a time. Leaving the trailer shavings free also keeps the air circulating through the trailer less dusty which helps prevent respiratory problems in many horses.

Finally on trailer maintenance is making sure your wheel bearings are cleaned and repacked every year, checking for wear of any sort. If you notice wear, pitting and so forth, they should be replaced as opposed to merely repacked. This year with a trailer load of horses I had the unfortunate experience of a wheel bearing failure on my trailer while driving. It was NOT fun! We'd had a big Half-Arabian gelding tied to the trailer at a show who had pawed at one wheel and knocked the dust cap off ~ this contributed to the grease heating up going down the road and my noticing smoke coming off a left hand side wheel on my trailer. Which isn't an episode I care to ever repeat or anything I'd ever want to see happen to another horse owner.

What vehicle you should use to tow your trailer is mostly a matter of personal preference as it relates to brand names (we are a General Motors family, but some folks prefer Ford or Dodge), however the main consideration is whether the truck you buy is built for the job. In all honesty, horsepower isn’t as important as torque, and something I’ve learned is not to believe everything the salesman at your local dealership tells you. Too many times I’ve heard horror stories of someone going in to buy a truck and being told that the little half ton with that small V6 is going to have no problem hauling a four horse gooseneck trailer up over Cajon Pass or the Grapevine. NEXT!

For my hauling needs, I use either a one ton dually or our one ton truck and I’ve never run out of power, but most three-quarter ton pickups handle many loads just fine. If I could have chosen one more added feature on the dually it would have been four wheel drive, which would come in handy under a variety of conditions, but it wasn’t on my list of ‘must-haves’. Our new truck is a 4x4 and that suits me just fine! :) Plenty of power under the hood and a long bed were a high priority for me, along with making certain the truck was equipped and pre-wired for trailer lights as well as electric trailer brakes.

Likewise, when shopping for a trailer there are things we have to have and then there are the luxuries. For my purposes, the luxury would have been a five or six horse slant aluminum gooseneck, but I settled for a two horse slant bumper pull with a nice dressing room. Once again, brand name isn’t necessarily all that important and all of us have certain preferences. Mine is a Logan Coach, but I'm saving up for that beautiful Exiss gooseneck of my dreams!

Safety in several areas is my main criteria for a horse trailer, and it’s vital that any trailer I ever consider buying has specific features. Number one is a ramp, with drop down feed doors coming in a close second. The dressing room is another thing I can’t do without, and it had better have room for all my show tack and show clothes for a variety of disciplines.

But there are essential areas that need your attention when shopping for a trailer. Where your inside trailer ties attach is very important, as well as where you tie your horses on the outside, far too many trailers have extremely weak welds in these important places (in fact, I had my husband go over my trailer with a fine toothed comb and reinforce welds in many places, including the ramp and the top door). Also, be careful to check where the wiring is routed, a lot of trailers have exposed wires where the horses could chew on them, and that’s a big no-no. In fact, my husband also re-wired my trailer entirely after I’d had it for a number of years, installing halogen light bulbs and replacing the old brake and turn signal lights on the back of the trailer with high visibility LED lights like most of today’s big rigs have, purchased from the local truck stop.

In the future we’ll cover different truck and trailer topics, but here you have the most basic of the basic as far as maintenance and important tips go.


Friday, November 27, 2009

A Halter Training How-To Guide

Disclaimer: The first part of this post was originally written back in 1986, however it has undergone three separate revisions over the last 20+ years. For the most part, a vast majority of the original article has a great deal of value, though some of the techniques are slightly outdated and no longer in use.

In addition, there are other fantastic resources out there available for owners who aspire to train their Arabian horses to compete in Halter classes. The only one I recommend is found on the Ammy Army forum website (click link). In order to view the training articles, you need to join the forum ~ however a whole new world awaits you! :)

Okay, here we go.

My focus here is on the In Hand classes we encounter at horse show events and I’m going to cover a broad spectrum, including how to prepare for the different variations of classes, what the judges will be looking for, how to train and exhibit your horse and a brief explanation of the various sub-categories of Halter classes in existence today. As many of you may know, there is a difference between Halter and Showmanship. Basically speaking, Halter is judged on the horse and Showmanship on the handler. This will be in regard to Halter-type classes, so the nucleus of this post will be regarding training and presentation of the horse for judging.

Any exhibitor’s first order of business is, of course, to fit and prepare themselves and their horse for the class of their choice. Fitting is just what it implies, the fitness and readiness to compete, and is a vital stepping stone to show ring success. Many a tri-color ribbon has been lost due to a lack of fitness, and for what? Unless you’re paying a trainer or someone else to leg up your horse for you, it’s the single least expensive part of the entire show scene, and no one else can get you whipped into shape but you. Bottom line, in condition is “in”, and looking good is the number one name of the game.

I have covered both fitness and grooming before, so I won’t delve into that subject now, but remember, you and your horse had better look your best. That means a spotless, clean, well prepared horse -- and don’t forget a neat, tidy, well dressed handler. In the Halter ring, you want to present the picture of perfection, so don’t expect the judge to overlook a horse with fuzzy ears and a dull coat even if you consider those things small potatoes. Another thing to keep in mind is, just like performance classes, get your horse trained so he knows his job before you load him in the trailer and head for the showgrounds. I cannot stress this enough: Training should be done at home, not in the show ring!

With stock breed horses, your equine partner needs to know how to walk and jog quietly beside you and to stop squarely on cue. When I begin to teach a young Quarter Horse or Paint how to be a proper and responsive Halter prospect, the first thing I’m going to sink into his mind is “Whoa!”, which (as I’ve mentioned previously ad nauseum) is the most vital command he’ll ever learn. That goes for ANY horse.

Back to business...I want him to move beside me without a fuss and so that neither am I dragging him, nor is he dragging me. The image I’m hoping to attain is one of cadence and symmetry. This exercise really doesn’t take long to gain his understanding, as long as a firm voice and consistency is used. If I’m requesting a walk, I’ll start by turning my right shoulder toward the horse, facing forward, and make a series of short “kiss noises” (the cue I use for walk). He should freely and obediently walk forward at my side, with my shoulder at about mid-neck. When I want him to begin jogging, my cue is a “clucking” sound. If he doesn’t want to move with me, I’ll utilize a long-ish buggy whip to encourage him, though after only a time or two of practice, the friendly persuasion is usually no longer needed. All the whip is used for is to gently brush against his hindquarters if (and only if) he does not move forward when verbally asked.

Don’t make the mistake of working him too long, just enough to keep the lesson ingrained but new and refreshing. I like to get the concepts down, then run through a “class” -- just like he’ll be asked to do in the show ring -- or two and have him do what I ask, then I’ll quit for the day. In the beginning we will just work on a couple of basic concepts, then add things in each day until he has them down.

Going back to stopping and standing on the lead, once he understands telling him “Whoa” means a complete cessation of all forward movement, we’ll work on hoof placement. I don’t want him stretched, nor do I want him camped under, because a balanced appearance is a must. Both front hooves and both hind should fall evenly with each other at the toe, and they should not give him the look of a base narrow animal. In other words, when looking at his legs from the front or the rear, I don’t want to see legs which angle inward or outward. They should be nice and straight. This is something that can be accomplished even with a horse who tracks narrow, It’s all in how much time is spent teaching him to square up. I want to keep his attention focused and not allow him to drop his head and fall asleep, either. He’s a show horse, after all, and in the show ring he’s always on display.

No horse is perfect, but we’re still striving for the look of perfection.

How do you go about teaching the horse how to stop square? It’s a relatively easy step (no pun intended) to master with a little perseverance. One of my biggest pet peeves is watching Halter handlers shuffle from from leg to leg, manually placing each foot in just the right spot, when doing a little bit of basic repetitive training can make things look so effortless. If he comprehends “Whoa”, and he certainly should by now, I’ll use it to my advantage.

I’m going to be leading the horse to the desired spot I want him to stop and square up at, and this should vary each time he’s worked so he doesn’t expect it in any one location along the rail. Sometimes I’ll ask him in the center of the arena, sometimes I want to work him in a place outside the ring. Keep his mind working! Once I ask for him to stop, along with my verbal command I’m going to turn into, or toward, him, facing his shoulder and angled slightly toward his hindquarters. That’s his signal to come to a halt. More often than not, one hoof will be a little bit in front of or behind the other, and usually not too much distance will separate them. I like to work on the hind hooves first. Later on we'll start working on halting with me still facing forward, but I want him to get into my body language cues first.

To get him squared, I use my voice to encourage him to take a step -- one little step -- along with a very slight downward pull on the lead. Personally, I don’t bother using a shank chain with most horses when Halter schooling, I’d rather use a plain leadrope, at least in the beginning. Sometimes the horse will move too far, take too large of a step or move sideways, and there is nothing wrong with using a hand on his shoulder to push him back into position, just as you would a baby who’s learning to be halterbroke. If he’s fidgety or doesn’t want to stand, I’ll give him a reprimand for not paying attention. Once he places his hoof in the correct position, I’ll tell him “Whoa” and praise him. This lesson will need to be repeated several times until he fully understands. I do the same with the front feet, with the same amount of repetition. Once these easy steps are accomplished, I’ve got myself the makings of a Halter horse, at least in theory. Remember, the hallmark of a Halter horse is correct conformation and good movement, so no amount of training is going to make glaring faults disappear.

It’s pretty much the same with any other breed, including Morgans, Saddlebreds and Arabians, except for a few minor details. These breeds are expected to trot into the ring at a much faster, more animated pace than a stock breed animal, and there are slight differences in how classes for these breeds are run. Check the rulebook for your chosen breed in order to understand what they may be.

Back to the mechanics of showing, for a Saddlebred, Tennessee Walker or Morgan horse, the desired pose is called “parked” and the horse is in a stretched position, unlike horses we want more centered. They are usually encouraged to focus on an artificial appliance, such as a whip, held by the handler.

With Arabians, I like to see one hind leg (that furthest from where the judge will be standing to evaluate him) a bit further back than the other, but without too much of a spread or split. Use the same concepts, then teach the horse to use his body. This, of course, is what sets Arabian Halter horses apart from any other breed...the “show” which sometimes is judged as much as the horse’s conformation and beauty itself, much to my chagrin.

As important as the show stance is both walking and trotting in hand alongside you, where exhibiting animation in movement is essential in the show ring today. We will practice an arena entrance, circling and moving off strong and bold for several minutes each day before getting down to the Halter stance itself.

I really don’t want to go into too much minute detail, but I’ll try to outline the steps I take in achieving a lovely result and have the horse “show” for me. While teaching the Arabian Halter horse what’s become a standard part of his job, I’ll go back and reinforce the steps I’ve discussed above (which is a constant in each Halter lesson), then work up to what we commonly call “the look”. Since the end result we seek is the handler standing in front of the horse and the horse exerting effort to show himself off, I start by asking for a halt, then stepping toward the front of the horse facing him and walking away from him backwards several steps, during which I’ll raise the hand I’ve got my lead in and lightly bump him on the chin. He should automatically stop when I request him to do so and stand in place until I ask him to move forward. I’ll try to say “Whoa” just before his right hind hoof hits the ground. This helps during hoof placement, too. Then we move onto schooling.

I like to use either a bat end Halter whip or, for those horses either unphased by the whip or who fear it, a medium sized plastic whiffle bat, like those you may see young school children play with. It’s nothing that will hurt or traumatize him, but makes enough noise to get his attention if I need to tap him with it. Note: Tap not hit. We do not want to frighten the horse, just get an interested reaction!!

Once he’s used to me leading him then stepping toward his front while lifting my hand and asking him to halt, I’m going to insist he pays complete attention to my every move. If, when I ask this of him, the horse moves, I’ll IMMEDIATELY give him a sharp tap, but not too hard, with the bat or whiffle bat and tell him to back up. If he holds still for a few seconds, I’m going to drop my hand and IMMEDIATELY praise him. When I let him down and do that praising, I will be at his side -- I want him to learn the difference to where I am, that when I’m in front of him it’s time to work and when I retreat to his side, he can relax. As with performance horses, it’s important to always end training sessions on a good note.

Sometimes by this stage, instead of using only a leadrope I’ll put a captive chain on the halter. What this means is, the chain does not pull tight against the horse’s jaw, it’s passive rather than active. A captive chain goes thru the side rings on a halter and back to the snap, then hooks to the lead line snap on the end loop of the chain. Using a chain this way gives you a bit more emphasis on your cues, but doesn't make your horse terrified of being shanked like an active chain can if you’re being too harsh.

Another important step, and this goes for a horse of any breed, really, is to teach the horse to stand still while his handler walks around him. This basically serves two purposes. First, it teaches the horse to stand still even if his handler is not and second, it gets the horse used to someone, eventually the judge, walking along side and around him, showing him that it's nothing to worry about. Something to take note of: This should really be accomplished as a basic part of halterbreaking babies, and if not, it’s a good lesson for them to learn regardless, as it will carry them throughout their training.

Fast forward...after I’ve told the horse to "Whoa" and I’m standing in front of him with my hand holding the lead up in the air, I’ll step sideways one step (doesn't matter if left or right), but I won’t put any tension on the lead yet. I’ll remind the horse not to move by telling him "Whoa", then I’ll stop briefly and step back in front of him, dropping my hand. That’s his release. After which I’ll go the other way. If he’s stood still for me, I will again IMMEDIATELY step to his side and praise him. Remember, either punishment or praise must come within two to three seconds after an action for the horse to understand what it's for, and that goes for any horse in any situation. It can be a very useful tool.

If the horse moves a hoof when I step to the side, no matter how small a movement, I’m going to discipline him as before by asking him to back up. During this process, if I have to give him a little tap with the whiffle bat, it’s okay. If I have to resort to giving him a mild shanking (only one or two jerks snatching him, and not very hard) that's fine too. Backing the horse means showing dominance over him in his mind, which can actually be used as a form of discipline for all kinds of handling. At this point, once the horse stands still for one step to the side, I will add another step and so on until I reach my goal.

The whole process, to have the horse fully understand, should take approximately a week, depending on the horse. My goal will be to be able to step around to his flanks without him moving a foot. I’m going to take this in stages using small steps, and I won’t expect too much, too fast. One thing I always tell folks interested in becoming Arabian Halter handlers...horses will respond to the tone of your voice. If you're firm, they know you mean business. If you're gruff, they know they've done it wrong. If you use a quiet and soothing voice, they know they've done it right. The tone of your voice is a lot more important than what you say, but I want repetition in the words so they begin to associate certain words with good behavior and others for understanding when they’ve done wrong.

Training an Arabian Halter horse to stand properly is only a little bit more complicated than the stock breeds, though the process used to teach them how to stand is similar. For Arabians, I want the horse to position himself as I outlined earlier, and I’m going to use my voice along with my actions to get the desired stance. While introducing him to a new vocabulary, he should be fresh, so I don’t want to have overschooled him by the time I add new words. I’ve had good luck with using the word "Step" as a cue for setting a horse up, when I have the horse stopped but he’s a little off balance with his front feet. To explain, it’s when one front foot didn't finish the stride when he stopped and it's a considerable distance behind the other front foot. At this point I’ll pull the lead gently to the side opposite the front hoof that’s behind and tell the horse "Step". As soon as the horse takes that requested step, I’ll tell him “Whoa” and I will IMMEDIATELY praise him. I want to be able to maneuver him about anywhere I want him with his only reaction taking little baby steps to each of my requests. Once he’s gotten than down, by now he’s pretty much ready to move on.

The next step in Halter training an Arabian horse is teaching him to give his neck. This will either be rather easy or quite difficult, with not much in between, depending on the individual horse. Some horses like to do this and some don't. Those that don't are a real challenge, so we have to find exercises which will stimulate them into giving the desired response. During the initial stages of this part of his training, I’m not concerned about hoof placement, just that he doesn't move when I ask for his neck.

To start, I’ll just ask the horse to give his neck down to the ground. In other words, I want him to stretch his neck toward me -- WITHOUT moving a hoof. This will teach him not to just thrust his neck out forward and it’s usually a rather natural movement for the horse, making it fairly easy on him, unlike my desired end result. This is also teaching him to essentially move away from pressure on his poll, and down is the most direct way for him to do this. I’ll be crouched down in front of the horse and holding my hand (with the whip or whiffle bat) out to him. True, it’s a very dangerous position to be in and it is imperative the horse not be allowed to move, but necessary for getting what we’re seeking out of him. Then I’ll start firmly but gently pulling the horse toward my outstretched hand. If he gives to the pressure, even if it's just an inch, I’ll stop pulling and touch his nose, praising him.

Some horses are very willing to come to your hand, because of basic curiosity, while others are rather reluctant. At this stage of training, I’ll often use treats, and I like to have something with me in the show ring which will elicit the response I want, be it carrots, cookies, peppermints, sugar cubes or something else the horse I’m showing likes. I’ll continue with this same pattern until the horse will bring his nose to my hand very low and near to the ground. His release is always touching my hand, and I’ll then allow him to come back up for a moment before asking again. This may take one session or many, depending on the horse, before he gives an automatic response, and I don’t want to make any particular session too long.

Once he’ll touch my hand at the ground, I can begin asking for his neck up higher. Some horses will naturally give their neck with muscles tensed, but many won't. For those that don't, use some sort of trigger to get the desired effect. You can bring any number of things before him in order to get a reaction, such as a plastic bag, a piece of paper or your hat, to name a few things. You don’t want to scare him, only to get his curiosity up enough to give you an expressive look. It takes time and a bit of experimentation to find each horse’s “hot button”. Here’s where you can use something the likes of clicker training to bring it all home. The horse will need something which gives me the same response as whatever I’ve used to get expression out of him, some sort of cue to replace that trigger.

By the time he has the idea of giving his neck, it’s time to put all the steps he’s learned above together and get him to “show” for you. He will now need to be taught to rock back, shifting his weight onto his hindquarters, elevating his neck out of the shoulder for a more sleek appearance and tightening all of his muscles. With this, I want to accomplish the finishing touch -- a horse who’s bright, alert and “showy”. There are five basic means to get him rocked back on cue and ready to show. First, a bump on the chin with the captive chain, by snapping the lead lightly toward him. Second, a slight jerk downward on the lead. Third, a slight jerk upward on the lead. Fourth, a tap mid-neck with the whiffle bat (and later, the Halter whip). And fifth, a bold step toward the horse to express that he needs to rock back.

Remember: The goal is NOT to frighten, threaten or intimidate him, but gain his respect and get a response. My method is to bring all five of these techniques together so we can find what works best for each horse.

The last type of class shown on a lead shank and judged on the horse is Sport Horse In Hand, long a familiar and popular offering in the Open Hunter/Jumper and Dressage world and used extensively with Warmblood breeds (though with different names), now rocketing in entries at Arabian shows. The basic difference between traditional Halter and the Sport Horse division is that SH classes are judged based not on beauty contest standards of conformation, but on putting the horse to work in a form-to-function manner.

Horses are either shown in a leather stable halter (for those two years and younger) or a nice working English bridle, and he may be lead with a shank or the reins. The handler should be dressed neatly in workman-like attire, but casual, instead of the Western outfits seen in the stock breeds or the showy dress or suits of those handlers in other breeds. There are also two different patterns, either the “v” or “triangle”. The horse is lead into the arena and stood up in front of the judge.

Setting up is neither the squared of Quarter Horses and Paints, nor the parked stance of Morgans and Saddlebreds, and it’s not that show position of an Arabian. With the Open division (commonly encountered at ‘A’ rated Hunter/Jumper or Dressage shows), horses are expected to stand normally and perhaps a little bit square. With Arabian SHIH entries, the legs should be “scissored”, meaning on the left [or right] side of the horse, the front leg should be placed forward and the hind leg placed back; on the right [or left] side of the horse, the front leg should be placed back and the hind leg placed forward. The judge wants a complete view of the horse’s legs from the side, but he shouldn’t be stretched out too far. His expression should be pleasant and he should be well behaved.

Once the judge has evaluated the horse’s conformation, his handler will walk him off on the first short leg of the triangle, to view him walking from behind. Then following a turn to the right, the horse will be walked along the longer stretch of the triangle, in order to get a side view. Finally, after one more turn to the right, the horse will be walked back straight toward the judge to give him or her a frontal view of the horse in motion at the walk. After this is completed, the horse will be trotted in a larger triangle. First away so the judge can get that rear view, then across for a side view, then back for a view of the horse from the front. One tip to keep in mind is to make the short legs while trotting slow and easy, but show speed and, more importantly, impulsion for the side view. The same to a lesser degree is desired at the walk, with a good brisk pace when giving that all-important side view.

Okay, now you’ve gotten a thorough education in how to train just about any Halter horse and you know what to expect in the show ring. How about the classes you may find on the show bill?

At the various open, all breed, shows offered, there are a wide range of Halter classes, some for babies, yearlings, in some instances two year olds, then for mares, geldings and stallions. Generally you’ll find classes split by different breeds, too, like Arabian and Quarter Horse. Most have “Color” classes, for Paints, Pintos, Appaloosas, palominos, buckskins and duns. Then there will probably be an “Open” halter class where all horses are welcome as entries.

When you get to breed shows, more often than not you’ll have the opportunity to enter just one class, as each sex will be divided into age groups, like yearling colts, two year old colts, three year old colts, four & five year old stallions and six years and older stallions. Some breeds offer special classes for Amateur handlers and Youth or Junior handlers. In the Arabian breed, what used to be called “Halter” classes are now designated as “Mare (or Filly) Breeding”, “Stallion (or Colt) Breeding” and “Gelding In Hand”. There are also the aforementioned Sport Horse In Hand classes, which will be split by age of horse and sex.

Universally, judges are looking for horses who epitomize their breed and show characteristics of a good example of that breed. Behavior is important, too, as unruly or rank horses aren’t good specimens. Poor conformation and faults will be counted against Halter horses, so a handler shouldn’t be surprised if his beautiful horse with crooked front legs doesn’t place well in hand, even if he’s a National or World Champion pleasure horse. The criteria are simply different.

In all, welcome to the world of Halter and enjoy your stay!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I Am Thankful For...

This year I have so very much to be thankful for.

My wonderful husband; kind, patient, understanding, supportive and hard working.

My amazing daughter; sweet, talented, beautiful, giving and intelligent.

My terrific family; helpful, protective, knowledgeable, loyal and fun loving.

My tremendous clients; I couldn't ask for a better group of people behind me ~~ you are all the best of the best.

My phenomenal horses; I am truly blessed to have such magnificent horseflesh in my life ~~ the love you give me will always be returned a thousand-fold.

And not least of all, my incredible friends; without you I am nothing ~~ thank you from the bottom of my heart for always believing in me.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Merry-Go-Round: Tips On Training (Or Re-Training) The Nervous Horse

There is an old saying which goes, Nervous Rider, Nervous Horse. Truer words have rarely been spoken. If you tend to get tense, your horse is going to sense that and your ride more than likely won’t be a pleasant one.

When I first begin working with a horse who tends to be nervous and jittery, while I don’t necessarily vary from how I deal with any horse, I’ll be especially mindful of how much spook the horse has. Actually what I find is that those horses you don’t expect to spook are the ones that cause more problems, because you aren’t prepared for them to explode at any moment. If working with a horse you know tends to spook or bolt you are actually at an advantage, believe it or not.

From there, I’m going to start working on de-spooking the horse (also called “sacking out” or teaching the horse to “spook in place” if he’s particularly frightened of something). What I’ll be doing is essentially showing the horse a way to express fear and trepidation without doing something which can be dangerous to both of us. Exposing him to things which frighten him and getting him to face those fears is a good start. Just keep in mind, as riders, the more nervous we are, the more we transmit that to our horses, so we have to keep our cool no matter what.

Some horses are nervous in an arena and do fine on the trail. Others feel more secure with that arena fence around them and panic in the wide open world. After identifying what sort of horse I‘m working with, we can begin tackling those fears and nervous habits. I prefer to work the horse in the early stages in a round pen (as I like to begin all my horses), ideally one made of open pipe panels rather than a solid wall bull pen. While I like solid walls for working horses in longlines when I want their total focus to be on their job and on me, such as already trained horses that need a refresher, re-schooling or just conditioning, having those open panels can really aide you in training a horse who has a penchant for nervousness, because you’re forcing them to refocus on YOU as opposed to whatever they’re nervous about, and most nervous horses spend a great deal of time looking around gawking at whatever they think they should be afraid of.

Some of the exercises will include walk and halt with bending toward me and maintaining focus when I introduce something scary, such as a plastic bag, a flag, a tarp or whatever the horse finds scary. Letting him know it’s okay to be fearful as long as he doesn’t react is just perfect. Plenty of rewards await the horse who choose the right path! Obviously keeping his attention and not allowing him to get distracted by whatever he may find scary is what we’re working on, but we have to bear in mind that he may not react the same under saddle.

Now, if he tends to be fine on the ground but nervous once you swing your leg over his back, frequently that’s caused not by an inherently nervous nature in the horse, but instilled in the horse by a prior rider, and it’s something we also have to overcome.

Again, starting in the round pen my goal is going to be a relaxed, easy ride where the horse feels little if any tension. One of the biggest benefits of a round pen is you don’t have to worry about him taking off and being able to buck his way across a large arena. Sure, he can get moving and yeah, he may be able to buck (if you allow him to get his head down), but you can control it so much better. If something does spook him, you can easily let him run it out until he decides that running isn’t getting him anywhere but tired. Hopefully, though, we’re going to avoid that entirely, because we’re instilling confidence in him by not being that nervous rider.

Something I always tell my clients and students is that your hands on those reins work like a power cord to the horse’s mouth. If you are scared or nervous, he’s going to pick up on that immediately. When the horse senses you fear something, his immediate reaction is going to be that THERE IS A REASON you’re afraid and therefore, he needs to be afraid, too! How we combat this is to ride confidently and keep our hands quiet, soft and relaxed. Easier said than done sometimes, but it is crucial to the success of training (or retraining) a nervous horse.

After settling into the saddle, I’ll ask him to stand quietly and relax with a loose rein. He must stand there, not fidget, no chomping on the bit, head shaking, pawing or any other willful disobedience. If he starts on of those behaviors, I am going to take up one rein, put the opposite leg into his side and ask for a bend until he gives in, not longer than perhaps 10 seconds. Once I release him, I expect what I asked for in the first place. If I can get the right reaction, I’ll ask him to move forward in a nice, easy, relaxed walk. This is where many horses begin to fall apart, or at least fall into their nervous habit by wanting to jig or dance around. Under no circumstances is that to be allowed and in no uncertain terms I’m going to let the horse know such behavior is unacceptable. As soon as he begins the prancing or jigging, I’ll quietly and quickly stop him and ask for that bend as explained above. He needs to stop, pay attention and relax before I release him, and backing is not allowed, because I don’t want him to learn that backing is an acceptable manner of evading my request.

Eventually, though how long it takes depends on the individual horse, you can get a terrific walk on a relatively loose rein, once the horse understands there is nothing to fret over. It can take a long time, particularly considering that inherent nervousness isn’t exactly something you can explain out of the horse, but you will get there! We should then be able to move into an easy jog-trot and come back down again in a relaxed manner. From there we’ll repeat the same steps in an arena.

I will also spend a LOT of time stopping the horse, dropping my reins down toward his neck and insisting that he stand relaxed. By now he should understand that command, and what it means (stop, relax and stand still without fretting). By that time, you can begin doing the same out on the trail.

At first, instead of heading away from the other horses (and most nervous nellie’s hate leaving their buddies behind!), just wander around the farm, occasionally stopping and asking for that bend and flex. Then gradually begin heading down the driveway and around the corner.

Before long, voila -- your problem is cured as long as you remain relaxed when you handle or ride your horse.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Basic Veterinary Needs For Horses: What Every Horse Owner Should Know

Anyone who has owned horses (or been around them) for any length of time knows there are certain recurring veterinary expenses that we have to deal with, such as regular de-worming, whether a feed-through supplement or that which is given in a paste tube, along with annual or bi-annual vaccinations for various diseases. It’s expected and just a part of having our very own horse.

I also have an entire cupboard devoted to veterinary needs and remedies for my horses, so I have a variety of treatments available for many various issues.

A few days ago I explored first aid for horses, such as what you need to keep on hand for those emergency situations where you must begin immediate treatment before your horse can be seen by the veterinarian (like during an especially busy time for emergencies, which happens to the best of us), but there are also things that you should have filed away in your memory as well as certain skills vital to being a good horse owner.

One of these things is being able to tell when your horse isn’t feeling well and what to do about it.

I know pretty much immediately if one of my horses (and fairly quickly with a client horse in my care) is not his or her usual self. There are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) clues about how they feel, but you really need to be able to spot even minor variances in a horse’s behavior. None of my horses ever lays down during the day unless it’s Winter and the weather was brutally cold overnight.

I will never forget the first time I looked out the window one brisk morning after moving to a vastly different climate (during March, no less) only to notice every single horse was laying down out in the sun. I nearly panicked! Those horses didn’t lay down during the day, there HAD to be something wrong! But no, they were just trying to warm up because it was much colder overnight than they had been used to and it felt good to stretch out in the warm sunshine.

But what if you have observed unusual behavior in your horse -- do you know how to handle the situation and what to do next? How do you determine when you need to call the vet or if you can handle the circumstances on your own?

Most importantly, do you have a mobile vet available and, if not, do you have a means of getting your horse to the clinic or equine hospital (your own truck and trailer, a friend with a rig or phone numbers of those who offer local emergency transport)?

My personal veterinarian used to require that owners haul horses to his hospital for treatment and routine care as well, though they do offer mobile services again. There are a couple of doctors in a pinch I can call out if absolutely necessary, which is also always a good idea, to have the names and numbers of vets other than your regular practitioner. We have a severe shortage of vets in our area, which can lead to most basic vet care being pricier, and rendering emergency care astronomical in cost.

Okay, back on topic. Because, as I mentioned above, I know my horses and I make it my job to become accustomed to my clients’ horses and their daily habits or routines, it’s easy for me to know fairly early on if there is a problem that needs attention. We should all do the same for each and every horse we care for, which may save some of us a great deal of grief and expense down the road.

Be observant!

If you notice something out of character or out of place, check it out. Better safe than sorry. If the horse is laying down more than is normal for that horse, get them up, check gums for color, eyes for brightness, listen for gut sounds and glance around the stall or paddock to see if there’s any reasonably fresh manure or any other signs of elimination.

Also of vital importance is to check up on his water intake -- the more water a horse consumes (up to a point), the better. If he lives with other horses, move him to a separate stall so you can monitor him alone, at least for a while.

If all clues (or at least most of them) point toward a colic episode, begin walking the horse in an effort to help him pass whatever may be causing the symptoms. Remember, all colic is, really, is stomach pain or discomfort, it is not a stand alone illness, and may or may not need more intensive treatment. Some horses are prone to colicking, some rarely exhibit any of the telltale signs.

Generally I will administer a dose of Banamine just before I begin the walking regimen, which helps to ease the pain and calm much of the muscle cramping and stress. If the horse passes manure or gas and begins to appear like he’s feeling better within a reasonable amount of time, wonderful. If you see no improvement within an hour (or immediately if you notice things deteriorating), call your vet. It’s actually not a bad idea to alert your veterinarian at the earliest onset of symptoms, even if only by contacting their emergency exchange, to let him or her be aware you have something going on with your horse that they may need to treat.

Be prepared, however, when you do speak with your vet (or their answering service), to explain in detail what’s going on, what you think may be wrong and what you have observed, because they will ask you so they can best determine the course of action and how high of a priority the situation with your horse needs to be on their list.

Sometimes a horse will injure itself and it will be something you can easily treat yourself, other times you will need to get a vet’s care.

Keep a close eye on your equine and gather as much understanding as you can about his or her normal activities and how they look. You might be called on to save his or her life one day!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Western Riding ~ It's Not What You Think!

What do you ordinarily think of when you hear the term “Western Riding”? More than likely, you envision a simple scene of a horse decked out in a Western saddle and bridle. Right? Wrong! Well, in a way...they do wear the tack.

Some folks call the Western Riding class a poor man’s Reining, however what it really is might be more like Dressage under Western appointments. Sort of.

During a Western Riding class you must negotiate a simple pattern of directional changes and with them, flying lead changes. Below I’ve included copies of the four basic USEF patterns, though patterns approved by the AQHA, APHA, ApHC, PtHA and other associations may vary somewhat (which is why it’s always a good idea to consult your rule book!).

As you can see on Pattern 1 (which has long been the most commonly used), you begin your pattern by walking into the arena and almost immediately pick up the jog, then cue your horse into a jog and just after the pole you ask for a lope. Continuing around the corner at a lope you then perform a series of serpentines through a set of cones with a flying change of lead in the middle of each distance between cones. The other patterns have basic variations on the same theme.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s far easier than it looks.

First, you have to make sure your horse is well schooled in those lead changes, because you’ll get drastically knocked in points if your horse scotches or attempts a simple change of lead. The idea here is nice, smooth flying changes and an even manner. Go back and re-read the feature here on flying changes if you need more assistance! Convenient link: Whoa! Stopping & Spinning To Win...And Flying Lead Changes Too!.

Then you need to be sure you have a smooth enough mover to win in the Pleasure classes, because movement and style are also major factors. One of the first considerations in judging a Western Riding class is quality of the horse’s gaits. Also important are manners and how well the horse responds to the rider. Both light contact (Which can be a misnomer -- I’ll go into more detail with my thoughts on that in the future!) and a “reasonably” loose rein are acceptable, as long as you can communicate well with your horse. In addition, when crossing the log (or pole) in each pattern, the horse should cross at both the jog and the lope without breaking gait or “radically” changing stride (wording directly from the rule book).

On the patterns show above, those small circles denote markers, generally orange cones, between which the lead changes should occur. A uniform distance of 30-50 feet is set between each marker down the side line with five markers, depending on the horses entered. On that count, for instance, if at an Arabian show, you can generally use a shorter distance, versus larger Quarter Horses with big doses of Thoroughbred blood. There should be a width of 50-80 feet on all patterns and the markers should be set a minimum distance of 15 feet from each rail.

Classes are scored using a points system, where between +1.5 and -1.5 are added to or deducted from an average score of 70 for each maneuver. There are also separate points penalties assessed for a number of things. Many open or schooling shows won’t necessarily announce scores, even if the judge bases his or her placings on those scores.

Included in penalties are deducting five points for things like failure to change leads at the proper place, cross cantering and blatant minor disobediences such as kicking out or bucking. Three points will be deducted for not performing specific gaits called for or not stopping at the appropriate place, breaking gait or executing a simple change of lead as opposed to a flying lead change and a few other faults. For hitting or rolling the log, being out of the correct lead for more than one stride on either side of the center point between each marker, among others, you will lose one point and one half point will be subtracted from your score for touching the log, the horse’s hind legs skipping during a lead change or a ‘non-simultaneous’ lead change.

The following results in disqualification: Illegal equipment, willful abuse of the horse, going off course, knocking over one or more markers, missing the log entirely, a major refusal by the horse to perform any required part of the pattern, a major disobedience such as rearing, a rider schooling the horse and the horse failing to change leads four or more times during the pattern (which also applies to four or more simple lead changes).

Credit for the overall performance shall be given to the horse and rider team for performing all lead changes simultaneously in the front and back, changing leads at the center point between markers, keeping an even pace throughout the pattern, performing an accurate and smooth pattern, the horse proving to be guided and controlled with the reins and legs easily as well as exhibiting good manners and a good disposition.

Conversely, things such as gaping at the mouth, raising the head excessively, anticipating and performing early lead changes, stumbling or getting any extraordinary or unnecessary aid from the rider (like too much talking to the horse, excessive petting of the horse and any unnecessary spurring, hitting with the reins or jerking of the reins).

Often the Western Riding class will be included in the list of qualifying classes for year end or daily All Around High Point awards at both the open shows and some breed circuits (most notably the APHA and AQHA), so if you’re looking to compete with the “do it all” exhibitors and your horses, be sure to add Western Riding to your repertoire.

As you can see, this is a fairly complicated class with rather specific guidelines on how to perform the patterns and how you’ll be judged. It is a fun class and can be an interesting departure for your Pleasure horse who might be bored with the same old ring-around-the-rosey events.

Try it at the next show where it’s offered, you never know, you may like it (and I know your horse will have a great time doing it)!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Medic! Common Sense First Aid for Horses

One of the integral parts of any horse owner’s life is going to be vet bills. That’s just a cold, hard fact that we all need to accept. But there are some things horse owners can keep on hand which can assist in an emergency situation such as when a horse is injured or stricken by a non-serious illness. That’s what we are covering here this month.

If your horse is like many of them, he will figure out the darndest things to injure himself on. I have had the escape artists get gate snaps hooked through their lower lips by playing with and chewing on those snaps (twice), I’ve had one gelding get a hoof caught between a pipe panel and the welded wire attached to it, one client’s filly got a foreleg caught in a pipe panel gate at home a one Summer and cause a fracture, another client’s mare got a back shoe caught in the welded wire on her paddock at home and caused tremendous scars from being down, laying in her urine for several hours before they found her the next morning -- I’ve had all sorts of things happen, and that’s with pampered show horses.

Caring for horses is oftentimes worse than caring for small children. They injure themselves and get themselves into situations which can damage them more often, and frequently that damage is far more expensive. It goes without saying, as horse owners we need to keep a veritable pharmacy at hand for the things our horses do to themselves.

I always try to have clean rags, towels, cotton and gauze pads on hand for cleaning wounds, along with a saline wound wash (Betadine Scrub also for certain injuries or instances) and a few remedies for wound care, depending on the severity, such as Granulex, Blu-Kote, Corona, Furacin, Aloe Comfrey and even good old human Neosporin (which is a triple antibiotic) and GREAT stuff for treatment. Unless the injury needs to be sewn them up and there is no call for stitches you can do a fairly good job of bandaging them up yourself. Well, bandaging infers wrapping, and unless absolutely necessary, I prefer to allow wounds to breathe naturally, they tend to heal better, though I do like the aluminum based spray on “bandage” which helps keep dirt, hair and grime from getting in the injury.

Other remedies and products I like to have on hand are the drawing agent Ichthammol, the coagulant Wonder Dust, Povidine, Clear Eyes, DMSO and another terrific human product, Desenex (which works fabulous on fungus’ or other skin conditions like scratches). But I am always open to new things that work well, whether originally intended for equine use or not.

I also keep both Bute (phenylbutazone) and Banamine (flunixin meglumine) around, the Bute (in paste form) which assists more with bone-related pain and injectable Banamine which is better for muscle-related pain, such as during a colic episode. Both are NSAID’s (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs) and do their respective jobs exceptionally well.

Speaking of injections, know how to give one safely! They aren’t difficult (unless you have a difficult horse to begin with, in which case you need a humane twitch and/or a good stud chain) and sometimes very necessary. Once you learn how -- your vet, your trainer or an experienced horsey friend can teach you -- there will be no need to pay your vet for giving regular vaccinations, either, so there is a side benefit. I keep a supply of 18 and 20 gauge needles, syringes of various sizes and rubbing alcohol (or the pre-moistened patches for that purpose) on hand just in case.

You should also know how to take your horse’s temperature (for which you need to purchase a horse-specific thermometer, available at most tack stores) and to listen for gut sounds in a colicking horse with a stethoscope, which you can find via any number of medical supply companies relatively inexpensively.

Another thing you may want to have around, though because of the expense most of us do not have a full compliment of sizes, are Easyboots (or one of the knockoffs) in case you’re dealing with a hoof injury. They also can come in handy to take trail riding for when your horse unexpectedly loses a shoe, so they’re multi-use.

Tranquilizers in your supply fridge are also a good idea, my personal preference is a cocktail of Torbugesic and Rompun or good old Acepromazine, though the Ace tends to make them far more sleepy. These, too, are injectable, so knowing how to give shots truly is essential.

You will want to know how to wrap an injured leg correctly, for instance if you are treating a tendon or ligament injury. This requires some practice to master the skill, along with several substances or appliances which will help accomplish what you need, like Telfa pads, a roll of cotton (or cotton bandaging pads), Vetrap, a similar product or good standing wraps, and bandage scissors.

Keep a flashlight out by the horses or, like we do, next to the front door for dealing with injuries at night if you don’t have a well lit barn. I also have a flashlight in my horse trailer, and my husband has a high powered work light we keep handy which has been very helpful in a couple of situations.

It is essential that you know if your horse needs immediate veterinary care. Obviously, for broken bones, injuries needing sutures, possible founder, severe colic cases and other potentially life threatening situations or severe injuries you will need to have your horse seen as soon as possible by your veterinarian. But knowing how to take care of minor things along with having the ability to stabilize your horse or make him more comfortable until the vet arrives (or you arrive at the vet hospital) can make a world of difference to your horse.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winterization (yes, it’s for horses, too)

What do we mean by “Winterizing” your horse (or where your horse lives)? Very simply put, making sure your horse will get through the cold and blustery Wintertime without incident.

One of the first things you want to be sure you do is to secure a water source that won’t freeze up when temperatures dip way down. We actually ran into this problem a few years ago and it was miserable having to haul buckets of warmer water from the house down to dozens of horses! That was not an enjoyable experience, especially considering the air temp outside was in the teens. Yes, it was bad.

Making sure all water pipes are at least a foot or two underground (minimum!) and all exposed PVC pipe is insulated can be a life saver. Some hardware stores also sell a “heat tape” sort of a product that you can wrap around the pipes which, after plugging it in, will help keep them from freezing. But one thing we ran into during our big freeze mentioned above was automatic waterers in the barns freezing in the basins and up into the pipes, so you want to make sure you have barrels or buckets available during those times if you live in an area where it gets cold enough to freeze water lines.

Also, with your water hoses, I recommend pulling them out straight before you retire for the night, because frozen hoses are near to impossible to uncoil until later in the day when the sun warms them, if it shows up at all. Another suggestion is to unhook each hose from it’s faucet connection and drain water that can freeze overnight out of the hose.

As long as you water all the horses in the later afternoon when all should be thawed, you won’t necessarily have to worry about them going without, but these tips will help you be on the safe side. Like our local water company says -- Water Is Life!

Next, you want to make sure your feed is stored where rainwater or snow won’t be an issue leading to mold. Depending on how many horses you’re feeding, you may not necessarily have large quantities of hay and other feeds to keep dry and edible for any length of time (unless you like to bring in a load of feed that will last you more than a few weeks at a time), but you still want to keep your supply from spoiling, which can cause sick horses, and we ALL want to avoid that.

If you feed hay, that hay can get a little damp and be safely fed to horses as long as it doesn’t sit long enough to grow nasty disgusting mold, but by that I mean within 12-24 hours of getting wet. A lot of feed stores or hay brokers will allow hay to get damp while sitting being stored while they wait for customers to purchase it, so one of my guidelines in the Winter or wet weather is to put my dealers on notice that if I find any mold in my feed supply, I WILL be returning it for replacement or a refund. The last thing I need is a horse to become ill because it consumed moldy, dusty hay!

The same goes for bagged feed, be sure to keep them out of the moisture. Many feed companies have gone to plastic bags from the old standby paper, which has helped, however they can tend to lead to more problems if they do happen to get wet, because that plastic can trap the moisture inside.

Now we come to the horses themselves, and I realize that many folks do not have access to a nice, warm and cozy barn for their horses to live in. Yes, I’ve been there, too and had to cope with it. You can start by making certain you have well fitting insulated blankets for the inclement weather.

I covered blanketing as it's own topic not long ago, but I'm repeating some of that here for those who missed it. My rule of thumb for blanketing horses in the Winter is actually quite simple. Horses grow that woolly coat for a reason. They can regulate their temperatures just fine without our intervention as long as they stay dry. It’s when we begin messing with Mother Nature (as in body clipping) or if they do not have access to decent shelter that we get into trouble, because too much rain or snow will soak through the coat to the skin. Also, some horses just prefer to stand outside, uncovered, in the rain, which frankly I have never understood!

If I body shave a horse for showing purposes, we blanket in layers with a lycra hood and day sheet under a heavier hood and blanket. That goes without saying. For the horses who will spend the Winter au naturel, unless they will for sure be exposed to the elements, I don’t bother blanketing either. But if they are outside where they can get soaked, they’re going to be wearing their jammies until the threat of storms passes.

Also, for my frail oldtimers, especially if they do not have somewhere they can go to get out of the frozen wind, sleet, driving rain or snow, I will blanket them if it gets under 40 degrees at night. They usually don’t wear those blankets during the day, however, unless temperatures just do not warm up (and this can be gauged on a day-to-day basis).

If you do choose to start regularly blanketing your horses when the temps dip, just keep in mind that it’s got to be a regular routine and you can’t just blow it off because you don’t feel like removing the blankets one day or don’t want to go out and blanket your horses after a particularly tiring day. They’re counting on you, so don’t let them down!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Fabulous Friday! R is for Rescue...

Today for fun I thought I would give a shout out to my favorite horse rescue organizations and offer them support. Rescues (legitimate ones, recognized tax exempt, non-profits which do not engage in unethical behavior ~ there is a massive difference) need all the help and support they can get these days.

All three of these groups I have personal experience with, I have been to their facilities and know the owners/founders/people involved personally. All three of which I have no qualms about supporting, both financially and otherwise. While I may not always agree 100% with every policy of every rescue even I support, the good work they do far exceeds any minor changes I would personally make.

First up is Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue in Lancaster, California. A major success story, LWHR did not start out that way. Founder Jill Starr and Assistant Manager Chris Vilmer do an outstanding job of running their rescue, providing for the horses in their care and they have build a strong donor base over the years. They regularly hold fund raisers and other events, plus education plays a major part in their program. I give a huge kudos and two enthusiastic thumbs up to Jill, Chris and their entire team for the incredible work they do.

Link to their website here: Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue.

Next is Mustang-Spirit Rescue right here in Pinon Hills, California. The history of M-S only goes back seven years, but in that time they have proven to be one of the very best in California. Care is first rate and not enough good can be said for founder Tania Bennett's hands on approach to helping horses. They routinely throughout the year have fundraising events and assist in efforts to help educate the public. Theirs is a wonderful endeavor and I wholeheartedly encourage folks to learn more about their mission.

Link to their website here: Mustang-Spirit Rescue.

Finally we have Under the Angels Wings Rescue nearby in Phelan, California. Founded by Courtney Hobson in the late 1990's as a mere dream of saving horses, UAWR has become a leader in equine rescue. Focused on giving horses a second chance, Courtney doubles as trainer and evaluator with her years of experience in riding and training, she was voted one of the Most Inspiring Women of the High Desert a couple of years ago and took part in the Extreme Mustang Trail Challenge in Norco, CA last May as one of the chosen trainers.

Link to their website here: Under the Angels Wings Rescue.

Please look into supporting horse rescue ~ the horses NEED you!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Quintessential Equitation Handbook

Or not. This is my synopsis, however. ;)

What is the difference between “pleasure” and “equitation”, anyhow? As any seasoned horse show exhibitor can tell you, while pleasure classes are judged on the horse (by marking positives and negatives on such things as how mannerly he is, how well he moves, how much quality he possesses and how well he obediently responds to his rider’s cues), equitation, on the other hand, is all about the rider.

Hopefully, this post will be beneficial to helping you better understand the nuances of how to turn in that perfect equitation ride, or at least gain some insight into what such a class should consist of. Today’s equitation division is divided into several disciplines, based mainly on their pleasure counterparts, with a few exceptions.

English Equitation is, like the class title suggests, for riders outfitted in English attire, and can generally be found at a wide variety of show venues. Some breeds and circuits, however (like Arabian and Morgan, for instance), will divide this category into Hunter Seat Equitation (for exhibitors competing in Hunt attire and riding in a forward seat saddle) and Saddleseat Equitation (for those wearing Saddleseat suits and appointments, and riding in a flat saddle). Within the English divisions are Equitation Over Fences, where riders are judged on their form while jumping a course, and the self-explanatory Dressage Seat Equitation.

For Western riders, options include Horsemanship (which usually requires a basic pattern of maneuvers) and Western Equitation, along with Stock Seat (or Reining Seat) Equitation, where riders compete while executing a Reining pattern.

An education in Equitation generally begins when we start to take riding lessons, and should focus on just the basics of riding and maneuvering the horse to start. But when we want to advance into the show ring, that education must give us more finesse in our riding style, to go along with the practicality we learn in the beginning.

In order to advance and excel in the Equitation arena, a rider must first get those basics down. The essentials of a good seat, good soft hands and the ability to effectively use your legs are an absolute. Equally important, however, is the ability to not only physically and verbally communicate with the horse (getting an immediate, correct response) but to convey to the horse your make it look smooth, effortless and as though horse and rider are one.

Your level of success depends largely on two factors: How talented you are as a rider; and how skilled your instructor is in getting to the heart of that talent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those with lesser natural talent cannot excel, it just means they have to work a lot harder.

Now let’s dissect the three basic seats -- Stock Seat, Hunter Seat and Saddleseat.

In the Western world, nothing eclipses the importance of a rider’s seat. It just isn’t possible to succeed without being able to sit deep and push the horse into a good, solid stop. Getting the horse to learn pivoting on the haunches, turning on the forehand and even performing pretty loping circles (let alone flying lead changes) cannot happen without learning how to develop a good seat. As a judge and riding instructor, I also want to see very light hands, meaning a rider must learn to control the horse more with seat and leg pressure than through direct reining, and please keep your foot and leg position where it's effective instead of pointing your toes too perfectly straight ~ this is a common mistake I often see. Maintaining balance, sitting with your hips well set down in the saddle (“on your pockets”) and keeping your shoulders square are also paramount. What I look for most is effortless communication with the horse.

Keep your arms at your side, my personal preference is to use romal reins, however split reins are perfectly fine. My main issue with kids who show in splits is that balled up hand held in the air, as though they’re getting ready to punch someone and generally with the elbow too bent for my liking. Remember the rule of shoulder to hip to back of heel, and ride accordingly. I frequently see riders with their legs too bent and their legs too far forward. That may be fine for a nice relaxing trail ride, but it’s not good Equitation!

Be sure your saddle fits you. I find this to be more common in a Western saddle than in English ones, and often in the leg department. If the fenders do not allow you to ride with a long leg comfortably, then it isn’t the right saddle for you.

When venturing into the Hunter Seat Eq arena, the use of legs almost eclipses the importance of a good deep seat, as using those legs is vital to maintaining a correct, balanced seat and proper position. There is a reason we know the Hunt Seat saddle as “forward seat”, though to be sure that does not mean the rider should remain in the two point position, perched forward at all times! This is a personal pet peeve of mine, particularly in over fences classes where I routinely see riders do this (stunningly often at their instructor’s command) and too many of them become unseated because of it.

A rider should be ever so slightly tipped forward, with shoulders back and head up, looking ahead. This does not, however, mean you lean forward! Slightly elevate yourself over the pommel of your saddle and, when posting, rise with the saddle in a sweeping forward motion. Sitting square, using your hips effectively and keeping your lower leg quiet while posting are of the essence.

Our final area of discussion is Saddleseat, where finesse and grace are of utmost importance. Somewhat similar to a combination of what’s correct in both Stock Seat and Hunter Seat, the accomplished Saddleseat Equitation rider can sit atop one of the peacocks of the show ring at close to Mach 5 while giving the appearance of being the guest of honor at a child’s tea party.

Remembering that vitality and presence coupled with animation are what’s expected out of a flat saddle English horse, maintaining poise yet showing strength will win every time. Seat position mirrors that of Western, as well as a longer leg, though the rider will sit a little taller and a little bit further back with raised hands from the elbows forward to assist with keeping the horse’s head properly elevated.

While riding an English horse, the rider’s lower legs should ideally be slightly off the horse, unlike Hunt seat, where they should be using the knees to post and only engage their calves if necessary to extend the horse’s gaits. A smooth, rocking seat moving effortlessly with the horse is very important as well. Posting is also not at all alike, but more in an up and down fashion, tucking and engaging the seat as opposed to posting forward to back as on a Hunter.

In the future I’ll go into more detail and give some in depth tips on patterns. Until then, eat~sleep~RIDE!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Starting The Young Horse Under Saddle, Part II

I actually meant to put up this post back in late August when I added Part 1. Now I'm finally getting around to it. :) Enjoy:

Foundation -- according to Webster’s Dictionary it means “the basis on which something rests”. The definition is clear and simple. If you start with a solid foundation, you can feel completely confident that what you build will last. If you apply that theory and principal toward training horses, inevitably you will have a well mannered animal who responds in the proper way to most any situation. First you must select a horse suitable to your needs as a rider, and to the purpose for which you intend to use him. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy a task as it would seem to be.

Many years ago I was contacted by a local Corona, California, trainer and riding instructor regarding one of the columns I had written on the use and benefits of snaffle bits. It is my sincere belief that any horse can, when properly trained, be ridden in a mild snaffle without incident (as you have read here before). Well, the gentleman in question brought up a couple of incidents where children had gotten hurt riding their horses down the streets of Norco, another nearby California town. According to him, they couldn’t control the animals because they were using snaffle bits. He disagreed with my views for that reason alone.

The problem is, children should never be allowed to ride horses they cannot handle. Period. Especially on the street where things can get dangerous real quick. If those kids had been mounted on safe, well trained horses there never would have been a problem. Most parents, however, don’t want to spend the extra money it costs to purchase a trained animal (and I don’t mean the old nag down the street that Johnny used to barrel race on) in the first place. It costs the same to feed and provide care for a poor, untrained example of horseflesh as it does a top notch well trained one. In the long run, that initial purchase price can pay for itself many times over. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to buy a top show horse if the kid isn’t interested in showing, but isn’t making sure the horse is safe rather important? The next step is to put the horse in training with someone competent and to insist that anyone who will be riding the horse takes lessons. Again, it’s not cheap to have a horse with a trainer, especially a good one, but isn’t your child’s safety the most important thing in the world?

That said, let’s get back to work. We left off at the point of having the horse ready to work in a bitting rig. Once he is comfortable about the bridle and surcingle, being longed in it and so forth, side reins can be introduced, gradually shortening the length of rein until the horse has the desired headset. By gradually I am NOT talking about within the same training session. Depending on the horse’s reaction, I want to see only small increments of tightening done each day. Some horses will all but throw themselves on the ground the first time they come up against any sort of pressure on their mouths. Some will accept the bit and pressure on the reins from the get-go like they’d been doing it all their lives.

Now, by "headset" I am referring to the horse's ability to carry himself without gawking at his surroundings or looking skyward. I prefer my horses to go with their heads "set" reasonably for their conformation, the task they may later be asked to perform in the show ring notwithstanding. We all know there are certain expected standards for most horse show endeavors, so that goes without saying.

Naturally, not everything can be accomplished in a single training session. Ideally, they should be spread out over several weeks. Once the horse accepts the essential elements of his new working wardrobe, his trainer can begin working him in longlines. It is very important to remember that some horses are afraid of the lines (which can be regular cotton longe lines) moving across their backs and especially touching their legs.

I recommend that everyone do their long lining in a round pen or “bull pen”. There the horse is in a confined enough area that he really can’t run away. If he does run, it will just be in circles and he’ll be easy to get stopped. As with longeing, one should always try to stay toward the horse’s hindquarters (never standing within kicking range, of course!), but the goal is to keep the horse moving forward. The key word here is FORWARD! The other important thing for everyone to remember is not to allow those long lines or driving reins to get tangled up around your feet. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Depending on the horse’s attention span and level of maturity, the trainer might be able to have him ground driving nicely within a couple of weeks and ready to ride soon. One terribly important factor in properly long lining is to make sure you don’t hang on the horse’s mouth. Just as with riding, we want to keep his mouth as soft and responsive as possible. Light “bumping” should accomplish what you want, and sometimes you’ll need to bump him a little harder to get your point across, but you don’t want to create a horse who leans on your hands.

There are a few things any good trainer should have settled before mounting a green horse who’s never been ridden before, and they all relate to safety. First, he ought to make sure there is someone with him in the ring. I like to have someone hold the horse while I mount him in case he decides to leave the area. Should the horse try to bolt, the person holding his halter rope (I always keep a halter on under the bridle when getting on a young horse for the first few times) can then get him stopped quickly, easily and without hurting his mouth -- which is the reason I have a handler holding a lead rope attached to the halter in the first place. I also personally prefer to get on a horse and ride him in the round pen for at least the first two weeks or so. This way he doesn’t have a chance to go running across a huge arena trying to buck me off! Of course, many would-be horse trainers don’t have access to a round pen, in which case they simply pray a lot. (Just kidding!)

Remember...this is only the very beginning. I divide training horses into three segments: Starting, Training, Finishing. Just about anyone can start a horse, and most semi-knowledgeable people could do a reasonable job of giving them the basics. Where the tricky parts come in is with the job of finishing the horse and ensuring they are ready to go down the road carrying any rider and doing any job they’re asked to do without hesitation. If you, as the owner, can successfully get your horse this far without the help of a professional, congratulations. However, I recommend that 99% of amateurs get the advice of a trainer before tackling the job of starting a young horse on their own.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bits ~ Their Usage & Application

This is one of those topics so many people disagree on, not unlike a feeding program. Every trainer (and many owners) has a different opinion on bits, but here's my take.

On a fairly regular basis I am approached by people with the question of what bit they should use on their horse. If you’ve read previous installments of this blog that I've written on the topic of bits, by now you’ve probably ascertained I am a staunch advocate of the snaffle. I am, however, also patently aware of the fact that in the show ring with a multitude of classes, such as the Western disciplines and some Saddleseat-type English horses, unless your mount is a junior horse (five years old or younger, depending on the breed affiliation) you cannot show the animal in a snaffle bit.

Now, I’m not one to unnecessarily make waves, but I am of the belief that whoever wrote our show rules for many of the breed associations (as well as the USEF/USAE, formerly the American Horse Shows Association) didn’t think things through very well and did not take certain factors into account. For instance, why are we allowed to show our Hunter Seat horses in snaffle bits at any age, yet not allowed to do so with our Western mounts unless they fall into that futurity or junior horse category?

Why is it we’re allowed to show all our English horses with cavessons (a wonderful tool) yet none of our Western horses? Why is it in the Arabian breed we can show our Saddleseat English pleasure and Country English pleasure horses, according to the rule book, in single snaffle bits at any age, yet we’re penalized if we do so? Why on Earth are Arabian Park horses required to show in a full bridle unless they’re five or younger?

Why is it in most Western/stock-type breeds (Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas) that so many people show a snaffle bit horse with a curb strap on the bit in Western classes -- but not English classes -- which usually only serves the purpose of annoying the horse by banging him on the chin because they’re so floppy? Why as well in those breeds must you show a Western snaffle bit horse by holding both reins in each hand instead of one in each hand, like the English classes are ridden, when all it does it prevent you from properly using your reins?

One thing that really got me thinking about bits, how they are used and the equipment we use with them, aside from the confusion they create for so many people, was an incident which happened long ago in my training career. About twenty-five years ago, I was showing a three year old Half-Arabian Pinto gelding for a client at Pinto shows in addition to Arabian shows, and to both my client’s and my surprise, we were informed that at a Pinto breed show you could not show a young horse still in a snaffle bit with two hands on the reins in any Western pleasure class unless it was limited to green or junior horses. To my amazement, I was told even a snaffle bit horse must be shown with only one hand on snaffle reins in any other class in the Western pleasure division. As I pointed out to show officials, Pinto Horse Association officials plus other trainers and exhibitors, this entirely defeats the concept of using a snaffle bit! Needless to say, and thankfully for many of us, those rules have been changed.

Many people today still see the snaffle bit as only a training tool for the very young, inexperienced horse and figure once their horse has graduated to accepting the curb bit he has to be ridden in one from now on. Not so! I ride all my horses, regardless of age or level of experience, in snaffles -- period -- unless I’m getting them ready for an upcoming competition where they’ll need to be ridden in something else. What I hope to accomplish in this installment, however, is to dispel the myths regarding various types of bits, how they are used and why.

Since most average horse owners trail ride, and most trail riders prefer to ride Western saddles, I’ll begin with Western-style curb bits. As I have explained before, the curb works with leverage against the horse’s jaw. In training horses as well as using bits, I prefer to subscribe to the “less is more” theory. This philosophy as it pertains to curb bits can refer to either the length of shank, the severity of the mouthpiece or both. For most horses or ponies, the shorter the shank the better. With some people, if they have a large horse or if they’re a small rider and they have trouble getting the headset they desire out of the horse (which does NOT equate collection, but that's a whole other blog post), generally the first choice of bit will be a longer shanked curb. My advice is to get the horse trained first! If you do feel the need to use such a bit, proceed with caution (as you should do with ANYTHING you put on your horse or in his mouth).

As far as trail riding in a curb, some folks say they like doing so because they can keep one hand free for doing other things, like drinking a soda or taking a swig off a water bottle (I shudder to think what else they might be thinking of doing while out on the trail, but that’s another story, too!). Okay, that’s an acceptable answer, but first you should examine the actual mouthpiece and structure of your bit.

Western curb mouthpieces can vary from straight bars to high ported “cathedral” or “spade” bits. My advice is to stay away from anything too drastic though, to first and foremost provide the horse with a little bit of tongue relief and, perhaps, a cricket or roller to keep him occupied. Now, many people can’t stand a horse who constantly twirls the cricket in his mouth, and I must admit that can be a tremendously annoying habit, but it does help some otherwise nervous horses calm down and focus. I also prefer a bit with solid cheeks, one that doesn’t move from where it is attached to the mouthpiece.

Your most important criteria, however, should always be, “What bit does my horse like best?”, and I don’t mean, “What bit do I think my horse should like?”. Sometimes a good indication of what a horse will go well in is the bit his previous owner or trainer rode him in. I say sometimes only because it depends entirely on how well the horse actually performed for those who rode him in said bit, and how knowledgeable or competent said owner and trainer may have been. My favorite curb mouthpieces for Western horses are the Frog and the Sweetwater, though there are literally dozens of them, some more acceptable than others ~ and I have most of them. ;) The only riders who should use spades are those gently and thoroughly trained in the art of using them, by someone who is truly good, knowledgeable and understanding about such bits, as you can severely injure a horse with one without meaning to. Correction with a spade is a tricky business. I don’t recommend them.

As with all types of bits, snaffles themselves can come in a variety of configurations, from the smooth mouthed, to the twisted wire (in various forms as well), to the gag, to the mullen, to the waterford, to the corkscrew, to the fishback mouthpiece with it’s razor-sharp edge, among many others. They can also have full cheeks or half cheeks, round rings, Dee rings, offset Dee's and Eggbutt (oval-shaped) rings. They even make “snaffles” from, of all things, actual chain and bicycle chains! For the most part, the choice of which snaffle you should use largely depends on what you want to accomplish. There is certainly nothing wrong with occasionally putting a twist bit in a horse’s mouth to help him remember not to lean too heavily on your hands, assuming of course that you aren’t causing him to lean in the first place by pulling on his mouth. It takes a very light hand to be a good horseman, whatever bit you may choose.

For English-type show horses, in addition to the availability of a myriad of snaffles, there are several choices for both Hunt seat and Saddleseat horses. A standard favorite of many Hunter exhibitors is the Kimberwicke, a sort of combination between the curb and snaffle. Praised for it’s ability to give a rider more “control” than a snaffle bit, the Kimberwicke works off a curb chain using leverage like most curbs, though it can have either a solid unjointed mouthpiece like that of a curb, or a broken snaffle-type mouthpiece, and can have varying degrees of tongue relief, ports and even crickets. However, just as I’ve explained before, control shouldn’t be a primary consideration for choosing a bit. If your horse works well, stays on the bit and keeps his mouth quiet with a Kimberwicke, then by all means use one. Just remember -- if you’re using a harsh bit because the horse tries to be out of control otherwise, I’d put him back in training.

Another possibility for both Hunt seat and Saddleseat exhibitors is the pelham bit. The only major drawback for some people in using one of these is the fact that you have two sets of reins to hold in each hand. The pelham is a shanked bit, not unlike a Western curb, with varying lengths of shank and a curb chain attached under the jaw. Frequently this type of bit will utilize what we call a lip chain or lip strap, which is attached to the lower section of the curb part of the bit, where there are tiny loops just for this reason. The lip chain (or strap) simply prevents the horse from flipping the bit upside down in his mouth, or rotating the bit upward. There are two rings protruding off the shank (unlike only one at the end of a Western-type bit), one at the point where the mouthpiece is located and the other at the end of the shank. The upper rein is called the “snaffle rein” and the lower rein is called the “curb rein”, although they both work in different ways on the same mouthpiece. The snaffle rein is the primary riding rein (at least when the pelham is properly used!) and the curb rein is used only to set the horse’s head vertically -- or “bump” his nose inward. Perhaps waning a bit in popularity, in part due to the fact that many riders have a tough time holding all those reins properly, the pelham is an effective tool for gently getting the horse to set his head without having to be heavy on his mouth. Pelhams themselves come in a wide variety of mouthpieces (similar to the choices with a Kimberwicke) and shank lengths, from the two inch long or so “tom thumb” version seen on many hunters and jumpers, to the seven or eight inch long pelhams preferred by Saddleseat riders.

Most commonly used on Saddleseat-type horses (in breeds such as Saddlebreds, Morgans, Arabians and National Show Horses to name a few) is the Weymouth, commonly referred to as the “full bridle” or “double bridle” because it uses two separate bits. Like the pelham, it uses two sets of reins, but they each attach to a different bit. The snaffle part of the double bridle is called the bradoon, and it’s actually a thinner version of a regular snaffle bit that has very small round rings, although there are some varieties which are gaining in popularity such as bigger rings, Dee rings and thicker mouthpieces. A double bridle’s curb bit is actually very similar to a pelham, only without the upper rings. It is used with a curb chain and lip chain as well. In addition to Saddleseat horses, many Dressage mounts are ridden in them -- they are required in the upper levels. Arabian Show Hack horses are also frequently shown in Weymouth bridles, too, only with much shorter shanks akin to those used in Dressage. Difficult for some folks to assemble as well as put on the horse, the double bridle can be confusing, too. If you’re planning to show with one, ask someone with experience to teach you how to use it!

With many horses, bits outside the universally accepted norm are indicated. Dr. Bristols and French Link snaffles help quite a number of horses immensely, because they allow for more freedom of the tongue, they are terrific for horses with a lower palate and place pressure on a different part of the mouth than a standard snaffle. Some companies, like Myler and Herm Sprenger, are coming out with new ideas in bits created by new thinking. The concept is to have a mouthpiece which conforms better to the horse’s mouth as well as new metals used in the making of their bits (such as Sprenger's invention, the nickel-free aurigan), rather than forcing the horse to accept and deal with a bit which might not fit ideally. It’s an excellent idea for which the time has come. Some of Myler's Comfort Snaffles©, however, are not show ring legal for junior horses, although they can be superb bits to use on just about any horse.

The last type of bit I will touch on here is the liverpool, used mainly for driving competitions. There are several different types of cheeks with a liverpool, as well as a number of different ways to attach the driving rein to the bit, but they all essentially serve the same purpose. Only a few times have I ever seen someone who doesn’t compete in open driving events use a liverpool bit, and I don’t recommend spending the money to purchase one unless it is required to show your horse in a particular specific event or division. They can be likened in appearance and function to a pelham but with a center set ring (as opposed to offset, such as with the pelham) at the top of the shank and several loops at different places in which to attach the rein. They can work with varying degrees of leverage with a curb chain, and are useful in helping to attain a certain degree of headset. Most breed oriented driving horses, however, are driven with a simple snaffle, often a half cheek to avoid the bit slipping through the horse’s mouth.

There are certain types of horses which traditionally use the same type of bit throughout their career, although they’re usually horses who’s owners, trainers or handlers are not concerned with a headset oriented performance. The bit of choice for most race horses, for instance, is just about always a smooth Dee ring snaffle. The purpose of a bit in a race horse’s mouth is simply something for him to grab hold of and push on, to guide him loosely around the track and eventually try to slow him down, period.

In upcoming posts we will get more into more in depth discussions of different types of training equipment, such as sidepulls, gag bits and bridles, “war bridles”, overchecks and sidechecks.

Here is a fun little tidbit which appeared with the original article...Test Your Knowledge About Bits:

Q: What bit is most commonly used for starting a young horse?

A: If you answered the Dee-Ring snaffle, you might not be entirely correct. Many trainers or owners begin by using either a large O-Ring or a Full Cheek. Frankly, ANY thicker, smooth snaffle bit will be a better choice than something rigid or harsh. The worst thing you can do is put something in a horse’s mouth which will frighten or especially hurt him when you’d like him to understand how to properly carry the bit and bridle. Better to teach him nothing’s going to hurt him if he’s going to be a saddle mount, so you don’t have any real issues once you’re in that saddle!