Monday, December 31, 2012

Sitting On The Brink Of A Brand New Year...

My New Year's resolution for 2013 is to find time to regularly contribute to this blog! How many times have I said just that? Too many, I know. We have such exciting things happening, so in addition to training tips, horsemanship advice, showing anecdotes and trail adventures, I'll be keeping folks up to date on what we're up to and all the news in our lives. If you're in Southern California, make plans to drop in for a visit!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Starting Over...All Over Again!

Many months have gone by and I've once again been neglecting this blog. We have had some major changes occur in our lives since I last posted back in February. All have been positive, some have been incredible!

I received a call from a friend back in April about needing a place for several horses to be boarded, which ultimately lead to my acquisition of and move to historic Hidden River Ranch Equestrian Center in Hesperia, California.

This post is going to be a short, quick one as I have nearly30 horses on the ranch begging for my attention this weekend. But I thought I'd bring everyone up to date!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

On Goes That Lightbulb...Blink!

One of my favorite things about training horses and teaching people to ride them are those "Aha!" moments when things begin to click for the first time. You can always tell when a horse is beginning to understand what's being communicated when their expression brightens and they respond in exactly the fashion you want them to. These are the moments I look forward to every day.

During my career as a trainer, I have had many such moments. One of my major goals is to help my clients and students have those moments, too. When rider and horse become one working on new concepts and mastering new tasks, it makes all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. This is what it's all about, the true definition of horsemanship.

Your trainer should be educating you while training your horse, explaining along the way what he or she is accomplishing (or seeking to accomplish). Those "light bulb" moments should be an educational experience for the horse owner, as well as the horse. Being able to see the difference in a horse's performance or a horse's reaction to various aids can be beneficial to the rider or owner. In fact, I consider it essential.

These days, there are many trainers for a horse owner to choose from, I've covered that topic before. But making sure both you and your horse are going to expand your horizons and enhance your education is imperative if you really want value for your hard earned dollars. In today's economy, ensuring that clients get their money's worth is another major goal for me. Feeling like you've actually gained something for what you've paid in training fees is paramount.

I do not generally use this blog as an advertising venue, however having spoken with so many people who are so jaded about the entire concept of putting their horses in training, I would like to extend an open invitation to everyone to come experience the Sunlit Farm difference.

We'll see you out there on the trail or in the show ring!


Thanks For The Memories

This evening while my daughter and I were cooling horses out after riding, we began talking about the sad fact that so many equine organizations which used to host horse shows no longer do. Even within the past five years, more than ten local horse clubs who were holding shows as of 2005 are no longer doing so.

Back in the early 1970's when I first began showing, we used to have at least 12 events within the Arabian breed community just at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona (California) ~ now called Fairplex. Pomona Valley Arabian Horse Club used to have at least two shows, Western Wranglers hosted a March show for many years, there was the extremely well respected Whittier Host Lions Club show every January and even a local horsemen's club called the Bloomington Saddle Pals used to hold an AHSA rated Class "A" Arabian show. Our Southern California Half Arabian Association always had an annual show, plus the Sierra Empire Arabian Horse Association. There was the Riverside Breeders club as well, having a couple of shows, plus another one or two. I'm sure I am missing some. Of course, we also had at least one or two all amateur shows and there was always the Fair show.

These days, there is one Arabian horse show left at Pomona, the Sierra Empire club has taken over the dates held by Whittier Lions for more than 50 years. In fact, all of the Arabian Horse Association's Region One only has five or six horse shows total left, including the Regional Championships. The Festa Del Mar show is not being held this year, and we have no dates as yet for the Half-Arab club's 2012 event.

I find this so incredibly sad, but it is a statement about what's happening within our industry.We have a dying industry. One that, without new blood to keep it alive, will go away. This is the reason why I spend so much time in outreach efforts, building goodwill and trying to lure in a new generation of  horse owners.

Horses have given me so much over the past 40+ years ~ it's the least I can do to give a little bit of something back.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Don't come back another day! Well, just a smidgen of rain overnight would be a nice thing, enough to wet down the arenas, water the trees and plants plus maybe wash off the truck. We want good weather for the start of our show season!! Bright blue skies and sunshine, please.

Check out the ETI Corral 88 website, we have a lot of good stuff in store: Click Here. This Saturday, Matt Sheridan of Sheridan Performance Horsemanship in Tehachapi will be out in Phelan giving a clinic for us. This one is full, but you can still drop by to audit for free. Our next clinic by Matt is going to be April 28th and those spots are going fast, too. They're almost gone already.

I did have some training topics we were going to cover this week, but I don't know if we'll get to them. Finding time to write these days can be a bit of a challenge, but I'm NOT complaining! It was rather nice taking Friday, Saturday and Sunday off from the blog, though. ;)


Monday, February 6, 2012


I survived my weekend at Horse Expo Pomona, but barely. Okay, that might be sort of an overstatement, but yesterday I seriously felt like the walking dead. A huge shoutout to Ponies For Parties out of El Monte with whom I got to spend those magical three days, thanks for the memories!! It was so much fun. Helping children experience horses and ponies has always been one of my favorite parts of my job, and this was no different.

Now we are on the countdown to our first show of the season, and I could not be more excited. While it's nothing fancy, once again we are beginning our show year with a smaller local show for our green horses and riders to gain experience, on the road to bigger events later on this year. We have several horses going, a couple to show under saddle, a Halter horse or two and others just to school and get some miles in the warm-up ring. Expect a full report Sunday evening!

I'll be signing off for now, stay tuned for more interesting, educational, entertaining and fun topics in the coming days, weeks and months. Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Horse Expo Pomona...Day One

Up at 4:30 when my alarm went off, but that's nothing new. Getting out the door on the first day of our Horse Expo Pomona adventure at 6:30 PM and I just got home. It's 9:45 as I write this. Can you say long day, anyone??

This blog might just be on a slight bit of a hiatus the next couple of days because I'm tired to the bone. My same schedule is going to repeat itself for the next two days and I'm not sure I'll be conscious by the end of Saturday night's festivities.

So with that, I'm off to devour my dinner and hit the hay. Until next time...


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Horse Expo Pomona is Here!

It will be one year ago tomorrow that I took my black Arabian gelding Beau Knight (NV Beau Bey x Jordgee Anna) to Equine Affaire down in Pomona, California to participate in their "Ride With The Best" program clinic with National level trainer Deborah Johnson of Reno-Tahoe Equestrian Center in Northern Nevada. I had a blast riding with Deb and getting her insight on this National quality Dressage and Hunter Pleasure horse.

On Friday, though I could not be present due to other commitments, my daughter accompanied a friend down to day two at EA. My friend rode her Paint mare with Chris Cox. The following day, Saturday, once again a friend and I went down to the venerable EA, this time to spectate, watch a few clinics given by my friend, trainer Matt Sheridan of Sheridan Performance Horsemanship in Tehachapi, and get a ringside seat for Craig Cameron's Extreme Cowboy Race.

It was one heck of a fun weekend!

Fast forward to last Summer, when the folks at Equine Affaire could not work out a deal with the Fairplex Pomona folks and decided to cancel their event, which had been held for the past eleven years. Apparently, the major sticking point was that the preferred weekend happens to be Super Bowl weekend. SAY WHAT? Since when do us horse people give a darn about football?!

Enter Western States Horse Expo founder, Miki Cohen, who produces the massive equine exposition each June up in Sacramento at Cal Expo. Miki heeded the cries of Southern Californians who were furious about not having an Equine Affaire in So Cal during 2012, and voila ~ we have Horse Expo Pomona. Thank goodness someone recognized that we desperately need events like this to kick start our horse industry.

Of course, some of us aren't exactly ecstatic that the marquee names for this first Expo are Pat & Linda Parelli, we do still hope this new exposition will be a rousing success. One of the major draws for the weekend is called "Project Cowboy", thought up by the folks who brought you Extreme Mustang Makeover and Road To The Horse, during which contestants will vie for $10,000 in prize money and a TV show. There will be a sister competition, called Project Cowgirl, held at the Western States Expo this June. Then the Cowboys and Cowgirls will compete against each other in Madison, Wisconsin at a later date.

So here we are, on the dawn of a whole new event. How exciting!!

Starting tomorrow, I'll be spending the next three days down in Pomona. If you're in the area or heading to the Expo, drop me an email and stop by to say hello! I'll be looking out for you. ;)


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Making Trails: Having Endless Fun In The Desert!

One of my favorite things has got to be exploring new trails from the back of a good horse. Even more fun is making new trails that traverse the landscape I love, utilizing both existing rights-of-way and dry washes as well as traipsing across hill and dale connecting each.

Traditionally I begin by determining where I want to ride to, coming up with an ultimate destination. Sometimes the journey becomes just as fun not knowing exactly where the trail will lead, though I’ll have a general direction and idea of where the terminus should be.

When the ground is wetted by a recent storm is the best time for trail building, as horse hooves will dig deeper into the soil and leave a clear path to follow later on. It is important to begin when there is no threat of rain again within a good week or so, and I like to lay down at least four to six sets of hoofprints on a new trail the first day, following that up with two to four sets each day for the next six days. By the end of the first week of a trail’s life, I want to have ridden the length of that trail a minimum of 20 to 30 times. This ensures the trail will be easily found by anyone riding in the area.

Setting out with a general direction in mind, I seek a relatively easy path through the underbrush, trees, bushes, rocks and other natural obstacles, though I prefer to add in minor challenges that would test a majority of average trail horses. Boring it should not be! The concept is to make each trail a fun and exciting excursion that neither rider or horse will tire of. Each trail needs to have sections which will on occasion test each team.

Here in the desert we do have various challenges, most of which I have written about over the past couple of years, and they need to be kept in mind. Joshua trees and Cholla bushes are two of the most dangerous, along with the ancient barbed wire fences which have often become hidden under years of growth. Just as with any situation, it’s important to keep aware of your surroundings. Getting a horse tangled in barbed wire or having to pluck cholla spines out of his legs is no fun for horse or rider!

Inevitably as I’m winding my way through the desert there will be places I make a decision to ride through a spot I’ll later regret -- bushes too close, maybe a section where there are a lot of rocks or something else, but those will be minor and never cause either myself or my horse to be places in danger. Of course, common sense is a must out on the trail. If I’m on a horse who isn’t experienced or who tends to spook at things, I’ll not use them for trail building and stick to wider dirt roads.

Upon completion of the trail, as mentioned above I will turn around and backtrack a good two or three times and oftentimes take another, fresh horse out to ride the same trail again while my original tracks are most easily followed.

In upcoming months there will be a photo essay as a companion piece to this article available online, so look for the web address. I will detail the process of trail making (and how I accomplish it) from start to finish complete with captions for each picture, so readers can follow along and have an insider understanding on how it’s done with tips on how you can make your own trails in your own area or neighborhood.

Thanks for taking this ride along with’s been fun sharing! Until the next time we hit the trails together, keep safe out there!


Monday, January 30, 2012

Are You Up For The Challenge?

As I've already mentioned, yesterday I once again judged an American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) Competitive Trail Challenge hosted by one of our local horse rescues, Mustang-Spirit. These events are a great deal of fun and not terribly difficult to train your horse for the competition. They're being held all over and getting more popular by the week.

Back in 2004, co-founders Carrie Scrima and Karen VanGetson came up with the concept of the CTC and set about forming the association which gives what they call "affiliates" (those groups who actually host and put on these rides) support, guidelines, judge's training and a rulebook. Their idea was an organization that rewarded people for having nice, well trained trail horses that could perform a variety of obstacles along the trail.

It's a really cool program that utilizes 6-10 different judges for 6-10 different obstacles over 6-10 miles of trail. Then at the end, they have a "soundness check" where each horse is trotted for one final judge. Very few instances will get you disqualified, though you can get a zero score if your horse does not perform an obstacle. Scoring is on both the horse and the rider, with a possible score of 10 points for the horse and 10 points for the rider for each obstacle.

If this sounds like something you would like to participate in, check out the ACTHA Website to see what they have to offer.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Preparing For The Show Ring Redux

Just a quick note first, today was yet another American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) Competitive Trail Challenge down at Mustang-Spirit Horse Rescue and once again, I was one of their obstacle judges. Today I was asked to be the soundness check judge as well. What a fantastic group of people and a terrific group of horses and riders. More than 40 horses competed in the three divisions (Junior, Pleasure and Open).  Bravo to everyone who made this ride another success!!

* * * * * * * *

This time around we're discussing getting ready for the big day, horse show day, by making sure everything other than your horse is clean, prepared and all set to be packed up.

For me, I have certain products I use on my tack, just like I do on my horses. My mainstay is Lexol, but Ko Cho Line, Horsemen's One Step and Oakwood are other favorites. First I want the leather clean, and that means using a good cleaner and really getting down into the tooling on Western saddles, for instance. That can be a tough order, let me tell you! I use a fairly stiff toothbrush and several soft rags, which do the job well. Then it's time to condition the leather, leaving it soft and supple.

If you need to rejuvenate, darken or supple up your leather, Neatsfoot Oil is the ticket ~ soaking will produce the best results, but you must remember to wipe off the excess oil, then clean + condition as usual or risk staining both your horse and your show clothes. For my Western saddle suede seats, as well as suede chaps, I really like the KIWI Suede & Nubuck cleaner.

Moving on, I wash my bits in an anti-bacterial dish soap, followed by rinsing them well and both towel and air drying fully before beginning the polishing process. For stainless and chrome, I use English Custom Polish's products. Expensive, but worth it. On my silver, my preference is Hagerty's Silversmith Spray. Been using it for many years, and it's still the best. Lightly spraying on a soft rag, wipe the silver, let it dry and then buff it, your silver will gleam like never before.

Another essential is ensuring your show clothes are clean, pressed and ready to roll. If you need to have anything dry cleaned, get them in long before you need to be packing!! Depending on the item of clothing, I will either hand wash in Woolite or machine wash on the "gentle" cycle, and hang to dry. Remember, this includes your boots (which need to be cleaned and polished ~ I use KIWI Parade Gloss) and your hats (which I will take to the dry cleaner, too)! Investing in a good hat cleaning sponge as well as a higher end lint roller is a must, too.

Make sure everything is spic and span, up to and including your horse's blankets and other horsewear, so that you'll arrive at the big event looking like you belong.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

One More Time...

Just as I did yesterday, I'm going to re-post a blog entry from back in 2009 regarding show ring tips because they're just such good articles and so valuable for so many. The same will go for tomorrow night. On Monday we'll be back to current topics, along with a full report of the ACTHA ride tomorrow!

Today we are going back to the show ring tips topic. As the title suggests ~ I am resurrecting it. Why? Because it's one of my favorite topics, very important to your show ring career and I truly enjoy helping folks excel. :)

One of the most important things you can do after arriving at the showgrounds, getting signed up or checked in and readying both yourself and your horse for the ring is to make sure you have a set of eyes on the ground. There will almost always be things a rider or handler will miss, in the excitement of the moment. Just before stepping into the ring, make sure you've got someone to wipe your horse (quick soft brush then a rag over the body, a rag to wipe the mouth and a rag to wipe the hooves), to run a brush through your horse's tail (and mane in some cases) making certain the tail knot is pulled out, to wipe your boots ~ I have a hilariously funny story about this ~ and to make sure your girth or cinch is tightened. Few things are worse than going in the ring with a tied up tail, dusty boots, a loose girth…or without your number.

My dusting-off-boots story: A couple of years back we were at a large all Arabian show in Las Vegas when I was getting ready to head to the ring for a Western Pleasure class. My daughter was assisting in making sure we were prepared to show, so I asked her to give me the final touch up, by "busting my doots". Yes, you read that right. For some reason I was struck with an episode of severe dyslexia, and could not for the life of me ask her to "dust my boots". After about the third time, she figured out what I meant, so off we were headed for the in gate with clean boots. However, my husband on an errand made a detour by Wal-Mart for a burgundy hand towel and a gold paint pen to write "Doot Buster" on said towel. Thus, an official SFTS tradition was born. We attend no shows without the Doot Buster.

Another of the most important pieces of advice you can possibly be given is to SMILE! No matter if you are competing in hand or under saddle, Western or English, in Equitation or Pleasure ~ if you do so, your judge will notice. Don't overschool your horse, especially in the lead-up to the big dance. As riders and trainers, we tend to forget this and many experience frustration when something isn't perfect in a work session or lesson. That effect is multiplied several times over when we're concentrating on a show the next weekend.

Know your patterns, your courses and/or your tests. Study them!! You are supposed to be exhibiting what you know, how well you can follow directions and how well you can execute each of the above. Judges are impressed with confidence, nothing says you are confident like knowing what you're doing. In Showmanship, quarters are pretty much mandatory. Gone are the days when judges only expected the half system ~ so know your quarters!! I drill my kids in Showmanship every bit as hard as Eq patterns.

Rely on your trainer if you have one. That's what you pay the trainer for! Personally I prefer to warm up my students' and clients' horses for them, before having them climb on board for a quick lesson (and a run through of the pattern right before an Equitation or Horsemanship class). I also do coach from the rail, but my style is more moral support and giving kudos for a great ride than actual coaching. I cannot stand trainers who scream at their students across the arena, it's unprofessional and many judges frown on it.

Make sure you give your horse a break between classes (which also goes to the overschooling issue) to allow them to relax, have a drink, take a 'potty break' and just plain enjoy him or herself. This sort of policy makes for a much happier, more sound horse and that translates to better rides. Never forget, it's about your partnership with your mount, doing your best and camaraderie with your friends, NOT about winning ribbons.

If your horse does not have flying lead changes nailed, don't ask for them! Better to execute a good, smooth simple change and make it look effortless than have a disastrous moment in an otherwise nearly flawless ride. Never, ever lose your temper with your horse…especially in front of your judge. In most circuits doing so will get you ejected from the ring if not from the showgrounds. Keep good sportsmanship in mind, ALWAYS. It doesn't matter if you got a green ribbon instead of a blue one thanks to a careless spectator, it doesn't matter if your horse picked up the wrong lead because another exhibitor ran their horse into yours, none of that matters in the big picture. Hold your temper.

One lesson I learned many years ago was not to argue with your judge, nor to correct him or her. As an exhibitor who competes primarily on Arabian horses, I frequently encounter judges who have zero experience with my breed. Comments I have heard range from "Make sure your horse's hind legs are SQUARE in Halter and Showmanship classes" to "Your horse carries himself with too much of an arch to his neck" to a myriad of other comments. My response is to politely smile, nod and carry on about showing my horses. ;)


Friday, January 27, 2012

Show Ring Ready Revisited

My apologies...this is a repeat of a post that went up on this blog back in October of 2009. However, in my opinion it's such an excellent topic, it warrants being put here again. Enjoy!!

This is going to be about tips and tricks (as the title suggests) for excelling in the show ring. We've covered similar topics before, and we have discussed tack, attire and grooming suggestions and though I am sure we shall revisit those again, I'm not going into that now. This time it's just good, old fashioned "how can I improve my performance, get the most out of my horse and enhance our showing experience".

That said, one tip I've not covered before related to attire is to bring along a pair of sweats and an older t-shirt (short or long sleeved, depending on what you're wearing) so you can keep your show clothes clean. I thought this was a BRILLIANT idea if you have more than a few classes all lumped together and run at  the same time, but not have to spend so much time changing into and out of your show outfits. Great advice I wish I would have thought of sooner (which sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it)!

I am a 'serial watcher'.  Always have been. So when I have students and clients who are new to the showing scene, I am sure to bring them out to not one, but several shows of whatever level they are going to be showing at (and, of course, we always start out the rank beginners at the local open/schooling show level). It's going to be a show that we are NOT attending with horses competing at first, then later they come with us to a show in order to get an idea of how things go when you're riding into the spotlight. Finally, it's showtime! When we attend that first show (or shows), we talk. A lot. We discuss expectations, what the judges are looking for, I like to have them do a little bit of 'judging' themselves as we watch classes so they have an in depth concept of just what we, as horse show exhibitors, are seeking to accomplish.

Along the lines of watching, which is always an excellent suggestion for all if for no other reason than to get an idea of what's in fashion and what the judges are looking for at the start of each new show season (and yes, along with the various attire fads will be new training strategies and methods as well as a variance in what certain judges want over last year). Taking notes, photographing or videotaping what you like and dislike ~ though I would suggest you ask a participant or entrant's permission before capturing them on film as a courtesy, and be sure to tell them why ~ can be a terrific way to know how to plan what to buy and what you should be working on with your horse. Also, during a break or after the show requesting to speak with the judge(s) can be a beneficial way to get information "straight from the horse's mouth", so to speak. They may be willing to give you pointers on how to best present yourself and your horse. You must be sure to go through the proper channels, though, and contact show officials to make sure of the right time and place to accomplish this.

Here, in the following paragraphs, we are going to explore a few of the vitally important things exhibitors can do to enhance their performances. Let's start with some basics and go from there.

Often you will hear instructors and trainers mention "riding defensively", just as in driver's education during high school you'll hear that mumbo-jumbo about "driving defensively". However, being defensive generally implies that you are having to defend what you're doing because you may be doing something wrong. I would rather ride offensively, making my own way and path, taking my ride into MY hands instead of simply trying to survive out there.

Assuming you are riding in a ring full of those less capable, who don't pay attention to where they are going, who will more than likely cut you off, ride into you and blow YOUR ride, above all else in importance is to pay  attention to those around you so you can ensure no one else is going to cause you to lose your class. Keep your eye on horses that may have given their riders trouble in the warm-up ring, and on occasion glance around to see if anyone's horse is out of control. It doesn't have to be obvious, in fact it's better to be less conspicuous. But be aware! It may mean the difference between someone's horse running into yours and getting the gate, versus bringing home the blue ribbon.

One of my favorite saying to my students is, ride your ring! You have to command that ring, stay in control, use that rail and know how to stay out of trouble.

Some trainers want their students to stay on the rail, no matter what. While I prefer my riders stay on the rail, if you need to move around someone or get away from a horse that's acting up, by all means do so. What I can't stand (as an exhibitor and a judge, both) are those riders who circle the judge, taking the shortest circuit around the ring. It's not a race, folks! Many times I have almost been run over because there are horses playing "Ring Around The Rosie". Not fun! Negotiating traffic in the show ring is simply a fact of life. Just don't make it harder on yourself (and your horse) than it needs to be.

Another place riders sometimes fail to give themselves a shot at a nice rail pass is in the corners. USE THEM! Riding deep into a corner when the majority of your competition will be cutting those same corners can set you up nicely to be seen.

Circles and cutting across the arena safely (that being the key word here) are always an acceptable means of putting your horse in the right place at the right time. Getting stuck in a pack of horses or being blocked from the judge's view won't help you.

What about the horse who listens more to the show ring announcer than his rider? Some of the old campaigners do this on a regular basis, and even many trainers don't seem to know how to deal with it other than to heavily school the horse during a class. Now let's stop right here - I do not have an issue with schooling an out of control horse, or a naughty mount that knows the difference between the warm-up ring and the show arena, or schooling at home versus competing. My approach differs from many, because I like to set up "mock horse shows" where that horse simply must learn to pay attention to the rider and not the announcer. Easy? Not always. You have to have a number of riders and horses, all of you have to do your pre-show prep and it can't be the same old arena at home. Your horse already listens there, right? So, you've got to make certain the horse thinks he's at a real show. You also have to have access to the P.A. system, too…though in a pinch you can use a loud boom-box and recorded commands at intervals that make sense. Yes, you CAN do it. It just takes a little bit of planning and preparation.

Okay, as I've said before, I use the small open shows as a training ground for the big leagues. You must keep in mind, however, that some folks do participate in local show circuits for year end high point awards and those who do take them very seriously. Therefore, be mindful that you don't blow someone else's ride by schooling your horse. By doing so you could cause them to lose a silver buckle or even a saddle! My rule of thumb for schooling is, you can still follow all directions of the judge, ring steward and announcer. I can't stand it when someone schools their horse at a lope while everyone else is jogging. Follow the darn class and obey the commands given!

Another of my major pet peeves is transitions. Years ago at one of our local show circuits, when it came time to go from a walk to a lope (for instance), everyone down the line would pick up their lead, in order of how you happened to be in that line. That and it had  to be INSTANT, so if you were first in line, that very second the announcer requested that lope, you had better get your horse moving. I'm sorry, in  my world it just does not work that way. There I was, odd[wo]man out anyhow because I was riding an Arabian in a sea of Quarter Horses and Paints, and I…Gasp…requested that my horse lope when I felt he was ready, regardless of what my fellow exhibitors were doing.    There is never a need to rush your horse. Don't forget that! Of course, you don't want to take an entire circuit around the ring before you request the lope, hoping for that "just right" perfect timing. Let me tell you, it's probably not gonna happen like that. You need to be at least somewhat prompt, even while not immediately launching into the next gait. Something I always tell my students is, set your horse up before you change gaits. Simple preparedness can win you a class, especially if the judge is watching you (or wants to see you perform various transitions). Remember as well, the same goes for down transitions. I really dislike it when a judge will ask for the halt from a hand gallop or even the canter. Your horse had better have good brakes! Many judges will not penalize you for not instantly bringing your horse to a stop, but some will. Hence why you should know what your judges are looking for before you show. Also - be sure you know if your horse is on the correct lead. If you cannot feel it in your seat, work on it until you can. Nothing says "newbie who doesn't know how to ride" like a horse on a wrong lead.

Just as important as taking your time to ask for that lope or canter and get your leads right (any transition, really) is making certain when riding an English seat that you get your diagonals at the trot correct. You really have to take the time and you'll never get marked down if you sit a few strides before rising. I would much rather you get it right than jump into your post and pick it up wrong, then have to change your diagonal. As with everything else, it does take practice, however it's an essential skill you need to know.

In the future we'll continue this subject. Until then, put in some great rides and get yourself ready to go show!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Excitement Abound!

This is going to be a super short post this morning because I don't have much time to be writing today. Our next ETI Corral 88 meeting is this evening and we're going to be making all sorts of plans for the year so don't miss out. Lots of trail rides and other activities for local horse owners.

I'm judging at the Mustang-Spirit horse rescue ACTHA Competitive Trail Challenge this weekend. If you are not familiar with ACTHA, check them out here ~ ~ it's a really cool organization and their rides are too much fun.

Thanks so much for reading...see you in the show ring or out on the trail!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

And They’re Off! Retraining The Ex-Racehorse

These days, a very common means of acquiring an inexpensive horse is to get yourself what we commonly refer to as an "OTTB" (which stands for Off Track Thoroughbred racehorse). Sure, people have been taking these horses and giving them a second career for ages, but in a poor economy there are both more horses in need of being moved into new homes off the racetrack and fewer people who can afford to buy a more expensive already trained (or in this case re-trained) horse.

Some of you may not know that as a general rule, racehorses are on an extremely high grain diet, which along with being in peak condition after coming off the track and expecting the same conditions in his life that he's always known can make things a challenge. At least these days most racehorses aren't being pumped full of anabolic steroids, because they're not allowed on the racetrack anymore, though there could easily be high energy feeds as well as other drugs in their systems. A majority of horses that come off the track have suffered some sort of career ending injury, and you can bet it's been treated with something. With those OTTB's I've dealt with, I prefer to give them a good 60 days to "let down" and learn how to be a normal horse. During this time, all I'm going to be giving them is high quality hay and perhaps a low starch, low carb ration mixed with probiotics.

It's always a good idea to have your veterinarian thoroughly check the horse out and give you a game plan to ensure the horse is in good health as well as to make note of any physical issues or injuries. Ulcers are quite common in many racehorses as well, which can easily be diagnosed by your veterinarian. Okay, sometimes not so easily...however keeping your eyes open as to the symptoms of an ulcer horse and treating a horse with such symptoms can go a long ways toward making him healthy and happy. If it turns out he doesn't have ulcers after all, the treatments for that condition won't hurt him.

Supposing, for the sake of this article, the horse you've recently taken in off the racetrack is healthy and sound, you'll need to develop a work plan to teach him how to go along with his new routine. Contrary to popular belief, my experience with OTTB's has largely been they come around amazingly quickly and it really is not all that difficult to get them moved into other jobs. By nature they're extremely athletic and most of them have an exceptionally strong work ethic. One of the places I start with a horse fresh off the racetrack is to teach them how to crosstie. What I've found is that most of them have no idea how the process works and they tend to be confused. I'll approach this training essentially the same as I do with teaching babies how to tie in the first place.

Another often perplexing and difficult thing you will have to deal with when taking one of these horses off the track is leading. Starting at the beginning with basic "whoa" lessons and training on the leadline, just like with tying, you can avoid most issues. Many former racehorses have never really been taught to respect their handler's space and tend to crowd. This does not need to be made into a major ordeal, just simple common sense and methodical training, again just like a baby. All of your ground work will essentially be like starting fresh from scratch, only easier because they have had a considerable amount of training already and they do know what it's like to have a rider on their backs.

Progressing along, I want to accustom the horse to training on the longeline, in a bitting rig, in longlines and other basic ground work. We've also found over the years that having small obstacles to negotiate (such as ground poles to walk over and so forth) helps these horses immensely with understanding where their feet are and basic body control that's accomplished with most two and three year old pleasure, show or trail horses. I like to use such training as ground work (and later under saddle work) for all horses. Even the older already trained or finished horses go back to ground work on occasion.

I always re-start the off track horses identically to every other horse with very few exceptions. Obviously, they need to get used  to a much heavier saddle  than they've ever carried (particularly because I get on them for the first couple of weeks in a Western saddle until they're going forward confidently, and sometimes regularly thereafter). Mounting is another issue that hopefully won't become problematic. To diffuse most situations which can arise with mounting one of these horses, I make sure they're trained to stand at a mounting block before ever thinking about getting on, because usually I don't have someone handy to boost me into the saddle as the horse will be expecting.

Using a mounting block and training a horse to stand next to one is not difficult either, but like any type of training we do, patience is a must. You should have already gone over "whoa" training and the horse should fully understand that word means STOP NOW, cease all movement and plant your feet! Don't make a big deal out of any mis-step, go back and repeat each exercise or concept until the horse cooperates every time. Just like with starting a baby for the first time, I like to make sure to spend some time in one stirrup, 'hanging' off the side of the horse, and I repeat this on both sides. Eventually, you will be able to mount up from the ground with no problem. Since many (if not most) racehorses, at least in my experience, want to walk or even trot off as soon as you mount up, this is an area you'll want to spend a good deal of extra time on.

I always use a round pen or small enclosed area to get on any horse for the first time in training, if you don't have access to a round pen, you can use an uncovered 24x24 pipe paddock...just don't ride under a shelter (which can be hazardous to your health)! This way, with a former racehorse, I don't worry about being ponied or led ~ the horse knows what being ridden means and they understand how to follow the fence. Staying out of the horse's face is vitally important, you can retrain them to accept and understand contact in time. First rides on an off track horse for me usually are walking, with a little bit of "follow your face" in circles using a leading rein with plenty of slack on the off side of your turn.

These horses have been taught to take hold of the bit as opposed to yielding to it, so take the time to help them slowly learn what it means to give. Voluminous praise when he does something right, and if you prefer, a treat (though I'm still not the most keen person on treat training) will go a long ways toward helping him understand what you want and comply with your requests in a relaxed manner. Soon your ex-racer will be a willing partner.

Another thing your retired racehorse must become accustomed to is your legs against his sides as well as  your seat in the saddle. Straightness will come later on, using only light contact with your legs and concentrating on getting the horse to relax is the task at hand for these early rides. By that I mean you'll probably spend most of your time at this stage bending the horse, allowing him to stretch down (which they learn quickly to enjoy) and if he starts to get nervous or act like he's going to launch into a familiar gallop, taking a cross hold until he yields. As long as you stay consistent and don't let his nerves get to you, you'll both be fine.

One of the last tests you'll need to make sure the ex-racehorse passes is being ridden with other horses, first in the arena and later on, if you desire, on the trail. Being naturally socialized animals who prefer to live in the company of other horses, most of them adjust easily and don't revert to their prior training (catch the other horse, pass the other horse) as long as you make it easy for them to do the right thing and listen to you. My favorite means of getting them out with others is to have the quietest horse in the barn as their riding partner, the horse that nothing bothers, nothing upsets and does not spook.

Of course, if you are a novice or newbie horse owner, I DO NOT suggest getting a former racehorse. While these horses are a ton of fun, be sure you are fully prepared for the task at hand. Whether in the show ring or going down the trail, you'll be sure to have the time of your life.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Should My Horse’s Job Be? And How Can I Help Him Be The Best He Can Be?

This is a topic I’ve covered previously, however it’s a good one and there are many different schools of thought on how a horse can wear multiple hats, or I guess better put, multiple saddles, literally speaking. Recently a friend who’s a diehard fan of Western Pleasure started dabbling in Dressage (well, the owner did not, the owner’s horse did with his trainer). My response was a huge resounding cheer, and not only because I fully believe the horse is capable of being a competitive Dressage horse.

Let’s put it this way, ANY horse can make a Dressage prospect, and many can become competitive on the local level or at the lower levels, including those who are athletic enough to be Western horses. Yes, you read that right. In order to be a competitive Western mount a horse has to be supremely athletic, just as those competing in most English disciplines.

So now we’re going to get down to the business at hand. We can start by examining the horse piece by piece conformationally and deciding what he’s bound to excel at. Obviously, if you’ve got a great big 17 hand Thoroughbred, one of the first things that will come to mind is jumping. If your horse has done Dressage, it’s not much of a stretch to train that horse to go over fences.

But what if your horse happens to be a little, petite Arabian or a Quarter Horse who’s relatively short in stature, yet rather rotund? Either should be able to do Intro Level Dressage in addition to whatever else they usually excel in. Now, this might sound like nothing more than an advertisement for the United States Dressage Federation, however that’s not the case at all. Many local clubs put on unrated Dressage shows, and your horse doesn’t even need to be a Warmblood in order to compete successfully!

What about if you’ve always competed in English classes and would like to explore Western for a change? Not every horse will have the capability to be an ideal Western Pleasure horse, but there are a variety of things you can do with your horse under Western tack where he’s not going to be required to totally change his frame or way of going. Trail is one of those classes, as long as he doesn’t mind obstacles. If he’s gone over fences in his “former life”, getting over some trail obstacles without making a mess of them should not be a problem. Other alternatives are Team Sorting or Team Penning, both of which are a barrel of fun, you just need to make sure your horse deals with being around running cattle.

Your short answer on how to make your horse be the best he can be is easy: Training. I’m not advising you to spend beaucoup dollars sending your horse out to the top trainer in whatever discipline you’re thinking about transitioning your horse over into, simply seeking out a good instructor to help you with your own training. If your horse is already trained, adding something new to his repertoire is not going to be all that hard.

Most importantly, have fun!! After all, that is what owning, riding, training and competing on horses is all about!!


Monday, January 23, 2012

A Rider's Foundation ~ Part I

Most of the time when I write this blog, I speak of training the horse. After all, the concept here is about training horses and all of the various methods, techniques or philosophies thereof. But something we can never forget is the rider, because without the rider, we would have no trained horse to ride.

Unless you happen to be an extremely naturally athletic individual, learning to ride will be a difficult journey and you will need to learn entirely new skills, as well as be able to apply them to an animal with a mind of its own. There are so many things to learn and so many ways you can learn them, which means both good and bad. I personally prefer to teach the absolute beginner starting from scratch, as opposed to the rider who has already formed some sort of opinion (and along with it often some bad habits) on how best to do things on horseback. Let's concentrate on bringing along the beginner student in this installment, which means we need to run through a series of lessons, starting from the beginning.

After we get the horse groomed, tacked and out to the round pen or arena, our lesson is going to begin with the student mounting the horse. Depending on several factors, we will either mount from the ground or off a mounting block. Either way, the rider's right hand should firmly grip the left stirrup and the other should be on the reins at the base of the horse's neck. Once the left foot is in the stirrup, the rider should move that hand to the front of the saddle, and swing up onto the horse's back. The taller the horse, the more challenging this task is, which is why we may utilize a mounting block. After the rider is settled in the saddle, I'll set about showing them proper position. Starting with the seat, legs, arms, hands and shoulders, I'm going to explain at each step what I'm looking for and why.

I want my riders settled in the saddle, not perched forward or slouched back. Riders need to be aware of how to properly sit (which seems positively simple, doesn't it?), and keep their weight distributed evenly. A rider's legs should be relaxed and against the side of the horse, with no pressure applied when standing still. Weight resting on the ball of the foot, with heels down, toes mostly forward. I say "mostly" forward, because the old train of thought from 30 or so years ago was that the toes should be pointed STRAIGHT forward, which I find awkward and incorrect for proper riding. Toes should never be pointed outward or down, though when cueing the horse there is room for a slight variance as you rotate your calves into the horse. Having the stirrups properly adjusted will go a very long way toward being able to ride correctly and communicate effectively with your horse.

To be effective (you'll hear me say that word a lot), a rider's arms should be at their side, though exactly where varies depending on the discipline they're riding. I start out all my beginner riders Western, and using two hands on the reins with a snaffle bit in the horse's mouth, so we begin with a basic position. Arms from the shoulder to the elbow relatively straight at the side, if slightly ahead of the hip. I want to see a nice bend in the elbow, though generally not more than 90 degrees unless cueing the horse. As the rider advances (on a trained or finished horse), the need for more bend becomes less. Ideally, I'd like to see a relatively straight line from elbow to the horse's mouth.

Hand position is vital because of how much communication you can do with your hands. I don't want to see a rider's hands too close together, as many trainers have them start out. Opening up the distance slightly will increase your ability to communicate with your horse. They should not be held too close to the horse, nor too high above the saddle. In a Western saddle, those hands will be higher than while riding most types of English, other than Saddleseat (and even then, when first starting out, I'll have my riders keep their hands lower than ideal for the show ring).

One of my basic tenets of good riding is, no death grip on the reins! I want the rider's hands softly closed around the reins with thumbs slightly bent upward, not horizontal to the horse's withers. Wrists should not be bent backward or forward (sometimes referred to as "puppy paws"), but in line with the arms. Shoulders should be back but relaxed, not rigid -- something I really don't like to see are the riders who arch their backs and artificially pull their shoulders back to the extremes. This makes for exceptionally ineffective riding. All of these tips can help a rider to become competent, gain seat control and not balance on their horse's mouth using the reins.

Now that we have the basics, in a future installment we can continue the lesson. Remember, riding is a learned skill. Don’t worry if everything isn’t picture perfect the first time, with time your skills will improve as long as you take it slow. Just like with our horses, skipping steps will show up in your riding. I always recommend taking lessons with a skilled instructor who understands your needs.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

What a Weekend!

I almost can't wait for the proverbial "work week" to begin, just so I can get a little bit of rest!

But seriously, this has been quite the weekend and there wasn't even a show or competitive trail ride. After a full week of working horses and getting ready for our show season to begin next month, I headed off to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Riders (where Buck Brannaman is doing a clinic in late February) for Equestrian Trails, Inc's 3rd Annual President's Luncheon at 8:30 AM on Saturday, then got back in time to get several horses worked lightly before I just couldn't take the wind anymore.

Last night I received a message from Under the Angel's Wings Rescue that they needed a horse moved ASAP so, me being me, I jumped right in and said SURE! Headed out the front gate at 7:30 AM, picked the mare up some 80 miles away, brought her back to Pinon Hills then headed off to ride horses in training. After yet another full day, I just got back inside to settle in for the night about 12 hours after I left. And I sometimes wonder where the time goes!! Running here, running there, never a dull moment.

I've been putting together our show schedule for the year and it looks to be another busy one. I'm going to be reviewing many of the show ring topics we've covered here as well, to see what should be updated and revised. There is so much subject matter I have written about, and I'm always seeking new things to add to old ideas. Plus if you have any suggestions, be sure to let me know!

On another note, come the first weekend in February, I have already mentioned the Horse Expo Pomona ~ Suzi Drnec Vilestra from Hobby Horse Clothing is doing a few seminars on show attire and fashion in the show ring. It should be a great time. If you're there, look me up! Shoot me an email and I'll keep an eye out for you, I'm going to be there all day, every day of the Expo.

And now it's time for dinner, a nice cup of hot chocolate and bed! Only to get up and do it all over again tomorrow. :)


Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's the Right Time for the Right Horse...

...but unfortunately, too many people get stuck with the wrong horse, over and over and over. This can happen in a variety of ways, mainly when folks want to become horse owners and have no idea how to begin or who to trust. Frequently, they wind up trusting the wrong people and that's where the trouble starts.

There really are very few ways to know for sure you're getting involved with someone you can trust and who won't steer you wrong. One of the best is word of mouth from those you already do trust, because if a good friend or family member has nothing but praise for someone, it's a fairly decent bet they aren't going to screw you over. Another way is to seek out professional references from others in the industry, because peers will generally rate their colleagues honestly. No matter what, you still must be vigilant, ask a lot of questions and make sure if there is ever anything you are not comfortable with, you immediately get a second opinion (particularly if the answer you receive from the trainer or other equestrian professional is not suitable to you). NO question is a dumb question!

When searching for a horse, especially your first horse, being selective is imperative. Now, that doesn't mean you will find the "perfect horse" in your price range, but you can broaden your horizons if you're being too picky. I tell people, make a long list of what you want, then narrow it down to a short list of must-haves. For instance, if you're in the market for a trail horse, registration status is not necessarily going to matter, but soundness will. Shopping for a show horse is going to bring on a whole other set of criteria. Perhaps you're looking for a broodmare? Yet more questions to answer.

One of my biggest pet peeves are those who will sell inappropriate horses to new horse owners or people who have children that want to ride. All it takes is one minor mishap that can lead to a major disaster and the relationship between horse and rider is destroyed. Yes, it can happen that fast. Countless individuals have left the horse industry over the years because of unethical treatment by trainers, sellers and other industry professionals. I hear the horror stories all the time, and they make me cringe. Something I've often told people over the course of many years is, if I did not train horses myself, I'd likely not own any because there is no one out there I'd entrust the care and training of my horses to other than myself. That is a pretty sad commentary on my profession, isn't it?

Indeed, this is a topic I am going to get into more and more over the coming days and weeks, because it is such a critical one (especially in today's economy). My feelings are pretty strong where this subject is involved, because the result of potential clientele not trusting trainers or instructors directly impacts my ability to earn a living. If you like, send me your own horror stories and we'll delve deeper sometime soon.


Friday, January 20, 2012

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

We're battening down the hatches here, because a storm is on the way! While I know we desperately need the rain, I've been enjoying our unseasonably warm and dry Winter. Riding daily, we've even been able to keep our regular bathing schedules because of this gorgeous weather.

On another yet equally "stormy" note, there are so many horses that need homes right now things are getting downright scary in this economy. In this past week alone, I've been told about dozens of horses needing homes, most of which are free or at minimal cost. Folks simply want to or need to get out from under the expense of them.

Please consider opening your heart and your home to a horse in need this Winter. Too many are dying and suffering, we need to grow our industry until it becomes healthy once more.

This entry is going to be short, however I wanted to mention a tragedy which struck the local horse world last week, the unexpected death of Jim Hasty, owner (with wife Gail) of the beautiful Boulder Creek Ranch in Hesperia. Jim had been ill over a year ago, and had been treated for a brain tumor. Recently, he had fallen ill again and passed away one week ago today. Gail and the entire Boulder Creek family are in our thoughts.

I'm off to the ETI National President's Brunch in the morning yet again, down at the Rose Bowl Riders clubhouse in Pasadena. It should be fun!!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Makes The World Go Round: Circles, lateral flexion and why you want your horse to bend

If you have ever spent any length of time either riding or training horses, you have likely encountered frozen shoulders, dropped shoulders, stiffness through the body or various other issues which will prevent your horse(s) from being the best they can be. All of these issues and more can be addressed by circles and lateral flexion work. Of course, lateral work should begin way back in the ground work stage before the horse is ever mounted, however that's not always possible. With many trainers, they'll tell you how to begin the training process, but not what to do if you acquire a horse in the middle of that process or if the horse has already developed bad habits.

Here in this post, I'm going to refer to several previous entries which all relate to the training we're wanting to accomplish. Lateral work is essential to opening the lines of communication between you and your horse. Whenever I've got a new project, one of the first things I'm going to do is ensure the horse is laterally flexible. Back in 2009, I published an article on this blog about suppling your horse, here. Flexion then circling, counter bending and asking the horse to lift his shoulders and raise his back are key points in these exercises. But, pulling the horse's face around to my leg is NOT what I'm looking for, to me, that's going about it the wrong way. Often all this does is creates a horse that refuses to accept contact with the bit and pretty soon you have a horse who, with the slightest pressure on a rein, flings his head toward your leg.

Which brings me to the so called "hard mouthed" horse. I wrote a post on these types of horses back a couple of years ago, too. This entry here gets into what causes and creates what some people call "hard mouthed" horses. In actuality, these are horses who have been trained to lean on their riders. They're not soft and supple, they're decidedly not flexible. For this reason, many trainers will suggest to folks (and you see this frequently on those RFD-TV horse training shows...) that they "teach their horses to flex". Doing so does NOT fix the problem, generally it makes the problem worse.

What's the ultimate in performance we want out of our horses? Collection, correct? Trouble is, both laypersons as well as too many trainers think merely slowing a horse down constitutes collection. I wrote all about that on this blog, as well. You'll find that entry here. You achieve collection through a series of building blocks (training exercises), not yanking on the horse's mouth to slow him. This is yet another place where lateral flexion and circles both small and large can help your horse, and thus your riding, immensely.

Before you can begin circle work, your horse must be balanced and to have a balanced horse, you've got to have a reasonably balanced rider. Why are circles important? Because they showcase that balance and your horse's suppleness and responsiveness. These traits are important for any horse, of any breed, in any discipline whether you show or simply ride down the trail. Don't forget to ride your horse front to back, not the other way around. Oftentimes riders get that part backwards. Concentrate every bit as much on the horse's hindquarters as you do on his front end and you'll be rewarded with a soft, supple horse who's a joy to ride.

I begin each exercise at the walk, preferring to stay away from too much flexing at a halt once the horse has a basic grasp of what I'm asking. After he understands how to use his body in a circle at the walk, I'll progress to a trot and eventually a canter, but I don't want to skip steps -- I want to ensure my horses have a decent grasp of the subject matter before moving on and trying to cram too much knowledge into them all at once. Once the horse has mastered lateral bending and simple circles, I'll add figure eights, spirals and serpentines into the routine. Spirals can be accomplished all the way through the canter, as can figure eights (using easy, relaxed simple changes of lead for a vast majority of horses). Serpentines are best used as trot exercises.

Summing up this evening's entry, I'll go back and answer the question raised by the title...why do you want your horse to bend? Because having a flexible horse means a far more trainable horse and generally a more balanced horse (provided you work each side equally, only concentrating on one side slightly more to the horse's "worst" direction).


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Project Pony!

Why and how do I get myself into these things?

Here's the story...a friend of mine has a friend who needs to find a home for her small pony ASAP. I tentatively said I'll take him, if he's something I can use for children's lessons. All she knows about him is he's supposed to be "good with kids", however that can mean different things to different people.

Today I took a friend with me over to take a look at him, and while I'd like to say I was not prepared for what I saw or surprised, I cannot. He came trotting up and nickered at me as I approached his paddock. Two things I immediately noticed were how thin he was (complete with wormy belly) and the fact that his hind feet looked to be a good 6-7 inches long. Keep in mind, this is a pony of about 10 hands.

She had already been through bringing one back from the brink of death recently (Meet Aneela: as well as rescued a 16h gelding who had been used as a pony horse and outrider's mount then abandoned at the Santa Anita racetrack, and she's not inclined to take on any more projects at the moment. Neither am I, my plate is full and the inn is decidedly full! I can make exceptions if the individual would be suitable for my program, just not dozens of those who need serious rehab and training. Sadly, this boy needs both.

This is the adorable little bugger~

So if you happen to be in the general area, he is in Pinon Hills and needs to find a home just about yesterday. Get in touch with me and I will make sure you're hooked up.

Which brings me to a topic that I want to touch more on later, that is folks getting horses or ponies they're truly not prepared to handle and who prove to be too much for them. Without some common sense and at least a little bit of background in equine education, too many people just jump in unaware. It's a miracle more people don't get hurt, particularly children.

There are many predatory people in the horse industry, especially here in the High Desert. They go to the low end auctions and pick up cheap horses, often lame or rank, and resell them to unsuspecting newbie  horse owners who just don't know any better. Suddenly, when they can't handle the horse, the Miracle Pro steps in to save the day...only to charge outrageous amounts for "training" the horse.

Hey, I have an idea! How about NOT selling people inappropriate horses in the first place?

Okay, enough of my rant for one night. You can read more of my feelings on this topic another time, it's a sure bet this is one topic that will be revisited!!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Great Beginnings

Here we are, in the middle of the third week of a new year and I had planned on writing an excellent post about a training topic for today. After a long, exhausting day and a very busy evening, needless to say I did not get around to it! But, I am being more diligent about posting. Right?

Part of that excitement I began writing about last weekend are the new clients and students who are coming into the Sunlit Farm family ~ and I do consider each and every one of them part of our extended family. We are so blessed with amazing people who believe in us, including so many former clients and students who have lined up in support...some of whom have brought horses back into training and some of whom intend to do so in the future. You ALL mean so much to us!

Our year is starting off with a bang, with our first horse show of the season now less than a month away on February 12th down in Mira Loma. This weekend I will be attending the ETI National President's Brunch; the following weekend I am judging the ACTHA Competitive Trail Challenge ride hosted by Mustang-Spirit Horse Rescue; and during the first weekend of February our Sunlit Farm and Rancho Indulto crew will be at Horse Expo Pomona for the entire event.

So with all that said, I'll be signing off for the evening. Happy trails!


Monday, January 16, 2012

In Focus: How To Achieve Your Riding Goals

Today I'd like to address how to reach the goals you set with your horses. Let me start by saying, I begin every ride, every work session, every day with a game plan. For each horse, I've decided what we're going to work on before the saddle ever goes on.

Being focused on what you want to accomplish with your horse is so important, I can't stress enough how having goals (make sure they are attainable goals) is vitally important to your success with your horse. Even if you never intend to set foot into a show ring, setting and reaching goals will accelerate your progress. Depending on your horse, what you request of him during a work session can be as simple as getting a calm walk on a loose rein or as difficult as a flying lead change. Remain focused on the path to your end goal, not the goal itself.

If I have a nervous horse that wants to bolt, my plan is likely to first address calming the horse and getting him to focus on his job, then work on the underlying issue. Such a horse needs to have situations set up for him to address the bolting behavior, but be able to control his trajectory when he takes off. What I mean by that is simple ~ create circumstances which may likely cause the horse to bolt off, because only then you can actually fix the problem. Of course, it helps to know what sets a bolting horse off, and most of them do have certain triggers. With such a horse, each ride needs to start out with the same routine, so the horse gains confidence. The end goal will be a horse that no longer bolts, however the daily goals need to be far more simple, such as getting a nice, relaxed walk and an unhurried, unrushed halt. Then a horse who moves off at a nice trot in a relaxed manner. It's all about using those "building blocks of training" I'm so fond of talking about.

Having step-by-step instructions for how to manage your rides can help many people, but you've got to be consistent. I like structure, and I believe most horses do, too. Horses are herd animals, and they are always looking for the herd this instance, we (the rider) are that leader. In training, we can use that to our advantage. Each work session begins the same way, with the horse being worked on the longeline or in the round pen (depending on available facilities). Allowing the horse to loosen up before getting down to the real work of the day is essential to having a horse that's ready to learn. That said, eventually I like to be sure I can just hop on without the longeing, and find different ways to warm up.

You can easily write out a little schedule by the week, I prefer to use a dry erase board. Remember, keep your daily goals simple and easy to accomplish, working up to bigger weekly and monthly goals. Before you know it, you'll have conquered that major goal and have something to celebrate!


Sunday, January 15, 2012


There I was, minding my own business on a Saturday night chatting online with friends and clients when I notice a post regarding a Half-Arabian mare that was at one of our notorious Southern California low end auctions. She was a horse I'd looked at for sale several years ago, but she was out of my price range (in the five figures). My hands were tied, she was set to go through the auction ring any moment and I was more than an hour's drive away.

I waited with bated breath to hear any news, when it came I was entirely unprepared: She sold for a mere $205. Having been involved in horse rescue for so many years, I knew the possibility of a good outcome for any horse of Arabian blood, particularly a hot, Half-Saddlebred Country English Pleasure horse, at this particular auction is not promising. So, I have embarked on a search to find out where she went and to hopefully bring her home.

Her name is Baronnessa, and this is she-

Many years ago, I embarked on a similar journey regarding another bay horse in the late 1980's/early 1990's. His name was Kilometer and he was a son of National Top Ten Halter and Park stallion *Perkal, out of a daughter of the *Talal son Taleeze named Monicaleeze.

At the time Kilometer came into my life, I was training out of a facility in Temecula, California called Daamascus Arabians (named after one of their stallions, who was sired by the Comet son *Carycyn). He was a stunning solid bay Purebred Arabian gelding who had National Championship potential in both Halter and English Pleasure. Every day, I had the pleasure of working him and he simply took my breath away. I did try to purchase him, however they had priced him at $5000 which was more than I could afford as a young trainer barely out of my teens. My offer was $2000, which was declined. My departure from Daamascus meant losing touch with many great horses, however I always kept Kilometer in my mind and in my heart.

One day after I'd gotten married and moved on to bigger and better things in my training career, not to mention was pregnant with my daughter, I happened to be at the famous Broken Horn tack store in Baldwin Park. Upon perusing their bulletin board, I noticed a flyer for a dispersal sale of horses in  Temecula. Recognizing the bloodlines and many of the names, I knew it was the Daamascus herd. That evening upon getting home, I called the woman who was showing the horses to prospective buyers and learned some startling news ~ they had all been auctioned off at the ranch only days before in a spectacle of television camera crews and horse rescuers. My heart sank.

That wonderful woman put me in touch with the son of Daamascus Arabians' deceased owner and I was able to find out who bought Kilometer. Three women who were fast friends paid a whopping $500 for him and intended to find him a permanent home. I got lucky and he gave me the name of one of the three who was the main contact, as well as a city she lived in. I was able to not only locate her address, but called the Postmaster in her city to get directions so I could pay her a visit to talk about that beautiful bay horse.

Prior to my heading for Orange County, I sat down and wrote these ladies a letter, figuring if no one answered the door, I would leave it on her doorstep. My story sounded pretty bizarre, that someone would go to so much trouble to track down a horse...especially a gelding. My luck would hold out, she answered the door. I prefaced my tale with, "You may think this sounds crazy, but," and I poured out my heart to her. By the time I went home that day, I had the name and telephone number of the partner who actually had Kilometer at her facility.

My husband and I made an appointment to go visit him and plan his acquisition. He was still the same remarkably beautiful boy I remembered and of course, I immediately knew I had to have him. We agreed on a price and by the time we were on the road for home, Kilometer's saviors had tasked me with writing up a sales contract. They were offering me extremely generous terms, keeping in mind I'd have to board him and was a young newlywed with a baby on the way.

Yet another roadblock surfaced when we discovered that he had never been transferred out of his breeder's name. From when I'd had him in training, I had a copy of his registration papers, so I knew who the breeder was. But upon contacting the Arabian Horse Registry, I discovered she was deceased. Back in those days, long before the widely available internet and prior to AHRA's releasing their stud book on CD (precursor to today's online DataSource), the good folks at the AHRA were reluctant to give out information to third parties with regard to recorded owners. By some strange twist of fate, the lady I spoke with at AHRA's offices that day let it slip not only that this breeder had two authorized signers on her account, but their names and even where one of them lived. Score!!

Both the breeder's son and daughter were allowed to do business on their mother's account with AHRA. I had a lead on where the son lived. Calling him was nerve wracking, however his kindness immediately put me at ease and before too long, I had his sister's phone number. She was so happy to hear about how Kilometer was doing and that I loved  him enough to go to so much work tracking him as well as his history down. By the end of that conversation, I had been assured the registration papers would be signed over to me.

As it turns out, he had been put in training with Vittex Arabians in Santa Ynez, the precursor to Daamascus. His owner had fallen ill and fallen behind on paying for his board and training, then passed away. The woman's daughter was then put in charge of her estate and all the horses, but it was too late. Instead of going through the proper legal channels to gain ownership, they simply took him for what was owed when they moved to Temecula. She had been trying to find out whatever became of him ever since he disappeared out of the Santa Ynez Valley. I was so glad to be able to fill in so many details for her.

Then disaster struck. One evening I received a message on my answering machine that I needed to give Kilometer's caretaker a call, she had news I may not want to hear. I immediately called her and my heart sank once more...he was diagnosed as a navicular horse. They had noticed him slightly off when being longed, and decided to have the vet out, who confirmed his status through x-rays. As soon as I got off the phone with her, I called my own veterinarian to discuss my beloved horse's future. While I knew the prognosis was not good, there was simply nothing positive about that conversation.

These women were willing to GIVE him to me, for free. Considering my situation, that I'd have needed to board him (since we lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment) as well as being more than seven months pregnant at the time, I knew I had to turn him down. That broke my heart. When last I heard, Kilometer had found a pasture puff home in Northern Arizona where he could live out his days without ever being asked to work again. Hopefully he led a long, healthy and content life.

Now back to my present situation ~ I just want to bring Baronnessa home. Wish us luck.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Welcome, 2012!

Yes, it's two weeks belated, but no less heartfelt!

We have so much happening that once again, I've neglected this poor blog. I know, I seem to say I'll get better about that every time, and I begin with the  best of intentions. So, no promises this time other than to myself!

So far the month of January has been just beautiful, such a change from last year. Brilliant sunshine, unseasonably warm temperatures and we are gearing up for a phenomenal year in 2012. New clients, new horses in training, a brand new energized board of directors for ETI Corral 88 (with yours truly being elected as President for the third year running...I am truly humbled by the support in our community) and so much hope for the upcoming show season has given us so many reasons to be excited going into this year.

Just a few tidbits of news from this past year:

In February, I took my gorgeous black NV Beau Bey gelding to Equine Affaire in Pomona to participate in their "Ride With The Best" program with Deborah Johnson. What a wonderful experience and I thank everyone so much for all their comments about my boy.

My beautiful daughter, now attending Victor Valley College, made her show ring debut in the Saddleseat discipline and rocked the house both times she's shown thus far. I am so proud of you Lisa!!

We took a client's lovely mare (Purebred Arabian) to a clinic with Diana Muravez hosted by the High Desert Chapter of the California Dressage Society at Hidden River Ranch last August and were thrilled with her performance.

Same mare as above attended her very first horse show in late October and brought home a second place ribbon in her show ring debut, in a fairly deep class. We could not be more proud of you, Belle!

Also in August my black horse made his triumphant re-entrance into the show ring at the Mojave River Valley Horsemen's Association Hot August Nights show, winning three out of four classes (placing second in the other), including the evening's biggest class of 15 horses.

Now on to bigger and better things!! As we begin this year, I want to offer many thanks to all the people who have continued to believe in us for so long ~ my incredible family, my fantastic friends and my amazing clients. Thank you all so much for your support over the years!!