Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Tradition...

This year I have much to be thankful for. Most of all, second chances. After the most difficult year of my life, months of rebuilding a life to be proud of and to enjoy, I shall rise like the Phoenix.

I have a daughter I am immensely proud of. I have a love second to none. I have the most amazing group of friends anyone could ever ask for. I have the most incredible clients in the world.

My message this year is, be good to each other. Be kind and benevolent. Seek to do good things, do not harm others. Make those who love and care about you proud. Be the best you can be.

Enjoy your families and good company today. Love on your horses and other four legged friends. Take some time to count your blessings. Most of all, be happy and at peace. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What's So Natural About Natural Horsemanship?

It's a term used more and more frequently over the past 20 or so years, and does seem to have different meanings for different people. But truth be told, there's nothing natural about any of it. Natural for a horse is living on the range, foraging for feed and not having to be annoyed by humans wanting to ride them.

One of my favorite NH terms is "round penning". In the good old days, we just called it "working a horse". This appears to be more of an excuse not to ride the animal, and I'm sorry, but chasing a horse around a round pen until he's huffing and puffing, wobbly legged, isn't training the horse. Yes, I do longe my horses in a round pen. I prefer to do my longlining and bitting work there as well. Oh, you say? Longlining and bitting up? How decidedly non NH! Exactly.

This is been said and endless number of times, both by me and by others, but there's a great deal to be said for proven, common-sense approaches to training horses. Since when did selling gadgets and DVDs make someone a good horse trainer? Make no mistake, there are plenty of excellent horsemen who do produce videos and who do sell tack, however, those aren't their primary sources of income. These folks actually spend time in the saddle to earn their money. Imagine that!

I am going to expound upon this topic later on when I have time to go into some of the history behind the term, delving into the methodology and philosophy, as well as all of the debate regarding “traditional” training versus “natural” training. My personal philosophy of training horses is simply common sense – which is the entire reason for the subtitle of this blog. Common sense horse training. I can't repeat myself enough, though -- wet saddle blankets!!  That's how your horse is going to become a good citizen.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Winterization 101: Surviving Winter As A Horse Owner

So Wintertime is upon us. This time of year always presents new challenges to horse owners, especially in areas of higher altitude where freezing temperatures and snowfall can be common. To blanket or not to blanket, preventing your horse from slipping on frozen ground, making sure your horse has a non-frozen water source to drink from, dealing with your horse's Winter coat while riding -- these and more are all issues we face. Even though I've written on these topics previously, they are worth addressing once more.

I rarely blanket, even during the Winter season, with a few notable exceptions: Obviously with a horse I'm going to show throughout the cold season or a bodyclipped horse, blanketing is a given. With elderly horses, or when there is an impending storm, I'll also blanket them, but blankets come off when the air temperature rises above 45 degrees (55 degrees for the bodyclipped horses or those with show coats).

Something plenty of horse owners don't think about is just how slippery the ground can be for their animals during the Winter months. Whether in their paddocks, in the arena or out on the trail, frozen ground is every bit as hazardous for your horse as it can be for you. Even if you can't see ice, the danger (or potential for injury) is real. Ask any cowhorse trainer, reining exhibitor or barrel racer what it feels like to ride in such conditions, then think how it feels to walk on a sheet of ice (or drive in a blizzard). Imagine what it must be like for your horse.

Another major concern, easily the most critical one, is ensuring all water buckets, barrels and automatic waterers are ice free. I have seen 3 or 4 inch thick ice on water barrels before in the High Desert with an altitude of only 3500', and dealt with frozen water lines for years. This can be fatal for your horse, so be sure to keep a close eye on your water sources. If you utilize auto waterers, hang buckets as an alternative. Keep a hammer or something to break ice handy. Pour warm water into your buckets or barrels, as many horses won't drink water that's too cold, and that can lead to colic. Disconnect your hoses at the bib and drain them each evening before temperatures drop, so you can use them in the morning.

Earlier, I discussed blanketing, and with that subject brought up bodyclipping. But what if you don't want to have to be a slave to your horse's need to be blanketed for warmth? Because their coats are their insulation, most horses do just fine without blankets. But, those Winter coats can be a pain in the rear for riders, especially when we like to ride!  There aren't many solutions to the Winter coat dilemma, however, with those horses who have thicker coats, an obvious recommendation is to avoid allowing the horse to get sweaty, or work them early enough in the day so you can easily cool them out before temperatures drop.

Utilizing a trace clip can be a logical way to remove unwanted hair in places your horse is most likely to sweat and may help with the cooling out and coat drying problem. Personally I prefer a full bodyclip (sometimes leaving a “saddle patch” on the horse’s back) for a number of reasons, not merely aesthetics. Naturally though, that means blanketing. One pet peeve of mine, and I did bring this up above as well, is leaving blankets on when it gets to warm. Be considerate of your horse. They’ll thank you for it.

Enjoy your horses in the Winter -- just remember these tips and you'll be fine.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Step In The Right Direction

One common problem I encounter when horses are brought to me for training is the lack of a lope. It's an understandable issue with a young horse, but after months’ worth of training, I find it inexcusable.

There is no timeline for training horses, and they don't all learn at the same pace, however, loping is a pretty basic skill. If you're having trouble getting a lope from your horse, go back and work on the basics. If they don't understand what you're asking, most horses will tense through the back and up to the poll -- thus the high headedness, which is a matter of natural balance -- when initially asked for upward transitions to the lope, and very few can naturally step off into a lope from the walk without first learning how to do so correctly. You're in luck, because there are a few simple steps to work through this.

By far the easiest way to get that lope every time is teaching the horse to relax, flex and use its body. Much has been written about vertical flexion, though lateral flexion is so much more important. There is also an extremely common misconception that lateral flexion is simply asking your horse to bend his neck sideways (and I've written about this before). That's not the case, and any trainer telling you that needs a much better idea of what the term actually means. Teaching your horse to bend his neck is only the beginning.

Since our end goal is a happy, relaxed horse that carries himself in a balanced manner, we always have to remember that key word: Balance. To achieve a balanced lope, maintaining forward motion is key and having a horse that's supple throughout his body is paramount. So, if we want him to use his whole body, we have to teach him lateral flexion on both sides.

I'll only minimally ask for that flexion at a halt, I prefer the horse to be moving. At the walk, I like to see a slight bend toward the inside on a large (20m) circle. When I consistently get that nice arc without the horse dropping his shoulder, I'll introduce a counter bend in the same circle. From there, we'll perform the same exercise at a slow trot. To finish this part of the process, I'll request slight vertical flexion, asking him to soften to my hand.

These lessons aren't meant to be completed all in one day, but over the course of several days. If relaxing and bending his body is difficult for the horse, I'm not going to rush him. Most horses will let you know when they're ready to lope, though pushing them into it too soon will have a distinctly negative effect. That's where you see the horse who only wants to trot faster and faster, to hollow out his back and not pick up a soft, pretty lope.

Maintaining light contact is essential, unless you're left correcting a problem created by prior poor training. When I've got nice walk and trot circles, coupled with good lateral flexion in each direction at both gaits, I'm fairly assured that with just a little bit of consistent work, I'll have a pretty lope in no time.

By consistent work, I'm talking about 5-6 days per week, once every three weeks won't get you there. Remember our key word? Balance. When the horse feels balanced, he'll be ready to lope, and the ease with which he begins to become comfortable in the lope might surprise you.

At this point, you won't have a slow, collected Western Pleasure lope or a nice collected Dressage horse canter, but you'll have the building blocks, the tools and the foundation to get there.


Forgive and Forget?

Let's face it: In the almost 7 year history of this blog, I have never exactly been good at posting regularly. Even when promising myself I would! So, I'm here once again to say that even though I did make that promise to myself yet another time last September, I failed to follow through. Not because I didn't want to. Not even because I couldn't have, There are no excuses, other than life got in the way. Again. For the umpteenth time. It is what it is, and I am not apologizing. All that said,, I once more welcome you to Laying The Foundation. And I sincerely hope you enjoy your stay. :)