Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Dreadful Dilemma

What compels people to breed horses? Well, if you're a responsible breeder, there is an intended purpose for the horses you produce, and you're proud of those animals. You've either got high hopes and big dreams for your foals, or you're going to sell them a nice profit. Then there are those other elements of society. Which brings me to my topic tonight.

Here I sit at one of the local low-end horse auctions this fine evening, and once again there are several weanlings being dumped. Two of these babies are even wear a fresh brand on their hips. I'm astonished at the fact people would breed horses, wean the foals and they're going to end up at a place like this.

Last week there were a nice group of Quarter Horse yearling fillies that were run through another local low-end sale. Other recent auctions have also had babies. In fact, this is the story with most of the sales recently. What in the world is going on here? What kind of self respecting breeder would do such a thing?

I think I've answered my own question, though. These folks aren't reputable breeders. Because no self respecting breeder is going to want to see what they've produced wind up in a place like this. Now, a disclaimer: As a seller you really can only do so much when those horses leave for their new homes, hoping they're going to be well taken care of and loved.

A common theme these days is sheer disgust with humanity. I'm sure feeling that tonight as I watch this drama unfold. And I feel sick in the pit of my stomach this still goes on in the 21st century.

~SFTS

Sunday, September 3, 2017

If Horses Could Talk...

This is just going to be a quick, fun post since it is a holiday weekend and I'm musing today instead of working on bringing you all training insight. So, I hope you will enjoy.

Have you ever wondered what your horse would have to say if given the gift of (human) speech? I've had a few who would likely have some choice words, or a strong sense of sarcasm, if they had the opportunity. How about the mare who's constantly in season? Or those grumpy old geldings who never seem to like any of their stall neighbors?

"You want me to do what? Step into that puddle? Are you crazy?!"

"No, I don't remember what a leg yield is. I also don't have any idea about these 'lead' things you keep talking about. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure why you bother expecting me to listen at all!"

"Hey!! Are those treats?? Can I have some, can I, can I, can I??"

"Take that, Starbright!! A good bite on the neck ought to teach you not to try reaching over to eat out of my feeder! What's wrong with you, anyways? No wonder your Mom never wants to ride you!!"

I mean, can you imagine? Some years ago, I'll never forget looking out my kitchen window every morning around 4 o'clock after turning on the lights so I could make coffee, and having an entire row of impatient mares staring at me from their paddock awaiting their breakfast. In my head I'd thought up a voice for each of them, and I would chuckle at what I'd imagined them saying.

Horses are incredible creatures. They are sensitive, intelligent, amazing listeners and always seem to know how to make their humans feel better, no matter what's been going on in your life. I'm pretty sure most of them have a grand sense of humor as well. ;)

~SFTS

Saturday, September 2, 2017

It's That Time Of Year Again...

For tonight's post, since we are once again smack in the middle of not one, but two massive Southern California firestorms where there are homes being burned, hundreds of evacuations taking place and horses in danger, I thought it would be a good time to share my Fire Emergency Evacuation post from 2009 once again. It is always a good one to repeat this time of year.

We have had a bustling community on Facebook over the past 8 years as well, which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/groups/158954694272977/ -- come join our community of 5,000+ members in helping to keep local horse owners and heir horses in 10 Southern California counties safe during emergencies. SCEEE. Southern California Equine Emergency Evacuation.

To find my aforementioned Fire Emergency Evacuation post, look here: https://laying-the-foundation.blogspot.com/2009/07/fire-handling-emergency-evacuations.html

Here in California we have already had a dreadful year for fires. Stay safe, everyone.

~SFTS

Friday, September 1, 2017

Just Marking Time!

There is a lot to be said for the some of the nastiness we see in the horse industry, none of it good. From jealousy over who does what, to tit-for-tat pettiness in regard to personal opinions on training methods and a wide variety of other subject matter, it's just disheartening.

As I enter my 50th year of life this evening, I've been pondering why so many horse people have such a knack for being really ugly folks on the inside. None of us do things the same way as each other -- it simply isn't possible to all successfully employ the same methods with the same degree of success. There are, however, many techniques which are better and less difficult for the horse or less abusive than others. We've just all got to find our niche that works for us.

That said, we all have a responsibility to help others with (or point out to others) things we see them doing which may be harmful to the horse. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the horses we serve. This isn't an easy industry to make a living in, and a huge factor in that is the amount of competition for recreational dollars, and that's something I have said for years. While I wish things were more like they used to be many years ago, we simply have to adapt and roll with the punches, so to speak.

Our industry is definitely a place where only the strong survive. And I'm very proud that after so many years, I'm still surviving. Good night, all!

~SFTS

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stand By Me! Why Ground Manners Are Important

Ground manners are probably the most important thing your horse can learn. Everything you will do (or want to do), requires impeccable ground manners and evolves from your horse behaving like a lady or gentleman when being handled on the ground. No horse will become a good citizen under saddle without first learning to possess the ability to be easily caught, stand while being haltered, lead nice and quietly with his or her neck adjacent to your shoulder, stand quietly to be groomed and tacked, then stand quietly while being mounted.

But, how to we get there from here? I always explain, ‘Whoa’ is the most important command a horse can ever learn, hands down. This will be the basis for all other interaction we initiate with our horses. When I say ‘Whoa’, I expect all four feet will cease moving, no matter what, immediately, until I tell the horse to move on. That is where ground manners begins. It’s something I’ve written about before: Back in 2009, I wrote this one [https://laying-the-foundation.blogspot.com/2009/08/horsemens-guide-to-ground-manners-tying.html], and in 2010, I wrote this [https://laying-the-foundation.blogspot.com/2010/01/halterbreaking-and-weaning.html]. Both are relatively comprehensive in discussing the mechanics of this topic.

Whenever we discuss ground manners, we must start at the beginning. In this case, let’s go with the age old “hard to catch” horse. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had more than my fair share of horses brought to me for training who didn’t want to be caught, and there are a plethora of reasons behind why this occurs. It could be the horse was never desensitized to humans, maybe the horse had a traumatic experience and fears humans, or it could be the horse simply likes to play games – and those types of horses are abundant! J My horses always begin to look forward to being caught, after we've quickly and calmly tackled this issue. We just always want to remember, patience is paramount.

So, how do we catch those hard to catch buggars? I prefer to start with the ignoring method, which works on the very curious nature of most horses. Going into the horse's pen or stall, you essentially ignore the horse until he or she becomes curious and starts approaching you. Some other methods which have value are -- if you want to catch the horse at feeding time, keeping the horse away from where he or she is used to being fed until the horse submits to being caught; making the horse work when they evade being caught (not recommended, for obvious reasons, when you have a horse that's fear motivated); using another horse as cover to show that hard to catch beast it's safe (yes, I am being facetious...don't shoot me) or using the catch-pen method. I'm not a fan of using treats for this purpose, or using a bucket of grain, though in the past I have done both.

Any of the above methods will work, but keep in mind as I mentioned above, patience is key and waiting for the horse to relax, become receptive and submit is the only way to teach him or her everything is okay. You also want to continue stressing a firm (albeit quiet) 'Whoa' command whenever the horse stops and stands still during this type of training, followed immediately by a great deal of praise. Once the horse has stood still, you'll approach. If the horse tries to evade, you must make a split second decision whether to back away, work the horse by blocking or utilize another tactic. Timing is essential. And so much depends on the horse's state of mind.

After you've caught the horse and established trust, been able to halter the horse and begin instilling the 'Whoa' command, comes another of the most difficult parts of dealing with hard to catch horses and most significant aspects of good ground manners -- unhaltering. One of my biggest pet peeves is the horse that will pull away as you are taking off the halter. Not only is this dangerous to the person who has to handle the horse, it can also be dangerous to the horse if, for instance, they run off before the halter is completely unbuckled or untied. This, again, is where 'Whoa' command training becomes essential. I insist the horse stand completely still during the entire time I am unbuckling or untying the halter. If that horse pulls away, he or she is immediately re-caught and we repeat the entire process until the horse acquiesces. This is an example of the importance of 'Whoa', which I cannot stress enough.

I always want to be the first to disengage, or walk away, after taking off the halter. This is another vital part of foundational ground manners training. Once a horse has gotten away with leaving first, they tend to push that envelope until you have a horse who resorts to that pulling away I brought up above. Too many people have been trampled or dragged by a horse with poor ground manners. All of this is the gateway to creating a willing and responsive partner under saddle. These exercises and this type of training is even more important with a horse you're intending to train for driving (pulling a cart or buggy).

We'll revisit this topic again at another time, where I'll continue to discuss the mechanics of how to train your horses so they are well mannered and easy to handle on the ground. If you take just one thing away from this article, it should be that a horse with impeccable ground manners is a safe horse and one that will have a useful life as a partner.

~SFTS

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In Focus: What You Need To Achieve Your Riding Goals

Goals. Do you have them? In my opinion in a life with horses, we all need to have a clear cut goal during the training process. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours thinking about what discipline your horse will excel at, nor does it mean you must have any aspirations beyond just becoming proficient at living with horses. Horse ownership is about creating a partnership with your horses. That partnership could be as complex as wanting to win a World Championship in the show ring, or as simple as being able to confidently enjoy your horses as companions.

In this installment, we are discussing goals for riding your horse, so we’ll concentrate on that idea. When my day begins, I always have a game plan, so to speak, regarding what I am going to be doing with each horse on that day. It could be getting the horse used to standing to be mounted…it could be to have nice, calm and forward trot circles…it could be teaching the horse to navigate trail obstacles…whatever our goal for the day, that’s what we focus on after warming up. I’ve discussed this subject before, but it never hurts to revisit.

Warm-up time is essential, no matter what you’re doing with your horse. That’s a point I can’t stress enough, a lack of warm-up time can create many unintended issues because the horse may not be either physically or mentally ready to begin work. Just as a marathon runner needs to warm up his muscles before undertaking a marathon, so should a horse be allowed to warm up those huge muscles in order to comfortably carry us riders and be able to concentrate on the job at hand.

Let’s get started. My first order of business (after catching the horse, of course – if that’s something you are needing assistance with, a difficult to catch horse, we’ll visit that subject another time!) will be the daily grooming process. If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you might be familiar with my DGP. If not, you can search the blog for ‘daily grooming process’ to read up on my routine for preparing each horse ahead of the day’s work. I use the DGP to not only make sure my horses are clean and presentable, but also to get my hands on each horse before tacking up. Many times you can catch small issues before they become a major problem.

When I finish grooming and tacking the horse, it’s time to begin that warm-up. My preference is to free longe in a large round pen, though you can just as easily (and harmlessly) longe them on a line, jog them out while ponied by another horse, or let them loosen up while mounted. There really is no right or wrong way – whatever works for you, and most importantly, for your horse. Warm-ups should be for as long as necessary to feel the horse’s body become ready to perform at the level required by the rider.

At this point, I want to stress having the ability to differentiate between a sound horse and an unsound horse. While there are some obvious signs of lameness, “head bobbing” during the trot being one of the most commonly noticed by laymen or those new to horses; a shortness of stride, dropping of shoulder or hip, and any of a number of other telltale actions by a horse that’s in some kind of discomfort should be noted. If you have a hard time spotting these things, spend some time observing horses and talking with either your veterinarian or a skilled and knowledgeable trainer, or both.

Now it’s time to mount up, or if you’re already on the horse, get the real work started. What is your defined goal for the day? This is when most problems arise, and the reason for this article in the first place: Having that game plan outlined long before you swing a leg over your horse. If your homework was done, you know exactly you need to proceed. So, get out there and enjoy this time building a better relationship with your horse, all while strengthening the horse’s foundation.


~SFTS 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This Isn't The County Dump! These Are Horses!

Pardon me, everyone, but I am about to go on a bit of a rant here. We hear the term "unwanted horses" more and more these days, and there are an ever growing plethora of rescue organizations which keep cropping up dedicated to saving horses. At face value, that's not a bad thing.

Keep in mind though, this is California -- horse slaughter for human consumption has been illegal here (as in, a felony) since 1998. That's 19 years now. It's not a secret, and one reason why some of our low end auctions ceased running horses through years ago. We don't have "kill buyers" here. Horses cannot be shipped across state lines, and yes that includes to Mexico, for slaughter.

Folks (particularly those who make good money getting donations to "save horses from slaughter") will say the law isn't enforced, or that the traders and dealers just ship to other auctions in other states where slaughter IS legal, then it doesn't matter where the horses end up... but I'm here to say, nonsense.

Here's the bigger issue: Why are so-called rescues putting money in the traders' pockets instead of intercepting horses before they wind up in the traders' hands? Why are they letting the traders buy at auctions, then paying the overinflated markup, instead of outbidding the traders? Trust me, no horsetrader wants to bid up a rescue, because if the rescue backs out, they don't want to be left paying way too much for horses.

Then there's this, another sordid issue. Why haven't any rescues put resources together, or held fundraisers, to close off the so-called "slaughter pipeline"? I mean, it's this pipeline to slaughter they all rail against online, right? How about a caravan fundraiser, to follow these "slaughterbound" California horses to the slaughterhouses, since these rescues claim horses are being illegally shipped to slaughter anyhow, despite the law? Put an end to it!

But the bottom line is, without the ability to cry, "These babies are going to die in a slaughterhouse if we don't save them!!" ... these rescues won't be able to rake in the funds from their bleeding heart donors. I am NOT against rescue, in fact I've dedicated many years to the rescue cause, however what I'd like to see is a lack of need for having rescues in the first place.

Join me in helping to put rescues out of business. Let's choke off the slaughter pipeline where it counts, in the pockets of the supposed kill buyers. Can I get an Amen?

~SFTS

Monday, August 28, 2017

Attention Spans: They're Not For Everyone...

But they should be!
After a three day hiatus, I'm back with a refreshed outlook and more equine / equestrian advice for you. Did you miss me? Okay, let's get started...
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is about how to prevent common accidents, around or with horses, from happening. As a rule, my standard response is – pay closer attention! Most accidents are entirely avoidable. I’m reminded almost daily of incidents where horses or riders / handlers have been injured, sometimes severely, and a common thread is there was some kind of failure on the part of the humans involved to pay attention to detail. I understand it is not always easy to be 100% focused on your horse or what you’re doing with the horse, but that said, it’s essential to being safe.
Safety should always be our first and foremost concern, no matter what we’re doing with our horses. One careless move can create life altering changes. It’s one thing when you have a young horse, a green horse or an abused horse, they often are wary or skittish of humans. Most owners or handlers keep this in mind when working with such horses, but it’s usually the calm and easy-going horses we never expect to have a problem with that wreak havoc on us. Why is that, do you suppose? A lack of paying attention!
A very common factor for injuries occurring with horses is during leading and tying, two of the most basic things we do (or want to do) with our equines. Many trainers and owners will frequently say, they would rather be on the back of a rank or fractious horse than at the end of a lead, and the reason behind that is actually quite simple: It can be a lot easier to control the direction a horse travels from upon the horse’s back than on the ground. But again, most injuries occur because we’ve gotten complacent about keeping track of the horse and what it’s doing.

One of my major pet peeves is correctly handling your lead rope or longeline. They should NEVER be wrapped around your hand, or left to lie on the ground. This is something I see all the time. I know how quickly things can escalate where horses are concerned, with their flight instinct, and that almost always spells danger. Every time I see folks being careless with the lead or longeline, I cringe. And often these kinds of images are of supposed professional trainers. No, no, no! Once a tragic accident happens due to carelessness, there is no going back.

Another classic time people get hurt around horses is during trailer loading. Granted, this is one of the most dangerous things we ask our horses to do…climb into a big steel or aluminum box…but there are ways to load and tie horses safely. Recently, there have been several very avoidable accidents, and every time it’s been a total failure to use common sense. One of my mantras is, how uncommon ‘common sense’ really is. Pay attention to where the horse is, even when not looking at the horse. If you don’t have the ability to sense the horse’s presence and what he or she is doing while you aren’t looking in the horse’s direction, seek out someone who can. It might save your (or your horse’s) life.

Of course, then there’s not paying attention while riding. When out riding the trail, in particular, paying close attention to your surroundings is paramount. During the Summer there's a risk of rattlesnakes and other hazards, including quicksand in certain areas. Avoiding most hazards when you’re on horseback just requires that you familiarize yourself with your surroundings, but at the same time you have to pay close attention to what your horse is doing and where your horse is going, as well. Remember, our horses trust us to keep them safe, just as we want our horses to keep us safe. It should be a reciprocal responsibility when you are truly partners with your horses.

In summation, just think about what it is you might be able to do better while working with and around horses. Having a good attention span will likely save you in vet bills and doctor visits. None of us like those!


~SFTS

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Insert Cheesy Post Title Here...

This is a topic I've been re-thinking for a very long time. I have covered a great deal of this in other articles over the years, but it's time for an update. Many folks just don't understand the reasons behind use of training aids, how beneficial they can be, or what their purpose is. Some consider it to be cruel or abusive to utilize any kind of 'training tools' on a horse, but honestly, you've got to keep in mind there are good reasons behind the development of most of what we use for training purposes with our horses.

Spurs are one of the most often misunderstood tools in the horse world. To correctly use the spur, you must first have excellent leg control, as spurs are only meant to be an extension of your leg. Riding horses requires a specific correct body position, and your legs are not the least important factor in this equation by far. As most of you should know by now, my order of importance when discussing the body aids are Seat, Legs, Voice then Hands. Some have asked me, why in this order? Well, to ride most effectively, communication with your horse is paramount, and what parts of the body are touching the horse most when you're in the saddle? That's right -- your seat and your legs.

Back to spurs...why might you need them? If, for instance, you have requested a motion or maneuver from your horse and he has refused your light leg cue, what then? I am all about giving the horse multiple chances to respond correctly, however there are limits to the amount of "tries" the horse should be given, particularly when he/she has a certain amount of training. When my cues are flatly ignored more than once, I am going to begin a more stern request. Spurs can be the ideal answer to explaining to the horse that he/she doesn't have a choice but to acquiesce. My favorite type of spurs are ball spurs, as opposed to classic English spurs with edges or classic Western spurs with rowels. All they provide is pressure from a lower point than your knee and calf, when used correctly.

Crops or whips are a close second when it comes to misunderstood artificial aids. Like spurs, they are an extension of a limb -- in this case, your arm. And, like spurs, they aren't meant to be used as a weapon or for punishment per se. If I want to more strongly communicate my point to a horse, especially when the horse has flatly refused to listen or outright disobeyed in an obnoxious manner, a crop can be helpful in illustrating I mean business. For instance, when requesting the horse move off my leg. Upon asking, and the horse doesn't respond, I can use a slight tap behind my leg to further illustrate what I want. Or, the horse that doesn't like leg pressure, I'll use the tap of a crop to explain kicking out at my leg (or rearing, or bucking, or any of a number of undesirable actions) is unacceptable behavior. That isn't to say I advocate beating a horse. Absolutely not. Know the difference between abuse and clearly illustrating to the horse what you are asking when they ignore your cues.

Various pieces of training equipment, such as martingales, draw reins, cavessons and so forth also elude many people. While there are an awful lot of tack items I do not suggest using and wouldn't own myself, a number of them can be quite helpful during the training process. In 2010, I wrote an article on this blog regarding most of these tools, and I shall expound upon quite a few of them in a later installment. For your reading pleasure, you can check out https://laying-the-foundation.blogspot.com/2010/05/widgets-gadgets-and-gizmos.html and explore that long-ago post. Then there are bits, which I've covered what seems like endlessly and won't get into this time around, either. Please search the blog for bit posts -- there are a lot of them!

Additionally, we have training tools used on the ground, such as stud chains and rope halters or 'Be Nice' halters, longeing cavessons and other varieties of things deemed helpful or necessary to horsemen. That is also another subject for another post. When I began this journey, and today's post, my hope was to cover at least a small percentage of what we use on horses during the training process, and I think I've been at least somewhat successful. There is never enough time it seems to cover everything I want to write about. But, that's the beauty of an ongoing blog. I can (and will!) come back to write again.

~SFTS

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Little By Little

Today I came to the realization that we're in trouble. Well, I've known the horse industry has been suffering for a very long time, but it finally hit home.

We don't have enough kids growing up with horses. In years past, there were always young people wanting horses, dreaming about horses, loving horses. How many of us rode before school each day? How many of us mucked stalls joyfully just to spend time around horses? How many of us were at the barn for countless hours every day, sun-up to sundown, living and breathing these incredible creatures? Compared to how many do those things in this day and age?

What happens when there are no new buyers because no one cultivated an environment for kids to learn about horses and fostered a desire to become a horse owner? They cost a lot. They take a great deal of room and specialized housing. And let's not forget how much time and effort it takes to care for a horse.

Somebody has to do something, or a few years down the road, the only place you'll be able to see horses will be in a zoo. Start today by pledging to help a child or two learn about horses and fall in love with them, just like you did so long ago. What have you got to lose? If horses start disappearing, we're all going to lose everything we hold dear.

~SFTS

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Working Western...What Is It Anyhow?

There are several divisions which make up the Working Western disciplines, most commonly Trail, Reining, Western Riding, Cutting and Working Cow or Reined Cow. I could add fun events such as team sorting and team penning, though they aren’t classified as Working Western in a traditional sense. Of course, for Working Cow and Cutting classes, you need cattle and a horse that can work them, however even if you don’t have the ability to do so (or the horse who will), you can still participate in the Working Western world.

Of these, three are the most commonly held at a majority of shows. Probably my favorite, is Reining. Originally called “stock horse”, Reining is essentially a test of the athletic ability and skills a horse may need to work on a cattle ranch, --only without the cattle -- by completing maneuvers such as circles and spins performing one of a number of specific patterns. Most all the elements of a Reining horse class are basic movements necessary for completing ranch tasks. Another class I absolutely love is Trail. This is a class wherein horses negotiate obstacles while navigating a pattern through them, either halted, walking, jogging or loping, and through which the horse completes each obstacle in order. Western Riding is an old class that has seemed to have made a comeback in recent years, and consists of a set pattern where the horse completes multiple lead changes in each direction at the lope, preferably flying changes.

Then there are the cattle events, though the Working Cow also has a Reining aspect in addition to actually working the cow. They have to perform a Reining pattern, box the cow away from his herd and run the cow (both down the fence, and in a circle). Whereas in Cutting, the objective is to quietly ride into the herd, single out one cow and keep it separated from the herd for a length of time. Hence, “cutting” the cow away from the herd. Both of these classes take [slightly or considerably, depending on horse and trainer] longer as a general rule to train than the other Working Western divisions, because the horse must become acclimated to being ridden around and tracking cattle.

At some point in the future, I’ll go more in depth on both the training and competition aspects of these classes and divisions, but for now I’ll close by saying, if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching any of them, please do yourself a favor and treat yourself. You’ll be glad you did.


~SFTS

Monday, August 21, 2017

Symmetry In Motion: Finding Balance And Harmony

There are few things in life that are guaranteed. One of them is certainly riding your horse in total balance and harmony, every single ride, though it's one of those things we strive for as riders, trainers and exhibitors. Let’s define symmetry: “A sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance.”

When we look at the classical Dressage training pyramid, we take note of how foundation plays a key part in the training of our horses, these are all essentially the building blocks of ensuring the horse will be capable of moving onto the next phase of training. Rhythm, or tempo, is at the bottom. What rhythm gives us is a baseline upon which to build. A horse showing rhythm will be forward, loose and steady; before achieving this you really cannot move forward with training. I always begin rhythm training exercises with circles of 20 meters, which helps build correct tempo. Remember though, we are assuming the horse already has a solid walk / trot / canter and an understanding of the aids.

As we move through the steps of the pyramid – relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and ultimately, collection, there will be a marked difference in your horse’s performance as well as his attitude. That’s because we are preparing both his body and his mind to perform the tasks requested of him with ease. This doesn’t just go for Dressage, I use these steps in training any horse, for any job. Even with Western Pleasure horses, for them to fully express the form-to-function capability they need in order to be competitive, they've got to have Dressage basics, or you'll have a horse obviously rushed with shortcuts. To any educated judge, those will be blatantly obvious.

Some of you are probably thinking, these are pretty blanket and vague statements I’m making, so I’ll go back to the beginning. How do we create a balanced, well rounded horse? Baby steps. Plus, it all depends on if we’re talking about an unstarted youngster (or unbroke horse of any age, really), a greenbroke horse, or one that just needs a tune-up in their training. As stated above, for the purposes of this post, we're going to assume the horse has a nice walk, trot and canter, is out of the round pen, and being ridden in an actual arena -- I'm not going to address the unstarted horse here.

Too many folks seem to think they've got to start out with their horse having a 'headset'. Okay, those of you who have desires to show have seen that you just can't compete if your horse's head is flinging up into the air, but what you may not know is how to correctly get that headset. Two words: Self carriage. I've discussed many times before, self carriage is created through true collection, and that collection comes from behind. And also that a headset IS NOT collection. But, yes I do like a pretty headset on my horses by the time they're show ring ready. That might cause a stir among the 'natural horsemanship' crowd, or the old-time Dressage purists, however, a headset is simply icing on the cake.

Our goal in training any horse should be symmetry. Remember that definition I quoted above? Horses in motion ARE beauty and harmony. When you have the building blocks in place, take your time and help your horse understand how to perform to your satisfaction, there will be no doubt you've achieved that goal.

~SFTS

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rescue Ruckus

This is kind of a hard subject for me to write about, because I honestly do not believe anyone gets involved in horse rescue with anything other than the best of intentions. I'm fairly sure no one wakes up one morning and chooses to start a rescue with the intent of committing fraud, or doing any of a myriad of things various rescue orgs have been accused of over the years. I could be wrong, though I sincerely doubt it.

Recently yet another horse rescue has come under fire for misappropriation of funds, lying to donors, neglect and all kinds of shady, terrible things. This isn't a new set of allegations against horse rescues, most have to deal with things of this nature for the duration of their existence. Such instances frequently come from disgruntled former volunteers, donors or adopters who've been cut out of the "family" for one reason or another. Then there are the instances where people walk away and speak out because they can just no longer be a part of something they originally believed to be good.

My own angle here is to see if there might be some means of making sure there's some kind of an end to the games people play, so that first and foremost horses aren't harmed. What's frustrated me for years about rescue, is that it's so often more about the rescuers' egos than actually helping horses. "But I've saved more horses than you!" is a common theme. Really? Who cares! As long as horses are being saved, even one horse at a time, shouldn't that be what really matters?

I'm going to wrap this up now, and revisit the topic at another time for more in depth discussion, because it aggravates me so much and I don't like the idea of getting so riled up at bedtime. We have a huge issue out there with horses needing to be taken care of and horses that need homes. Our horse market is at an historic low, meaning too many folks just can't afford to own horses anymore. There are simply too many issues to get into right now.

While there was a lull in auction consignments for several years, locally they all seem to be full of horses again and that's not exactly good news. At least a couple of auctions that only a few years ago had no horses being run through seem to be presently inundated with equine. None of this is beneficial to the horse market. What are the solutions? Honestly, I wish I knew. It's a terribly painful realization that, just maybe, we really CAN'T save them all.

~SFTS

Friday, August 18, 2017

Treat...Or Trick?

Have you ever encountered a treat monster? One of those pushy, obnoxious horses who would sooner knock you over for a treat than cooperate or comply with their rider's wishes? Let me start by saying, I am not opposed to using treats under certain circumstances and I understand the rationalization by those who do feed treats. But, unless you're careful, a monster is exactly what you're liable to create. Here we are going to have one of my shortest posts yet, I’ve just gotta get this one off my chest. So, here we go…

In my training program, treats are a reward for doing a correct job. Horses that expect a treat without actually accomplishing anything learn quickly they can't get away with such nonsense while in my care. I’m not being mean (though don’t ask the Treat Monsters about that, hahaha), I just have my expectations, which include horses working well and not thinking they deserve cookies without doing a thing other than looking pretty. Just, no. That isn’t how it works, guys! As a rule, I only give treats after the horse is worked and only a couple of them at a time.

Owners who dole out the goodies as a regular part of their routine are a trainer’s worst nightmare. Well okay, that could be a slight exaggeration, but my point being, please don’t. I've also known trainers who stuff their pockets full of treats even before saddling the horse, and wouldn't you know it, their horses are usually obnoxious beasts expecting those goodies without actually doing anything. Trust me when I say, this isn’t a good thing. Riding treat monsters is a pain in the rear. Mounting them is even worse – they’re always trying to search your pockets when you are anywhere near their vicinity and it’s no fun having a horse’s teeth graze your behind (or rip your jeans trying to get into your pocket) when you are climbing up into the saddle.

So, my rule is: Treats ONLY after the horse has actually accomplished something! And NOT after every ride! Make the experience one to savor, make it mean something. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :)

~SFTS

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Give It A Try -- Dressage For Everyone!

Back in 2010 I began hearing about the relatively new and fast growing sport of Western Dressage, and started educating myself. A phenomenon which started in the Morgan breed and quickly spread to the masses, Western Dressage truly is Dressage for all riders and all horses.

All Western Dressage [“WD”] tests are performed on a Dressage court of 20 meters by 60 meters, just as in the traditional variety, but the beauty of this discipline is you do not need a fancy $100k Warmblood to be competitive. There are similarities to both Traditional Dressage movements and to Western Pleasure horses, however, the horse who excels in this sport will be neither. We look for normal (working), collected and extended gaits, just like with any Dressage horse. There should be a smoothness, willingness and ease of motion to both the gaits and performance of the horse. His jog will not be the slow, mechanical variety which is found in Western Pleasure. We want to see a forward, balanced type of movement and the same goes for the lope.

When it comes to training the WD mount, I use the same principles as with any horse in my program. We focus on relaxation, going forward, straight lines, bends, counterbends and circles. I want my horses to learn balance and be able to extend their frame and stride on the long sides of the court before we request them to collect. I have always used Dressage based exercises with all of my horses, because as we know, foundation is key to having a willing and happy partner. How do we build that foundation? By making the right way the easy way and ensuring we follow the building block principles of Dressage. That term, after all, simply means Training, and it is through systematic foundational training that we create a winning ride.

A horse that has free moving, ground covering gaits is essential to be successful in the world of Dressage, and the beauty of WD is, any horse can compete. While that is also true on the lower levels of Traditional Dressage, something I love about this segment of the sport is, extremes are not rewarded and if your horse can perform the basic moves with a solid, quiet demeanor, he will become a winner. While accomplishing this takes time, as with any show ring discipline, if you’re not wishing to compete on a Rated show level and prefer to stick with small local or schooling type shows, getting in that show ring – and making good scores -- can be fairly quick.


If you start with a soft, supple horse that has the basics of walk, trot, canter and go through the process of teaching your horse essential movements such as straight lines and circles, gradually building momentum to have nice lateral flexion (which is imperative in order to achieve a successful degree of collection), you’ll be well on  your way. Keep in mind, and I’ve said this many times, though it bears repeating, collection isn’t merely a headset. Collection comes from the hindquarters and is one of the final steps in the training process.

I'll return to discussing this wonderful sport in the future, but in the meanwhile, if you're interested in learning more check out the Western Dressage Association of America, North American Western Dressage and the United States Equestrian Federation.

~SFTS

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Little Bit More Background On Bits

We have previously, on several occasions, explored the wide world of what we put in our horses' mouths. Most of what was covered in our previous trips down that proverbial yellow brick road has consisted of when to use what bit for what purpose. This time around, my intent is to explain how bits work and why horses respond to bits the way they do.

Most horses begin their formal training by learning to carry a snaffle bit. I've written exhaustively about the benefits of the snaffle and the reasons I prefer to use them for a majority of work on my horses. In schooling show horses, even those destined for Western disciplines where they'll be required to wear a bridle after the age of 5, and trail horses every single time out, I find no reason to go beyond using a simple snaffle bit a majority of the time. In fact, unless we're schooling for an upcoming show, or initially teaching the horse to wear something shanked for a specific purpose, a lightweight, smooth snaffle is my bit of choice.

There are, of course, many variations of the snaffle bit; some are better than others. Each type has a purpose and a special application. As horsemen, we need to know and understand the purpose of a bit is communication with the horse. However, ideally we should be mostly using our body to express our intent and what we expect from our mounts, as opposed to pulling on their mouths. Right? Why are bits even necessary? Think super subtle stealth communication. Reins aren't meant to be pulled on, they're not a steering wheel to manhandle, they are more like a power cord between your hands and your horse's mouth. That current of energy from what your hands wish to convey, travels down the rein and directly contacts one of the most sensitive parts of the horse.

Snaffle bits and curb bits work differently to communicate with the horse. One works off the corners of the mouth, and the other works off leverage utilizing a curb strap or chain  (chin strap). I have said this before, ten thousand times. And depending on what configuration the snaffle is, the message you're giving the horse can vary. Same goes for the many variations of curb bits which are available on the market. I've been asked many times before, why are there so many different types of bits? I wish the answer was less simplistic, but the fact is, marketing and money. Each time something new comes along, everyone has to rush right out and buy it, whether they need it or understand how to use it. There really is no better answer.

If I'm riding or training in a snaffle, I'm wanting direct contact with my horse's mouth, though I expect that the horse already understands my subtle seat and leg cues. This is a tool for directional steering, if you will, though a majority of how I ride is through my weight in the saddle, utilizing my seat and various parts of my legs. All that bit is for will be to encourage the horse to point his nose in a certain direction, then follow with his body. When I pick up a rein or take hold of a rein, my "less is more" theory of pressure on his mouth is critical. Any amount of even the slightest resistance means we have to go back a step or two, until he fully understands what we're doing.

With a curb, I'm looking for a response to the slightest movement of reins on the bit to elicit a response. I should be able to lift my hand and see/feel a change (when coupled with seat pressure, weight distribution and using my legs) in how the horse carries himself. As we've talked about before, a curb bit works by rotating in the horse's mouth aa well as through degrees of pressure on the bars of the mouth and the tongue. I prefer a Billy Allen, a Mullen mouth or a frog mouth, as all three are easy on the horse with ideal tongue pressure, and I have found them to be the best tools to communicate my wishes. More advanced curbs begin to add more pressure on the tongue, a "cricket" (or roller) to occupy the horse with an overactive mouth, or pressure to the roof of the mouth.

In all this, the bottom line is we have to understand how to most effectively communicate with our horses, and that means choosing the correct bit to use for the job we are interested in the horse performing. If all the pieces fall into place and you have laid a solid foundation, you'll have the most amazing relationship ever with your horses. But you've got to listen to what they're telling you. Happy trails!

~SFTS

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Balancing Act: What Should You Expect From Your Trainer?

I'm always perplexed when new potential clients contact me for an evaluation, and come to find out they've already paid big bucks to someone else posing as a trainer, only to have the result be a horse that needs to be fixed because said previous trainer hss either taught the horse to behave poorly, given the horse bad habits, not correct it a problem or any of a plethora of issues. For many years, I have said training horses isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, it's mostly just common sense. Even young and inexperienced folks can train horses, though that doesn't make them professional trainers. Horses expect us, as riders, to be honest and fair. Most horses simply want to please us, and do their best in that endeavor. All of this is a huge reason why my level of irritation vastly increases when presented with these kinds of scenarios.

Trainers are hired as professionals and as such should always strive to keep a professional demeanor. That means for the entire duration of the relationship with each client, from initial contact, to the completion of whatever training has been paid for. But clients have a responsibility here as well, and that is to clearly communicate to the trainer all your expectations for your horse. Additionally, please let your trainer know what issues the horse is going to arrive with, and if the horse has any bad habits or dangerous behaviors. I've had horses sent to me for training before, who badly injured previous riders. While that doesn't preclude me from wanting to work with the horse and assist the owner in having a solid, safe, well trained mount, it's always nice to know what to expect.

When you call a trainer for an evaluation, try to have in mind exactly what you want accomplished and express that to him or her. Have all terms and everything you expect laid out in writing before any work begins. That way, you both understand the direction each training session should focus in. Do keep in mind that there is no set time frame for training horses, and depending on where your interests lie, the more specialized your chosen discipline, or how bomb proof your expect your horse to be,  far more time may be necessary to accomplish certain goals. As long as you both understand each other's expectations, your journey will be worthwhile and enjoyable. As a professional trainer, that's always my goal.

Then comes the big day, when your horse arrives at the training facility. By this time, you've hopefully taken your time to carefully choose the right place and the right people in order to ensure the most pleasant experience. Since (as discussed above) you will have had these discussions with the trainer long in advance, there should be no surprises, right? Expectations should never be in doubt.

Here are a few other tips in order to have a wonderful experience with a horse in training: Before any training begins, you should have made it clear what you want your horse trained to do. Become a solid trail horse? Learn to pull a cart? Become a show horse in a specific division? And so on. If an issue not covered in your initial contact -- or your contract -- should arise, make sure the trainer understands they must contact you immediately to discuss the situation in depth. There should be provisions in the contract for what happens in the event of illness or injury, and what their responsibilities are. That one should be a no brainer, right? But that's not always the case. Be sure you both have a clear idea of the end goal.

While I cannot guarantee your experience will be flawless and without any issues, the more legwork you do leading up to making the choice of trainer, and to the 'big day' itself when your horses delivered for training, the more enjoyable this journey should be for both you and your horse.

~SFTS

Monday, August 14, 2017

I've Got A Dollar In My Pocket, Let's Go Shopping!

Today we're going to revisit buying and selling horses, with an emphasis on accuracy in advertising. Being honest when you promote what you have to sell is essential. Here's an incredibly important point to remember: "Project" and "Prospect" are very tricky terms, and it's next to impossible to properly convey the idea of potential to most buyers.

That's not to say if someone has a knowledgeable trainer or knows what they're looking for (and looking at) they can't or won't be able to see what a horse might become with some time and money invested. But let's face facts. Many buyers today are in the market for the perfect horse, with a budget of $0. There's nothing wrong with that, everyone likes  a bargain, however, generally you do get when you pay for. In other words, expecting to find a National or World Champion for free is virtually impossible. Note, I said "virtually", because I've gotten (very) lucky a time or two.

I cannot stress enough that people who are inexperienced with horses should never go looking for a mount without having someone who knows what to look for, and what they actually need, accompanying them. That's just common sense. I have found, though, that's not such a common thing these days. I've seen this on a daily basis in the So Cal High Desert -- "Well, we bought some land so we could have a horse in our backyard!" -- then they (or even worse, their children) get hurt, which damages the horse industry further, since that animal will need a new home again, because he's been labeled dangerous. And it wasn't even his fault.

Can I have an Amen?

When you're selling a horse, it is likewise important to do your homework, be completely honest and do your best to ensure a good match with whoever purchases the animal. Chances are, if you aren't operating a high end show barn, you will attract a vast array of lookie-loos, beginner riders, or first time buyers seeking out a bargain. I have found that many buyers who haven't solicited the services of a reputable trainer are not adequately prepared to assess their needs or their compatibility with specific horses. This is where becoming a good seller (or agent) and working hard to match a buyer with an appropriate horse is vitally important.

Pricing horses is also notorious for being a touchy business. If you price too high, especially with a horse that doesn't have a competition or production record, you are likely to inadvertently be turning away a number of great buyers. If you price too low, there's always the danger of a horse ending up and one of those bad places  none of us wants to think about. There other dynamics, of course, not the least of which is the breeder factor: Breeding horses, as many know, is rarely a money making proposition. What can you do to ensure the horses you breed will find an excellent home when it's time to market them? Training, plain and simple.

Here's the bottom line for buyers: Make a checklist of your needs and your wants, define parameters and be honest about your knowledge and ability. Once you have the RIGHT horse, I can almost guarantee your horse ownership experience will be enjoyable. That's the whole point! And for sellers, what you desire most is that your horse find the perfect home, right? So follow the tips above, study what buyers are seeking and rest assured you've helped someone gain an equine partner who will make their dreams of horse ownership come true.

~SFTS

Sunday, August 13, 2017

But Everyone Does It...

Today I'm going to get into topic we all see happening on a daily basis, yet we are sadly becoming pretty much immune to. Abused transcends all breeds and all disciplines. It happens everywhere across the country, in show rings and fancy barns, on the trail and in the paddock of a single horse owner who keeps their horse at home. No horse is immune, no breed is immune, no discipline is immune.

From the "Big Lick" Tennessee Walkers, to the "rollkur" method of warming up a Dressage horse, to trainers "fencing" Reining horses, to the plain old ignorance of the backyard horse owner, there is abuse everywhere in the horse world. I've heard those excuses for poor training techniques like, "But everyone does it!" That doesn't make it okay, folks. Not even close. Isn't that like saying, other people beat their children, so that's ok too? Neither animals or people learn from abusive treatment or techniques, other than undesirable behaviors.

Horses gain knowledge through repetition, and some are slower learners than others. Oftentimes, when you push a horse too far, too fast, the result will be a sullen and irritable horse who at best doesn't know what is expected. This is frequently the beginning of that cycle of abuse. Unfortunately, too many trainers also have too short of a temper, and we all know that's never a good thing when dealing with any animal, let alone a sensitive horse. I'd like to believe that most of the time, poor training practices in the ill treatment of horses is the result of ignorance, as opposed to being deliberate brutality, however I tragically know better. But even ignorance isn't an excuse.

Abusive training is thought necessary by some in order to excel in the show ring, and we can certainly see a clear path leading to abuse because of horse show trends. Trainers want their mounts to stand out, which has led to extremes being rewarded over good, solid performances which follow division rules. It seems like the flashier the Dressage horse, or the slower the Western Pleasure horse or the higher stepping the Saddleseat English horse, or the more low headed the Reining Horse, they are more apt to win. Therefore, trainers see those flashy Dressage horses, those ultra-slow Western Pleasure horses and so forth, which leads them to try emulating those winning animals.

Then we have the backyard horse owners, weekend trail riders, and even the local trainer who's just trying to make a buck instead of trying to compete at a show ring level. Those are frequently the trainers who get the problem horses, mounts that didn't make it on the racetrack, at the horse shows or otherwise and for whatever reason haven't become good equine partners. It is under this scenario I most frequently see some of the worst examples of training, generally because there's a lack of knowledge on the trainer's part regarding why horses misbehave, and how to correct bad behavior.

We all know the difference between a frightened horse and a happy horse -- or at least we should if we pay attention to our horses attitudes and reactions. We should all know the difference between good treatment / training and abuse. There is no reason to resort to so many things I see, both in the show pen and on the trail. As a trainer and a horseman, I want my horses to be happy and enjoy their jobs. Strive to communicate with your horse. Work on understanding what it takes to get the performance you desire. If you need help, seek out a skilled trainer that can assist you. Ask questions, watch the trainer work with horses, and educate yourself, too. Your horse will thank you!

~SFTS

Friday, August 11, 2017

Won't Get Fooled Again...Experience Counts!

Few things upset me more than folks getting ripped off. When those who call themselves horse trainers fleece clients, steal their money, ruin horses and generally wreak havoc, they give all of us in the profession a bad name. Nowhere is this more apparent, or more prevalent, than the High Desert of Southern California -- my proverbial backyard. I don't want to insult folks, but some people tend to be, well, cheap. There's nothing wrong with liking bargains, and I'll never complain if someone wants a good deal, but in certain instances that old adage of you get what you pay for really does ring true. Particularly when it comes to the training and welfare of your horses.

A good, experienced, knowledgeable trainer spares no expense for his or her charges. They also know what type of equipment is necessary to get the job done, they know how to fit a saddle and adjust a bridle. They also have an experienced,  professional, knowledgeable team of veterinarians, farriers and oftentimes equine chiropractors and dentists to help ensure their horses well-being.

If someone proclaims a certain number of years in the industry, they should have at least been twelve or thirteen years old at least before that experience really began, when speaking of professionally training. An 18 year old kid who says he or she has 10 years of experience may not exactly be lying, they might have been riding horses for 10 years, but that's not professional training experience. That young 20-something who proclaims he or she has been training horses for "years" can't have more than an honest say 10 years real experience, if they're twenty-two to twenty-five years old. And at that age, I'd expect they were honing their craft, working for real trainers, not pretending to be trainers themselves.

Many of us have paid our dues. Most real professionals spend our first years as trainers working under true long time pros who gave us mountains of knowledge, allowed us to gain loads of experience, and taught us what we're supposed to be doing. My mentors were all great horsemen, multiple National and World champions in a variety of disciplines, and drilled into my brain how to do things right. I also learned much about how not to do things during the formative years of my career. But my greatest teachers have been the horses themselves, though a disclaimer here -- many people will say that, but the proof is in the pudding and the results they produce.

I'm what I call a Serial Watcher. I could sit in the grandstands all day long at any number of shows and competitions to just watch horses work and observe their riders or trainers. I'm a knowledge sponge, even though I've been doing this now for more than 35 years (yes, professionally ... getting paid to do it). There is no better way to learn than by asking questions, too, and that's something I have spent a great deal of time doing myself over many, many years. Even now, I'll occasionally see a technique I'm not familiar with, or have an issue crop up that I'm not entirely sure how to fix on a horse. There will always be someone with more experience, more skill, or even just more innovative ideas to bring into the training barn.

This is a subject I could write volumes about, but I'll close now with this parting bit of wisdom: Pay close attention to anyone you may consider hiring as your trainer. Do keep in mind, you're paying this person for their knowledge, their experience, their expertise, and entrusting both your safety (as well as your pocketbook), and your horses welfare, to them. It should never be a decision you make lightly or based solely on cost. Best of luck to you all!

~SFTS

Thursday, August 10, 2017

But, I've Got Blue Ribbons!!

Today's post is going to be short, but sweet. This is essentially my big pet peeve, so bear with me. I may appear to be on the verge of a rant or two!!

If you're like me, there is nothing more fun or more exciting than winning a blue ribbon at a horse show. Shows are places where someone who's highly educated in the art of horsemanship will score or place horses based on a number of factors, not the least of which is their performance. Judges are important people in our world, they can make or break your career. Which is why I've always taken my responsibility when judging very seriously.

Being pinned first in a class deep with high-quality horses is the pinnacle of competition. To be honest though, I'd rather be placed third behind two incredible horses than win a class full of lower quality animals. But by far, the worst is competing in a one horse class. Sure, you get the ribbon and trophy, and you won it honestly. I just can't bring myself to get the least bit excited about that whole scenario.

Then we've got some folks who actually call themselves professional trainers and brag about such wins! Okay, being proud of a good performance from a tough horse is one thing. Bringing along a horse that no one believed in, or that was a little difficult to deal with might rate a smile (or a sense of relief...). I can even think of a few times I might be tempted to be happy just to get through a class with certain horses. But you're never going to hear or see me shouting from the rooftops about winning a single horse class.

My proudest moment in this entire lengthy career -- spanning four decades of showing horses -- was being pinned 5th and an English Pleasure Novice horse class at a Class A Arabian show in Del Mar Circa 1980. I was still competing in the 13 and under age division, I was showing a lone Huntseat horse in a world of Saddleseat horses, and every other entrant in the class in question was a long time, well known and well respected trainer. That PINK ribbon I'd gladly brag about!!

Don't over exaggerate your record. Be proud of what you've accomplished, but temper your pride enough to know when enough is enough. That's all folks. :)

~SFTS

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

For The Love Of Money

Sadly, we live in a world fueled by greed. That also goes for the horse industry. Strike that -- it especially goes for the horse industry. Everyone likes money. Money pays the bills and makes life easier. While money doesn't exactly make the world go round, it comes awfully close. But the things that (the love of) money make people do to horses is downright criminal, or at least it should be.

Most of you have heard of rollkur in the world of Dressage horses, unless you're new to the horse world and haven't been on the internet over the past 10 years. Similar practices of hyper over-flexion are pervasive with Western Pleasure horses, too. Many have also heard of the soring practice with Big Lick Tennessee Walking horses. All these things barely scratch the surface of what our amazing equines suffer through on a daily basis at the hands of so-called trainers.

Why, you ask, would people purposefully cause harm to an animal as noble and majestic as the horse? Money. In horse racing, the biggest purses are for the young horses. Triple Crown races are for 3 year olds. Most of the Breeders Cup races are geared toward youngsters. In Reining and cutting, there is virtually no worthwhile prize money past Derby age (5 years). Show and pleasure horse performance futurities are for 3 and 4-year-olds, therefore the pressure is on to make sure those babies are ready well ahead of competition time.

What we must change is that demand for young horses being higher than the demand for older horses. We need financial incentives for mature horses. Now, you need to understand the reasoning for breed registries offering prize money payback is to encourage breeding, therefore increasing registration revenue. And it's trainers who push for large payouts for youngsters in other associations, because that leads to clients seeking out new babies to bring in for training.

All of this boils down to ethics and that brings us back to a topic I've covered before: Choosing the right trainer. Because the love of money causes people to do terrible things and the horse industry is no different. It's vitally important when looking for a horse trainer that you do your homework,  watch the trainer work with horses and clients or students, watch the horses reactions to the trainer, talk to former clients of the trainer as well as colleagues and find out what the reputation is like among real horsemen. Those are the true test of whether or not you should hire a specific trainer

These are subject matters I'm passionate about, you might be able to tell! We will see you in the show ring and on the trail!

~SFTS

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Second Verse, Same As The First...

Building on yesterday's message, the other side of the equation is having a horse the actually builds your confidence up and doesn't destroy it. In other words, you want a horse that's a Confidence Builder versus one that's a Confidence Destroyer. When you're afraid, having a horse that scares you will never help you. So the first step is to find a suitable horse. Wait, let's back up: Get yourself into a lesson program with good school horses and an instructor who helps you instead of hurting you. That's not to say a harsher riding instructor is bad, but timid riders need to be praised, not yelled at.

Everyone who wishes to explore the wonderful world of riding horses needs to first understand, they are animals with a mind of their own. No horse can ever be guaranteed completely 100% safe. They all have the potential of being spooked,  being naughty, or misbehaving in some way. That said, good lesson programs will have the safest horses possible, in a controlled environment (i.e., riding lessons), riders can concentrate on their own skills. I start all my students in a round pen where they are able to focus on their confidence, abilities and correct posture. Once they have the basics down and we reinforce those basics, I'll have them advance to riding without reins (on a longe line), then riding without stirrups. As an instructor, I find these exercises help with dramatic improvement in a relatively short time.

Most of my riders begin to feel safe enough to move into a smaller arena, then a large arena, within weeks of starting their horseback journey. Not all of them, mind you, but most. Being a conscientious teacher who understands their fears and worries is paramount. Once a rider has a frightening or otherwise bad experience, that can become baggage which will never allow them to completely relax and enjoy riding. Minimizing the possibility that such an experience will occur in the first place is one of the responsibilities and signs of being a good instructor.

Let's move on to that moment they're ready to go horse shopping. For timid or frightened riders, this can be a daunting experience and it's a colossal step. Making a list and checking it twice, I'll rule out an awful lot of prospects before actually taking the student turned client out for test rides. Part of my job is to match my riders to horses ideally suited for them. Once we've got a match, I'll strongly suggest the client put the horse in training for at least a couple of months while continuing to take lessons on my well schooled lesson horses. Let me take a minute to explain my reasoning -- In order to do my job to the best of my ability and offer the best services possible to my clients, ensuring their new horse is everything we hope for, and bringing horse and rider together as a team, is my main concern. Everything else is circumstantial. To be sure, there is a cost. But it's well worth it for the rider's safety and enjoyment.

At another time, I'll delve more in depth to this topic because I believe it's an important one. For now, I'm signing off. Happy trails!

~SFTS

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ride On, Dauntless! Becoming A Confident Rider

Some of you may recognize the above reference to the 2014 hit movie Divergent, however, I so enjoyed the message and the fearlessness of the Dauntless faction that I started thinking about how riders are generally of different groups.

What we're going to focus on today is the timid or fearful rider, and how they can become confident riders. First we have to recognize why they may be timid or afraid. Sometimes there may have been a bad experience (or a bad wreck) involving horses long ago, or perhaps they're simply fearful because horses can be big, intimidating animals. Sometimes there may be a medical issue the rider is facing or must overcome. Regardless, everyone can learn to enjoy horseback riding with the right experience.

When faced with the student who is truly afraid, reassurance is a must. While I can't guarantee anyone's safety 100%, because horses are animals with a mind of their own, I can honestly say I'll ensure they have a good time and will want to keep learning. That's the first step, and it's a big one for the fearful student. If someone isn't having a good time, they generally don't want to repeat the experience. I've had students who were so afraid of the animal itself, they had trouble during grooming. Once they realize that massive animal in front of them enjoys being brushed and petted, talked to and fussed over, they usually begin to relax. Horses are very emotionally connected animals, they are extremely sensitive to how we (feel and how we react).

Gaining confidence first requires the individual to trust themselves before they can trust their horse. With the help of a trusted (...there's that word again!) instructor and on a a confidence builder of a horse, most fearful riders will slowly start to feel more secure in the saddle. There's nothing wrong with walking for the first month. Or two. You don't have to advance on someone else's time frame. I'll never forget a lovely young lady who took one of my horsemanship classes at La Sierra University in Riverside when I used to teach there. She was from an Eastern European country, and while she'd always loved horses, she was terrified of riding them. Her lessons consisted of nothing but walking for the longest time, until she finally got brave enough to start trotting. All she ever heard from me was praise, praise, praise.

There was the woman who brought me three horses for training, and told me how her previous trainer never showed her how to ride correctly to get the most out of her horses, or explained the why's of correct riding. That prior trainer only criticized her and told her how badly she was screwing up her horses. I recall the lady who approached me at a horse show in tears because her trainers were not  helping her only harming her self confidence and asked, could she stable with my barn? She had never won anything at a show before, but with my coaching, won her first Championship in a large division against very high quality horses. Then there was the little girl who, during her Western lessons would become so frightened and frustrated that she would stop in center ring and cry. After a certain number of months, she progressed to riding English, then without stirrups consistently, to where she could lope her little horse around the arena bareback, and was winning blue ribbons in the show ring under my tutelage.

When you're ready to progress, you'll know it. If your instructor is savvy, he or she will not only realize it too, but recognize each of your accomplishments in the saddle. You can become a brave, confident rider who enjoys your time on horseback. Just find the right person to teach you, and let it happen!

~SFTS

Sunday, August 6, 2017

One Bad Apple Spoils The Bunch

Here is a topic that's touchy for sure, and make no mistake, the horse world has more than its share of unsavory characters. Unfortunately, there aren't many ways you can research those you'll be communicating with when you're looking to buy a horse, however, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Now, let's be clear. I have nothing against horsetraders in general. They're out to make a living just like the rest of us. Many are decent, honest folks who happen to enjoy buying and selling horses, and interacting with the public. Then there's that other element.

Let's define what a horsetrader is. Generally speaking, it's someone who deals in buying and selling a large volume of horses. Those who honestly portray the horses they're marketing are usually only going to do a cursory evaluation of the horse before offering it for sale. Because as we all know, the longer you hold onto a horse, the more money you're going to have invested in that horse and if you've bought him to resell, your profit margin decreases the longer you own him. Horsetraders usually buy a majority of their horses from low-end auctions or sale barns. This is generally because there are lots of horses to choose from and it saves both time and money not having to drive from place to place in order to fill the trailer with horses to resell. Buying at auction for $200 to $500 and turning the horse over for $1000 to $2000 within a couple of days can be decent money. Of course, the major problem with this is that many things a buyer would notice looking at horses in a private sale setting might be overlooked.

Soundness issues are a common theme with auction horses, as many wind up at the sale yard because they're unsound. You cannot vet check an auction horse before purchasing him, and you can be positive that trader won't spend anything deemed an "unnecessary" expense, so never take his (or her) word that the horse is sound. I used to only recommend a vet check with higher priced horses, but you're really better off safe than sorry. Invest in a vet check. A couple hundred dollars even spent on a cheap horse is money well spent if it saves you thousands in vet bills down the road.

There are several things many horsetraders do that don't sit well with me, so buyer beware is always the best policy. In addition to possible soundness problems, you often encounter behavioral issues in a horse sent off to auction (and picked up for resale buy a trader). It's not a huge deal unless the seller deliberately tries to hide such things from buyers. Keep in mind, what you see isn't always what you get -- that good looking horse who seems perfect may have a habit of kicking his stall walls to smithereens, and if you buy, him you're stuck correcting the issue, dealing with it, or sending him down the road again. Here's where my major beef with unscrupulous horsetraders lies: They usually target buyers looking for gentle, safe, well trained and frequently child safe mounts. Then, even after picking up the horse at the previous night's auction, that trader is already advertising him as "sound, safe, bombproof" the very next day, often after not even getting on the horses back once. Inevitably, some naive family will come look at the horse because he's priced so low, and get suckered into buying him, not realizing what they're in for.

Dangerous horses get people hurt. Hurting horses can become dangerous because being ridden causes them pain and they don't understand. See where I'm going with this? When a newcomer to the horse world, or someone coming back to horse ownership from a long absence is injured riding an unsafe horse, an untrained horse, or a horse with pain issues, they often times want nothing more to do with horses or the people involved in the horse world. Those victims of shady horsetraders frequently feel so burned that they give up entirely on ever having the right horse, that they find another venue for the recreational dollars. That affects us all, and it affects the horses we love, because that means fewer homes available and less money being invested in equestrian sports. That's my bottom line being reduced,  folks, interfering with my ability to make a living.

If you are a potential buyer who needs to find that truly bombproof, safe, well broke horse for your family, first find an honest, reputable trainer or horseman / horsewoman you can trust to help you look. Don't discount the joy you'll experience when you purchase the right horse (at the right price).

~SFTS

Friday, August 4, 2017

Walking Tall...Errr, Riding Tall

Most of the time when I discuss riding and how to ride better, I talk about using your seat and legs. That's largely because they're the most important aspect to riding and doing it well. But your upper body can play a significant role in how you communicate with your horse and get the most out of him or her.

We all know about the age old -- ear -- shoulder -- hip -- heel rule if we've been riding any length of time, and the way our bodies should be aligned while in the saddle. But how often do you think about why that is? It's a pretty elementary concept: Balance. One of the mantras I preach routinely to my students is, don't let your shoulders to get in front of your hips, except under certain circumstances Even being able to walk a young very green horse forward, which requires mainly your seat just like with any horse, I still want correct alignment even though I'm urgent the horse forward with my upper body along with using my lower leg.

What's key in using your whole body while riding the horse is to not let your shoulders lead, or allow your hips to get left behind. I want my riders to sit tall in the saddle, look ahead at where they're going, and be aware of how they're communicating with their horses. Every ride, every time, you're teaching that horse something...good or bad. We should always strive for the good. A pet peeve of mine was the trend some years back of Hunter/Jumper trainers having their students ride an entire course in two-point position. No better way to encourage a horse to refuse a fence than that! When your center of gravity is too far forward (i.e., shoulders ahead of hips), you're teaching the horse inadvertently to quit, because that's the easy thing to do. We all know horses tend to be naturally lazy, right?

How can remind ourselves to ride correctly? That's probably the most commonly asked question I receive from my older riders, or those who are returning to riding after being away from the sport for a certain number of years. We all have a tendency to become complacent in our riding, even professional trainers. I have my own bad habits, which is why I took to entering Equitation classes at horse shows again some years back, when I had the opportunity. Eq is judged on the rider's ability, performance, position and precision. Doing so helped me challenge myself into riding my best, which translated into my horses working even better. It was definitely a win-win situation.

Summing up this discussion, don't forget that riding is a pretty uncomplicated endeavour, though doing it well can be quite a challenge. With a solid foundation though (just like our horses), you'll be unstoppable in any discipline you choose to ride!

~SFTS

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gimme Just A Little Bit!

There are few things worse than having a horse who doesn't want to respond when you ask him to. While ideally I'll be using my seat and legs 1000x more than my hands, responding to the bit or hackamore is still essential for the horse to understand. That's where we begin.

We've talked a considerable amount about lateral flexion and what it means in comparison to vertical flexion. While keeping in mind that a headset is not collection, which comes behind, we still want our horses to soften in our hands and give to the bit (or hackamore). One reason is, especially when working on our suppling exercises, we want the horse to use his body while following his nose. It's really that simple.

To get started, we'll ask for a nice walk with long and low carriage and a lengthened stride. I don't want to even ask for anything remotely resembling a headset for a little while, at least until I have a relaxed and forward walk, then a quiet halt. At that point, I'll pick up my inside rein and request just a slight give. If the horse resists, I'm going to hold light yet steady pressure until I have the slightest response. Repeat toward the outside.

Next, we will walk forward again and I'll ask for the same only slight bend. First to the inside, then to the outside. All I want is the horse to respond when I pick up each rein, inside then outside. Any resistance is met with only light steady pressure until there's the tiniest bit of give. Now, ideally the horse is going to begin giving to the bit as soon as I start to lift my rein and not wait for pressure on the bit itself. Lots of praise follows that response.

When the horse consistently responds the exact same way every time I ask ,both at the halt and at the walk -- it doesn't need to take all that long to achieve -- we'll start trotting while asking for the same give. At this point, I'll have the horse halt again and introduce the concept of taking hold of both reins simultaneously, then asking him to give vertically. We'll then repeat the same steps both at the walk and again at the trot.

Once more I reiterate, what I'm asking for isn't a headset, it's a reaction and response to rein pressure. I don't care so much if the horse looks pretty at this point, my goal in the earlier stages of training (or retraining) is self carriage and a responsive mount. This goes for any discipline the horse will ultimately have as a primary job.

Without flexibility, willingness and responsiveness, riding and enjoying that horse will be an uphill battle. I like my horses to be willing, flexible and responsive. From there the horse can go in any direction, and it doesn't matter whether he's a trail horse, a cow horse, a pleasure horse or performance horse. Foundation is the key!

~SFTS