Monthly Archives: April 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Find Out What It Means To…..Your Horse

Another one of those “Oldie But Goodie” songs.

It’s something that we all want, but don’t always give or get.

You may say that you try to get respect from your horse, sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.  That problem goes back to you not being consistent in what, and how you ask.  If you let him get away with something sometimes, he’s not going to know if it’s acceptable today or not.  “CONSISTENT.”

But that’s not where I’m going with this.

Yes you want respect from your horse, but your horse wants respect from you also.

Abuse, under any circumstance, is still abuse.

Most of the people who would even think about reading this post, are caring, loving horse people.  The ones who need to be more respectful of their horse are too involved in themselves to care if the horse is being respected.  Their horse is just another piece of equipment and a means to their goal.  You can usually see the difference in the horses attitude and performance.

A horse that has respect and trust for his rider is one that has been carefully taught that their person, loves them and will keep them safe.  I was going to say that Trust is the key word here, but unless it’s incorporated with Safe it doesn’t work.  You tell your horse that doing something is perfectly safe and then he gets scared or hurt, is he going to believe you the next time?  I don’t think so.  Remember a horse is a fight or flight animal, and flight is their first choice.  Their person is the lead mare who makes sure their needs are met, will warn them when there is a danger, and support them through any difficult situation.  You must first believe in yourself before asking your horse to believe in you.  If you are not strong and confident, your horse will have a hard time believing that the horse eating boogeyman behind that bush isn’t going to get him.

The horse that believes in his rider will go above and beyond what his rider asks.  They will put their life on the line for someone they trust and respect.  I’ve been blessed many times over with horses that would do anything for me.  They weren’t my horses and I wasn’t their rider, we were a team.  I know I’ve written about this before, but if you’ve ever experienced it, nothing can describe it.  We thought as one, we moved as one.

My one horse, Desert, I raised from a baby.  He wasn’t my horse, he was an extension of my soul.  He knew what I wanted before I even asked, and I knew him as if he were me.  It’s kind of how they describe the interaction between twins, no words needed.  He would do things for me that were really impossible for him, no questions asked.  He was wonderful to use for lessons.  He would tell on the children when they weren’t doing something right.  He was also a prankster and a comedian.  He always made me smile.  It broke my heart the day he died, but he can still make me smile when I think of him.  As a baby (I had way too much time on my hands waiting for him to grow up) I used to tie my jacket over his head and then lead him through a maze of obstacles.  When it came time for me to ride him over a bridge that was washed out, two planks wide with a 20 foot drop, he did it without batting an eye, several times I might add for that fox had a sense of humor.

You can’t muscle them into doing things like this, they have to trust.  It has to come from their hearts or they won’t be safe doing what you are asking.  If a horse loves you and trusts you he will go beyond all your expectations.  If the horse does something because he’s afraid of the consequences he will not do it well or safe.  I know I say this a lot.

Do you have this kind of relationship with your horse?  Why not?

Make the effort, you will never regret it – ever.

Too Many Trainers, Too Little Time

There are so many trainers out there how do you know which one to follow?

Many people ask me which one I follow.  The truth is that I was doing this long before some of these people were born.  I am glad that they are showing a kinder approach to training horses, but are they really?

Running a horse until it is totally exhausted, then saying look what I can do, as you start a chain saw over its head, is not horsemanship, its cruelty (the exhaustion, not the chain saw).  We are removing the fire and the spirit that can make a great horse.  We are turning them into zombies, with no life in their eyes.  I have seen more problems created, maybe unintentionally, by judges and breed associations which trickle down to the owners themselves.  Is there really a difference in breaking their spirit the old way or the new?

Every horse person will do things a little different.  Much of it isn’t right, or wrong, it’s just different.  We all find what works best for us and our horses.  The most important thing to remember is that each horse is different, and what worked well with one horse may not work with another.  Nothing is cast in stone.  The minute you think you’ve got everything figured out, you get a horse that read that book and won’t play by the rules.  You can force them, but it will usually backfire at the wrong time.  Don’t leave holes in their training either, that will show up  eventually too.

Which trainer.  Well I’ve listened to pretty much all of them.  They each have many good points.  If it doesn’t necessarily apply to the horse you’re working with at this time, file it in your memory for another horse, another time.  Some of the trainers out there, I find, are not safety conscious.  Yes it may work for them because they are professionals, have been around psycho horses before, are quick in their response time, and aware of the horses body language.  Saying that, it may also catch up on them one day.  There’s always one horse out there that is going to teach us a thing or two.  I don’t care how great a trainer they are, they’re not going to publish their mistakes.  My problem with them is that they don’t always remember that they are dealing with many new horse owners who don’t have the thought or reaction time that they do.  They don’t always set good examples for their viewers.

My pet peeve is when they teach you to bend low to encourage your horse to move on in a round pen or on a longe line.  If you don’t have a helmet on, aren’t far enough away, or if you take your eyes off your horse for a second, you have put yourself if the firing line of his back feet.  Horses will kick out if you chase them.  You can encourage a horse to move forward standing straight with your eyes up focused on your horse.  When people drop their heads, they usually drop their eyes.  They never see those feet coming.

The long lead or longe line dragging on the ground scares me too.  When people are focusing on the horse they aren’t aware of where their feet are and where the line may be.  They can get their feet tangled in the rope.  Now you’ve got a scared horse, dragging a body, that they think is chasing them.  Wow, sounds like a great idea to me, that will make them run forward really fast.

Some trainers send a message to their viewers or clients that helmets aren’t required, not in words but in their own actions.  Very sad.  As professionals, it is their responsibility to teach safety at all times.  The inexperienced are watching everything they do, and take it as gospel truth.

What is my theory?  Safety first.  Murphy’s Law usually wins out.  If it can possibly go wrong, it will.  Be clear in what you are asking your horse to do, set boundaries, and most of all be safe and consistent.  We’re always quick to tell them when they are wrong, but don’t forget to tell them when they are right.  They learn from positive reinforcement.

An old saying comes to mind.  Are you trying to put a square peg in a round hole?  Is your horse cut out physically, mentally, and emotionally for the job you are asking him to do?  Are you two different personalities fighting against each other?  Can we make this marriage work.  I always tell my students – You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find that prince.

Another thing that drives me crazy is when you get a parent wanting a young horse to grow up with their children.  Really?  Do you always hire a five-year old baby sitter to take care of your nine-year old child?  Older, trained horses are ideal for the novice or timid rider, and experienced riders are better suited for the young novice horse.  The more experienced will train the inexperienced.  Now that makes sense.

Be a thinking and responsible horse owner.  Do what is right for you both, even if it means placing him in a different home or job.

Take into consideration the things I have mentioned above when looking for a trainer.  Some of these trainers market themselves really well.  Buyer beware.

Because I’ve been there, its Just my way of thinking.

The First and Last Mile

This is something I was taught 50 years ago and I still in force it at my barn.  We walk the first mile and last mile of our ride.

When I was a teen, the horses I rode were kept in straight stalls.  So when you took them out you let them walk for about a mile before you asked them to do anything.  It let them stretch out, and let the saddle find its comfortable spot.  It’s like an athlete, who warms up slowly.  Walking, stretching, then slowly increase exercise.  Even at an aerobics class they do warm ups and cool downs.  So doesn’t it make sense to do the same for your horse.

Now my horses are turned out, and I bring them into clean and tack before I ride, but I still hold true to my slow start-up.  It gives the horse time to walk around the field and look what’s changed in the last 15 minutes since I brought them into the barn.  I walk both ways because things look different from the other direction.  It gives us both time to relax from what we did before we moved off.  Gives me time to breathe, to release any tension, worries, and stress that my horse may sense and react to.  In general, it just gives us time to reconnect.

At the end of the ride we walk to get our heart rate, and breathing back to normal.  Gives the blood supply, that has been going to needed areas, time to rethink its direction.  It’s a good time to calm, and cool down.  A time to reflect on what you just accomplished and the areas you need to work on the next time.  It’s a time to praise your horse for the good work he has done.  It’s a time to just be together and enjoy each others company.  To take time to look around and feel a connection to the earth, the birds and small animals around you.  To feel God smiling at you for using one of the gifts He has given you.

It’s a time to just be.


We’ve all watched sports games where the referee calls interference, but who is calling it on you and your horse?  How may you be interfering with what is natural for him?

Most every movement we ask a horse to make is natural to him.  It’s just communicating the right signals to get the response we’re looking for.  It doesn’t matter if it’s dressage moves, jumping, pole bending, pivoting on the fore, or a roll back.  These are all natural maneuvers for a horse.  Even thinking of the Lippizzan Stallions performing a capriole through the air, these moves were taken, and used by the military for combat purposes.

Let’s just think about each of these movements, what the horse uses them for, and how we interfere.

  • A horse will jump something to save his life, but not necessarily 5 foot.  Some enjoy it more than others.
  • Have you ever seen an animated horse prance in place?  Perform flying changes while playing in the field?  Dressage.
  • Have you watched your horse running through a bunch of trees, bending and weaving?  Pole Bending.
  • When you come with a halter to catch your horse and he’s not interested?  Pivot on the fore or hind to avoid you.
  • How about when another horse goes to kick them, or they see the horse-eating boogie man behind a bush.  Roll back.
  • When you turn them out on a cold morning have they ever leaped in the air just for the joy of it, possibly kicking out?  Sign them up for the Spanish Riding School.

These are all natural movements for horses.  When we’re trying to get them to do a specific movement, we just confuse them with our signals.  It takes time and patience to teach them this signal equals this movement.  But it’s wonderful when you get that aha! moment.

So how do we interfere?  Usually with our body, balance, or not a clear signal.  Of course we did nothing wrong, it must be the horse.  He’s either ignoring us, or he’s just stupid.  Whoa!  You need to rethink this whole mind-set.

  • Try running holding a wiggling child or dog.  Messes up your balance doesn’t it.  How steady is your balance on your horses back.  Is it in the right place at the right time?
  • Try carrying something heavy on one side.  Kind of pulls you to that side doesn’t it?  Most people aren’t even aware that they are riding crooked.
  • Try laying on the floor flat on your stomach, have a child sit on your shoulders and try to get up.  Horse trying to lift off for a jump with you on his front end.
  • Your horse is trying to pick up a lead, pivot on the fore or hind.  Where is your weight? Are you helping or hindering?
  • Going around a barrel or poles.  Are you fearful and off-balance?  Or are you moving with, and helping your horse?

See if you can spot what you are doing wrong the next time you try any of these maneuvers, and then think what you can do to help your horse in the future.

A horse and rider combination is like “Dancing With The Stars.”  If one partner is doing the Cha-Cha and one is doing the Tango it’s just not going to work.  You both have to Waltz together.  One must lead, that would be you, and one must follow.  It must be a smooth, flowing movement as one.

That’s my whole point, becoming one with your horse.  Try it, you and your horse will like it.