Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Right Question Or Maybe The Right Answer

I was sitting with my friend Louise after my golf lesson today.  Golf is something I’m taking up, but as with most golfers, the question is why?

I met Louise originally by chance at the supermarket.  She had a jacket on that had a Carousel Horse on the back and it had Carousel Farm printed across it.  Of course when you see the name of your farm on someone else’s jacket you do stop and chat.  She had a farm before retiring, and that was the name of their farm.  About a year later she was introduced to me at the golf course.  I looked at her and said “I know you!” and explained where we had me.  We’ve seen each other off and on at the golf course for a while, she lives in the community there.  She missed her horses, we told her to stop by, but for the longest time she didn’t.  Then she shows up a couple of weeks ago and gave me and Bob her and her husbands jackets, with tears in her eyes.  What a wonderfully kind thing to do.  I invited her riding, and she came.  Imagine that.  After she visited with the jackets her husband told mine how much he hates him, and that he thought they were done with horses.  Silly man.

We may think we reach a point where we don’t want the heartache of losing another one, or we’re too old to be doing this anymore.  But once they are in our blood, are we really ever done with horses?  They may get smaller, or quieter, or older, but they have a mane, tail, and vet bills, yup they’re horses.

Back to my beginning thought.

We were sitting talking about the horses that have touched our lives, the experiences they have given us, when she started talking about being at a show and having the horse outside of her trailer colic.  She got a hold of the trainer, told him, and he came running over.  She said she had Banamine and that he was welcomed to use it.  He gave this horse (a 1,300 lb. horse) 40 cc.  Oh my gosh, she thought he was going to kill this animal with that dose.  They threw him in the trailer and ran him up to a veterinarian clinic.  P.S. the horse did live.  Then she told me that when she was interviewing someone to care for her horse she asked him – “If my horse coliced, how much Banamine would you give him?”  That stuck in my head like flashing neon lights.  What a wonderful question.  Hours later that question is still bouncing around in my head.  Oh there has to be a post in this, and here it is.

I know once when I was going to be taking care of my neighbors horses while she was away she asked to see me wrap a leg.  I thought well that’s odd, but okay.

Yes we all can have the vets number posted, but truly, does the person we are leaving in charge of our animals know simple emergency care to give while they are waiting for the vet?  Do they know the signs to look for?  How well do they know what’s normal for your horse.

I really like “If my horse was colicing how much Banamine would you give him”, but what question would you ask that would make you feel comfortable?

Give it some thought, it could save your horse’s life.


And The Beat Goes On

Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain…….La Dee Da De Dee….La Dee Da De Da or something like that.  You know the old song from Sonny and Cher.  Oops, I’m dating myself.

In Breathless Aaaaah I spoke about the beat.  Let’s look at that more closely.

Horses gates have different beats.  Walk is a four beat, trot two beat, canter three beat, and gallop four beat.  Listen as your horse walks on concrete or a hard road.  You can now hear each individual foot fall.  That’s why I say pick a song with the beat of the gait you are doing, and maintain that beat.

Music can make us move or relax depending on the song we pick.  Think about the songs that you just can’t stay still with.  Now think of the songs that make you take a deep breath and relax.  The ones that call to mind pleasant memories.  Now I’m not saying that a few fast songs can’t remind you of great times too, I’m only saying think about the different way each one makes you feel.

My girlfriend called me one day saying that her daughter was having trouble with her Dressage Tests at the shows, could I help?  I am not a “Dressage” Instructor, but all basic riding, in one form or another, is dressage.  I told her to bring her over and let me look where the problem might be.  I knew the horse and I knew her daughter.  She was an excellent rider and the horse would do anything she asked.  So where could the problem be coming from?

I watched them warm up – no problem there.  So I asked for a copy of the test she was going to be riding at the show the next day, and there was the problem.

!!!!!”TEST”!!!!!!  There was no problem with the riding, it was the simple four letter word, “Test!”  She was doing the exact same movements when warming up, but go and do the test, and she tightened up.

It’s amazing how certain words can change everything.  To some people the words dentist, marriage, tax audit, shark, test, and tornado trigger certain responses in our bodies.

So back to how I redirected her thought process.  Music.  A simple CD player.  I asked her to ride the movements to different songs, not necessarily in the sequence of the test.  Notice I used the word movements, not test.  She did fabulous, smiling, singing, having a great time with her horse.  They were confident, free-flowing, dancing together as one.  I simple told her never to think of it as a test, think of it as a choreographed dance number that the two of them were performing together.  She should sing her way through the next days class, just like today, and that I would be there.

So I guess you want to know what happened?

Of course nothing ever goes smooth at the barn the morning you’re looking to get out of there early.  So we got there just as she was about to enter the ring.  The color was drained out of her face, she had a death grip on the reins, and a blank stare in her eyes.  There wasn’t any time to try to reason with her, so I did what any other instructor would do.  I told her that the judge was sitting there totally naked and how can you take anyone who is naked seriously – just sing.  She started laughing so hard I figured she’d be excused.  She laughed and smiled through the whole test and when she was done, had come up with the best score she had even received.

So just have fun with your horse.  Instead of doing the same old thing you do everyday, jazz it up and add music.  It will give you a whole new feeling for what you are doing, and your horse will love it too.  Mainly because you are having such a good time, you will be relaxed.

And the beat goes on.



Breathless Aaaaaah

It’s amazing how so many songs come up, in my warped little mind, when I’m thinking of things I want to write about.  Commercials also.  After all that’s what marketing directors strive for isn’t it?

My new posts are usually a continuation of a previous post.  Although I don’t post them in the order I write them.

Breathing is something we do without thinking about it, but on the other side of that coin, holding our breath is something we don’t think about either, and it really can have an effect on your riding.

Hold your breath.  Feel all your muscles tense up?  Bet your horse does.  I bet he’s thinking, she’s tense and afraid, what does she know that I don’t?  Guess I should start worrying about what’s going to eat us now.   Jig jig jig, I’m worried, yup, I’m worried.  Now exhale, feel all the tension leave your body and muscles?  Horse thinks ‘Okay, life is good.’  When we relax, our horse will also relax.

The explanation I use with my students when they are learning how to sit a trot is:  Your body is like a child’s rubber ball, when the ball is tight and holds the air in it bounces.  Now puncture the ball and when you go to bounce it, the air comes out and it won’t bounce.  Now your body is like that ball.  Hold your breath and you’ll bounce, breath normal, letting the air go in and out, muscles relaxed, and you will sit and move with your horse instead of against him.  It’s just that simple.  If you and your horse are both relaxed, just slow him down, breath, relax more and move with your partner, just like you’re dancing.  Trust me, the horse doesn’t want you bouncing on his back either.  This breathing/relaxing works at any gate to get your horse to relax and trust you.

Of course there are horses that are harder to sit to than others.  They have a lot of push to their trot.. but if you totally relax it will work.  Some times it’s just easier on the horse and you to post.

If you do find yourself holding your breath you need to find out what is causing your anxiety.  Go back and work on that and then try to relax and breath.  A good way to learn how to breath while you are riding is to sing.  You can’t hold your breath and sing at the same time.  Pick a fun song with the beat of the speed you are going.  The beat will also set the pace for the horse and help him maintain that pace.  If you are walking, get a nice, calm, slow song.  Trotting, get one with a bouncy beat.  Cantering, get one with a flowing beat.  That’s how we used to get our horses to maintain their speed in a Hunter Class.

It really doesn’t matter if you have a voice that would land you a spot on “American Idol”, your horse knows what you sound like and loves you anyway.  They love to hear you speak, it reassures them, and as a bonus, it keeps you breathing.

Let it be a breath of fresh air for you and your horse.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Okay, that commercial really got annoying after a while, but how many of us use that saying, over, and over again.

Perhaps, if you listen closely, you may hear your horse saying that to you.

Your horse is always saying something to you through his/her body language, eyes, ears, aggression, foot stomping, voice, or kindness.  Some days they are suggesting and some days they are screaming it in their heads.  When the smoke and fire starts coming out of their eyes, ears, and noses, we do catch on.

Let’s look at some of these:

  • Body language – a. Tense – I’m scared (this thing is going to eat or hurt me), b.  Angry usually goes along with scared (think about when you’re angry, it’s usually a follow-up caused by hurt or being scared) or c. Relaxed – I’m happy about what we are doing.  There is nothing that is going to hurt me.
  • Eyes – a. Soft eyes equal secure and relaxed (Life is good).  b. Chicken eyes (also known as deer caught in the head lights), in which you see the whites around the color, (except in the case of Appaloosas who have the sclera) usually indicates panic.
  • Ears – a. Relaxed and floppy equal totally content, not a care in the world.  b. Pricked forward, interested in what going on ahead.  Alert and attentive.  c. Really intensely forward, oh my gosh, it’s the boogeyman. d. Casually back, listening for things behind or a word from the rider.  e.  Flat back pressed against the neck.  Attack mode, man the torpedoes, bombs away!
  • Aggression – I’ve had it, I’m done, get out of my way.
  • Foot stomping.  I haven’t seen it in many horses.  Usually they are just stomping to get a fly off, but Bob’s Clydesdale mare, Maggie, used to do it when she was angry, (and so do some children).  When Dawn was a baby and did something that Maggie didn’t like she would stomp her foot (when a Clyde stomps their foot it shows on the Richter Scale) and Dawn would stop what she was doing and spring to attention.  I started doing it when I was training Dawn and at first she acknowledged it, then she realized I didn’t have the same impact as mom, and just ignored my stomping.  Now that she’s all grown up I see her do it to other horses, and they pay attention.
  • Voice – There are different calls for different occasions.  a, You’ve all heard them call when it’s dinner time and you’re late.  b. The nicker of welcome to a friend or a mare to its foal.  c. Screaming out of fear of being left and vulnerable.
  • Kindness –  a. A nuzzle to show affection to another.  b. Standing over their friend, protecting and ready to warn in case of danger, or dinner.  c. Were you ever in the pasture and just had your horse come up and stand next to you, maybe touch you gently.  d.  Mutual grooming between friends (animal or person).

Remember a horse judges everything based on what’s important in his life.  Safety and food rank the highest in importance.

What they might be trying to tell you.

  1. It hurts, I’m scared, this doesn’t fit right, I can’t do this, I don’t understand.
  2. Head tossing – is the bit too tight, too small, have you checked the contour of his mouth does it fit right, are your hands too high causing the bit to hit the roof of his mouth, do you have the chain twisted, do you have heavy hands.  It may also be that he wants to take control of the situation, in other words, who’s the boss here?
  3. Angry look when you are trying to saddle –  the saddle doesn’t fit, the girth pinches, you pull it up too tight too fast, my back hurts, I have a broken rib that you don’t know about, I don’t like you riding because you bounce on my spine.
  4. This scares me – I don’t know what you are asking, I might get hurt, I am physically, or emotionally not prepared to do this, the boogeyman lives there, and I don’t trust you to take care of me, it’s dark in that trailer and I can’t get away if something bad happens.
  5. I don’t understand – and if I don’t do it right you’re going to hit me.  I’m not a mind reader and I can’t figure out what you want.

But do you get my point?  They are always communicating with us, but we have our mute button turned on.

Horses aren’t born bad (although I’ve met a few that I have doubts about).  By not listening, sometimes we train them to be bad.

Sometimes they just don’t like doing something.  Is it because it hurts?  Is it because it scares them?  Do you and your horse like doing the same things?

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?

An athlete who doesn’t train and condition properly will hurt after his work out.  Do you only take your athlete out on the weekends and work him hard?  Then he aches for 5 days and it’s Saturday again and out you two go for another long hard ride again?  Ouch!

I always tell my students – Finding the right horse is like finding the right husband, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find that prince.  Don’t settle.

Don’t pick a horse because it’s pretty, or the right color.  Pick one that also enjoys what you want to do.  Pick one that compliments your personality.  You’ll both be a lot happier if you do.  Don’t make both of your lives miserable trying to make them into something they are not right for.  If a horse enjoys what he is doing he will give you 150%.  If he doesn’t like what he is doing, he won’t do it well or safely.  It could become dangerous to you both.

I think Amy Fleming from the TV series “Heartland” said it best – “We don’t whisper to horses, we listen to horses.”  Your horse is always trying to tell you something.

Are you listening?  Can you hear me now?

Be An All Around Horseman

Now you’re probably wondering what I mean by that, or maybe not.

When I was a teenager, many moons ago, I rode and worked at an English barn.  There was a barn up the road that everyone rode Western.  We were friends and spoke often when we met on the trail, but we kind of looked down on each other.

Really not much has changed, but in a way it has.  I knew many Hunt people who looked down on Dressage people, and Western still looks sideways at English, and visa versa.   But more and more you will see cross overs.  There is Western Dressage now.  We’ve seen top Western and Dressage riders demonstrating their versions of the same move.  Does this shed any light on a reality?  Okay so maybe a Dressage horse doesn’t perform a sliding stop, but I’ve sure seen some Western horses do “Airs above ground” to their riders shock.

My point is that teaching you and your horse other disciplines, is not a bad idea.  You don’t have to switch saddles, just ride.

Sure English riders teach their horses to move off their leg, but isn’t more fun to practice it with a set of cones set up like a pole bending course?  Yes we can work our horses at figure eights, but isn’t more interesting to work them in figure eights around two barrels.  It gives you something to base your circle on, and gives the horse something else to think about.  The light bulb comes on when there is another object to focus on.

Good Western Horseman have always posted when they were working their horses at an extended trot. Their basic position is the same as English, just the saddle is different.  They work their horses over low jumps to get themselves and their horses comfortable for either a trail class or just out on the trails.

Some English riders have a great time showing their Western friends that their horses can perform in Gymkhana classes and win.

When you drill your horses on the same thing everyday, they get bored and learn to hate their jobs.  Mix it up a little, keep what they are doing fresh.

I had a young horse years ago that I was breaking, she was extremely smart and learned immediately.  Once she learned something, like trotting or cantering in a circle don’t ask her to do it the next day, she would stop and buck you off.  So every day I had to move cones and barrels just to amuse her, and not let on that she was still doing a circle.

No matter what your discipline is, take your horse on a trail ride.  It clears their mind.

I’ve known some barrel horses that just won’t go through a gate into a ring anymore.  Sour wasn’t the word.  Riders would back them in, have someone lead them in, just short of using a blindfold to get them into the ring.  Try bringing them into a ring with other horses and no barrels, jumps, or Dressage letters, just for relaxation.  Being with a herd is normal and comforting to them.  Show them that a ring can be more than work.  This goes for all disciplines.  Give them time off and trail ride them for a while, they might come back, or they may be done with that line of work.  What I’m trying to say is don’t let them get to that point.  I’m not picking on just barrel horses.  It can happen  in any discipline.  I had a jumper who felt the same way about going in a ring. I’ve known some show horses that hated going around the ring in circles, they just wouldn’t do it anymore.  How many times can you go around, and around, before you learn to hate it.  How many times can you be drilled to do Dressage moves before you hate it.  You’re being put into a frame and never be allowed to stretch you neck down.  With Fox Hunting, a horse either absolutely loves it, or it totally unnerves them.

Now most professionals know when to back off.  A barrel racer, will not run a clover leaf pattern when practicing, they may work them at a trot or collected canter around two barrels doing a figure eight, but rarely at a run and using three barrels.  A good Hunter rider will school their horses over fences, but not over and over again, and certainly not putting the jumps up higher and higher as the horse tires.  A Dressage rider will practice all the moves, not necessarily in a particular pattern, but they will also let the horses relax and stretch.

Keep your horses in love with their jobs, and let them experience others.

If you are in a boring job, that you repeat everyday, over and over again, you know what I am talking about.  Don’t we all look forward to the weekend, a change of pace, to refresh our minds and give us the energy to go back and do the same stuff again on Monday?  Your horse would like that option also.

So if you’re an English rider, trot and then run a set of barrels or poles, just for the fun of it.  If you are a Western rider, see if you can do a Dressage pattern, it’s very similar to a Western Riding pattern.  Get a bunch of friends together and compete against each other in opposite disciplines.

Just have some fun with your horse.  Try it, you’ll like it, and so will they.

A Game Of Chance……..Is It Really Worth It?

In Florida Spring Is Here, and with 90 degree temps it’s pushing Summer, but in most parts of the country, Spring is long over due, and a very welcomed sight this year.

I grew up in the northeast and my family and friends still live up there, so I know what’s going on; that’s why I live here.  Frozen buckets, frozen hoses, and frozen poop, been there, seen that, done that, got the T-shirt, wrote the book, and I am sooooooo done with it all.  It’s a different way of horse keeping in Florida, but after 40 years of frozen toes and fingers, I’ll take living in paradise.  There is nothing like going out Fox Hunting in Florida.
You go out early in the morning when the temps are at 40 degrees, and then you come home at noon and bathe your horse in 70 degree temps.  I used to wash my horses white socks and tail up north first thing in the morning to go hunting, and when they got off the trailer at the hunt their tails would be all frosty and stiff as a board, the word is frozen.

This isn’t an ad to live in Florida, although it’s a thought, but a few things to consider on Spring horse keeping, no matter where you live.

Let’s have a look.  Ahhhh the wonders of spring.  The first signs are that they start gently losing hair.  Then it comes out in clumps.  It’s in your eyes, your nose and your mouth.  But it gives you great satisfaction to shed all that hair out, and find that you still have a horse underneath.

Don’t forget that you’ve all been in hibernation for quite a few months, so start back to riding slowly, you are both going to hurt.

The rest of this is just to give you something to think about.

The economy is bad, real bad.  Gas and grocery prices are climbing steadily.  So is grain and hay.  Our horse expenses are off the wall.  So we’re all looking to cut corners as best we can, but where and how.

Many owners that I’ve spoken with are cutting back in many areas of horse care. Some are rethinking what they are feeding.  There are many wonderful products on the market today that promise all kinds of results.  supplements abound.  But does our particular horse need what we are putting in him?  We are told we need to worm them with this or that, but what does our horses environment require.  There are so many shots out there, are we overloading our horses, or are we paranoid?  Treats for our horses come in all different shapes, sizes and colors.  Really?  Do we really have to have their teeth checked and/or done?

We all want the best for our horses.  We all want to give them whatever they really need.  But let’s be realistic.  How do we use the money we’ve put aside for their needs wisely.

Let’s look at what’s needed and what isn’t?  Well there have been wonderful articles in Equus on how to evaluate your horses fat and body condition.  This is something you can easily do.  Or you can bring in a specialist.  Look no further than your vet.  He/she knows the environment your horse lives in, and knows what your horses needs are.  With just a little bit of input from you, they can determine the best products, supplements, and medications for your horse.  You know the term “overkill”  a lot of us do just that.

  • Most people over feed their horses, not necessarily in the amount they are given, but protein, fat, and supplement levels.  If your horse doesn’t need it, why are you paying the extra money for that feed.
  • Supplements – Have you done research?  Is your horse lacking something in his diet that may need to be supplemented?  Do you know that you can overdose a horse on vitamins?
  • Shots – Find out what is needed, and how often for the area that you live and ride in.  If you are planning to haul to another state, find out what they are going to need for your destination.
  • Wormer –  Very few people pay attention to what their horse really needs.  “Oh I just give them Ivermectin across the board.  It covers everything and it’s cheap.”  Did you know that worms become resistant to wormer after a time.  Different conditions require different wormers.  Rotating wormers are a good plan, but what wormer when?  Your vet will be able to tell you what you horse may need given your location and what wormer is best for each season.  You may think that your horse is fat and healthy, but I’ve seen the insides of a fat Quarter Horse who had so much scare tissue in his intestines that it caused a blockage and he had to be put down.  We don’t always know how the person before us took care of our horses needs.
  • Teeth – If your horses teeth are in need of attention, he won’t be able to chew his food properly.  If he doesn’t chew well then he won’t digest well.  If he doesn’t get the nutrients from his food, your money has just passed through the horses digestive system and out the other side.
  • Treats – This one is a very simple.  Yes it’s nice to give our horses those cute little horse treats.  Do you really think they notice that you paid big bucks for the snacks they get?  If you want to save a little cash, carrots or alfalfa cubes work just as well.  I was at a specialty dog shop a few weeks back, and they had these delicious looking dog cookies that were very pricey.  They appealed to me so much that I would have like to try one myself, and that’s what they bank on.  Now if you had one of those cute little dog treats or a hot dog, which do you think your dog would grab first?  Even if your horse would like an apple treat better than a carrot, you could probably save some money on treats to get him the shots he really needs to stay alive.

I say this because I know a lot of people who are not planning on giving their horses the shots they need, because they just can’t afford it.  My statement is, have you ever seen a horse die from lock-jaw?  I have.  Have you ever seen a hysterical owner crying because his horse died of Encephalomyelitis or West Nile.  I have.  Have you seen the vet bills for trying to save a horse when a simple shot could have prevented it?

Is it worth losing your horse over a simple shot?  You may have to give up a couple of cases of beer or soda, or happy meals for a while, but in the end you won’t have to worry about paying a vet bill for putting your horse down, and what to do with the body.  It’s like playing Russian roulette.

Do you feel lucky?