Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Look Of The Eagle

We have an American Bald Eagle nest right behind the barn.  They are beautiful, proud, magnificent creatures.  They have been great neighbors.  They have never bothered any of the small animals on my property.  I don’t know if it’s the male or female, but when I give a lesson, in the jump pasture, he/she sits on the branch of the pine tree, and watches the whole time.

My girlfriend gave me her Paint Horse Journal about a week ago, and as I was looking through it the other day, I noticed one thing that disturbed me.  So prepare, because I’m on my soap box.  I usually am when I write my posts.

Now this isn’t just about Paints, or Quarter Horses, but it seems prevalent in those horse show circles.  It’s the look in their eyes.  The look of eagles.  The brightness, the confidence, the presence of life.  It’s not there!  Yes, with some of the halter horses it is.  Their heads are up, proud as can be.  Their eyes are bright and alive.  They love showing themselves off.  They love saying “Hey, look at me.  I’m special.”  Now look at the pictures of the horses in Pleasure or Horsemanship.  Their eyes are sad, downcast and weak.  They have resigned themselves to what they are doing.  There is no life in them, no pleasure in their task.  Did anyone ever ask themselves why?

Why are they still traveling with their heads so low?  Yes, depending on the neck placement into the shoulders, some horses carry their heads lower than others, but most, these days, carry it that way because they were told they had to.  Don’t even get me started on how this is obtained.  These great Associations are supposed to better the breed, not destroy it.  They are not supposed to reward the cruelty of some trainers to obtain this “perfect head set.”  What is so perfect about a horse that is neck sore, and has lost all the life in its eyes.

Come on judges.  You are supposed to be the best of the best.  You can tell when a neck and head carriage is natural, and when it’s been forced.

Some forty years ago I showed a friends horse in Western Pleasure.  He was born with a neck that was placed high.  This is the way he carried it, whether he was in the pasture, or in the ring.  I’ve ridden three horses in my life time that just naturally floated when they cantered.  It wasn’t this man-made stilted gate they now call a canter or lope.  You could carry a champagne glass filled when you got on, and not a drop would spill through your whole ride.  He had a light mouth, a brain,  and was truly a pleasure to ride.  When we didn’t place I asked the judge, why?  He said his head was too high, even on a dropped rein.  I told the judge to get on this horse, ride him, and then tell me he wasn’t a pleasure to ride.  He can’t help it if he was born this way.

Now I know the original horse who created the perfect look of a pleasure horse was natural, and relaxed in his head carriage.  This became the example for all the horses, but not all the horses have that conformation.  This goes along with the relaxed tail set.  Hello?  The trainers started injecting the tails so they couldn’t move.  Horses also couldn’t swat flies.  The head and neck thing isn’t horsemanship or showmanship, this is outright cruelty.

Next time you look through a magazine, or are at a horse show, just look at the horses eyes and see if you see the look of eagles, or the look of resignation.

We pamper them and think they are happy, but are they really?  It’s just sad what people will do for a $3.00 ribbon and some points.

Look into their eyes, I mean really look.  What do you see reflected there.  It’s who you are, and what your priorities are.  How does it feel to suck the life out of something that you say you love.

What do you love more, your horse or the prestige of winning?  Is it the best for your horse, or your ego?

I know, you say you have to do this to compete, but why?  Why do you compromise your standards and principles?  Why not go out there and demand changes.  You’re the one paying the money.  You are ultimately the one in control.

Most people won’t “rock the boat.”  But who is the real loser here?  Unfortunately it’s the horse.  You do have a choice.

Whistle While You Work

The cute little song from Snow White has a lot of merit.

Your horse is a fight or flight animal by nature.  Most of the time we are trying to override nature.  Tough act with some horses.

Now when we work around horses, it’s usually a mindless game.  We’re thinking about other things as opposed to things we are doing out of habit.  Sometimes their attention wanders also.  Not a good combination.

First of all, you are there to spend time with your horse, whether it’s quality time or just throwing them grain.  So you have to let them know that you are there for them, and they must pay attention to you.

You have them on the cross tie, they are focusing on something in the distance.  You walk up and start to brush them, you startle them.  Usually they’ll just flinch, or step aside, as opposed to breaking the cross ties and leaving Dodge.

I’ve watched people cleaning their horses while talking to someone else in the barn.  They are concentrating on their conversation, not paying any attention to what the horse is doing or thinking.  They go to pick up a hind foot and all of a sudden it goes flying past their head.  Their horse wasn’t even aware that they were going to do that.  It’s a natural instinct for the horse to kick out at something grabbing their leg.

Whenever you are working around your horse always let him know where you are, and what your intentions are.  Hum, sing, whistle, touch, or just tell them about your day as you go around them.  They are excellent listeners, and do not judge.  It’s usually soothing to them, and they will always be aware of where you are, even if their eyes and ears are on something else.

Talk about multi-tasking, they’ve got it down to a science.  God made them so their ears and eyes can view and hear many things at the same time.

So as you walk around your horse, keep sliding your fingers over his body, and “Whistle While You Work” no surprises needed.

A Thought For Today And Everyday

We set time aside to work with our horses.  We make appointments to take lessons.  We sign up for clinics.  BUT – we train our horses every moment we spend with them.

We are either teaching them something new or reinforcing something they already do.  It’s just that simple.  Now is that something we are reinforcing a good trait, or a bad habit?  That is the ultimate question.

Every second we are in contact with our horses we are training them.  Bet you never gave that a thought.  Most of the time we don’t think, we just do.  But start observing your everyday routine.

  • When you go to feed him/her, are his ears forward or back?  If they are back then he’s telling you that he’s in charge and wants to be fed now.  Or possibly, it’s my food get away from it.  Are you rewarding his bad behavior by feeding the Grinch?  Or do you ask him to relax, put his ears forward, and be happy to see you before you give him his grain.  Who’s in charge now?  Usually we are in a hurry and don’t even notice the horses body language.
  • When he’s in a stall and you go to enter, is he facing you with ears forward (or at least relaxed), happy to see you?  Or is his butt toward the doorway.  Ask him to turn around and great you pleasantly.
  • When we’re leading horses we are usually in a hurry to get things done.  Who’s leading?  If we don’t pay attention, they may be in charge.  It can’t be right some of the times, that’s not being consistent.  You can’t yell at them to get behind, when you feel like it, and not all the time.  You confuse them.
  • When you go to mount.  Make them stand still until you are seated All The Time.  Not just when you have time.

If you give clear rules and boundaries there will never be a question of ‘Is it Tuesday or Thursday?  Do I have to stand still today, or is that tomorrow?’

K.I.S.S.  Keep It Simple Stupid.  Make it the same everyday and remember, you are a trainer at all times.

The “Cool Jerk” Of The Sixties Dosn’t Get Your Horses Vote

Many of you don’t remember the ’60s, but take it from me, there were a lot of different dances back then.  The “Twist” of the ’50’s carried over to the ’60’s and then you added the “Mashed Potatoes”, “The Stomp”, “The Swim”, “The Monkey”, “The Shimmy”, “The Fly”, “The Bossa Nova”, “The Cool Jerk” and probably others that I am forgetting.  Oh how could I ever forget the “Freddie.”  Thank goodness the ’70’s came and brought “Disco.”  Some of those ’60s dances are probably the reason I am now arthritic and into Chiropractic and Acupuncture.  Doing stupid stuff and getting dumped off horses for the last 50 years have absolutely nothing to do with it.  Having a chute set up with jumps, bareback, no bridle, with a person at one end with a longe whip, and another person at the other end with a broom, sending your horse back and forth over the jumps had positively nothing to do with it, but boy those big jumpin’ horses could do a roll back real good when they saw the broom swinging through the air.

But I’m not here to talk about my insane childhood memories, that I hold so dear, I’m here to talk to you about the “Uncool Jerk'” we do to our horses mouth.

Depending on the bit you use, and if it involves a curb chain,  it puts pressure on different areas.  All bits, except Hackamores, put pressure on the mouth, seated where there are no teeth.  If it’s a snaffle, it has a nut cracker effect on the tongue and the roof of the mouth (you only thought this bit was gentle).  Any bit can be gentle and kind or absolutely cruel, depending on the hands that are using it.  Other pressure points can be on the nose, the poll, and the chin.  Unless you get into gag or elevator bits.

Now this isn’t going to be a conversation about bits and their application, it’s about us and our hands.

Have you ever walked along holding someone’s hand.  Has it been a light loving touch that made you feel loved and secure?  Have you ever walked along holding someone’s hand that was intent on dragging you somewhere?  Which was a more pleasant experience.  You were still being directed, but with a different energy, attitude and kindness.  Think about what you do to your horse.

With my students I will first let them put a clean bit in their mouths.  They usually don’t like the weight of it.  Then I will hand them one end of a rein and I will hold the other. and ask them to make-believe that their hand was the horse’s mouth.  I will first, gently pull their hand and lead them to the left, then the right, and ask them to stop.  I will explain, this is how your horse would like you to communicate with him.  Then I will take the rein and yank it to the left, and then to the right, eventually pulling back hard for a stop.  This is how your horse would not like you to communicate with him.  Now remember, you’re not doing this to his leg you’re doing this to his mouth.  Ouch!

I then have to explain that the light gentle touch is like a whisper (same principle applies to their leg pressure).  Sometimes your horse doesn’t hear the whisper, so you have to use a little more pressure, speaking a little louder.  If he still doesn’t hear you, add a little more until you get the required result.  If a horse is used to a lot of pressure, it’s going to take him a little while to figure out what you are asking, but he will, and he’ll be glad to react.  Adding a voice command gives him a better clue.  I break all my horses to voice commands before I even put a bit in their mouths, or get on their backs.  It makes it so easy on both of us.

Don’t start out yanking and then try to lighten up.  He’ll be waiting for the pain from too much pressure.  He’ll set his jaw and his neck in defense.  If you were waiting to get yanked, wouldn’t you?

Once again start at a walk with the whoa and the stop.  Practice the turns, gently.  Watch your horse soften, transform, and respond.  Don’t forget to use your legs to reinforce you cues when turning.

Let’s look at it this way.  If you’re yelling at a child, he doesn’t listen.  They’ll shut down, and tune you out, or just defy you even more.  But if you tell the child to come here and I’ll whisper a secret to you, they are going to come and listen closely.

  • First of all, notice who you are.  Most of the time we aren’t even aware of what we are doing.
  • Notice how your horse is responding.
  • Now try to lighten up and see how long it takes for your horse to notice.
  • Think of your hands as speaking to the horse.  If the horse is not paying attention, speak a little louder until they hear you.
  • But always go back and try again in a light touch the next time.

Some days it works better than others, because of different outside stimuli, but work on the communication between you.

Your out to enjoy your ride, your tension and attitude will make a big difference in your communication with your horse.  Check on that too.

Be “Cool” – not a “Jerk.”




Tug Of War

Remember when you were a kid and you and your friends played “Tug Of War?”  It was a team effort which included rope burns on your hands, skinned knees if you were dragged, and mud if you were lucky enough to live in the country, and if one team let go of the rope, a ten kid pile-up.  Ahh the good old days.

But now I see too many people playing “Tug Of War” with their dogs and horses.  You may beat the odds with your dogs, but you’re not going to win with your horses.  Let’s look at the simple fact – 1000 to 2000 lbs. vs 100 to 200 lbs. soaking wet.  No contest.

I watch the “Dog Whisperer” in the mornings trying to learn the predator body language and corrections.  I can handle the 2000 lb. Clydesdale no problem, but my 45 lb. ADHD deaf, mostly blind,  45 lb. Catahoula puppy is a challenge.  I am amazed at how many people have dogs, of various sizes, just dragging them down the sidewalks.

Now most horse owners lead their horses better than the dog owners I’ve seen, but Cesar’s instructions ring true to horse owners also.

  • Never let the animal get ahead of you
  • Never, ever wrap anything around your hands (mine)
  • Catch the forward motion quickly and make the correction
  • Be calm and assertive (be in charge)
  • Be gentle yet firm, expect obedience at all times. (My instructions, be consistent)
  • Cesar would say be the pack leader, with horses just be the leader, period, end of discussion.

How many times has your horse just leaned into the halter and took you where he/she wanted to go?  He was ahead of you I’ll bet.  With a dog, they want to smell that tree, or check the local peemail.  With a horse there’s better grass over there, or I just don’t want to be here.

Hello!  Who’s in charge here?  Whoever pays the bills gets to make the decisions, that’s my way of thinking about it.

  • First thing is to teach your horse what Whoa means.  Walk, say whoa, and stop sharply (don’t meander to a stop).  Repeat until they get it.  Make sure they are relaxed before moving on.  Sometimes a slice of carrot works well as a reward.  They will not only learn the word whoa (and look for the treat), but they will start to watch your body motion.  When you stop so should they.
  • Never let them get in front of you.  If they start moving in front, a little short tap on the halter should break their forward motion.  I also like to carry a small crop or use the end of the lead to just tap them on the chest to remind them, and reinforce my command if necessary.  I’ll either say “easy” or “come back.”  It’s always a good idea to teach them to back up first.  I don’t use constant pressure at any time, just short taps both with the halter and lead, and with any artificial aid I am using.

For anyone who is not familiar with the term Artificial Aid I will explain.  Your hands, legs, weight are your aids, I like to include your voice too.  Any foreign object is an artificial aid.  This would include, whips, spurs, training devices, chains, ropes, Rottweilers, you get the idea.

  • If they are prancy or dancy circle them around you to stop them.  Make them stand where you told them to stand, not where they choose.  I will sometimes teach them to square up at this point.  It gives them something else to think about.   Get them to relax, and then move forward again.  They have an agenda which usually doesn’t include what you want.  Who is in charge here?
  • Remember, whenever you feel you are losing control of the situation, break forward motion.

Always remember, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Not just sometimes, but all the time.  What you say is non-negotiable.

This “Tug Of War” is not limited to leading only, I’ve seen it many times between the horse and rider using the reins.

The theory is the same.  Don’t get into a “Tug Of War.”  We used to say “Check and Release”  now they say do a “Half Halt.”  Bottom line is you touch the horse’s mouth and quickly release it, several times if you have to.  You’ll usually feel your horse shift his weight to the hind quarters, breaking forward motion.  If you are out of control, circle, no matter what speed you are going.  Of course use your judgement as to how small the circle should be.  You are not going to make the same size circle at a canter/lope as you would at a walk.  Best thing to do is start at a walk and teach the whoa, and back (breaking forward motion).  When they have that down, do it at a trot.

The lighter you are on your horse’s mouth, the lighter he will respond.  This may take time to teach him, but he’ll be grateful you did.

Don’t ever get into a “Tug Of War” with your horse.  My money is always on the horse.