Taking Risks….

Giving lessons and being an active part in the local horse community, the topic of fear or the inability to do something comes up on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s a conversation about being afraid to break colts, other times it’s the inability to work with a difficult horse. Other times it may be as simple as not being able to do an exercise that’s needed to ride better.

When I was young, I was probably the most cautious child you’d ever meet. Even as a toddler, I was famous for saying, “I not hurt me!” when they would get on to me for doing something. I did it anyway, but I was very cautious about it and had already thought the whole thing out. As an adult, I guess I’ve kind of kept that same mindset.

Yes, I ride my horses when there’s no one around. I’ve been known to get on a colt the first time without anyone at home and my phone back in the barn. While those activities are taking a risk, they’re a calculated risk taken with a certain mindset and certain preparation.

Before I step up on a colt, I make sure they’re broke before I ever get on the first time. It makes no sense to me to get on a thousand pound animal that you can’t control. That’s dangerous. It’s a lot less dangerous to get on a horse that’s had enough foundational ground work that getting on them is the next logical step to you and them both.

The saying that if you get a horse’s mind you’ll get their feet is very true. That’s why I don’t like stepping up on a horse if they’re not focused on me. Again, it’s dangerous to get on an animal that big that you can’t control.

You also have to know your limits and your horse’s limits. If you’re not a great bronc rider, then most likely you don’t need to get on a horse that likes to buck during warm up. By the same token, if you take a young horse to a crowded show for their first outing, they’re not going to be able to handle it. Staying safe and not getting hurt means knowing your limits and working inside of those.

If you’re not a bronc rider and your horse likes to buck when he’s fresh, then maybe you need to lunge before every ride to stay safe. Instead of taking that young horse to a crowded show for the first time out maybe haul over to a friend’s house or a much smaller and safer show. Find ways to set yourself and your horse up for success.

Even with the best laid plans and the best horses things can happen. We’ve all heard of stories where horrific things have happened that never should have. The truth of the matter is that riding a dangerous sport, period. But then life is as well. None of us are guaranteed the very next breath no matter how healthy we are. But that’s not reason to live your life in fear and let fear dictate your life with your horses. Life is too short for that as it is.

 

Every time I’ve gotten hurt with horses it’s been because I got in a hurry. I either left out a step in training, or I pushed my horse into something he wasn’t ready for just yet. Being patient and building the proper foundation, reading your horse well and planning your rides and your path can help not only to keep you happy but it can also help you take new risks and experience new things with your horse. Don’t be afraid to get out and try new things or even ride new horses. Just be smart about it and enjoy the ride!

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Preparation for Showing

To me, breaking colts is relatively easily most of the time. If you do your ground work right, most of the time you won’t have a problem. It’s after the breaking process when you take them out into the real world that the real work begins. That’s when you find out who your horse truly is and whether or not you’ve done all you can do. I can assure you, the real world will quickly help you find the holes in your training that you didn’t know existed.

While hauling out to a show will certainly test how well you’ve trained your horse, there are a few things that can help you and your horse prepare for those first trips out.

The first thing is to of course make sure you’ve got a good foundation on your horse. Are they soft in the face so that if you had to stop or change directions quickly you could? Can you control their feet and their body easily? These are probably the two most critical questions you could ask. Make sure you have control of your horse at home first.

One of the things that I do in the training process to help prepare for hauling and seasoning is lunging out in the pasture. There’s something about working out in a big wide open space that brings out the energy in a green horse. That’s when you’ll see another side of your horse.  It’s better to discover that other side at home where you can deal with it, plus lunging out in the pasture teaches them they have to work no matter where they are and what their energy level is.

Another thing that I do in preparation for hauling out to shows is tying them out for long periods of time on a regular basis. At most local events there are no stalls available for your horses which means they’ll have to stand tied to the trailer. It’s not uncommon to arrive at 9am and the show not end until after 9pm which means they’ll have to stand tied for several hours. Unless you can hold your horse the whole entire day, it’s going to be critical that your horse tie safely to the trailer. Tying your horse out frequently will help prepare for that.

Ponying and using a green horse to pony off of is another preparation step I use for hauling preparation. This is a good tool for getting a horse use to trafficking in the warm up pen or show arena. Ponying gets them used to having another horse close, and teaches them that even though another horse is close they still have to work and have a job to do.

If at all possible, set it up where you can ride with several horses either at home or at a friend’s. Small gatherings with plenty of room are the best places to get your feet wet when starting the seasoning process. You want to set your green horse up for success. The last thing you want to do is haul to a crowded arena with too much activity going on and over-stimulate your horse and set them up for failure.

What are some of the things you have done to prepare your young or green horse for their first outing away from home? Did you feel that you had done enough or did you find things you needed to work on?

Standing tied at an open show….

Ponying as part of the breaking process…

TOADIE SHOWpony toad n mo

Is Your Colt Broke?

The million dollar question…. Is a colt broke if it lets you ride it around on its back?

The million dollar answer…. Depends on who you’re asking.

 

In my book, it doesn’t matter how well they carry you around. If you have to pull them around, they’re not broke.

For me, getting one soft through the face and through the body is the critical step in breaking horses. You can’t move forward until you have those elements in place. For a lot of people however, it’s just the opposite – the critical step for them is getting the horse to stand still or move without bucking. Reining comes later.

What exactly is “soft” and why is it so important?

Through the years there have been many great horseman try to define what softness is in a horse. Quite frankly, if you’re a horseman that loves to learn, your definition of softness will evolve and grow deeper as you learn.

Giving just a basic definition of softness so that you get the idea, softness is being able to get the horse to do something or move something without a lot of effort.

For instance, you ask a horse to bring its head around by pulling on the lead rope or the rein. A soft horse, you don’t have to pull in order to get the head around – they require a lot less effort. You only have to pick up. There’s a big difference in effort between pulling and just picking up a rein and that’s basically the beginning idea of softness.

Why is softness so important when it comes to progressing with breaking colts? I’ve found that it can literally mean the difference between staying and hitting dirt.

By now you’re probably asking how in the world getting a horse soft can keep you from falling off. It’s quite simple, actually. It boils down to timing and effort.

It takes more time to pull a horse’s head around than it does to just pick up. If a young horse starts to buck or rear, in order to control the feet you need to get control of the head quickly. If you’re having to pull instead of pick up, your horse has a better chance of getting a jump in on you before you get control.

As mentioned earlier, it takes more effort to pull than just pick up. It also requires more balance because of the leverage needed in order to pull. If your horse is acting up, most likely your balance is already in danger. Add the fact that you’re having to struggle to get your horse’s head around and you’re setting yourself up to quickly become unbalanced.

Those are just two elementary examples of why getting a horse soft prior to getting on is so important when it comes to breaking colts, just riding horses in general. True softness goes much deeper than that but it’s the foundation of everything that goes into an upper level finished horse that’s easy to ride.

 

Does your horse require a lot of effort to ride? If so, what can you work on to make your horse easier to ride?

MO FIRST SADDLE RIDE GROUND STAND Mo

 

 

 

The Horse Is Always Right

At times we get so locked into a certain way of training or thinking that we can’t see, or believe in, another way to teach a horse how to do something. We think because “so-so” says a method doesn’t work or isn’t the way they do something that an outside idea holds no merit. Well, there’s nothing like a horse that doesn’t fit “the mold” to pull a good horseman out of that way of thinking. I’ve always said that difficult horses make the best horsemen and this is one of the reasons why.

 

The usual give and release methods will work on most difficult horses – if they’re applied correctly. But every now and then you run into a horse that’s a little harder nut to crack and the usual give and release methods will only go so far. That’s when the real work begins.

 

Sometimes all a tough horse needs is a lesson to be broken down a little more so they can grasp it better. Contrary to popular belief, these types of horses aren’t stupid. In fact they’re quite the opposite – they’re often incredibly smart. The problem is that they’re so smart they get ahead of you and themselves and they get overwhelmed, or they get over stimulated and don’t know how to handle it.

 

At other times a difficult horse may need an entirely different approach. Horses like that require a good bit of analytical thinking to figure out where they’re coming from and why. Once you figure those two things out, then the next step is taking that information to determine the best way to help the horse out.

 

Another thing to keep in mind is the big picture. If a horse makes a big stride in one task, don’t hammer on them for one small infraction or the big lesson is lost. Focus on the main thing that you’re trying to teach that day.

 

As Ray Hunt said, the horse is always right. A lot of horsemen bristle at that remark but it’s entirely true. For one, we’re supposed to be smarter than the horse and expect the horse to be a horse so horse actions shouldn’t really come as a surprise no matter how bad they are. Horses will be horses because that’s what they are and what they do! Not only that, a horse is just a product of what someone made them to be. If they act out it’s because something was missed somewhere –remember, we’re supposed to be the smarter species?

 

It pays to have an open mind when working with any horse. Just like us, they don’t all fit into a mold and they have good days and bad days. The key is to remember that and be flexible in your approach so that you can figure out the best way to help your horse, not make your horse do something. If nothing else, remember the horse is always right.

 

So when was the last time your horse did something wrong and what was it? Why do you think he did it? What did you do to help him out?

Mo TOAD LOAD

 

 

Setting Goals

Setting a measurable goal is important if you want to accomplish certain things in life. Working with horses is no different. While measurable goals are necessary for the big objectives, they’re also necessary for the small steps you take with your horse on a daily basis. If you don’t set goals every time you handle your horse, you run the risk of not only losing focus, but upsetting your horse as well.

Most of us that show have no problem setting a big goal for competition. That’s an integral part of competing, really. But sometimes what we don’t do is set a goal for every time we ride. Sometimes we get so rushed that we focus on warming up or doing our routine that we forget about the details. In the end, we ride mindlessly on our horses and /or we wind up drilling too much on certain things.

 Years ago a good trainer friend of mine said that horses have the mentality of a three year old child. That concept has come back to me time after time and it’s a good one to hold on to. While the image of a three year old child conjures up a limited understanding, it also brings up the subject of attention span. Most three year old children can’t concentrate on something for more than just a couple of minutes before they’re thinking, “Ooooohhhhhh…. Look at all the pretty colors!” Then most parents are struggling to get their attention back. Horses are absolutely no different.

 Your first basic goal should be to keep your training sessions short, especially when working with younger horses. You want to focus on the important stuff while you don’t have to fight for their attention. If you work for a longer period, they’re going to get frustrated because you’re going to have to battle that desire to “look at all the pretty colors.” Quit before that happens.

 You might think that short sessions don’t do any good. Horses learn by repetition and have a wonderful memory. It doesn’t matter how long the session is or really even how long it is between sessions. What matters most is the consistency and number of sessions.

Another goal should be to focus on only a couple of things per ride. Don’t start your ride thinking you have to accomplish everything that’s needed to do your class or event. Focus on only a couple of things and accomplish those. Then the next ride, focus on something else.

For instance, green horses don’t travel well in a straight line. They also don’t keep a consistent speed, and depending on how far along they are they may not know how to take a correct lead. The absolute worst thing you can do is go out there and try to make that green horse do all three of those things during your work session. Break it down and focus on only a couple of things, like a straight line and a good forward tempo at a trot. Then next time you can work on your canter.

A repetition goal is also important and needs to be determined before you ever step up into the saddle. How many times are you going to lope on the left lead? How many times are you going to ask your horse to back? How many times are you going to jump over that particular jump? Decide these goals ahead of time and then keep track of them while you’re riding so that you don’t over work your horse to the point of being sour.

Last, and probably the most important goal is to quit your ride on a good note. If you have to set your horse up to quit on a good note, by all means find something he’s good at and quit on that.This is especially critical if there’s something that your horse is struggling with because quitting speaks louder to a horse than drilling on what you’re trying to teach.

If I’ve got a horse that’s really struggling with something, I’ll make that the goal for the day. If my horse reaches that goal in just a few minutes, I’ll quit for the day right then. I can always ride tomorrow but that horse just tried and accomplished something he couldn’t before. Quitting on a good note tells him he did the right thing, and it boosts his confidence.

So what goals have you been setting for your rides? How do you determine those goals?

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GIVE A HORSE A JOB

One of my biggest passions is working with horses. There’s nothing I love more than breaking a colt or working through an issue with a horse that has problems. The harder they are to figure out and deal with, the more I love the challenge. I think it’s the reward of seeing that animal grow through the process.

You know, Jesus said he didn’t come to save the righteous that he came to save the sinners. He also said that those that have more to forgive love him the most. I think horses are the same way. The harder they are to work with the more they trust you on the other side. The process is sometimes painful but in the end  it’s a neat thing and wouldn’t have been so sweet if it hadn’t been so hard.

Anyone that knows me knows that my philosophy with horses is that when it comes right down to it, it’s not about us and what we want to do. It’s about the horse because it’s his life. It’s about him and his leaving our hands better than when he came to us. We should always seek to improve the horse, not just our goals and desires.

I used to think that a good horse trainer could make a horse do anything. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that a good horse trainer can figure out what a horse wants to do. Figure that out and it becomes much easier to teach that horse how to do things. If you think about it, we’re the same way so why would a horse be any different just because they can’t talk? We fight against doing things we don’t want to do too.

Giving a horse a job that makes them think is one of the best things for a horse and it’s most certainly one of the best things you can do for a difficult horse. I think most difficult horses are smart horses. I think they get themselves into trouble when they get bored and they have to find ways to entertain themselves. The best way to combat that is give them a job that grabs their attention and requires them to think.

One of the best jobs for a horse is to work cows. It requires them to focus on something, kind of like putting a TV in front of a kid. Cows are instant horse magnets. While some horses are deathly afraid the first time they see a cow and want to get away, if you think about it even though they’re afraid, they’re STILL focusing on that cow.

You can put a dull, lazy horse on a cow and you’ll get a totally different horse. Suddenly that horse will be lighter, quicker. It’s because they’re interested in what they’re doing and they feel like doing it.

While you might say you don’t have cows to go work, it doesn’t mean all is lost. We don’t have cows either so when we get a chance we’ll haul to a Ranch Clinic or a Ranch Sorting to get that exposure. But you can also find other ways to get out of the arena and give your horse something to do.

Horse Soccer is the next best thing to being on cows, in my opinion. It gives the horse something to focus on – the ball. His job is to stay with that ball and move it around. At the same time he’s moving that ball around you’re also getting a chance to work on things like shoulder and hip control, rate.

Another job I like to give a horse is ponying. It does a horse a world of good to have the job of leading another horse around. It gives them confidence but you also get to work on things like trafficking and control of the body parts.

You can also use your horses for working around your property. Instead of using the pickup truck to haul that log, use your horse to drag it. You’ll need to use a western saddle and wrap your horn to keep it from getting damaged, and get your horse used to ropes first but it’s a job that you can use your horse for. If you ride English, you can still find things light enough that you can drag off your horse.

Here’s some pics of the jobs our horses have had over the years –

This is Mo, the 3 year old green mare at a Ranch Clinic with Scott Kiger of Georgia and John Nicely of Tennessee.

3yr old green mare
3yr old green mare

This bay horse on the right is my husband’s Polish Arab that I showed Hunter.

Sorting on English Arab

Here’s this same horse working a ball.

Working on the ball

The pony horse in this picture was deathly afraid of other horses being close when he was ridden. Here he is ponying a 2 year old.

ponying

The important idea here is to find ways to use your horse in getting something accomplished, to include him in what you’re doing. When you do that, you wind up with a horse that’s interested in what he’s doing and you usually wind up furthering his training because it’s required to do the job well.

How do you find ways to put your horse to work that grab his interest?

The Joys Of Breaking Colts

I’m 44 this year and still one of my most favorite things in the world to do is break colts.Now, most of the horse folks I know my age or even younger wouldn’t touch a green horse with a ten foot pole. They don’t want to get hurt and they think I’m nuts for still wanting to take the challenge on. Maybe I am.

I know I’m not the only crazy one. I’ve got  a friend that’s almost ten years older than me that still loves breaking colts as well even though he’s been banged up a lot more than me the last few years. Too, one of my biggest mentors, Marty Green, was still breaking colts in his late 60’s. There’s just something about taking a young horse that knows nothing and teaching it something valuable that it’ll use in life and then seeing that learning process happen right before your eyes. There’s not another feeling in the world like it. 

I don’t get to train full time as I work full time in the healthcare industry and have a barn full. I’m hoping however that in the new couple of months we’ll have a slot open up and can re-organize my pasture set up so that I have a lot more time to ride instead of doing stalls!

At the moment I’m working my step-daughter’s horse, Kiwi Brigadier’s Bar, also known as Mo. I got a handful of quick rides on her last fall and gave her the rest of the time off. This summer I started her back and even managed to haul her to two barrel races to get her first rides off the farm. 

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I always try to put in enough ground work and time so that the first rides go without incident. Just like anything else, first impressions either make or break a relationship. Horses aren’t any different. How they are broke out decides their attitude on riding for the rest of their life and I want it to be a good one. I get a little radical when it comes to breaking colts. You see, my thoughts are that how their trained can ultimately cost them their life. The slaughter houses in Mexico and Canada are full of horses that have training issues and poor training put them there. That’s why I take it as a serious responsibility. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that if you’ve done the proper groundwork and taken your time, it’s not the breaking you have to worry about at all. It’s usually the later rides. My saying has always been, “They get a little older and they get a little bolder.” It’s true. They get a little more size and learn to handle their feet, that’s when just like a little teenager they have to try the boundaries. 

Mo is one of those horses that loves petting. She’s also one of those mares that’s not so sure of herself. If you love on her however, she’ll try her heart out for you and if she’s not sure it’s the right thing, she’ll ask in her own way. I don’t think I’ve ever had a mare quite like her and she’s taught me a lot about wading in when asking for something and being patient in giving them time to figure it out. 

I wonder if in the end that’s what the draw is on breaking colts? Maybe it’s not just the reward of seeing them grow but maybe seeing ourselves grow as well because they have more to teach us than an older finished horse that’s a bit jaded. 

I’m curious of those reading this blog, what have you learned from your horse lately? Is it patience? Did you learn something about your horse but about yourself as well?