Dead or Alive?

Let me ask you two questions…Does your horse load into a trailer in two minutes? Can just anyone else get your horse on a trailer?

Those two questions can literally determine whether your horse ends up dead or alive.

Two minutes to load...
Two minutes to load…

Several years back, in researching an article I was writing for America’s Horse Magazine, I learned that during that wildfires that year, they gave people two minutes to load their horse. Two minutes or the police would make you leave your horse to fend for itself.

 

 

This week I saw some of the stories of horses that were stranded in the floods of Louisiana and Texas. In the video below, they’re having to load three horses in knee-deep water. The first two went on without any effort, but the last one went on and came right back off. The video ends before we find out if they got the horse on the trailer.

Video link –

https://www.facebook.com/groups/368919936614181/

No one ever thinks a disaster will happen to them. The truth of the matter is that unexpected things happen that can require your horse to load quickly and easily, and if they don’t there can be some dire consequences.

For instance, depending on where you’re at, having a flat tire on your truck or trailer, or having an accident can require that you load your horses on the side of an interstate or busy road.  The longer it takes your horse to load, the more at risk you are with traffic.

Clinic
Clinic

So what can you do if your horse doesn’t load well?

There’s a million different methods out there on trailer loading  – some safe, some not so safe. Really, in the end, how you get a horse to load easily is making the trailer a place the horse wants to be and is comfortable in.

How do you do that? Short of only feeding you horse at or on the trailer and nowhere else every single day, when a horse wants to leave a trailer let them but put them to work. You can lunge, you make them do side pass work or any other manner of getting their feet to move. Then come back to the trailer to rest.

As long as they’re looking or checking out the trailer, they’re trying. Leave them be. When they’re not, ask them to move forward on to it — it is important that they know how to move forward by pointing or tapping at the hip!

Once they get on, don’t shut them in. Let them come out if they feel the need to come out. If you’re claustrophobic, locking you in a tiny box doesn’t make you like cramped spaces! Horses are the same way. They get comfortable by knowing they can leave.

The next important piece is consistency and repetition. The more a horse does something, the more he learns and the better he gets at it.

If I have a horse that doesn’t want to load, I will set my trailer up where I can expose them to the trailer every time I turn them in and out of the pasture. Ideally, I’ll take them to the trailer twice a day if I have the time. I don’t spend an hour-long marathon session there. I spend just a minute or two there at the trailer asking them to move forward closer or on the trailer. If they do what I ask in thirty seconds, we’re done and they get to be turned out as a reward.

My retired race horse, Dynamic Host, is my latest big trailering project. When I went to pick him up, he had no clue that tapping on the hip meant go forward. (If he’d been in those California wildfires, he’d been dead!)  His heart rate and respiration was so elevated that you would have thought he’d just won a race. It was obvious he was not comfortable being on a trailer, and I wondered if we would be able to bring him home!

The thing about high-strung and nervous horses is that you can’t whip them on to a trailer or make them go. For one, they’re usually too big to make them go anywhere, and someone will most definitely get hurt trying. Additionally, when they get scared they don’t think at all – they panic and blow up. The lessons of giving to pressure go right out their little window.

The answer for those type horses is teaching them to relax and think, and gradually let them get accustomed to being on the trailer. Repetition and time.

Don’t wait until you’re in a bad situation to work on getting your horse to load better. Do it now so that you and your horse won’t be caught off guard.

How well does your horse load? If he doesn’t load easily and quickly, what is something you can do today to remedy that?

 

 

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Horses Off The Race Track…

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie”, thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt of Riceville, Tennessee.

An own son of Dynaformer, Dynamic Host is a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old retired Thoroughbred race horse that was originally entered in the Retired Race Horse Project.  Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he did not make the deadline for training. Although he may have missed that opportunity, his second career as an Eventer is wide open due to his potential.

Dynamic Host was in training with California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman in 2012 – 2013. During that time he won the Tokyo City Cup.

Having had an Appendix horse off the track, I somewhat knew what to expect with “Louie”. The nervousness, the sometimes exaggerated big reactions to new things, the gaps in training for things like ground manners or moving forward when you point at the hip. In many ways, they’re like a two years, only bigger and stronger!

In a lot of ways I may be a sucker for punishment when it comes to horses, however at the end of the day I truly love to work with horses that require going that extra mile. It’s something I’m passionate about and I really believe they can teach us so much as horseman that we can’t learn any other way.

I also believe in that in the right hands, these hot thoroughbreds can turn into the same mellow horses found in the cow pen or on the trail. I’ve seen it with my own eyes more than once at ranch clinics!

Talk to most horse people and mention the word “Thoroughbred” or “Race Horse” and you’ll often hear remarks like, “they’re hot”, or “they’re crazy”. Funny thing is that you’ll hear the same remarks about Arabs and Impressive bred horses, both of which are actually incredibly smart.

I think Thoroughbreds are the same way- they’re smart, which is part of the reason some folks have their hands full.

Smart horses notice everything – because they’re smart! Horses like that require a person to step it up and pay attention to everything around them. If they don’t, they get left behind. It’s pretty simple.

Another thing about smart horses is that they don’t require a person to ask as hard. They’re sensitive and they understand much quicker. Usually what gets people in trouble with smart horses is that they ask too hard and keep asking long after the horse is trying. In the end horse gets frustrated and acts out…kind of like we do when we’re talking to someone that’s not as smart and they just don’t get it.

Smart horses also don’t put up with crap. They’re smart enough to realize that they don’t really have to. So then a person has to figure out a creative way to deal them, and it’s easier to blame the horse than it is to admit you’re not smart enough to figure them out.

In the three weeks that I’ve had Dynamic Host, I’ve seen a horse that’s nervous and hot only because he’s never trusted enough to learn he can truly relax. You have to earn the trust of a horse like that, it’s not just given like it is by most horses.

I’ve also seen a horse that tries his heart out and catches on quicker than just about any horse I’ve worked with. For instance, in only one session I had him staying at my shoulder and backing up when I did – without a halter on. Two sessions in the round pen, and he was already joining up and working to the inside instead of the outside.

His sessions haven’t been without over-reactions. For instance, the first time I just touched him with a stock whip he was scared to death of it. When I went to desensitize him with it, he jumped up and sideways a good three feet. But, within a few moments he was letting me rub his shoulders with it even though it was obvious he was still fearful. The next day, he didn’t flinch at all.

There’s a lot of ground we have to cover – things like basic ground manners, and learning to load in a trailer calmly and without fear, giving to the bit – but he’s also made a lot of improvements already in a short time. For instance, learning to lower his head when you turn him out in the pasture or bring him out of his stall, staying relaxed and lowering his head while you rub his ears, and waiting on me instead of just walking ahead when we’re headed out to the pasture, and doing lateral work from the ground.

A big part of me wishes that I could just train horses for a living and not work, but sometimes at times like this I’m thankful that I don’t because I’m not under any pressure to get a horse trained in a certain period of time. I can just enjoy the journey and learn from it – that’s a luxury most trainers don’t get if they want to stay in business.

I truly believe Dynamic Host can make a phenomenal Eventer some day – I just have that feeling, that “knowing”. My goal in working with him is to give him the solid foundation he needs to do just that. I want him to be right – to be sane, solid, and light. I’m just honored I get to be part of such a terrific horse’s story!

Happenings At Fairweather Farm

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot sure has gone on since then.

Just this month I wrote an article on Time Tips For Showing that Horse & Ranch magazine published. If you get stressed showing you’ll want to check it out!

My article in Horse & Ranch Magazine
My article in Horse & Ranch Magazine

I also launched Cowgirls With Curves a couple months back. It’s a blog and website for plus size riders to highlight their efforts, encourage them, and to help motivate and give them a voice. It’s something that I can relate to first hand, and it’s something I’m passionate about!

Back in early April I had to put my twenty-five year old gelding down. I had owned Matthew’s Bluff, aka Bluff, for twenty-three years.

I went to bring in the geldings that morning and he was unable to control his hind end and was falling. He was trying so desperately to come in because it was feeding time and I was worried he was going to fall into the fence. The vet suspected he had a stroke and I knew we had no other choice. The hard part was that I knew he wasn’t ready to go, but at the same time he hadn’t suffered. Quite frankly, had none of this happened and it was a case of planning his euthanasia I’m not sure I would have had any more peace. So I guess this was the least of the evils.

Bluff taught me so much, like how to ride big horses, and how to re-hab a track horse. I’m sure going to miss him!

Mister Decision, aka Bluff
Mister Decision, aka Bluff
Bluff & Fireman loved to scratch shoulders.
Bluff & Fireman loved to scratch shoulders.

About a month after that, my bay gelding Cool presented with what we thought was colic but then spiked a temperature of 106.2 and required IV antibiotics and fluids. I spent most of the time in the barn and needless to say there wasn’t a lot of sleep, and my pocket-book is a lot lighter. The vet suspected an infection but unfortunately we don’t have a definite answer. The good news is he’s back to his grumpy little self.

The cat hammock
The cat hammock
Ponying Cool
Ponying Cool

This past weekend was a nice milestone. Mister Decision, aka Bubba, won me the High Point award for the Smoky Mountain Show Series held at Tri-State in Cleveland, Tennessee. We showed in Ranch Trail, Horsemanship, Barrels, and Poles.

Last year, this same gelding left a nice big bruise on my leg when he acted like a bronc before one of my classes. Then later in the year he wouldn’t settle on the trail pattern and managed to knock over the gate and one of the boxes. So to just get through a trail pattern leaving everything intact was progress!

Smoky Mountain Horse Show at Tri-state in Cleveland, Tennessee
Smoky Mountain Horse Show at Tri-state in Cleveland, Tennessee

My barrel horse, Shawne Fire N Te, aka Fireman, is going to have several weeks off. Last year we struggled with keeping him tracking sound. I finally bit the bullet and had x-rays done. Although his feet looked perfect and were on the exact same angle the bones were nowhere near the alignment that we thought they were in shoeing. So we’re making some major changes and hopefully will be back to barrel racing later in the year.

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity
Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity

On an end note, Oscar the donkey that we rescued is still here. Last weekend he was gelded. And no, it didn’t go as planned but then when does it ever with a donkey? Yes, he still likes his butt scratched.

Oscar says hello!
Oscar says hello!

 

Cardinal Rules Of Showing – Tips For Your First Show

Spring is almost here and if you’re like a lot of folks, you’re already thinking about the show season. Some of you may have already scheduled your entire show season, and others may be considering showing for the first time. Either way, now is the best time to set your goals and schedule accordingly.

SHOW RING

Being a competitor and a judge, I see a lot of new comers to barrel races and horse shows. Remembering what it’s like to be a complete novice and not know anyone, I always try to reach out and help folks that are new to showing. Regardless of what level you ride at, or what event you decide to compete in there’s a lot to learn and a lot of “unwritten rules”.

MO STEVE

The first cardinal rule is always bring your Coggins test even if it doesn’t say it’s required!

The second cardinal rule is thoroughly read the Show Bill or Prize List and pay attention to all the details. The show bill will tell you when the show starts, what the rules are, how much entry fees are and if there are any miscellaneous fees.

The show bill will also list the classes that will be offered. You’ll want to decide way ahead of time which classes you want to ride in. Write down the number and name of the class on a sheet of paper and keep that with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to keep a show bill in your pocket. This way you won’t forget which classes you’re entering at sign up – you’d be amazed how many people forget. This also helps to speed up the sign up process.

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Speaking of sign ups, one question I often get is “What do I do to sign up and where do I go?”

Every event will have either a sign up table or an actual show office. This is where you sign up and pay for classes and get information about the show. Another tip is always bring cash. Not every show takes checks so be prepared.

 

Another cardinal rule of showing is be ready for your class! Always know what class is in the arena so that you’ll know when it’s time for you to be close to the in gate and ready to go in. If you miss your class, you can be disqualified and in most cases entry fees won’t be refunded.

cool halter1

If you think you might not have enough time between classes to get tack or horses changed, request a “Tack Change” at the time of sign ups. That way the judge and ring steward will know you’re running late and will allot a little extra time before the class.

extreme 114

One cardinal rule that is frequently broken is know your patterns. Most shows will post the pattern early on to let contestants memorize it ahead of time. Look at and memorize the pattern as early as possible so that you know what you’re supposed to be doing in the pen. One tip is to take a picture of the pattern with your phone – that way you can carry it with you.

The last cardinal rule I’ll talk about is getting to the show early. A good rule of thumb is to get to the show at least two hours before it starts. That way you have plenty of time to acclimate your horses and warm up.There’s nothing more stressful to you or your horse than dashing into a class at the last-minute.

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By planning ahead way ahead, allotting for enough time, and paying attention to the details your first show experience can be a positive one.

Are you planning on showing or competing this year? If so, what events? What are you looking forward to and what are you worried about?

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

 

 

 

Salvaging The Winter

This time of year it’s difficult, if not impossible, to work your horse unless you’re blessed with access to a covered pen or an extremely sandy arena. In most places the ground is covered in ice or deep mud to the point that a horse can barely stand up, let alone move around enough to get worked on a lungeline or under saddle.

 

Most people give their horses the winter off and then take a couple of months to get them legged back up and tuned. While it does a horse good to have a break, the winter doesn’t have to be a complete loss if the ground is too dangerous to ride. There are things you can do to keep your horse tuned throughout the winter that will also help to shorten conditioning time.

 

Horses in the snow
Horses in the snow

If you’re turning your horse out every day it’s an optimum time to work with your horse for just a few minutes. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a couple of minutes every day. The consistency of even small doses of work can add up over time and you’ll see a huge improvement in your horse.

 

When you’re turning your horse out, you can work on things like shoulder control or hip control. Just asking your horse to move their front end over a step or two every day will result in his being a lot lighter under saddle.

 

You can also ask your horse to move their hips to move over or work on things like side passing, half passes, and pivots as you’re heading to the turnout or before you turn your horse loose. By asking your horse to do maneuvers before he’s turned loose you’ll also help to minimize issues that are caused by anticipation such as pulling away when un-haltering or becoming too hot when going through the gate. Instead of relating turnout time with freedom, they learn to associate turnout time with work first which eliminates the anticipation.

 

Another opportunity that’s often over looked is feeding time. Some horses can get a little pushy when they’re not handled, especially while eating their feed. By asking them to move their hips, shoulders, or their whole body over while they’re eating works on attitude, trust and lightness.

 

A stall or any area that’s the same size with good footing can be a work area for your horse. Even though it’s a relatively small space, it’s ideal for working on things like bending and body control. You can ask your horse to walk a circle around you in this small area. Small close circles not only work on bending and flexibility but they also help with balance and impulsion if done correctly. Because you’re in close quarters, you have the opportunity to help you horse just as you would under saddle. You can also work on shoulder control and basic body control by making your circles smaller and bigger.

 

When doing these exercises with your horse, always strive to see how little effort it takes to accomplish what you’re asking, and to see just how precise your horse can be. As with all groundwork, the lighter and more precise your horse is on the ground, the lighter and more precise they’ll be under saddle.

 

You’ll still have to do some conditioning to do when the weather breaks. Think of these exercises as yoga for your horse. Just like yoga for people, these exercises may not get their heart rate up but just like regular yoga they will help with flexibility, balance, and strength which will shorten the time required to condition your horse.

 

What are some things that you need to work on with your horse? What are some small things that you can start doing now with your horse while the weather is bad to help improve those weaknesses?

Trailer Basics For Loading

We all know someone who’s been there, or we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve got a horse that doesn’t load but we usually manage to get them on the trailer somehow. It’s not exactly pretty but we manage to get the job done.

We spend weeks, maybe even months getting ready for an event. The day of the show arrives and the horse won’t load regardless of what we try.

It’s at that moment that most owners start searching for answers and looking for what they and their horse might be missing. That’s when the quest for knowledge begins. However the problem isn’t a trailer issue, it’s a foundation issue.

It’s true that the horse isn’t comfortable being on the trailer. But the root cause is also a lack of the necessary cues to get the horse on the trailer as well. It’s a combination of trust and conditioned response.

There are few things that can ensure safe trailer loading success. The first is consistency. Trailer loading is not something that will be fixed overnight or in just a few training sessions. The top clinicians will tell you that while your horse may improve quickly, at some point they will regress. This is why it’s so important to be consistent in your training. Just five to ten minutes a day will result in progress.         The next important thing is recognizing the try your horse gives you. At first your horse’s attempt may be as subtle as a weight change. Be looking for those subtle tries and be ready to reward them when they occur with a release of what you’re asking.

Another important component of good trailer training is patience. When problems occur it’s usually because we ask too soon. Don’t ask for the next step until they’re definitely comfortable with giving you the current step.

Horses are a conditioned response animal. If you make the trailer a place to rest and away from the trailer a place of work, it doesn’t take too long for the horse to figure out that when he’s at or in the trailer he works a lot less. This is one of the simplest things you can do to help improve your trailer loading issues.

Next, remember your basics. If you can’t control your horse’s feet away from the trailer how are you going to guide them to get on the trailer? You won’t. So go back to the basics of getting control of your horse’s feet. Fine tune the cues for making your horse go forwards, backwards and sideways so that your horse is light in asking for these three things. Don’t forget to work on your whoa as well.

One last trailer training safety tip is to teach your horse to go forward on the trailer by themselves. The last thing you want to do is be trapped in the trailer with a scared thousand pound horse looking for any way out, which by the way might be right over the top of you.

Have you got a horse that won’t load? Why do you think you horse doesn’t load and what do you think you can do to change that?

 

Trailer demo at clinic
Trailer demo at clinic