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

In or Out?

There’s a lot of rain and snow in many parts of the country this time of year. Wet weather can make it a little tougher to manage your horses and usually the one question we all ask is do we keep them in or do we put them out?

When it comes to wet winter weather, there are generally two camps of thinking for managing horses. One is to keep them up and make sure they’re sheltered from the cold and wet. The other is to throw them out because they need to be out as much as possible and it makes them hardy. Which one is right?

For years if it did anything more than just a sprinkle, I kept my horses up for several reasons. I didn’t want my small pasture dug up. I didn’t want my horses getting rain rot. I didn’t want them getting cold and sick. I didn’t want them to be miserable – I certainly wouldn’t want to stand out in the pouring rain all day long.

Through the years, my thinking has changed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve got too many horses and I’m always looking for ways to minimize my chores. Either way, I’ve gotten a little closer to the camp that thinks horses should be out as much as possible.

One argument you often hear in our area is the general story about the worst storm of the century and how all the horses chose to be out the in the storm and not in the run in shed. By the way, I lived that scenario in 1993 when the blizzard hit and I was working at an Arab farm and all the young mares were out in the storm and not in the shed. But is that always the case and is that a valid argument to throwing horses out to the elements?

Now that we’re at our new place we have one set of horses out 24/7, I have found the argument that horses had rather be outside is not entirely true. While some of my horses will graze out in the rain, I have one horse that insists on standing under the shed. Every time he starts to leave the shed, he’ll get halfway out and feel the rain and then immediately back under the shed again. He just detests the rain.

The horse with the blaze is the horse that backs up under the shed. 

Staying Dry

These guys go out in the rain all the time. They don’t care if they’re out. 

Like To Be Out

I don’t think the question, “In or out?” is a simple question. I think for one, you have to know your horse well enough to know whether or not he’ll be happy out in the elements. Some don’t pay any attention to the rain, and then others like the gelding that I mentioned are miserable. If a horse is miserable they’re going to be stressed and stress, as we all know, can cause health issues in horses. So in the long run is it really worth turning that horse out into the wet weather without shelter if he’s going to be miserable?

Another thing to consider is just how bad is the weather? Years ago I read an article that I use as a guide for managing my horses in wet weather. The article stated that if it’s raining and the temperature is below 40 degrees that horses require additional hay because they start losing body heat. If the weather is dry, that temperature threshold drops down to 20 degrees.

I’m fortunate now in that both my pastures have run in sheds and the horses can decide whether or not they want to stay out in the rain. If I didn’t have run in sheds, I’d still use the 40 degree rule for when it rain to determine whether or not I would turn my horses out.

Even though you may have ample shelter for your horses while they’re out, you also have to consider how well your horses get along. Do they get along well enough that everyone gets to go under the shed? Sometimes horses will pick on each other when they’re in close quarters. That usually means one horse will have to stand out in the rain. It’s important to know your herd’s dynamics for this very reason.

Your horse’s hooves are another thing to consider when asking whether or not you should turn your horse out. If your horse wears pads or special shoes and your pasture has a lot of deep mud, it might not be the best idea to turn your out. Deep wet mud can get trapped under pads and can also pull shoes off. You also don’t want a horse with severe thrush or other hoof infection or injury standing in wet ground all day.

“In or Out?” seems like a simple question. After all, it is only two options. When it comes to horse management however, it’s not that simple. When the weather gets wet, herd dynamics, horse temperament, hoof condition, and temperature are all things that you have to consider before you answer that question.

How do you determine whether or not you turn your horses out?

The Joys Of Judging Horse Shows

Judging a horse show at any level is no easy task but it’s one that most of the time I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy seeing the different horses and spending time with horse people. I also enjoy getting the opportunity to impart any nugget of information I’ve been blessed to pick up and sometimes I’m the one that gets to pick up a new nugget or two of wisdom.While it’s true that you can’t always please everyone you can always use judging as a learning experience. Sometimes the riders learn, sometimes you learn and sometimes you both learn.

Last year I judged a horse show at the Tri-State Exhibition Center in Cleveland, Tennessee. The show was hosted by the Reinbow Riders to benefit the Therapy program there. You can get information about the Reinbow Riders at:

To my surprise, there were several draft horses that were shown under saddle in Western Pleasure and Saddleseat. While I knew that draft horses could be ridden, I had never seen a full blooded draft horse shown under saddle. Just thinking about judging them gives me cold chills. Not only were they extremely well mannered, but when they jogged or trotted out it was almost magical. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse present with as much power and presence as those horses did. To make it even more special, some of them showed in both Western and Saddleseat. They managed to adjust their strides and headsets beautifully for each, which is no easy task.

Photos courtesy of Christina Stewart –

Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show

This past weekend, I judged for the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series at Stonegate in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a full day starting at 8 in the morning. The day started with Hunter and Jumper classes and then progressed into Trail, Western, and Gaited classes in the evening.

This show is one of my favorites to judge for several reasons. One is the friendly atmosphere. The show management is always a lot of fun and the contestants are always very friendly and gracious. Another reason is the complexity of the obstacles. They offer more than the typical course set for trail and jumping which also provides an even greater atmosphere for horses and riders to school and learn. It’s not often that you see a course of this caliber at open shows.

View From The Judge's Booth
View From The Judge’s Booth

Another reason, and probably the main one, that I enjoy this show so much is the opportunity to help riders learn.  It’s not uncommon to see kids less than 5 years old in the ring. They’re generally very eager to learn and I tend to have a lot of fun with that. But it’s not always just the tiny kids that I get a chance to help. Sometimes it’s the teenager that’s never shown before that’s obviously a nervous wreck and isn’t sure what they’re supposed to do. This show lets me take the time to help those kids smile and relax and learn how to enjoy showing horses and in the end, that’s what is important.

If you’d like to see some pics from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show you can visit Keith Mooney Photography:

Smoky Mountain Horse Show series is run by Matt Lawson , Ashley Jenkins and Krystle Bridges. The show is located at two farms in West Knoxville. If you would like to see Keith Mooney’s pictures from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series you can visit:

Do you have a favorite show that you like to compete at? What is it about the show that you like?

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. 



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? 

Rain, Rain, and MORE Rain!

This year has really been wet. We’ve had more rain in a month than we get all year. For horse people that can really play havoc with your schedule, among other things.

For instance, by now we would have normally put our second cutting of hay. Around here hay takes at least three days to bale so that it can dry out and cure. Because we’ve not had three days in a row where it didn’t rain, our hay is still growing out in the field uncut.

We don’t have a big  place and I use every square inch that I can to keep the horses from getting bored in the pend. One place that I do a lot of riding at is around and in the wet weather pond in our pasture. When it’s filled with a little water, I can lope nice big circles around the edge. When it’s all dried up, which is usually June through October, I can ride in the middle of it since the bottom is somewhat nice and flat. As of today, the wet weather pond has about three and half feet of water in it and I can’t even ride around the edge.

Of course with as heavy rain as we’ve had, in some cases raining three days straight non stop, the weather really plays havoc on a training and conditioning schedule. There’s been a lot of days it’s just rained to hard to even saddle up and just walk, let alone do anything else.

The horses, on the other hand, have enjoyed all the rain. Not only do we have good grass for what little pasture we have but the horses have gotten to keep their swimming pool through the heat this year. They love to play and splash in it and had rather drink out of it than the water trough.

I’d like to hear what your weather has been like and how it’s messed with your plans? Has it kept you from doing what you would normally be doing this time of year? Image

You can see how they’d rather drink from the nasty pond! 


You can see how deep the pond is now — even outside the fence! There’s no where to ride.