There’s Only Two Things To Worry About…

This year I haven’t ridden nearly as much as I should have due to some overwhelming events coupled with some soundness issues. When it looked like I might be able to finally haul to a horse show, I jumped at the chance. I knew ahead of time my horses weren’t really ready to show but for me it was just an opportunity to get them out and hopefully have some fun. We both needed it!

I decided to take our green mare that’s been hauled a few times but never shown under saddle and one of my geldings that’s done everything from sort cows to extreme cowboy races.  Neither had been worked a whole lot but I figured we’d make the most of it. If we all survived, I’d be happy!

The morning of the show we happened to get the first frost of the season. Needless to say both horses’ energy levels were through the roof! We were able to get to the show about an hour before and let them see everything. Fortunately they kept their snorting and upturned tails to a minimum.

My husband showed the mare in In Hand Trail first. Although she’d never even seen a trail obstacle let alone navigate one she managed the ‘L’ shaped back through and the other obstacles beautifully well.

Next my husband showed my gelding in the same class. Now, this horse can pivot with the best of them but he tested my husband through every move and at one point had all four feet off the ground as they trotted over the course.

Since I know the gelding very well, after seeing that little display of attitude I knew he was going to be even worse under saddle and I had two classes before it was my turn. I decided to use a nearby paddock to get the buck out except he managed to crow hop, buck and rear a couple feet off the ground. Although entertained with the show he put on, I think several of the pleasure folks were a little mortified at his rodeo ability. For him and I it was just par for the course! I’ve kind of gotten used to his antics over the years.

Our first Trail class he practically eradicated the trail pattern. If they had given out an award for most destructive trail pattern of the day, we would have won it! Of course, I was still on a high from the bronc ride I’d just taken so I’m sure my nerves didn’t help any at all so I can’t blame it all on him.

The second pattern he didn’t settle too well either but at least we left some of the elements intact. But the last three obstacles it was like I was on a totally different horse. He settled and handled them like the horse I know he can be at times.

The last challenge was to rope the calf dummy. He side passed in to pick up the rope like a pro and then stood perfectly still while we roped the dummy and then recoiled the rope. Then he calmly side passed to put the rope back. Where had this horse been the whole time? Or, maybe he just wants to be a rope horse. The jury is still out on that one!

After that I tied him to the trailer and I looked up a little while later and he had all four feet up in the air. He wasn’t pulling, just bucking away. Some terrified soul came and untied him but had he been at a barrel race he would have stayed there all day, which is what we normally do.

The mare, on the other hand was a totally different story. I rode her in two walk/jog pleasure classes. She wasn’t as finished as the other horses and she broke a time or two but she trafficked well and didn’t look at anything. Considering we’re still working on being able to walk a straight line, she did incredibly well.

In her walk/jog Horsemanship class, she kept a nice little consistent stride and gave me one of the smoothest stops I think she’s done so far. I couldn’t have been any happier!

The next weekend I judged for the folks that ran the show. They gave me a bottle of wine and a sign that read, “Ride Your Best Horse First”. We all had a good laugh over that one and I think we all know who my best horse is after that last show!

I had worried all week about the green horse and what she might do only to be outdone by the horse that had the most experience. I had played all kinds of crazy scenarios in my head about what the mare might do but in the end it was the gelding that gave me the most to worry about.

I should have remembered a clinician that I went to see a few years back – Josh Lyons. He said he worried all the time about riding young or tough horses. He imagined all kinds of crazy “what ifs” just like I’d done. His dad told him he was over thinking- there’s always only two things to worry about– staying on or falling off.

If you stayed on, there was nothing to worry about. If you fell off there was only two things to worry about – not getting hurt or getting hurt. If you didn’t get hurt there was nothing to worry about. If you did get hurt there was only two things to worry about – living or dying. If you lived….you get the picture.

Nerves and a crazy imagination can certainly get the best of us. Maybe if I hadn’t been worrying about more than two things my nerves would have been a little calmer and I might have had at least a little better ride on that gelding.

What are some of the things that you’ve worried about when it comes to riding your horses? How often have they come true? How has your nerves impacted your riding or horse’s performance?

PHOTOS 

Here’s some links to the pics that Keith Mooney Photography took –

My husband & Mare in Trail – http://www.keithmooneyphoto.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-October-5-2014/42-45-ALL-Trail-Classes-1/i-29xpr7c

My husband & Gelding in Trail – http://www.keithmooneyphoto.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-October-5-2014/42-45-ALL-Trail-Classes-1/i-VW56GjX/A

My ride on the Gelding in Trail – http://www.keithmooneyphoto.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-October-5-2014/42-45-ALL-Trail-Classes-1/i-R5ZTKSh

My ride on the Gelding in Trail – http://www.keithmooneyphoto.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-October-5-2014/42-45-ALL-Trail-Classes-1/i-hqdsLt7/A

My ride on the Mare in Horsemanship – http://www.keithmooneyphoto.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-October-5-2014/68-W-J-Horsemanship/i-FsM3VPH/A

Mo in her In Hand Trail Class

MO STEVE

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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

The Loss Of Versatility

When the AQHA was started decades ago, their goal was to promote a horse that could do anything. In fact, in the early years it was a expected that horse be sensible and useable. For many years, the motto of the International Arabian Horse Association was the “The most versatile horse on earth.” In the early years, it wasn’t uncommon for both of these breeds to spend their week days doing jobs such as cow work, pulling buggies or even plowing fields, and their weekends running races or showing. Legendary ranches such as Al Marah and the 6666 Ranches were producers of such horses, especially in those early years.

While both breeds are still extremely multitalented if given the chance, it’s rare to see a show or competition horse that gets to do more than their assigned discipline or event. In addition to that, show horses are often kept in the pen and rarely get a chance to step out of the show environment to a herd of cows or an open trail. Sadder still is the acceptance that it’s ok for these horses not to behave well in a non-show environment because they are show horses. In a lot of cases it’s expected. For instance, Show Trail horses aren’t expected to be ok with throwing a rope because that’s not part of the show trail requirements.

A discipline shouldn’t limit a horse but enhance it. Yet in today’s world, that’s pretty much what specialization has done. We’ve created horses that are limited in what they can do, and even where they can go. Show horses spook on the trail or barrel horses run off in an open field or jumpers bolt at the sight of a cow. It didn’t start out this way but our attitudes about the ability of these horses were different.

While I can appreciate the fact that today’s horse business and level of competition requires more specialization than it ever has before, I also think there is still a place and a need for a certain amount of versatility in all horses. I also realize the fact that few horses are going to be national champions at everything they try, but I also think that shouldn’t keep us from at least trying it on a small level. Furthermore, I believe that when done correctly, versatility can in fact enhance the skills that are used in their specialized event.

I have a good friend that puts on Horsemanship and Ranch clinics. He also breaks high dollar colts for a dressage trainer. I’ve been to several of his Ranch clinics where he’s used a young Trakehner or Oldenburg to herd cows. It’s also not uncommon to see a couple of english riders at his clinics sorting cows because they know the value of versatility in their horses. While they may not be the best or the quickest at cow work, in the end the horse has benefited from time doing something different.

There are plenty of low key and inexpensive opportunities out there to let your horse try something different. Trail riding, open and schooling shows, cattle sorting practices, and ranch clinics are all ways to let your horse try something new. Try your barrel on a ranch trail pattern at an open show. Try showing your jumper in a training level class at a dressage schooling show. Try your pleasure or dressage horse on cows at a sorting practice.

By including some versatility in your horse’s routine, not only will you see your horse’s attitude improve since they’re doing something new but you’ll also get a chance to work on the same skills they use in their main discipline but in a different way.

What event or discipline is the main focus for your horse? What other events can you try that are similar to his main event that will offer your horse a chance to do something different? If you feel that you can’t try a different event, why? What training can you do with your horse that will improve him so that he can do that different event?

Sorting on a barrel horse & an Arab hunter horse

Sorting on Barrel Horse & Hunter Horse

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?

Sharing What You Have For Christmas

Christmas is right around the corner. It’s a time of giving but it should also be a time of reflection of how blessed we are. Often we get so caught up in the usual holiday obligations that we don’t stop and think how blessed we truly are to do what we do with our horses.

Most of us are pretty quick to be thankful for our horse. Our unique blessing actually goes a whole lot further than that, especially if you keep your horses on your own place. Most of us horse owners have a tendency to not even recognize just how fortunate we are.

Even at our old place that was just under 5 acres, I did feel very fortunate to be able to keep my horses at my house. It’s nice to just walk outside and dump feed and do stalls, etc. But as the new wore off, I complained about the barn, complained that I needed more pasture, complained that I wanted to be further out away from everything.

It wasn’t until some friends of ours from Pennsylvania came over that I began to see things completely different. They were from the city and lived in a subdivision. Our lifestyle, even on that small acreage, was completely foreign to them. What I thought was too crowded and too small was a rural paradise of quiet for them. They loved to just come and sit on the front porch of that old farm house and enjoy the country, or just come and pet the horses. What I had taken for granted was a great treat to them.

You might have competition goals and wish you had a more competitive horse. Keep in mind that while you’re wishing for another horse, some young kid or adult that can’t have one is just wishing for ANY horse. It doesn’t have to be a blue ribbon winner. As competitors we have a tendency to set our standards so high that we forget about the blessing of just having a horse in the first place.

As you stop and think about the blessings that go with owning your horse, also stop and think about those folks that don’t have that blessing but that would love to. Find ways to share that. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour trail ride through the mountains or an hour-long lesson in a dressage arena. It can be simple. Sometimes something as simple as inviting someone over to just pet your horse can make someone’s day. It’s amazing how a simple ride while you lead can bring a huge smile to a person’s face, adults and kids alike.

Pass the blessing on. Who can you share your horse with today?