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?

 

 

Calming Show Nerves

As a judge and a competitor that trains my own horses, I’m all too familiar with show nerves in both horses and people. The funny thing about show nerves is that they tend to be a vicious cycle. The more nervous we are, the more the nervous the horse becomes. The more nervous the horse gets, because we’re nervous, the more nervous we get!

Warm up pen - Harriman, Tennessee
Warm up pen – Harriman, Tennessee

It’s a never-ending cycle! The problem is that someone – whether it’s us or the horse – has to lead. If you’ve got a solid baby sitter type horse that’s been everywhere and done everything you might survive if they lead. However, if you’ve got a horse that’s the least bit green or insecure you had better learn to step up to the plate and be a leader.

Insecure horses, whether they’ve been hauled a lot or not, need a confident rider. They need to feel safe and they look to us to make them feel secure. Only when they feel that security can they start to relax and settle. The first step to improving you and your horse’s show nerves is to recognize their need for confidence, and to recognize your responsibility as a leader. When you realize your role of helping your horse, suddenly you go from being reactive and somewhat of a victim to being more in control. Your mindset tends to change when you see you are responsible for your horse’s frame of mind.

Smarter horses tend to anticipate and get more nervous because of that. The best thing you can do on show day with a horse that anticipates is to not get in a hurry. I get nervous if I feel rushed, and I know they do too. The more relaxed I can be, the more relaxed my horses will be as well.

If I have a horse that anticipates, a high energy horse, or a horse that hasn’t been hauled a lot I try to arrive at the show at least two hours before it starts. I’ll wait a few minutes before I unload, and then wait another thirty minutes before I start tacking my horse up. This gives them a chance to acclimate to their surroundings and relax.

Seasoning at the shows
Seasoning at the shows

A lot of riders will spend time lunging their horses to work the energy off. While I do think some horses do need to get that energy out of their system, especially those that don’t get a lot of daily turnout, I think the majority of horses would benefit more from just a few minutes of quality ground work that makes them think.

Mindless circles at a crazed canter doesn’t get a horse’s mind. All it does is tire them out, and if you’re showing you need a certain level of energy to compete. Save some of that energy for the show ring by working your horse in a way that makes them think and engage their mind.

As the saying goes, if you get their mind you get their feet. Asking them to move their shoulders and hips, or make a lateral move from the ground goes a long ways towards getting them thinking under saddle.

The same concept goes for warm up under saddle. Lope or canter just enough circles to get the edge off if they need it, but don’t let the goal of your warm up be to tire your horse out. The goal of your warm up should be to get your horse thinking and paying attention to what you’re asking.

Just like on the ground, moves that require them to think are great for making a horse think. Instead of repetitive circles, try frequent changes of directions and rollbacks, a side pass or a half pass to get your horse paying attention. Mix your ride up to keep them guessing what you’re going to do next.

As you’re riding, make sure you’re relaxed. Any time you’re tense, whether you realize it or not, you’re contracting muscles in your body that send a “go forward” cue to your horse. While your hands and legs may be telling your horse to slow down or stop, the rest of your body is telling your horse to move. This conflict in cues can frustrate a horse and cause them to be more nervous. Taking a big deep breath and releasing it loudly will release the tension that you’re feeling as well as relax the muscles, and it sends an audible cue to your horse.

Relaxing before a class
Relaxing before a class

Knowing your role as a competitor, and changing your warm up strategy can improve show day nerves. Take the time to do an honest assessment of you and your horse, and look for ways to improve your preparation and you’ll see results in the show pen.

Do you struggle with being nervous in the show pen? How do you think that impacts your horse? What changes can you make to improve that?

Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!
Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!

 

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?

More Than One Way

First of all — MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

With a new year and resolutions it’s time for new thinking which is what led me to my post this time. Sit down and think a spell….

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of being called the “Idiot Of The Day” when I responded to a post on Facebook about how selfish and cruel it was to clip the muzzle on your horse because they needed their whiskers to feel the wind and find water. My post stated that I clipped only for shows and in over twenty years I’d never had one that seemed harmed by it, nor had I had any accidents.

With a little research, I quickly found out that the arrogant person behind the community promoting “common sense with horses” is affectionately known as the “Jerry Springer” of the horse world. With narcissistic videos on YouTube and an open deep hatred for women, it’s clear he lives for conflict and he’s managed to sensationalize himself into a cult following.

Quite frankly, after seeing his posts and doing a little research it’s extremely clear the man has severe anger issues and I’m thoroughly convinced he’s got a few “Barn Witches”, as he likes to call them, buried under his basement somewhere!

At any rate, it’s obvious he would never even remotely entertain the idea that he might be wrong. The funny thing is that a lot of times the initial premise in what he posts has a small nugget of truth. But he goes in a totally different extreme direction and that direction is the only way and all others are selfish and stupid.

While I’ve always said the horse industry is like a soap opera and full of crazies, after the post experience I was still shocked at just how many there are on so many levels.

One thing that I noticed is that there are some people who are dogmatic when it comes to taking what someone says as pure gold. The mind-set that if “So and So” said it then it HAS to be true! They have lost their ability, if they ever had it in the first place, to think for themselves and try something to see if it’s actually true for them.

Another thing I noticed was that these same people usually think they have to be extremely hateful to get their point across. If they’re right why do they have to be so hateful? Maybe they’ve just been in the cult too long?

Why does the horse industry get so locked down into it having to be one certain way?

We all know people like that and we’ve all seen them. We all may have been them at one in point in time until we knew better — The clinician follower, the trainer groupie.  There’s a lot of money made on those two categories of folks.

Yet there’s lots of people out there, well-known and not so well-known, that do a fabulous job working with horses because they have an open mind and they love working with them. But because they’re not as well-known, they don’t hold as much as weight as the ones that have made a big name for themselves. Does that mean they’re not as credible or they’re not as good a horseman? We tend to think so but I don’t agree.

Circle C Clinic pen 1

There’s a saying that I see from time to time floating around Facebook that basically says that horsemanship is about realizing that everything you think you know about horses can completely change with the very next horse. I love that saying because to me, that’s exactly what it’s all about. You never know it all and there’s never any one way when it comes to horses.

Through the years, there have been many training methods that I’ve latched on to for a few years only to come back full circle to what I originally used. Maybe it took a while but after trying something different I realized that the original way was better. But the neat thing is that I learned something new that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had an open mind to try something different.

There’s also been things that I’ve been skeptical about that I’ve tried any way that wound up working so well that I changed how I did things. You never know where a good training idea is going to come from!

Speaking of open minds and horsemanship, I have to share the link to my other blog, Talking In The Barn.  I interviewed Sam Finden who is a young author that loves horses as much as he loves to write. He’s also a humble horseman that will get you thinking about horses and horsemanship.

SMGH New Cover Art

Have you ever been closed-minded about a training idea? What was it? Have you ever changed your mind about a training idea? How did it make an impact on you?

 

 

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

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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