Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did someone say they wanted to Dance?


……Toothbrush….toothpaste…check… contact lens solution.. check…. Warm clothes…check….good it

No, I am not packing for an endurance ride, although I wish I was. I am not even packing for anything horse related.

Instead, I am headed to Connecticut to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband. Before the sun even rises on sunday I will be boarded and blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube. With any luck I will make both connections with out any difficulties.

I am excited for the trip, but as any horse crazy person knows, leaving the farm is always difficult.

As a result, going on an extended trip like I am this time, is not something I choose to do very often unless it’s work related. If Tom and I do happen to travel, one of us usually winds up staying behind to “tend the rabbits”. Finding someone to take on 3 dogs, a cat and 5 horses is usually expensive and that’s only if you can even find someone crazy enough to agree!

This trip, unfortunately, will leave my very understanding husband behind. .. and all my beloved animals. My mom and I will travel back to Connecticut together, also leaving my dad behind. (I guess the boys are going to have to figure out Thanksgiving dinner this year)

I am one of the worlds worst worrier’s when it comes to my animals, especially the horses. Even though I know Tom is perfectly capable of managing things, there is just something about being there everyday to lay eyes on the horses and run down my mental checklist; morning and night….“ all horses accounted for, upright and walking fine, everyone is eagerly eating, things are ok” . Tom depends on my acute sense for when one of the critters "just not right". He going to have to be on his own and after Sunday, a nightly phone call from the home base will have to suffice and lay my worries to rest.

All things considered, this trip will be bittersweet. We have plans to get together with cousins that I haven’t seen in years. These are cousins that we used to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with. I am looking forward to catching up with everyone. They all have kids now that I have never even met. Not a single family member is "horsey" in the least so no horse talk for me.

We also have a trip into NYC planned, it’s been years since I have visited and I am really looking forward to that. I am not much of a city goer but NYC is worth a trip to every now and then. With all the plans, and the visiting with family and friends of long ago, I am certain I won’t have time to worry about what is going on at home ( yeah , right!)

I know when I return, I will be greeted with meows, woofs and nickers and that will be music to my ears!

Happy Trails everyone and maybe I will get time to send an update while I am still on vaca!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just Right Night

I arrived home just before dusk this evening. A undeniable bite in the air as arctic front is about to bear down upon us. The chance of snow with rain according to the weather forecast beginning tomorrow. We have been enjoying mild November weather so far.

I tossed the heals and blouse and changed into crummy jeans, a warm hat and gloves , and headed out to feed horses. We use round bales to feed from, simply because we have not been able to build a hay barn yet. Round bales , when tarped, seem to shed water much better than squares. We end up losing a lot less to mold this way. Typically people who feed rounds also use the feeders. We don’t have those either. Instead we fork off hay from the bale morning and night. Personally, I would prefer feeders but that’s one of those things that I haven’t convinced Tom of yet. He thinks there would be too much waste and Rebel and Roman would tend to attach themselves to it like woodticks.

I loaded up the ‘rickshaw” with enough for 5 generous hay piles. The sun had set but it was not quite dark. As I approached the gate, I was greeted by 4 galloping , frisky geldings, obviously feeling the change in weather as well.

There is no sweeter sound to my ears than that of thundering hooves, no greater joy than being able to see my horses run and play.

I paused and watched as Cassidy and Brego romped about, leaving me in awe with their effortless rollbacks and airs above ground. Rebel and Roman were more interested in the hay but they did get caught up in all the excitement and joined the other two for a run about the pasture at a high speed, down to the other end of the pasture, around the outside of the round corral, and back towards me. What a thrill to see 4 geldings running right at me, almost full speed!

I doled out the piles and nattered greetings to them all, a scratch or two here and there, as they sorted out which pile tasted the best and settled in for a long chilly night. It occurred to me that it’s the small things in my life that I am so thankful for. How many of us get to experience that of running horses, cheeks bitten by fresh crisp air and soft fuzzy muzzles? All things at this moment are just right .

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Year, New Goals....

Settling into a season of less ride time, (forced due to darkness and weather), I shift focus a bit to thoughts about the upcoming ride season. I have been thinking about goals next season. Obviously I would like to stat next year off with completing a LD ride with JB early in the season .That’s a big one for me. It eluded me for the 2008 year due to JB’s bruised sole. I don’t intend to let it pass by for 2009.

Before I look ahead to far, I had to ponder where I have been. Ok 2008 was a rough year…not going to dwell on that.

Where did this desire to do endurance come from anyways? Why, more than anything has it motivated me ? When was the first time the thought of riding a horse for 50 or 100 miles over varied terrain begin to sound like fun????

It’s been hiding there in the back of my mind for a long time and it started with a special horse named Rebel. I can remember as clear as day the first time the idea of competing in endurance first entered my thoughts. It was during the first year I owned Rebel , after we sorted out some of his behavior issues he had. Rebel came to me as a rescue from an abuse situation. He had been mistreated and as a result , built in some pretty good defense mechanisms. I was told that all he knew how to do was rear or back up when a rider was on him. I had been warned that he was a renegade and I had better be careful.

At the time, I was about 17 years old and pretty much fearless. I hadn’t even heard of Natural horsemanship yet. But this was my first “horse of my own” that I had. It wasn’t a lesson horse, he wasn’t my sisters horse, he was mine. I had to make this horse right.

The first few rides out were a little rough. He had a couple of blow ups with me that included the aforementioned rearing and backing up. He bolted, he spooked, he tried to run away. He threw it all at me. Somehow, I managed to stay in the saddle during all of this , and maintained my composure (young and fearless) and just kept on about our ride.

Looking back on how I handled that, I never really got after Rebel for reacting like he was. At the time, knowing his past history of abuse, I was so fearful of doing anything he might perceive as me hurting him. I just went along with it and hoped for the best. I wanted him to realize that no matter what he did, I was still going to be right there with him. I didn’t really know what else to do. Just coming off of the last 8 years of riding Thoroughbreds retired from the track, over cross country courses, I was used to runaways.

Of course, when a horse rears like Trigger from the famed Roy Rogers show, I naturally threw the reins forward, clung to his neck and prayed to the heavens above we wouldn’t go over.

I just hoped that eventually he would realize I wasn’t going to try to hurt him and that he would eventually decide he didn’t need to do all those things. It must have worked.

After some time, I must have gained his trust on some level. He proved to be a decent riding horse. He was always a bit of a spooky, hot headed mount but over time it did lessen. THe rearing, bolting episodes lessened with each ride out and I got to see some great country atop his back as he swiftly carried us for miles and miles along the back roads of Stevensville, MT and into the Sapphire hills that shadowed the east side of the Bitterroot valley. On these rides, he astounded me with his ability for speed and it seemed I never could tire him. I rode with various people on various trail rides and ultimately would end up riding alone. No one could keep up with him. Rebel was my only riding horse for several years. I can’t tell you how many Montana sunsets I saw atop Rebels back.

… Thus the beginning of my quest to someday compete in endurance.

Since those early days, Rebel ended up having to be a bit of road warrior for me. While I floundered around through my twenties, Rebel made several moves with me from Stevensville, MT to Kalispell, MT to Helena, MT , back to Kalispell and a variety of moves around the Flathead valley at various boarding stables. It wasn’t until Tom and I married that Rebel was in any one place for any length of time. And yet, he was the one constant in a period of my life that seemed to be always changing.

In the last few years, Rebel has not been used very much. That has been eating on me. It’s easy to use his age and some of his quirks as an excuse to leave him behind as I drive off doing things with JB or any of the others at Acer Farm. It seems that there is always a youngster to work or some other project I have taken on. For a long time, I fooled myself into believing that Rebel was happier being ridden only once in a while and otherwise left to his own devices, grazing and loafing in the pasture but in my heart, I know better. Rebel has always loved getting out on the trail This past summer, I was so concerned about Rebel’s state of mind from not getting much use that Tom started him in Horseback archery, which he took too fairly quickly but if there is one thing Rebel loves to do, that is go…. and go fast.

All those years ago when it was just Rebel and I enjoying a Montana sunset, I promised him that someday we would make use of his speed and compete in an endurance ride together.

For the 2009 ride season, I intend to make good on that promise once and for all. Albeit, 14 years later and Rebel is approx 18 years old now. I might not consider it if he wasn’t in such good condition. I don’t think it’s too much to ask but it’s never too late to atleast try, right?

I realize he is older and maybe he won’t be quite as fast. Maybe I won’t find the fire he once had and I have to live with having missed making good on a promise, but my heart tells me that he has been patiently waiting all these years for me to finally give him a chance. After all, if it weren’t for Rebel, I likely would have never had the endurance bug.

Wouldn’t it be something if, after all this time, we finally get to accomplish what we intended to so many years ago?

Hoof Beats

Saturdays ride was bittersweet for me. I knew it would be my last time for a while that I would be able to take a jaunt up the gravel road with JB.

As a result, his conditioning will be limited going forward, atleast for a few months. Today , his EDSS shoes and pads finally do come off for the winter. I made Tom hold off until the very last possible minute, not wanting my riding to be limited to soft footing.

His EDSS shoes and pads have been on since September 15th. It is highly likely that once they are off, his sole has likely softened and he will be tender once again but only for a few days until he adjusts.I am keeping my fingers crossed that the pads did their job and gave him the time needed for the sole bruise to heal once and for all.

Over the next several months, Tom will trim JB using natural balance hoof care methods taught by Gene Ovnicek. Tom learned these methods years ago (Gene is from this very part of the contry in fact) and has followed these trimming methods for his own horses all this time. With JB, atleast initially the focus will be on getting his sole callus re-developed after his stint with pads.

In addition, we hope to help JB to develop thicker sole depth using these methods. This will be one piece of the hoof anatomy that will help keep him from becoming sore. JB has a bit of deformity in his front right hoof and it tends to to want to shape out like platters with under slung heels. With frequent trimming, getting the callus back, increasing his sole depth, and working to keep his hoof proportions correct, we hope to get JB's feet backto the point where he no longer has to be so sensitive. It will be a bit of an uphill battle since the footing he lives in is soft. We have very few rocks , if any, and when it rains, we get instant mud. We typically have a fairly wet weather pattern. If only for the desert!!

No hoof , no horse as they say. If I obsess over JB's feet for the next several months, just ignore me. We have to get his feet in top condition.

This endurance career I have embarked upon with him depends on it.


… Enjoying a steamy cup of coffee, I watched the first sunlight peek over the snowcapped Swan mountains , and I thought …

….Freedom is exactly what I needed a dose of today. A way to free my thoughts of deadlines, deliverables, meetings and conference calls.

I had a few household chores that I wanted to get out of the way (yuck) and then, I was headed out the door to get a dose of my freedom.

Vaccuming and 3 loads of laundry done, phonecalls from family wanting a piece of my time politely dodged, I was out the door and saddled in no time. I knew at some point, I would pay later for choosing horse activities over taking time with family. Nothing new, I was used to it.

I would have to settle for a ride today that would follow one of the two same routes we usually condition on. It gets a little boring but I am limited to where I can ride from home without trailering somewhere. It didn't matter much. I was happy to be out in the fresh air , on my horse. I thought we might plan for an 8 mile ride today. With the darkness beating me home most days of the week , I have been limited to saving longer rides for the weekend.

JB moved along at a steady, average pace for him. I let him pick the speed but had to encourage him to keep a steady rhythm. Occasionally, his mind would wander back to his herd at home and he would slow his pace, trying to look back towards home. I don’t know that he was enjoying the time out as much as I but he carried on at my suggestion. After 2.5 miles, he decided to walk and I let him. We walked along for about a half mile. I was distracted by the two redtail hawks performing some impressive aeronautical tricks, screeching and diving. We stirred up a clutch of pheasants and interrupted the path of three deer who stopped and watched us pass by. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the sunny mid November day.

As we picked up a trot again, we hit the 3.5 mile point and turned around to head back, only to detour and headed up another road that offered new scenery we hadn’t visited recently. I had hoped it might offer more interesting distractions for JB, like cattle and other residences with horses. The horses seemed to interest him, reviving him with a bit of speed as they trotted along their fence line with us for while. The cattle were too far off in the distance to be of much interest. At the 4.5 mile mark we had to turn around again and join back up to our main road that headed back towards home, 3 miles left. Initially I had planned to go on and take the other road that would give us our 8 miles but feeling JB’s energy and pace wain just a bit, decided to let him choose to see what he would do. Besides, today was about freedom. I didn’t want to make any more decisions that needed and once in a while I allow him to have a bit of say so in what happens on our rides. He chose to turn the corner to head home…of course…as any horse might. We joined back up to the main road that would take us home and JB offered a nice canter, which he maintained for about ¾ of a mile and then down to what I would guess to be about a 6.5 mph trot. JB has one of the nicest , smoothest trots I have ever ridden in a horse.

We happily clipped along at this rate until we were a ½ mile from home, when I reluctantly asked for a down transition into a walk. I was enjoying the pace and wished we could go on forever but JB was showing some sign of feeling a bit tired and was more than willing to walk.

When we arrived back , I decided as further cool down I would work on some lateral work, hind end releases, shoulder-n, leg yields. Occasionally I like to end a ride and use some of these exercises as a post exercises stretching routine.

We completed 7.5 miles in 1 hr and 12 minutes. Not the fastest, not the slowest but no less, the best time I had had all week. It was food for my soul.

Thoughts of next ride season are constantly on my mind these days. I can only hope that with ongoing conditioning and getting his sore feet squared away, JB will increase his willingness to move along at the speeds I know he is capable of.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


" The Psychology of the horse hold the key to the Emotive Patterns, they lead to physical

order and that leads to trust. Trust is inherant to lightness as is knowledge and self awareness.

To be aware is to live fully."

- Bettina Drummond

Riata's Story

I have already told you about me, my husband and our horses. And you already know I have a Barb stallion who I have started endurance with. I have given you a quick history lesson on what we know of the Barb horse and how it came to be. When I am out at events with JB, he always catches someones eye which leads to the discussion of what the Barb horse is. I am often asked how I came upon the Barb as a breed.

This is Riata’s story.....

When Tom and I first met in 2001, we could not have had more distinct types of the horses that we each kept. I had thoroughbreds and warmbloods. He had 2 Lippitt Morgans and one little Spanish Mustang named Riata he had acquired along the way. When we got married we had 7 horses combined. Little did we know, little Riata was the key to what our future held.

Tom acquired Riata through an older man who somehow acquired her from a known SMR horse trader in the area known as Bobby. The older man was just looking for a good home for her and Tom came along through an ad. The little information the old man had of the filly , he passed on to Tom. The extent of that was that the filly was a Jack Slade bred filly. In the SMR world, this is a fairly well known foundation line. We have no idea if this was true or not. The mare had no papers that came with her. Tom didn’t really know much about SMR at that time and he didn’t really care. He was interested in her strong Spanish features. She exhibited the dorsal stripe , the shoulder striping and the leg patterns of striping. Tom did make an attempt to track Bobby down to try to get more info on the filly but he didn’t have much luck. Apparently Bobby was purposely difficult to find due to a bit of history with not caring for her horses well.

Riata was a tiny thing and standing next to my 16.3 hand thoroughbreds, she looked even tinier. We hoped that she would at least mature to about 14.0 hands so that Tom could use her as a riding horse but after she hit 4, it wasn’t looking promising. The idea of Riata growing tall enough to be his riding horse was kind of slipping away butTom remained interested in the Spanish type horses. Now I have to point out, Tom isn’t all that concerned about having to ride big huge horses, in fact he prefers a smaller horse but sometimes you just have to be realistic! He is just over 6’1. A horse that stands 13.2 hands was just a little on the shy side for him!

That Spring of 2001, we began shopping for a new mount for Tom, something Spanish and something over 13.2 hands was the initial criteria. We weren’t really sure what we would do with Riata when we first began looking. Maybe find her a home as child’s mount or the possibility that I might use her. Height wasn’t an issue here!

After looking at a few horse sale websites, including various SMR breeders, we ran across the website of the Quien Sabe Ranch in Midvale, Idaho. Shortly thereafter, we were in contact with Robert Painter who owned the ranch. We were quite interested in the horses and Roberts account their history. While we suspected some of his stories were a bit tall at the time, we were still impressed by what he told of their abilities. It seemed like this was the kind of horse Tom was looking for; strong, sturdy, sensible, and with some fairly prevalent Spanish features. After some back and forth emails, phone calls, videos and pictures of available horses he had we decided it might be best to take a trip to the Quien Sabe to see the horses for ourselves.

It was still early Spring, I believe April when we made the trip. Picking out a horse at the Quien Sabe is not like any typical horse buying experience. At the time, Robert had well over 100 horses, and most were untouched by the human hand, running wild on several hundred acres and could not be approached. It was difficult to view any horses this way but with the help of Roberts specially designed stock trailer we could get a little closer to them but due to the fact that these horses were not the least bit tamed, touching them was limited at best.

In addition to Tom’ s preference of a Baroque or Spanish featured horse, Tom’s requirements also included; something untouched ( not a problem at Quien Sabe) , had to be at least 14.0 hands with fairly heavy bone ( remember, he was a Lippitt Morgan breeder) and he decided he would prefer a gelding.

At the time, Robert didn’t have any geldings he wanted to part with. There were two we really liked, Sunrise and Surefire, but were told that they were not for sale. He did have two other horses that were still stallions that he was willing to part with. I had to wonder, all of these horses, well over 100 at the time, and he only had two that he was willing to part with?? That seemed odd but Roberts explanation was that he was building depth within certain family groups in his breeding program. He could only let certain horses go at this time.

Nonetheless out of the two we had to choose from, one was known as Double Star and the other horse, was taller but a little leaner structure. I don't recall this horses name. Both were of similar bloodlines lines. Both were stallions and 5 years old. Tom looked Double Star over for quite some time. It was difficult to get a true feel for the horse because you could barely lay a hand on him. Double Star was contained by the man-made squeeze chute in Roberts’s stock trailer. Wide eyed, full of fear and every muscle in his body rippled with tension, he was like a caged cat. It was difficult not to want to stroke his magnificent, gleaming neck but one could see the horse’s fear of our close presence. He was ready to leap from his containments at any given moment.

We spent the rest of the day looking at mares and foals in a separate pasture. When we left the ranch , our plan was to give it some thought and return a call to Robert on our decision. One week later, Robert indicated that he was possibly interested in Riata as a trade, Riata for Double Star but he wanted to see pictures first. Discussions of a trade with Riata during out visit had only come up briefly. We were not expecting his willingness to trade for her, given her questionable history.

After sending him photos and videos, he said that Riata would fit his breeding requirements based on her ‘type. While she was unpapered and we only had sketchy information on her history, he said he was certain, based on her body type, that she would fit his breeding program. I did wonder about his decision, but then again, who were we to question? He had been breeding these horses for 40 plus years. I had to assume he knew what he was looking for.

After some thinking and discussing, Tom and I decided to make the trade, Riata for Double Star. We felt confident that Riata would have a good home where she could run on acres and acres and raise babies. We were thrilled at the time. We assured Robert that we would take Riata back if he ever changed his mind. A couple of months later, we met Robert at the halfway point and took Double Star home and sent Riata with Robert. And so the story goes; this was how we came to love the Barb Horse.

Double Star stayed with us for a couple of years. We spent most of that time working on ground work. We were able to make some great progress with him including haltering, handling and trimming his feet, trailer loading and we even had a saddle on him a few times but he was the most fearful horse I have ever met. We found that he could never quite allow himself to trust people 100% and at times was unpredictable, even after two solid years of working with him to gain his trust. His flight response was very strong.
He certainly seemed to be his own horse and we had to work everyday to gain even a piece of his trust. Keeping in mind he ran wild for 5 years as a stallion, getting gelded late in his 5th year, he had developed some fairly strong instincts.

Once we were able to routinely catch him we began to introduce him to the rest of our herd. For several months we struggled to get him acclimated into the existing herd of 6 horses. It didn’t go smoothly at all. We tried to introduce him to the herd in a variety of ways, putting him out with one horse at a time for a period , then add another horse and so on. We had five acres for them , and while it may be just a wild theory on my part, it almost seemed that Double Star was so used to roaming in a much more vast area, that 5 acres was not enough for him to sort things out with the other horses. He would bond with one other gelding we had and time and time again, put the run on the others. It got to a point that he was injuring the other horses routinely and we were fixing fence on a regular basis. Several vet bills later and ongoing attempts to get Double Star to accept his new herd; combined with Tom enrolling in his Master’s program, we realized we had to make some changes. We decided he was a horse that was going to require much more time but also much more room that we could offer. We could not keep him isolated in a corral for the rest of his life. We found a suitable home for him and Double Star now lives in Canada with the son of Adolf Hungry Wolf. Last we heard he was doing well. Double Star was the most amazing athlete of a horse I have come across. He was truly all horse; he was extremely sensitive and he taught me patience and the subtleties of communicating effectively with these animals.

I did say that this was Riata’s story. Riata went on to live at the Quien Sabe for some time and we received updates fairly regularly from Robert on her. This instilled some comfort to us. She was adjusting well by all accounts and Robert was enjoying having a horse around that he could lay hands on easily. Robert planned to have her bred the next spring when she turned 5. We missed her terribly but there was some comfort in knowing she had what appeared to be a fairly good life down there, running on acres of land. It was a bit later in Riata’s story that things changed.

We lost contact with Robert shortly after our trade. The loss of contact came for variety of reasons that would require a completely separate post. During that time, regardless of the reasons for our loss of contact, I attempted , on various occasions, to send an inquiry of Riata via email to Robert . I did get a responses back on occasion, but the question pertaining to Riata was never answered. Of course, Tom and I began to wonder, and in our hearts we knew it was likely something had happened that Robert was unwilling to tell us. But what could we do? It had been over a year that had passed since the trade.

Only a year or so ago, we came to understand through other sources that Riata never did make it as a broodmare with Roberts herd. It was heartbreaking news. Apparently, he kept Riata for a while but eventually he took her to the auction. I can only hope that someone other than the canner bought her. I guess Robert had a change of heart as to her quality. I guess he had his reasons, but my only wish is that he would have called us first. We told him at the time we would take her back if she didn’t work out. He assured us he would. We would have driven down there to get her in a heart beat and gladly given him payment for her. If he would have just asked.

Unfortunately, Riata’s story is not unlike many others horses that once roamed the Quien Sabe. With the high cost of feed these days, Roberts age, and lack of help to run his ranch, we have come to learn that more and more of these special horses are going the auction way. What Robert has spent a lifetime creating is now disappearing. While I don’t agree with how he is handling his situation, I can understand it. In my humble opinion, I think he has not done these horses justice in marketing them and is now facing the consequence of that. I don’t know what he has left for horses currently but I do know that he did not have much of a foal crop last year. It seems as though the future of the Quien Sabe is uncertain and the day will come when the Barb horses running on it’s land are no more

While there are only a few of us that have been lucky enough to acquire one of these Barbs, I do hope that we can continue to promote and preserve them to the best of our ability. My resources on land, time and the green stuff is certainly limited, but I hope to do my part by promoting JB and his abilities, in the hopes that people will opt to breed their mares to him, to pass on the unique genetics and qualities that he can offer. Genetics that are not found in many other horses today.

Sometimes, as I stroll out to the corrals to feed in the misty moonlight of morning, I can see the shadows and hear the foot falls of Riata and Double Star when they come home to visit Acer Farm.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on our visit to the Quien Sabe, including how we came to acquire El Gato Rojo JB.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rain Rain Go Away

This week has been quite wet with no indications of it letting up anytime soon. Sunday was the our last ride and it was raining then too but I had my thrifty hat to keep the water out of my eyes. Ok, it's an ugly hat and has seen better days... but hey it works...

It's been dark by the time I arrive home after work so riding during the week isn't working out so well. Sundays ride went great however so I will linger on that until I can saddle up again. Tom took some pictures of us when we arrived back home and I took a couple more loops around the pasture. I am quite happy that he looks like he is moving as well as he feels when I am riding him. We had a bit of rough go this summer, our first year to work towards riding endurance. As a result he is now in pads andEDSS shoes. It seems to have done the trick. This summer he came up sore in his first LD ride. We didn't know at the time what it was because he did not exhibit symptoms when he was hoof tested and he never developed swelling or heat anywhere. I gave him a week off and in 3 days he appeared to be back to normal. In September, it was quite a bit worse and we realized at that point the July soreness was likely related. We made it about 8 miles into our last LD for the season and JB was stumbling alot when he finally tripped quite badly, nearly going down. His next step was acutely lame. I walked him back to ride camp...all remaining 6 miles of it. We feared a broken coffin bone but the xrays revelaed a 7 mm sole, a little on the thin side and likely a stone buise in the sole. So, to give him some relief and comfort while he healed, along with a couple days of bute, we opted to have the EDSS shoes and pads put on. Since then he has gradually improved his way of going. He reaches more and is much more forward than he was all summer.

Tom will remove his hoof accutraments before long and I will be left to decide what to do next year. Do I go back to pads and shoes or do I go the hoof boot route. Pads certainly don't help keep the sole healthy, that I know. Boots seem to be all the rave but they also have their pitfalls, like the possibility of losing them (they aren't cheap) , rubbing, etc. I guess I have all winter to decide! For now , I am enjoying the ride!

New Olympic Sport: Trailer Climbing

This was Brego who figured out how to turn standing at the trailer tied into a fun game. No, he is not pulling back. He is actually climbing up to look over the top of the trailer.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Brego is our two year old Morgan Barb colt (gelded) He displays characteristics and behaviors that make a person wonder at times. Every horse farm has one I suppose, the one horse that is constantly finding ways to get himself into trouble. On any given day Brego is making mishap but while we all love the class clown, Brego came to us with a side that wasn’t so likeable.

Since he arrived at Acer Farm as a weanling, he has repeatedly amazed us with with athleticism and intelligence, ( I can’t wait to try him with endurance) but manners around feeding time?? They were atrocious, especially for such a youngster. Simply put; Brego was a regular Dennis the Menace. His damn, Kit, never corrected him like good mothers typically do and his previous owner, who is dear friend and Lippitt Morgan breeder, loves his horses so much, he allowed Brego to get away with all sorts of behaviors like kicking him during meal time. It’s no wonder , right? When we inquired into this, our friend simply remarked, “ I don’t like to get after my horses and he only does it once in while” . There is no convincing our dear friend that these sort of behaviors probably need to be attended to. Believe me we have tried. So, we deal with the aftermath. Thus, we had some work to do.

At feeding time, Brego’s normal routine was pinning ears, charging the fence swinging his rump to threaten to kick and sometimes more than threaten, he would block you with his body from approaching his hay pile and would even go so far as to challenge you by attempting to chase you off his feed like he would a less dominant horse. Observing all of this in the first couple of weeks we had him, and Brego only a weanling, we knew we had better get this addressed and quickly. In time when he got bigger and stronger, this sort of aggression could be dangerous. We opted to approach this from a couple different directions.

To begin, we put him in with his older half brother, Roman. Who better to teach a youngster than an elder, right? Roman is like a patient grandfather, gentle but stern, as opposed to Rebel, who turns up the volume right away and has been known to push youngsters through a fence. Brego being fairly small yet, we did not want to risk injury.

Brego quickly learned that pushing big brother off a feed pile wasn’t going to happen. It was amazing to watch this unfold every day. The progression was as follows:

Brego approaches Roman with ears pinned, attempting to push Roman off of his hay. While Roman’s head is still down and eating, he sees Brego approaching and offers a warning by swishing his tail and pinning the ear closest to Brego. Brego continues to approach, ignoring the warning. Roman lifts his head from his pile of hay now with both pinned ears, flicks his nose out toward Brego, takes a step or two towards Brego approaching as if to say-“ get away little man…this is my pile, and I am not allowing you to come in and eat with me”. Brego stops and looks on for a second, clearly rethinking the situation while Roman circles back around to return to eating, keeping a wary eye on the pest.

Brego now tries to come in from the other side and moves in a little faster on Roman, clearly upping the pressure and testing the waters. Looking on, it appears that Brego thinks that increasing intensity and speed might just do the trick. See, Romans’ response up to this point has not made too much of a difference so far. As Brego comes in again, a bit fast, he also swings his hindquarters and proceeds to back into Roman. By now, Roman has offered two previous warning and the student is not quite catching on. Time to up the ante. Roman meets this challenge by coming into Brego’s hindquarters with his chest, which limits Brego’s ability to get any power behind his kick, shoving him away from the food with his chest, and as they are going, Roman nipping Brego in the rump just hard enough to make his point. This sends Brego away from the hay now and Roman returns to eating his hay.

Brego moves off, and comes around the other side, again with ears pinned. Yu have to admit, Brego has some dedication. Before Brego gets very close at all, Roman is on top of things and charges towards Brego. This time a bit more forceful, ears pinned, as if to say, “this hurts me more than it’s going to hurt you ,son” and makes contact with his mouth directly on Brego’s hind quarter. Roman sends Brego further away this time. You can hear Roman bite this time (….ouch) Roman returns to his hay pile, appearing satisfied because he knows the lesson is now over.

Brego goes to the other side of the corral, licking and chewing, indicating that he is thinking about what just occurred, and knowing Brego – heading back to the drawing board for next time. By now we have placed another hay pile out and while he is rather sulky looking; Brego decides that maybe it would be less work to go taste that one instead of the one he really wanted. We can’t always have what we want, grasshopper.

As you can see, Brego is strong minded. In assessing what unfolded here that day and what has continued to unfold many other times in our remuda, Roman offered him several good deals before he finally upped to pressure enough to mean something to Brego. A valuable lesson was learned by Brego. How did Roman know how much was enough? It almost appeared that at the final reprimand, Roman knew the disagreement was over at this point and he could go back to contently eating his pile in peace long before Brego himself even knew… another reminder that horse are picking up on subtle things presented in body language that we as humans can only try to see , missing most of the time.

Over the course of the next several days, Brego and Roman repeat this pattern, but each day, the pressure Roman applies becomes a bit less for the desired outcome which was for Brego to change his thought. Eventually, all it would take was the slightest flick of an ear by Roman and Brego would stop his approach and make a different choice. Interesting… Isn’t that exactly what we, as horsemen and women want to have happen in our training sessions? The most glaring difference here? Roman stayed consistent. Unfortunately, as one of the human factors, we aren’t always the most consistent. We tend to get lazy. We get inpatient. We change things.

It took Roman several weeks of this repeated process to establish the ranking within the herd. With many horses, it would only take a couple of times, with Brego.. he is stong minded. These are valuable lessons by the patriarch, lessons that have proved invaluable as Tom and I have progressed his training along. While sometimes it is necessary to change your approach if what your asking is confusing the horse. With Brego, sometimes he just takes a little more convincing. Changing things in this case might have caused things to go on longer.

Since he was a yearling, we were going to be graining him. Our second approach was that every day, we would enter his paddock, now shared with Roman, with his can of grain. At first he would run right up and try to eat the grain out of the can. Some might think that is cute and for some people and some horses, that might be okay. With Brego and his personality, I could see that this could turn into something negative.

In order to establish a safe space between himself and I, I would send him off by walking directly into his space at the spot between his shoulder and head. (this is a safe spot for a person to be and a hard spot for a horse to allow you to be as there isn’t much he can do to you from here). If he did not yield to my body entering his space, I would tap his cheek bone with either a finger (away from the eye) or open hand as I walked into him. This would send him off. I did not care which direction he went and only had to be careful of him kicking out as he left. In theory, what I am trying to communicate to him is “ this is not okay to approach me this way, now take your thought over there and try again”

I would then wait for him to try to approach me again. If his feet got stuck ( which is really his mind being stuck) and he opted to just stand there and look at me I might let him do that for a minute. If it goes on too long with out him making any attempt to try to approach again, I might take a walk to my left or right to see if I could draw him forward a step to me. If he took a step toward me, I would retreat a step, and that would be his release, his reward that told him that he did what I was asking. We would continue down this path and if he approached me in a manner that showed he was attempting to be thoughtful about things, and ears up , not pinned, I would reward him and allow him to come in and eat . If was the least bit aggressive in nature, I would walk into his space and send him off again. I would repeat this process until he would make an attempt to approach with ears up. I want to pause here because a lot of you knowledgable horse folks out here might say, “sure, that sounds about right”…make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. I want to pause on that for a moment because that is one of those buzz phrases in natural horsemanship arenas that I hear a lot of. It makes a lot of sense and sums things up nicely but after giving this some thought over the years, I have modified the use of that phrase in my own training. I like to think about it as making the right thing easy… that’s it… not necessarily focusing on the make the wrong thing difficult part. I think people can tend to get too caught up in focusing on making the wrong thing difficult with this phrase. I find it works better for me to think more positively and remove that second part of the phrase all together.

If needed, I could have considered a flag if more pressure was needed but he generally responded well to my body language.. thanks to Roman.

To continue, once he approached in an acceptable way, I would empty the contents into his feed pan and continue to stand there with him and praise him and pet him while I allowed him to eat. Work done, right? Not so fast. After some continued effort and consistency to establish this, Brego then decided that he did not particularly like anyone standing there petting him while he ate. He began exhibiting behaviors to push me out of the way while I stood there, offering to kick or sometimes just a slight shouldering into me. Other times, he was fine with me standing there but when I went to walk away, he would pins his ears at me or offer to kick as I walked by. I realized that he needed to understand that it might feel pretty good to allow me to be there with him while he ate, like sharing a file of feed with your favorite pasture made. I should not have been surprised that this horse was changing the rules once again.

To begin addressing this issue, once he was there eating I would halter him to gain some ability to keep my self safe and come level of control while I pet on him, brushed him, talk to him, find itchy spots and all things that I thought might make him associate my presence as feeling good. He would start by pinning his ears a lot and flipping his head while he munched away. Sometimes he went to leave and I just allowed him to do that, staying with him and walking away with him. I suppose I could have made a bigger deal out of this but I had the sneaking suspicion that in this case, it wasn’t needed. I just hung out with him and eventually this itchy spots won over. He realized he could be there with me and it felt pretty good. There was no sense leaving because I was still going to be there. In time, we have made leaps and bounds in his manners around feed and I no longer have to worry about what Brego might do as I walk past him in the corral at feeding time. In fact, he now leaves his food pile to come over and say hello and get a good scratch. If I am out there to halter up one of the other horses, it ‘s only a matter of time that I feel a warm fuzzy muzzle resting on my shoulder, and yes it’s Brego. I would say he has turned the corner in the manners department . Now, can anyone tell me how to fix him from wanting to stand up on the fender of our trailer?

Friday, November 7, 2008

“You outta wear your Shotguns”

...was Tom’s advice when I pulled JB out of his pasture.

I had raced home from work because the sun was out and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to ride and stay dry. Around our place, the comment Tom made is code that your horse is a fire breathing dragon and it might be a good idea to have a little extra grip in the saddle. Shotguns are the western term for chaps ( if you haven’t figured that out already) and a few years back I ordered a pair from our saddle maker. At the time I was still riding a young hot headed Thoroughbred who was 16.3 hands. There were several rides back then that I needed a little extra grip. . Besides, my old English suede chaps were practically worn through at the time. If you link up to the site, you can also see my western wade saddle that I had Jeff build in 2004 – it’s the one called Heart 3, which happens to be the Acer Farm brand.

Tom’s advice about wearing my shotguns was resonating from that part of a husband that wants his wife to remain safe. While I always appreciate the concern and I could certainly see that JB was not going to be a muffin tonight, I wasn’t all that concerned, in fact, I prefer a little fire in him. It usually means he will have a lot of “go”, which is just what I was hoping for.

As I led him out of the pasture he pranced a bit on the end of the line and wasn’t overly interested in standing very still while I brushed the majority of the caked mud off .The daylight was already fading and I knew I didn’t have time to be fussy about the grooming tonight. I brushed off the caked mud where the saddle sits and left the rest. As long as it isn’t where the saddle or cinch are and cause discomfort when it grinds in, right?

I decided to heed Tom’s advice and struggled to zip up the cold, stiff shotguns. No helmet tonight as I had shipped it off for repairs on the broken strap. With any luck, the chaps would keep me from needing the helmet!?!

I headed out to the round pen for a quick pre-flight check. After about 15 minutes, I determined “all systems go” and climbed on. Tom and Cassidy joined me as we headed out down the road. JB settled into the known routine and willingly picked up an easy trot. The fire breathing dragon lay sleeping for now. Not wanting to sweat the horses up we trotted for about ¾ of a mile and then walked for about 10 minutes. The daylight quickly fading, I realized we would be lucky to get 2 miles in . JB appeared to be traveling much better now since he has had pads on. During our last limited distance competition in September, JB pulled up severely lame. At the time, we feared a broken coffin bone but x-rays revealed nothing of the sort. Turns out it was a bad stone bruise. Since then I have had to have pads put on him, allowing him protection while his sole healed and giving me the ability to continue to ride him without causing discomfort. (I know, pads fly in the face of barefoot trimming but I had to be logical and if it means my horse comfortable while he recovers, then I’ll do it)

Before we turned for home a biker passed us. As we made the turn, JB honed in on the biker like a raptor chasing down a wounded rabbit. Before I knew it, I was sitting on what felt like a rocket, JB’s hind legs churning underneath like a powerful 500HP vette engine, sending us down the road at warp speed with gravel spinning out behind us.

So… JB likes to chase things… that much I know from past cow chasing experiences …but a bike??? We have had bikers in front of us before but it was never so alluring to JB as it appeared to be tonight. All I can figure is that it must have been the red blinking safety light on the back of the biker that JB found so chase worthy. As we traveled down the road I was delighted to notice that Tom and his Morgan Cassidy, were approaching Morgan Road trot warp speed themselves but JB was still maintaining a few strides ahead. Before long, we lost sight of the blinking rabbit and continued our trot a bit longer before asking them down to a walk ¼ mile from home.

So the shotguns weren’t needed for extra grip and Tom’s concerns can be laid to bed. They did serve their other purpose and did well to keep my legs warm. The weather forecast for the next several days is crummy so they will likely get a dose of Chap wax in preparing for the cold wet riding weather.

This weekend JB will have his shoes and pads removed which means I won’t risk another stone bruise by trotting on gravel. Fast trotting down the road won’t be something we will be doing much of for a while .

Thanks blinking rabbit for making our last fast ride for the season exhilarating. Maybe we can be successful at this endurance racing afterall…..

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coping with Cold; Feeding in the bitter cold weather

As much as I don't particularly like the cold, it's just part of the life where I live and when you have livestock, things can become more complicated in the cold. When I dream of living somewhere a bit warmer, like Arizona, Tom gently reminds me of the vast amount of lizards I would have to deal with. Well, on second thought...maybe a few months of bitter cold isn't so bad???
Surprisingly, horses ( can vary upon breed as well) can do quite well in colder climates, in fact , I have read numerous articles that they actually acclimate better to cold than to heat. While that may be true, there are a few things that we, as horse owners, have to take heed to assure they are healthy and happy when ol' man winter comes blowing in .

So what do I do? I prepare, and prepare some more. I tend to prefer to be proactive so as not to be caught unaware. Perfect planning prevents mishap...OK... maybe not all the time... but it does provide peace of mind knowing you have done all you can humanly possibly do to prevent trouble with your livestock in the winter. There is nothing worse than dealing with a colicky horse in 20 below with a wind chill factor of -20, especially if you don't have the luxury of a barn, believe me , I have been there.

In a previous post, I talked about our stock tank covers. Making sure that the tank heaters are placed in stock tanks and working properly before the first major storm blows in is one of the prevention measures we take. Some horses won't drink super cold water... and unfortunately they can't get enough hydration from the snow. A horse that won't drink is a recipe for disaster. They , just like people, need to remain well hydrated in order to help their bodies regulate internal temperatures. Installing the tank heaters is a sure way to make sure the water remains at an ambient temp suitable for drinking. The other is making sure we have plenty of hay stored to get us through....peace of mind....knowing that there are weeks when we have to feed alot heavier during the cold winter months.

That brings me to subject of feeding in the bitter cold. Nothing sounds better to me than a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast on a cold morning. It turns out, some horse owners follow a bi-weekly or even a more frequent practice of fixing up a hot breakfast cereal mash for their horses as well. While that certainly can’t hurt and your horses likely enjoys his hot mash, it doesn’t go far to keep your horses warm for an extended period of time. And, if your in bitter cold temps, the hot mash freezes rather quickly, sometimes before your horse can get it all down.

Many horse owners also choose to feed extra grain during cold spells in an attempt to help their horses stave off the cold. While extra grain seems logical, feeding more hay will do much more to help your horse keep warm. Here's why:

Grain is composed of starch or carbohydrates which are broken down by digestive enzymes and absorbed as sugars in the small intestine. The resulting increase in blood sugar provides energy for muscle contraction and powers most other body systems. Roughage (hay) on the other hand is composed of more complex carbohydrates that resist enzymatic digestion in the small intestine. These large molecules are passed into the large intestine and become the food for a variety of bacteria and protozoa. Ever stick your hand intro fresh grass clippings that have been setting in a pile for a few hours? Well then you know first hand that heat is a significant by product of fermentation. (hopefully your hay stack hasn’t experienced this as this would create on huge bonfire!) This same process occurs in the colon of your horse. While heat is considered a waste product when feeding a horse that is in work or lactation, it is very beneficial in maintaining body heat during periods of cold weather.

Feeding additional grain will help your horse maintain weight and give him more energy to shiver but feeding extra hay will cause additional heat production from digestion.

You can also opt to help your horse remain warm by adding a blanket. We occasionally blanket if the wind starts howling because even with all the hay they could possibly eat, their bodies can lose that heat more quickly then they can generate. Older horses are also at a higher risk and often times require clothing as they can't always generate the extra layer of body fat needed to stay warm. Overall, mother nature does a fantastic job of making sure horses are equipped to stay warm in winter but since domestic horses don't always have the opportunity to feed in the manner the horses system was designed for (eating through out the day ) we sometimes need to step in and mimick that environment as closely as possible to keep our horses warm, healthy and happy.

So this winter when one of our notorious arctic cold fronts sweeps into the valley, I will be feeding JB a little less of his usual amount of grain, and throw out an extra flake or two of hay.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back the Arena; Lateral Work; Shoulder-In

Now that the weather is not always going to be conducive to traveling down the road for a conditioning ride, a lot of my time with JB will transition focus to lateral work. As a kid, I was more interested in taking my horse over the fences or galloping at mach chicken speeds between the corn fields any day over practicing what I perceived as “boring” lateral work. Now that I am an adult, I know the value of good lateral work and the benefits my horse and I can both reap from it.

You would think that for someone who has been riding most of her life, I would have lateral exercises mastered by now. Well, unfortunately, the more I worked on it, the more it seemed to make me question things like my seat aids, leg aid, etc. Thankfully, after working with a dressage instructor who also understands human body mechanics and studying Sylvia Loch’s references, I do have this exercise down. Knowing that my own struggles to understand it and then execute it properly are not unique among riders, I thought it was worthy of a blog. In conversations and various observations of other riders, it seems to be a bump in the road for a lot of folks out there. Usually, the Shoulder-In is one of the first lateral exercises a rider/horse begin working on when starting lateral work. In theory, it’s a relatively simple maneuver.

Before attempting a Shoulder-In, there are a few pre-requisites in order to accomplish this successfully. Those include being able to perform a turn on the forehand, leg yield, spiraling in and out of a circle and the ability to ride your horse in a 10 meter circle without losing balance and tempo. Most of these are pretty basic exercises but crucial to having a solid foundation from which to work from when beginning lateral work. While you don’t have to be perfect in these pre requisites, you and your horse should have these things down reasonably well and as the rider, you should be able to clearly communicate the aids to ask for such things. I would suggest starting on the ground with some of these above mentioned exercises. Lateral work from the ground you ask?? Absolutely! Clinician, Alice Trindle does a great job of explaining some of these. There are various resources out there that you can plug into.

So, what is a shoulder- in and why should it be practiced? And .. why is it important for my endurance horse you might be wondering? Other than the fact that the Shoulder-In is really one of the first exercises needed to open the door to collection, it develops the flexibility within the horse so that they can lift the forehand. If you are ever going to have correct transitions, the shoulder in can be crucial. It also helps strengthen the hind quarters. In endurance horses, I am thinking that last part alone is a fairly important piece, don’t you? When performing the Shoulder –In correctly, the horse has to shift the weight to the hindquarters , which helps to strengthen the back and loins, both of which are required to give the horse the physical capacity to begin lifting his back and travel rounded , stepping deep underneath himself with the hind end.

“My endurance horse doesn’t have to travel rounded because we are covering miles and miles over varied terrain, right?” one might say. Maybe not, but strong back, strong loins?? It seems to be that this could benefit even an endurance horse who has to cover miles and miles carrying a rider over varied terrain. Well developed loins and back certainly would apply.

One of the most important elements of the Shoulder-In that you don’t always hear about is that it while is strengthens the hip, loins, back and lightens the front end, this naturally leads to helping crookedness within a horse. Crookedness within a horse is typically related to the strength the horse has to carry not only himself, but his rider correctly.. It only stands to reason that a horse that is strong and has the correct development might not break down physically as much either.

Since JB is one of the most crooked horses I have ever ridden, I have heavily focused on this. Eventually in time it will help him to develop the strength and muscle in order to become straighter in his travels. Without trying to reinvent the wheel , I will run through the correct aids to ask for a shoulder-In. Keep in mind there are many considerations with asking for the movement, ie: injury to horse, injury to rider, etc. There may be some physical limitations you have to keep in mind. Your horse is not going to get this the first time out.

When you first begin the Shoulder –In, remember not to ask too much from your horse. It is much like a person starting a new exercise. It takes time to build up the strength and flexibility within the muscles and joints to master it. If you have ever taken a Yoga class as a beginner, you can appreciate what I am saying! So, do both yourself and your horse a favor and introduce it slowly. He’ll love you for it later!

The Aids for the Shoulder-In

Seat: While sitting lightly in your saddle, your weight should be slightly shifted to your inside seat bone. Your waist and upper body should be slightly be turned to the inside, following the direction of where your horses shoulders should be. Be careful not to collapse at the waist.
Inside hand: Ask gently for a soft feel or flexion to the inside by massaging or squeezing of your fingers around the inside rein. Your hand should beat at the wither, not away from it or crossing over it.
Outside hand: Use your outside rein to support the horse's shoulder and to maintain the direction of travel , all while keeping a soft feel on your horses mouth and keeping this hand very quiet. Your hand should be placed just to the outside of the wither.
Inside leg: To begin to ask, your inside leg should encourage your horse to move away from your leg pressure; do this by a gently squeeze or nudge at his side just behind the girth. As you and your horse become better at this, you can apply your leg at the girth with gently pressure.
Outside leg: Your outside thigh and knee should remain quietly against the saddle and not any more active than to support the horse's forehand. Keep your toes parallel to the travel of the horse.

When you look at the tracks your horses hooves are making, you should see 3 distinct hoof patterns. Inside hind to outside fore (1), outside hind (2)and inside fore (3).

When beginning this, as soon as your horse responds and takes one or two lateral steps, reward him by walking back in a straight line or you can continue around in a 10 meter circle. Remember, it may not be perfect and his tempo may slow to almost a stop, but reward any try he offers in the beginning stages. You will find that in no time at all he can maintain it longer , with greater ease and if you look carefully, he might be smiling!

Other considerations : In beginning lateral work, you may discover other training holes in the process that you have to get squared away before moving on. Yes. With training horses, that is the nature of the beast, revisiting things you thought were fixed up already. It takes time for the horse to develop the muscling and strength and for the rider to get in sync with their horse. It’s like good Jazz music when it all comes together.

Executing this exercise incorrectly can actually be easy to slip into. Asking incorrectly with your aids can result in blocking the exact thing you are trying to accomplish. Always prepare your horse for this exercise so that when you do ask, he does not worry, becoming tense and rushing down the rail with all of his weight on the forehand. Often times, when this occurs, there is an exaggerated use of the inside hand, pulling the horse's head and neck inwards, and throwing the shoulders to the outside, opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. The result? Usually an unhappy horse, heavy on the forehand with locked hindquarters. Yuck!

One aspect of mastering the Shoulder-In that I feel is important to pass along is that this seemingly simple suppling exercise can really go haywire and cause a lot of unnecessary problems if it is not done correctly and carefully. If done correctly, it may take you longer to get there but the other suppling exercises you move onto next will come that much easier and you and your horse will both be that much happier.

So now that summer is officially over and snow is in the forecase, its high time I get back into the arena to start practicing on this lateral work again! Look for the next in the series.. LEG-YIELD

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

JB and I taking a break and looking on at the archery practice this past summer.JB appears to have been caught sticking his tongue out! That is Sage , our Samoyed in the background.

Thoughts to Ponder:

Anything forced and misunderstood can never be beautiful.
And to quote the words of Simon:
If a dancer was forced to dance by whip and spikes
he would be no more beautiful than a horse
trained under similar conditions.
-Xenophon, 400B.C-

In the Beginning:Natural Matters

Having ridden for the majority of my life and fortunate enough to have parents who provided me with many, many years of good quality riding lessons, I have a lot of stored files in the noggin about horses, riding, equitation, correct aids, you name it. I rode for years with a local Pony Club and then onto a variety of trainers, participated in numerous hunter /jumper shows , 3- day events and also went onto enroll in the riding program in college. I was even fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ride a school master a couple of times.

Even with all of that, I realized after being out on my own, riding and training , that something was missing. For a long time I didn’t know what that missing piece was but being naturally curious I started hunting for an answer. By this time in my equestrian career, I was eastern girl now living in the wild west of Montana. I kept hearing about “natural horsemanship” and “ round pen work” through various avenues. I was familiar enough with working horses in from my days as a groom/assistant trainer for a large scale Arabian farm but it seemed like the buzz about it was different. At first I was leery hearing the catch phrase, “horse whispering” and ‘joining up”. Quite frankly, I thought that the horse “whispering” stuff was a lot of hogwash right from the beginning, before I knew much of anything. Another one that used to be and still is would be the concept of “joining up”. This has been known to send me into a sudden bout of nausea when I hear people talk about it due to the other issues it causes ; like assuming that once a horse has joined up, the horse has now accepted everything and can be ridden. This has manifested itself as dangerous situation in my opinion. Before I get too off track, I do want to say a couple other point that I think are important to point out relative to Natural Horsemanship.
Natural Horsemanship has always been around, going back to the time of Xenophon (430-ca 335 B.C.) He was the father of classical Equitation and wrote the first manual on the riding horse, entitled “The Art of Horsemanship”. He was a horseman of horsemen. He encouraged his pupils to study the the horses “Psyche”. Natural horsemanship is not a new concept.
Less than 15 years ,some very smart American trainers with marketing skills took this concept to new levels and as result, a lot of people made a lot of money in the process. I think that is just fine if people are making money doing something they love but I do believe that horses may have suffered the consequences in the process. With all the buzz out there in the market place about natural horsemanship today, it is difficult to sift through the hype, buzz words, and touchy, feely speak to get to the real core of what it has to offer. In some cases, the marketing hype has reached almost a Pentecostal delivery.I also think that while many Trainers have become household names as a result of this consept, it has also set about a different concept that if your not self labeled as a “natural horsemanship” trainer , you are no good. Let me tell you, many of these natural horsemanship trainers are no better than any other trainer out there.
With that said, in the beginning, my research efforts steered me toward more tangible methods taught by Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, and even to some extent, Pat Parelli. It was all very different than everything I was used to, having grown up riding the English discipline. While these new methods didn’t make sense to me right way, I was captivated at what these individuals were accomplishing with their horses and there most certainly wasn’t “whispering” going on (thank god). Any of you who have had the opportunity to attend a Buck clinic knows… there isn’t much “whispering” going on in that mans clinics!! Anyways, I knew two things at this early stage of my odyssey; these horsemen were doing things differently and I wanted to know more about it.
It was a few years later but I finally bit the bullet and attended my first horsemanship clinic with a man named Harry Whitney. It was a 4 day clinic that Tom, whom I was now engaged to, was sponsoring. In fact, Tom knew this clinician well and assured me I would not be sorry. So I wrote a big check and prepared to be educated. I figured he couldn’t be too bad because everything Tom had learned had come from Harry. Besides, from what I had seen of Tom’s skills, he seemed to be getting some nice things done with his horses. When the day of the clinic arrived, I was nervous and feeling totally out of my element. It wasn’t long and I was in the middle of it and having a blast. Finally, this was making a lot of sense. With all the information I was trying to absorb, I didn’t have time to be nervous. Harry is a kind patient teacher willing to slow things down if you don’t understand something. Over the next 3 days, I learned about communicating with horses in a totally different way and it wasn’t whispering or even touchy feely. It was real. I was witnessing real changes in my horse when I paid attention to how I asked, when I asked and understanding the careful balance between timing, feel and rewards. (feel not being the same as “touchy feely” mind you)

Late in the day on the final day of the clinic, most of the clinic participants were loaded up , notebooks firmly clutched with all the new ideas they had gathered at the clinic. Since Tom was actually the clinic sponsor, as he had been for the last several years, he and I stayed behind to clean things up and see Harry off to a proper meal. Things were quieting down and sadly coming to an end.

Enter stage right- Harry and Sandy into the arena. I watched and at first it didn’t seem like too much was happening, just trotting around but then things changed. At that moment, still new to all of this but able to recognize something special, Harry asked Sandy into a canter and began what appeared to be a dance between the two. In simple terms it could have been considered a freestyle reining pattern at a collected canter but this was no regular reining pattern you would see at your typical reined cow horse competition. This was something altogether different, something special happening between horse and rider. My writing could never do justice to what I was witnessing but it was obvious that Harry’s thoughts and intents were clear and Sandy was responding in perfect time. There wasn’t so much as a noticeable tug on a rein, a bump of the leg, a noticeable shift in Harry’s seat, but something was happening between the two. Tom and I watched in awe as Harry performed movements that would make most dressage connoisseurs wet their pants. The amazing part for me was the draped rein. This was a perfect display of beautiful communication, trust and true partnership between horse and rider. Looking back, with hours of clinics and time spent in the round pen now under my belt, I know that there was conversation going on there between Harry and Sandy but it was not heard, it was thought and felt between the two. It was amazing and a moment that has been branded in my mind forever. I knew I wanted what he had and have since focused my energy in acquiring better horsemanship skills by approaching horse training from a different angle. I don’t like to use the buzz words like natural horsemanship because , like so many other things, it gets lost in translation; instead I see it more as a common sense approach refer to it as coming to an clearer understanding of making what I am asking, mean something to a horse.

Harry’s focus is to look at things from the horse’s perspective. Get inside the horses mind and let the horse think through the things you ask, help him to figure it out because he can, and offer him an opportunity to work with you as partners. They are living, breathing thinking creatures with unique personalities. Harry taught me about the horses mind and that one little piece has made the biggest difference for me in my quest to build a better understanding between myself and my horses. By the end of that first clinic, I was completely energized and my mind was reeling. It was a totally different approach but finally it felt like it was the missing link I had been looking for.

Since that first clinic, I have attended many clinics by various clinicians. I have studied practiced and studied some more. I have watched hours of videos by various teachers, attended numerous seminars, demonstrations and take any other opportunity to broaden my knowledge base. Some of what is out there I like, some of what is out there doesn’t work for me, or I have modified it to work for me and /or my horse. There is always something new to learn with horses. More importantly, I am always amazed at what the horses have been able to teach me over the years.

Unfortunately, what I have learned over the years and continue to learn is not the kind of thing that I could even begin to try to capture in a blog. When it comes to training horses, I don’t believe the cook book methods that are out there work well because every person and every horse is different. You simply have to get out there and start working on this stuff. Sometimes, you have to fail and start over, learning from your mistakes.

I certainly didn’t have it figured out by the end of that first clinic and I certainly don’t have it all figured out now, but maybe through my experiences that I plan to post on this blog, I can pass along something for someone else to learn. It’s been my experience that we are all trying to improve our horse skills in some fashion or another. My hope is that I can share with you some of my own training efforts as I continue to strive to build better relationships with my horses. I don’t prefer to call myself a horse trainer and I don’t even like to use the term of natural horsemanship because of the negative connotations that have associated with it. The way I see it, anyone can go pay their dues, sign up onto a training program with some of the “natural horsemanship” trainers out there, and 10 weeks later, they have a signed certificate that says they are a horse trainer. To me that piece of paper doesn’t mean much. You have to put the time in, a lot of time, I have spent a lifetime of working with horses on many different levels and disciplines. I have put a lot of time into studying and working with horses, working on training methods, etc. but there is always something else to learn.

Now, off to go work Brego and use that homemade flag sponsored by Target stores plastic shopping bags! Sure beats spending $30 bucks for the endorsed option!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Well, It Ain't Pretty..............

But it's efficient... So what is it?? Well, it's Tom's latest and greatest money saver for one, and the newest item of concern for the horses's a insulated box that encloses the stock tank. In winter time in Montana, everyone pretty much uses some kind of stock tank heater. Since we happen to live in one of the windiest parts of the Flathead Valley, we find that the tank heaters , even running full on, can't always keep up. You can literally watch your pennies rising with the steam coming off of the tanks. Besides, with the latest buzz of conserving energy and all, we're just trying to do our part. Turns out , it saves alot of those pennies too.
We have built these boxes before out of a myriad of materials we scrapped together, but they never really held up well to the abuse of the horses using them as a chew toy. This time, we got smart and took our window and door cutouts from our SIPS panel home to use as the box structure. The walls of our home are made out of these panels which consist of 6 inch foam, sandwhiched between OSB. HIGHLY EFFICIENT! Tom then covered all corners with drip edgeand caulked all remaing rough edges. The lid is also built out these panels and is coevered in metal roofing material we had laying around. For safety , he took careful measures to cover the sharp edges here as well. Nothing a can of calking can't take care of. Once all of this is done , before you screw on the lid, you can drop the emty tank into it's new home. In our case, the tank is setting up on small cement bricks that were placed on previoulsy leveled ground. You could put another panel on the ground and set the tank on that, but would first have to use something to waterproof the OSB board so it does not absorb ground moisture. Using the ground panel would minimize heat loss and optimize efficiency but being that we are late getting this contructed, we opted to forego this project until next year.
The end result ? Your water tank heater doesn't need to work so hard to keep the water above freezing and therefore, doesn't run up the electric bill as bad. The benefit of using these SIPS panel cutouts is that they will help to hold the heat in for a longer period of time.
As a note: Anyone who uses water tank heaters for thier stock should take caution and install what is called a GFI, or Ground Fault Interuptor, along with a good ground. Otherwise, your livestock could recieve electrical shocks. I would suggest you have a qualified electrician install it for proper use.

Birthday Wishes

While it comes bittersweet, (another year older,,ugghh) today is my birthday or as I like to say my 4th annivarsary of my 29th birthday! If I had one birthday wish it would be for turning time back, so that I can once again feel the warth of the summer sun on my face as I cruise down the gravel road on JB, chasing the sunset on the last few miles before heading home. I love the fall season, don't get me wrong, but I hate what it means. It means many long nights spent in darkness, staring out the window overlooking the paddocks, waiting for spring to arrive. Riding in Northwest Montana during the winter is not for the faint of heart. most times the wind is howling here so badly it takes a small army to get hay fed out. Feeding in the dark twice a day and frozen fingers and toes. Soon, there will be those stormy nights that are bound to occur where Tom and I drag outselves out of the warm blankets to go out into the cold and throw extra hay to keep the fires going in the horses belly during cold windy weather.

So , if I can't go back in time maybe my wish will be for a speedy winter! Here's to birthday wishes , and hoping they really do come true!