Winter Feed & Supplements

Topic: Winter Feed
Location: Alberta

Hi there,
I have been feeding my mare hay that is a mixture of Timothy and something else. I feed her twice a day. I am wondering if adding a mixture oats/carrots to her afternoon feed would help her keep healthy and full of nutrients for winter? Also if i could add apples? Please let me know what your thoughts on this are. How much (measurement) would also be helpful. Thanks! :)
Feed depends on many issues, just as with people, each horse needs an individualized program, especially if they'll be in severe weather. The age, condition of the horse, fitness and work schedule for winter, boarding situation (pasture vs. shelter/stalled,) also affect what nutritional needs must be met.
Oats, apples, etc. are all sugars that will do nothing except give your horse more "energy." The first thing you need to address is the quality and type of hay you are feed. All hay is not the same, and you'll need to find out what the percentages are of nutrition in what you are feeding- usually sending a sample to your local Ag center at a University can check this. Also, your horse's dental needs should be up to date. Because horses are eating processed feed, their teeth are not used as they were meant to if they were foraging for food in the wild. Keeping his teeth floated on a regular basis will allow him to get the most nutrition out of his feed by chewing properly without pain.
Horses are well adapted to cold weather. As long as they have shelter from wind and wet, horses can stay comfortable when the temperatures plunge. A south-facing three-sided shelter with straw bedding will see a well-fed horse through the roughest winter weather. However, make sure the shelter is wide rather than deep or you'll find horses low on the pecking order afraid to go in.
Stabled horses need blanketing when they're turned out during the day, but the best blanket for an outside horse is his own full winter coat. If you do blanket your horse, make sure you take it off and brush him often. Also, realize that a blanket that is not warm enough is worse than no blanket at all. In cold weather, the hair coat stands up to trap additional warm air close to the body. A blanket keeps the coat flat.
When temperatures dip, the best heat source for your horse is extra hay. You'll want to make sure your have enough good hay to last through until next year's hay crop. To calculate how much you need, figure on half a square bale per horse per day then add some to cover for the occasional moldy bale or extra cold weather.
If your horses are kept in a pasture, to help make sure that all of your horses get their fair share of hay, spread out one more pile than the number of horses. That way when the boss horse keeps thinking another pile looks better than the one he's presently eating from, the other horses can move to new piles too.
A horse shouldn't lose weight in the winter. In fact, a little extra layer of fat to fend off the cold won't hurt. A thick winter coat can easily hide weight loss so it's important to use hands as well as eyes to monitor winter weight. By the time you see that the horse is getting thinner, it's too late.
One of the most important and sometimes not emphasized enough factors is maintaining the availability and easy access of water to your horse. Depending on your situation, a stock tank heater keeps the water above freezing. Some people believe horses can get by on snow. "Get by" they might, but so could we. Horses require a lot of water to digest dry feed. How much snow would they have to eat to provide the 5 to 10 gallons of water they need? The problem with most horses that have health issues in winter is not enough water- causing an impacted stomach- or colic. Once a horse becomes dehydrated (which they can even in cold temps) they will not want to drink. This can cause severe long term and life threatening health issues.
Below are some options for "weight gain/maintenance" without adding too much sugars or carbohydrates to the diet.
Consider adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplements if you're feeding lower-quality hay. "Be careful when buying special 'winter supplements.' .Most of these are just multi-vitamin/mineral supplements, but cost more because they are called 'winter supplements. Really, any multi-vitamin/mineral will do as long as it is formulated for horses. Some vitamin and mineral supplements are formulated based on the type of forage that is provided for the base of the diet (grass or legume hay, pasture, etc.). Make sure to read the label closely before purchasing and match it to the bulk of your horse's diet.
In other words, there aren't any specific nutrients you should supplement in cold weather vs. warm weather; supplementation is just based on the seasonal change in forage nutrient intake that occurs in horses on pasture (Just as long as the horse is normally on a balanced diet.)
When choosing a supplement, check the label and only buy something that tells you the actual ingredients. For example, something that claims to have high levels of antioxidants, probiotics, vitamins, and minerals in a 'special formula' is a little fishy and would be best to steer away from. Stick with something that tells you specifically what vitamins and minerals are in the product and how much.
How quickly a supplement begins to produce an effect depends on the type of supplement. If its base is water-soluble, then only a couple of days to a week is needed. If it is fat-soluble, it may take a couple of weeks to months.
In addition to increasing hay rations, some owners prefer switching from oats to corn or a sweet feed in the winter. The change from oats to corn or a sweet feed is based on the impression that corn or sweet feed is a 'hotter' feed than oats. This concept of oats being a summer feed and corn a winter ration has some merit, but also has some flaws.

One pound of corn has more energy and is lower in protein and fiber than one pound of oats. But not only does corn have more energy per pound than oats, corn also weighs more per unit of volume. One coffee can full of corn has about 45% more calories than the same coffee can full of whole oats. So if a horse goes from one can of oats to one can of corn, his energy intake (from grain) is increased by about 45%. This has led to the idea that corn is a 'hotter' feed than oats. Actually, because of the higher fiber level in oats, oats produce more internal heat during digestion than corn.
Although corn or oats alone provide adequate calories, they do not offer adequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. Horses do better, winter and summer, on a high-quality, balanced diet of good-quality hay and a high-quality, fortified commercial feed.
Rice bran can also be added into the winter diet. Rice bran is beneficial to the horse that could use a little extra weight, or is still in training, because it adds energy in the form of fat and extra fiber to the diet to increase heat of fermentation. Rice bran is very palatable, so it will also stimulate a picky horse to eat and will increase the energy density of the diet.
Through some trial and error you'll find the "right" balance for your horse.
Good Luck,

Settled in for the Winter

I've settled in after an uneventful drive with abnormally beautiful and warm fall weather throughout the 1440 mile drive.  Our field is coming in nicely and after seven years of maintenence on the property here in Yuma it's finally looking "neat and tidy"- even after a six month absence - instead of the normal human size tumbleweeds and overgrowth.  I will resume teaching next week.  Feel free to email to schedule lessons and training.

Word of the Day: Trust

Trust- the quiet, confident relationship established between a person and horse using clear two-way communication that allows the horse to mentally, emotionally and physically be available and receptive to requests and direction from a person.  The more the horse can trust the person, the more "try" (mentally, emotionally and physically) he will offer during any circumstance.  This helps decrease the level of "reaction" from the horse in a situation that bothers him, and instead it can become a confidence building experience. 

Newly Updated Website!!!

If you've never browsed our website or if it's been a while since you last perused it we have made LOTS of changes, updates, re-organization and additions!  In the last few weeks we have spent hours upon endless hours trying to make it more user friendly and easier to navigate.  Make sure if you've visited it before to refresh the pages or delete your old cookies so that all of the changes will appear!   If you find any issues or problems be sure to send us an email and tell us what you think!

A Happily Ever After Story...

Hello Sam,

We purchased Honest from you last fall. My daughter calls him Q.T.  I thought I would send you a little update.
She has spent the past year getting to know him. He had to learn how to be a family guy, we made him nervous for months for no apparent reason, nothing crazy he just always had his guard up. He now knows we all love him and he is safe and he is relaxed.
He is Kolby's ( my daughters) best friend and I trust him now too. She has competed in 4h with him this year and will add reining next summer and then they will join the high school equestrian team fall of 2011. (she is just in 8th grade) She has it all planned out LOL. They were a big hit at the Spokane Fair too!
She has to learn to work his gas pedal, that boy can move.... they did some gaming in 4H and had a blast. He changes leads like melted butter for her in western eq patterns. I don't even ride him anymore. He works better for her and he likes/trusts her, they are a team. He will follow her around like a dog. When she is having a bad day you will find her in the barn talking to her horse.
I am attaching a couple of photos for you to see them together. Thank you for picking us to be his family.

Sincerely, Ronda

Real World- Having to Medicate an Insecure and Defensive Horse

Sometimes there comes a point where we don't have the option to interact with our horses in the "ideal" situation.  Below is an example scenario showing that even under less than ideal circumstances, you can still "help" your horse without making him defensive- and get the job of medicating done.
Hello Sam,

I have a friend who speaks fondly of your experience and your approach with horses. So I am hoping you can help me. Currently I have a horse with infectious conjunctivitis (sp?) aka Pink Eye. He is not trained and rather strong willed but well natured and wants to please we just don’t seem to be able to communicate with each other.
I am currently trying to get medicine in his eye and he is refusing, so far he has been backing up, turns his head or throws his head really high. This is not my preference but his eye is pretty bad and I have to get this medicine in his eye, I think he has already lost his sight.

Here is what we have tried to get him to succumb. Twine under the lip, unsuccessful lip twitch (Romeo knew what that was and refused altogether) I am worried I pushing him too hard. So we stopped asking our neighbors for help and I am just trying to get him to relax and trust me, again. Not going well, so now that I am well aware of the fact I have truly screwed this whole thing up I don’t know what to do. Tonight he was a little sheepish avoiding me (I think he is mad at me) and he back himself into the corner of his stall (it surprised me, he actually looked rather defeated). Fortunately, he did finally let me pet him, brush him and rub my hands on his face.
If you have any suggestions or ideas that will help me I would really appreciate your feedback.

Romeo is 5 years he has not been broken, I bought him year ago, with big dreams of breaking him myself and training him. He was a rescue horse that was left in a stall to starve when the owner abandoned the home.

I have to say “my bad” I got caught up in the whole childhood “Black Beauty” fantasy, only to realize at 41 truth of the matter it is a much bigger project requiring someone who is much more trained than me. He is a bright strong willed horse with a real sweet side. Unfortunately, I am the only one who sees it. I truly believe he has so much untapped potential.Thanks M

 Sam's Response:
Hi there… I’m sorry to hear of your/your horse’s situation. Sadly it’s become very common - the person falls in love with the blue sky potential of a dream and the horse pays the price. But never the less they are incredibly forgiving and most can “come around.”

You’ve got a lot of stuff to address- without the ideal “take your time” mentality because of his current eye condition. So this will be slightly “crash course” advice rather than the ideal long term. Trying to manhandle your horse into submission won’t work- certainly not if you’re going to try and get any ointment in his eye. The conjunctivitis would have to be really severe to cause blindness- he may also have other issues going on. I’m not sure if you’ve had a vet’s opinion- although Yuma is lacking for any quality equine vets- there is a clinic in El Centro that brings in good vets from San Diego once a month. If you’re looking to physically help the horse you want to be sure you’re aware of all possible health issues. Starvation and lack of nutrition in horses can have very long term affects depending on the severity of the situation.

Number one thing you’re going to have to attempt is recognizing pressure. There is spatial pressure and there is physical pressure. Right now I’m sure your horse has only been around physical pressure- holding on to the lead rope, rubbing on him, etc. Just as people like personal space, so do horses. I would start of with desensitizing “101” by having a halter and lead rope on him- leading him around, stopping, rubbing on whatever body part he presents- (head, side of face, under jaw, neck near head, etc.) and as soon as it seems to feel good, walk off and let him follow you. Too many times people “love” their horses and hover around them, constantly touching and “harassing” them and it drives the horse nuts. The length of the time you are rubbing him may start off at 3 seconds or less. As he shows signs of becoming more relaxed to your touch, you’ll touch him slowly increasing how long you’re rubbing on him before you walk off. I’m sure right now he’s pretty convinced that when you’re handling him it’s to do something that makes him uncomfortable, and therefore he acts defensive towards you to avoid having his eye messed with.

I also have a feeling a “pattern” has emerged in how you interact with him and how he responds to you. Horses are great people trainers. You’re going to have to establish that when you do something, it means something. Like when leading him with the rope, if you walk off, he should be right with you. If you halt, his feet should stop as soon as yours do. Too many times horses have a “teenager” attitude and only offer the bare minimum and people accept that. Until a situation like trying to get eye ointment on arises, people don’t see the “holes” in the level of respect or lack of from their horse towards themselves.

You’re going to have spend multiple short periods daily (3 to 4 minutes or less to start in each session with him) catching your horse, rubbing on him and then turning him loose again, because you’re going to have to re-establish you’re not catching him ONLY to medicate him. You’re going to need to establish being able to rub with your hand and rag ALL over his face, neck, etc. without him trying to “slam” you with his head, knock you away, or flee from the “pressure” of your hand touching him. You’re going to need to establish him yielding to the pressure of the lead rope. If you draw it towards you, he should follow the pressure of the rope, as soon as he does, you should be releasing the pressure the rope is causing, to show him you’ve acknowledged his effort. You’re going to need to establish if you draw his brain (and head) towards your left or right, he needs to lightly turn his head towards or away from you… If you send a “feel” down the rope (having the line ripple until the snap under his chin pops him the jaw) he needs to stop immediately what he’s doing.

All of these tools you’re going to need to get ointment in his eye. Because every time he tries to avoid you- you’re going to have to have multiple “tools” of communication that MEAN something to him, in order to address what he comes up with as an “alternative” to when you’re trying to medicate. After he runs through his “options” and you’ve addressed each one, he’ll finally stand and let you medicate him. Again, by the time he’s reached this point of being pretty confirmed that being around you means discomfort and stress, it’s going to take a bit to “undo” that mentality and build trust so that he can stand quietly for you. Short and multiple sessions of working with him- not hour long “harassment.” You want your horse to want to participate. Remember, always end on a good note- if your horse “tries” you MUST acknowledge it by leaving him alone. Too many times a horse finally “tries” for a person, and then the person takes advantage of the effort and demands more from the horse.

Good Luck,
Horse Owner's Response:


I just wanted to give you a progress report as to how Romeo and I are getting along and the small steps I have been taking to re-establishing trust. Early this morning when I cleaned his stall I just gave him his space and feed him. He pretty much avoided me like the plague. However, after I finished with all of the horses I headed up to the house and returned about 30 minutes later to see how he was doing, fortunately, he came to the fence and let me tickle his nose and pet the left side of his face I let it go at that and left the area again. I returned again and this time walked into his stall with a halter he walked to the other end of the stall. I decided to approach he didn’t move or refuse so I haltered him we walked the field and worked on some basic commands, he was receptive. I remained only on his left side since he is very cautious of his right side. After a little while, I did push a little bit, (because time is an issue in this scenario) I tied him to the tree so I could give him a bath. He seemed receptive, I started on the left and gradually worked my way to the right, at first he was very leery and defensive then he realized this was a good moment. I am not sure he truly relaxed but it was a turning point. After he was done with his bath I rewarded him by letting him pasture for awhile and return to his stall on his own. I gave him his space.

A couple hours later I returned again, casually waiting outside his stall for him to approach to be scratched this time I didn’t have to wait so long. I gave him some affection and then moved on by using this opportunity to give my other horse a bath and check her eyes (so far so good – knock on wood). As I returned to my stock area I would take a few minutes to pet and scratch Romeo, after a few trips I could rub my hands on the right side of the face but only for a few seconds. After about an hour of grooming and cleaning Chelsea I wanted to try haltering Romeo again, so I entered Romeo’s stall he returned to far end of his stall this time I didn’t follow instead I stood, halter in hand waiting patiently for Romeo to come to me. He was puzzled but came forward cautiously trying to figure out what I was up to. I just waited until his head was practically in my chest ready for me to halter him. At this point, I placed the halter on his and we simply walked around then tied him up in his stall. This time I applied fly spray using a cloth so I had to touch his body with a cloth and my hands. The sound from the spray bottle made him a little uneasy but I backed off and let him think about it when he took a step toward me and leaned in I continued. He was fine at this point. When I removed the halter he followed me wanting more affection.

We have not attempted the medicine, however I was able to wash his eye and I figured I could attempt some medicine on a cloth tomorrow and see how reacts. I figured after three days of fighting he deserved a break. I am sure medically this may have been a bad decision but we were getting nowhere and relations were taking a drastic nose dive, so I made judgment call. If you have any suggestions beyond your prior advice or believe I am missing the point I would appreciate your feedback especially before I return to the scene of the crime.

Again, I really appreciate your feedback.
M and Romeo

Ask the Trainer: Introducing a new horse into the herd

Ask the Trainer: Introducing A New Horse
Location: New Jersey

What is the best way to introduce a gelding into the herd (3 other horses)? My horse was the alpha horse until he was injured and had to be separated for 6 mo. He has recuperated and now needs to go back with the other geldings. He still thinks he is the alpha horse. There was one new addition, added a couple of months ago, which my horse has never been with. When we turned them out it was not good. My horse is not mean but wants it known he is the alpha horse. The newcomer also thinks he should be the alpha horse. I can give you other additional info because I have had someone send me a trainer's advice I did not like.

I personally think the more socializing horses do, the happier and healthier they are mentally, physically, and emotionally. But at the same time if a "new" (in your case returning) horse is creating a stress or is stressed, being with the herd can cause a continual stress and anxiety.

Whenever introducing one horse into the herd I like to take the lead horse away from the herd and let the new horse and one of the "low man on the totem pole" horses from the herd get to know each other without the distraction or overconfidence from the rest of the herd. Once the first two horses get to know each other then I would add another "low man" from herd. I would keep doing this until eventually you have introduced all horses with the lead or dominant horse last. This way, if the lead horse challenges the "new" horse, the "new" horse has a few buddies already in the herd and will be able (if space if not an issue) find a balance to "hang out" without confrontation from the lead horse.

Below are some other things to keep in mind before re-introducing your horse.

Separating the sexes:
I typically keep my mares and geldings separate so that we don't have any "ego" issues with the geldings when the mares are cycling (which they tend to do at the same time).

Young and older horses:Generally the older the horse the more confident they are. The young horses are going to be like "little brothers" that are constantly testing the boundaries of where they fit into the herd. Do not be surprised if you see them physically reprimanding the youngsters for a few days until they sort out the pecking order.

Pasture size:
The size of the pasture should be plenty adequate for the number of horses you are planning on having turned out... There will always be one or two horses that typically prefer spending time away from the herd, and you would want to make sure there is plenty of room in their pasture that they can do so without being bothered by the rest of the group.

Depending on the quality and safety of your fencing and how much the horses respect it I would rather not have new horses messing around over the fence trying to meet their new neighbors...

More accidents and injuries have happened with horses kicking or trying to climb over fences when introduced to new horses... Although there are also plenty of horses that show up somewhere new and could care less about their neighbors... Arabians usually are very curious about life and wind up "inspecting" everything and anything new... Remember that even if your horses have been "okay" with mediocre or not horse friendly (such as barbed wire) fencing does not mean that the new horses will be just as okay or safe in it.

Feeding time:
Make sure if you are feeding in the pasture that you space out the piles of feed and always add one more extra pile than the number of horses eating. You don't want to have "warfare" at feeding time because the more confident horses are worried about getting enough feed and are constantly chasing off the less confident or "low man" horses. Battles at feeding time can cause numerous long term issues both physically and emotionally to the insecure horse being chased away.

Change in diet:
Also be sensitive to any sudden changes in diet with the new herd. If they have been kept in stalls all of their life and you suddenly change them to grazing 24/7 if their bodies are sensitive you could have health issues. You mentioned a few of the horses were older, I'd check every body's teeth to make sure they do not need any dental care so that when they transition from their old lifestyle to the new one they at least do not have any physical concerns.
The list can go on and on of things to keep in mind but above were a few basics.
Good Luck,
Samantha Harvey

Possible Full Immersion clinic with Samantha Harvey

I’ve had quite a few people write to say that the dates I had for the first two Full Immersion Camps were too early in the season. So this is a feeler email for a possible five day clinic that would be held here at TEC in Sandpoint, ID from Wednesday August 4th through Sunday August 8th. Participant fee is $700 – includes clinic instruction, pasture board and grass or alfalfa hay. The auditing fee is $40/day or $150/wk. If you would be arriving from out of town Tuesday night arrival is suggested. All out of state horses negative Coggins and Health Certificate required. Horses do not need to be shod as we are on all sand footing. To find out more about the camps please view the above link. If you have any questions feel free to email or call. If you are interested a 50% non-refundable deposit will be required.

Riding Out- Make it Matter

The idea for this blog came about as we FINALLY had a break in our depressing rainy weather that has covered the Pacific Northwest for the past many months. I took out a young horse of mine along with another horse and of course four dogs in tow for a ride up in the mountains. As I rode along asking my horse to address the puddles, mud, bridges, water, etc. I thought about how many people could have ridden the same trail and had a really different outcome with their horse.

It was a nice break for me to get on one of my horses that was beyond the “starting” stage and I could enjoy the ride, but this did not mean that I was brainlessly sitting on him like a sack of potatoes. Somehow the words “trail ride” over the years have been interpreted as a “relaxing” form of riding for those people who are not looking to “train” their horse. The irony is that over the years some of the worst incidents and situations that I’ve witnessed or had to help “pick up the pieces afterwards” have occurred on these “relaxing” trail rides.

Many people whether they are competitive or not have finally after years of persuasion have come to realize that their horse needs more than just repetitive arena work. So mentally this can be great for variation for both horse and rider. The potential problem is if there is not intention and clarity from the rider towards the horse, it really doesn’t matter where you ride.

One of the fundamental “pieces of the puzzle” of riding that seems to be missing is the notion that just because you have bought or acquired your horse does not mean that he is currently in a place mentally, emotionally or physically that is appropriate for what you would like to do with him.

There seems to be three main categories of horse owners- and yes there are always exceptions, but generally as a professional, this is what I’ve encountered in the industry: those who are uneducated and are new owners- usually learning the hard way about the realities vs. the romanticized vision of being with the horses, the semi experienced horse owner who has enough experience to “know” better but is still hopeful that “it” (those small seemingly insignificant issues that manifest into dangerous and unwanted behavior over the long term) will all somehow work out with their horse, and then there are those people who are so focused on the final goal that their perspective and views of how their horse is behaving is limited due to their commitment that “at all costs” they are GOING to get the desired performance out of their horse.

I try to encourage people to use common sense when working with their horse- treat your horse as you would a child. You don’t just hope that a young child will figure things out in life; usually they require a lot of attention, effort and patience on your behalf in order to “educate” them with the tools to achieve independent success and confidence in life. The same goes for horses.

This brings up the second big issue. At one point in history we relied on horses as our mode of transportation, as our work animals to plow the fields to help us survive, and whatever other needs we might have living in rural America. These horses had thousands of hours of education and effort offered to them because people HAD to- as they relied on them for every aspect of life.

Today most riders in the United States are what I’d call pleasure riders, even if they compete at low levels. For the most part people do not have the time, energy or money to invest in their horses to create the “ideal” horse for their needs. So until the horse starts to become difficult or display dangerous behavior that the person realizes they need to enlist the help of a professional, (which usually becomes a long term situation because those “little issues” were let go for so long and the horse is now confirmed in how and what he thinks of people,) owners don’t seek help in advance. The irony is if the owner had initially put the time and effort into offering their horse a proper education from the start, they would have saved a lot of money and stress for both them and their horse in the long run.

Another issue is the current breeding trends (that in my opinion are reinforced by trainers, veterinarians and show judges,) we have basically taken the “horse out of the horse.” How many breedings does it take to produce that “one” ideal horse? And what happens to all of the remaining horses produced that are not up to that level of performance? Look at physical pictures of horse from 10, 20 and 40 years ago compared to those of the same breeds today and there is nothing similar within the breeds other than them having four legs, a head and tail! Never mind the physical, we never seem to realize what undesired traits mentally wise that we’ve passed on until we have a handful of horses all “suffering” from the same unwanted behavior.

As a result of our lack of standards towards looking at the entire picture of what we breed, rather than just the physical outward appearance or performance, we now have generations upon generations of horses that are mentally, emotionally and physically what I call “nut jobs.” As I tell people over and over, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But somehow as a society, most people have lost any level of accountability for their actions and the sad part is it winds up being the horses and their offspring that pay the long term price for people’s “instant gratification” desires. The perfect example of that is the all too often backyard breeding scenario where one person has a stud and their neighbor has a mare and so they breed “to see what happens.”

If every person who owned a horse made the initial mental, physical and financial commitment to their horse with a “long term” outlook, I truly believe the horse industry would be a different place.

So what does any of the above have to do with heading out for a trail ride? Well stop for a moment and consider how many stories you might have told or heard about of that “eventful” ride. When people ask how a ride went, my goal is to be able to reply that it was “boring.” People laugh at this comment, but I say it with all seriousness.

Today it seems to be the rides that aren’t “boring” are the ones where both horse and rider are attempting to “survive the ride.” In most of these cases the foundation of clear communication, trust and respect, and educating the horse in baby steps has not been introduced. Therefore, as something unexpected (in this part of the country that could be anything from a range of encountering wild animals, to crossing rivers, bridges, severe ascending/descending of mountains, encountering off-road vehicles, traveling on very narrow trails, stepping over natural fallen obstacles, etc.)

I cannot imagine riding out without an array of established “tools” to help my horse throughout the ride for whatever may present itself along the way. But somehow many people and horses have survived many rides without clear communication and so they continue doing so. The problem is not “if,” but rather “when” something will arise that they will not be able to safely “survive” with their horse. These sort of events tend to trigger a lot of other concerns or issues that the horse has “emotionally stuffed” over a period of time, and then it all seems to “suddenly” all come out to the shock of the horse owner.

In what I do for a living I’ll admit I usually see the worst case scenarios and the “aftermath” caused by them. Which is why I’m so adamant that it is completely unnecessary to “wait and see” with horses. It’s not to scare riders into worrying about everything that could go wrong; rather it is to educate people that it is so unnecessary to “go” to those bad and scary places with a horse. Why not help you and your horse out from the start to help avoid all of the eventful riding “stories?”

By laying the proper foundation ahead of time, when things arise on the ride, which they always will, you’ll be able to expand your horse’s experience, increase his confidence and encourage his curiosity by presenting obstacles in a “fun” and quality manner with clear communication that will allow him to be able to mentally address, physically try, and emotionally relax as he encounters the “unknown.”

“Owning” a horse should not been seen as a “servant” type relationship. It requires a lot from both rider and horse. So take a moment and evaluate honestly you and your horse- you level of clear two-way communication, your levels of trust and respect, and your own efforts to help your horse through scenarios rather than challenging him to be successful. Your actions can make or break that ideal relationship with your horse!

To taking responsibility- and then the reins!

The world of thinking people creates thinking horses…

Anyone who has heard me teach or read articles I’ve written are by now familiar that I use the term “It’s the thought that counts,” as a way to sum up the mental availability we are seeking in our horses. But, we cannot achieve that in our horses until we find it within ourselves. Just the words “mental availability” can overwhelm a lot of people. What is that? Why do we want it? It all stems from years and years of riding (without knowing it) being mentally unavailable and riding “shut down” horses. They looked okay, they tolerated me, sort of, and they performed to the least the minimum necessary levels, so why “rock the boat?”

I had never approached a horse before a ride and had thought, “Where’s your brain today?” As I worked on the ground or warmed up a horse I never noticed things like his ears, the worry lines above his eyes, the wrinkles from stress on his bottom lip, his inconsistent breathing, the inconsistency in the size of his steps, the tightness in his back, if he was moving as if he were on a tightrope or more like he’d had a few beers, if his tail was clamped down against his hindquarters, if the muscles along the underside of his ribs was engaged in a resistant manner, if he was turning left but “quietly” leaking out towards the right, the degree of his “heaviness” or subtle resistance against my aids because eventually he’d get the job done. And for me, whether it was racehorses to Three Day Eventing horses to Jumpers to Dressage horses to young horses, as long as I kept one leg on either side and we managed to “survive” any negative portion of the ride that was good enough. I had no standard other than performing “close enough” to the ideal (which was a very broad spectrum to measure the quality of a ride by.)

It NEVER occurred to me that the note I was finishing on today was going to affect tomorrow’s ride. I never imagined I was there to HELP my horse, but rather it was a dictatorship, which sadly too many times led to constant badgering from me towards my horse on all of the things he WAS NOT doing right. I NEVER assessed my horse from the ground before the ride. Fussing, fidgeting, pawing, and spookiness were all NORMAL parts of working around horses, right?

There was never room for my horse to have an opinion, because they only opinion I ever saw was not a good one, such as when he refused a jump or behaved like an “idiot” on the trail with a group of horses. It never occurred to me that there could be a quality TWO WAY conversation.

To me training with the mentality I’ve described above was an uphill battle as you can imagine. Theoretically we all talked about the ideal ride, the soft, light, balanced, supple and collected horse, but reality included whips, spurs, martingales, severe bits and other “torture” devices so that we could manhandle the horse into eventual submission. If this didn’t work, the animal was deemed a bad horse, and you got another one.

So long story short it took a lot of re-evaluating everything I thought I knew and having to spend many hours assessing, questioning and thinking about ME and what I was doing. For me it will be a forever ongoing process, which is exciting because you never know how “far” on the journey of quality time with the horses can bring you.

And this all brings me to a funny little story; it’s moments like what I’ll describe below that makes it all worth it. The occasions that catch you off guard, the ones where an accumulation of the hours, energy, and effort pay off with simple experiences that leave you smiling with that warm and fuzzy feeling for a long time.

I was heading out of town and was moving all of the horses off of the property to another facility where they could be turned out for the week I’d be away. But instead of hooking up my big trailer, I figured I’d make two trips with the smaller trailer which is a slant load with dividers.

I’d already loaded two horses that were waiting patiently with their dividers closed and the main rear trailer door was left open as I headed out to the infield to catch several other horses to be moved. I noticed one of the loose horses in the field Pico, a colt that had been orphaned that I’d adopted years before, went galloping up towards the trailer area and a pasture I’d left open. Not thinking much of it I caught the two horses I planned on moving and headed back to the trailer and was just thinking, “I wonder where Pico went?” as I didn’t see him. As I came into view of the trailer from the rear, there was Pico who had self loaded himself. He wasn’t just standing in the trailer, but he was lined up as close to the divider (ahead of him) as he could be so that I could easily shut him in with the next divider. I laughed out loud and while still standing outside of the trailer I asked him to look at me, which he did, and then asked him to come to me, he promptly took one look, and then dramatically turned his head to line up straight staring out the window in front of him. Ok, fine, he was going anyways so what would it hurt?
"Pico" at 3 months

So without a halter or anything else on him, I shut Pico in with the divider, loaded the remaining two horses and was on my way. I arrived at the next facility and began unloading horses. By the time I got to Pico I slipped in under the divider and threw a lead rope around his neck, opened the divider and slowly back him out, one step at a time, asking him to pause and stay focused on me and what we were doing rather than getting distracted by the horses running around loose and making noise in the pasture next to us. So one step (literally) at a time he unloaded and quietly was turned out in the pasture.
"Pico" at his first Ranch Roping age 4

I didn’t for a moment ignore the obvious safety issues and all that could have gone wrong by doing what I did with my horse; but this was balanced out by years of creating a trusting relationship with two way communication. I had a sliding scale and bucket of “tools” to communicate to Pico with. This came from the time and effort I’d invested in working with my horse in order to create a foundation with which the underlying fundamental was that anything I presented, no matter if we had done it before or now, my horse had to stay mentally available to try. This in turn led to a building of the horse’s confidence and ability to make his own decisions, in this case self loading into the trailer, and not just keep the natural “follow the herd” mentality, but at the same time being able to maintain availability towards me as we unloaded by waiting and for me to offer when and how he moved in and outside of the trailer.

Now I know there are plenty of horses who load quietly and of course plenty who don’t. But my point was how many people have ever created the opportunity for the horse to make a decision- and feel good about it- while the horse still retained the ability to hear what the person was communicating rather than just completely taking over? For me that’s the point. No matter what is presented, whether we’ve done it before or not, (Pico had never done this before) my horse needs to participate and think of how to behave reasonably with an intentional manner. It’s those scenarios that build the confidence for a horse like Pico to come up with the idea that he too, wanted to go, wherever the trailer might have been going. The two horses in trailer weren’t even his pasture buddies and there were other horses loose that he could have easily stayed out grazing with. But HE made a choice to participate. And moments like that, are the ones that make it all worth it!

As the song says “Little moments like these…”


The Learning Curve: Horses & Owners

Many people in the United States have adopted and accepted that when starting a young horse there is a magic “30 day” training period needed to get the horse in “safe” rideable condition. I on the other hand offer all training by the week, with the first week a horse is with me known as the “assessment week.” Time (the hour lesson, the month training period,) is a man “made” thing- not a horse thing. Horses don’t work by the “clock.”

"Star" a 3-year-old TWH on her first ride in the mountains.
I find more often than not, many “trainers” who specialize in working with the horse, but not the owner. I won’t accept a horse into training without being able to work with the owner and their horse together. But for most, there is lack of communication between trainer and owner becomes so incredibly important. Too many trainers tend to “assume” the owner will have an understanding of what is happening, not realizing how lost the owner is. The more lost the owner is, the less they can “be there” to help their horse which leads to a lack of clear communication and respect from the horse towards the owner.

It is just as important, if not more so, to get the owner on the “same page” as their horse that is in training. Here are a few common statements I try to share with owners:

• Just because I can get something done with your horse doesn’t mean that you will be able to.
• If you spent as much time with your horse as you pay me to spend with him, you’d have a lot better understanding of who he is and how best to work with him.
• Based on your (the owner) experience, you may be “stuck” on futuristic goals or dreams for your horse, rather than riding or working with your horse to help him in the “here and now.” If the here and now isn’t addressed, you and your horse will never get to the “future” with any quality or confidence.
• Treat your horse as you would a young child. Your job is to be here to help him through a scenario, rather than challenge him through one.
• Horses, people, and common sense don’t always go hand in hand.
• Too many riders are “reactive” towards their horses. This means, they wait and see if their horse can “survive” a scenario, rather than helping him in steps (literally) in order to come out the other side feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically relaxed and confident.
• Too many owners interrupt an unwanted behavior, rather than helping the horse get to the ideal “answer” or result.
• Slow and “boring” is the ideal ride you are going for with your horse. Think back to all of the “stories” and adventures of past equine experiences and it usually involves highly stressed riders and horses.

So back to starting and educating the young horse. We don’t send our kids to school for a short period of time expecting them to have learned all that they will need to know to be successful in life. Why do we expect that this human number of 30 days is enough for a horse to teach him everything he needs to know? The education of a horse (and rider) should be an ongoing process. To many people, they find this thought depressing. In a society that can’t wait to reward you with “instant gratification” results- riding is the WRONG sport for that mentality. It will only lead to frustration with both horse and rider.
I personally keep owners (as many horses as sent in from far away distances) informed throughout the training process via email or phone. This way I can slowly add new thoughts and ideas to the owner’s mentality as the horse’s training progresses so that by the time the owner comes out to work with his horse his mind is already a bit more “open” because of the background info leading up to this point.

The other point I’d like to stress is that I think it’s the professional’s responsibility to be as straight forward with the owner as possible in order to alleviate any expectations or preconceived notions from the owner BEFORE they might arise. The first thing I tell all owners is that I treat every horse as an individual and will work with him accordingly. This means the horse’s training will progress at whatever “speed” he shows as appropriate.

I do NOT guarantee (which is a word that shouldn’t ever be used with horses) that a horse will be at a certain “place” in his training by a certain point in time. This way, I haven’t promised owners an expectation that I may not be able to fulfill with their horse if their horse isn’t mentally, emotionally, or physically ready. Again, my priority in working with the horse for his long term well being. I feel it is my responsibility to educate the horse as best as I can, helping him learn how to trust, respect, and try so that in his future whoever may present whatever scenario, he can “deal” with it in an ideal and REASONABLE manner.
The other factor to consider is the length of a horse’s initial education is that the trainer ought to assess the ability and experience of the owner or person who will be riding the horse. Some people have years of experience but haven’t started colts but are “natural” riders who might feel comfortable on a less experienced horse, than perhaps a less experienced person who really needs their horse not just “started” but also “finished”- with the training offering the horse a lot more experience, exposure and confidence.

So the final part of the “colt starting” is the owner’s training. Helping them mentally get on the same page as their horse. Teaching them some of what I consider as the fundamental basics of THINKING when they are working with their horse. It’s my job to help take away the “mystery” of what the horse is about to do by pointing all the ways the horse is communicating with us trying to tell, ask or clarify what we are doing with them. It’s like presenting the owner with the entire alphabet so that they can spell so that they can read, rather than if they are missing letters and expecting them to be successful at reading.

It’s my responsibility to establish a clear understanding with the owner that his horse’s education is an ongoing and lifetime process. Every opportunity they work with their horse is another chance to expand their horse’s confidence.

I truly believed if more professionals and trainers put the responsibility of the ongoing education of the horse on his owner, not encouraging them to treat their horse’s like an inanimate object that they expect to just “be ready” because they are, horses and their owners would be a lot happier in the long run.

Embrace the learning curve- don’t let it scare you!


Training with Reality…

Too many times I’ve encountered horses that have been forced through the “school of hard knocks” training theories- whatever situations they had “survived” equaled to the description of being an “experienced” horse. I’m always surprised how often I see advertisements for horses for sale with “a ton of experience” but who need a “confident” rider. To me this blatantly translates into the horse has been manhandled through scenarios, survived them, but because he is so concerned about what might be presented next he carries a lot of worry, concern and stress with him making him a “hot” or “sensitive” horse. So he needs a “strong enough” rider to push him through the next experience…

The idea for this blog came to me the other day as I was working with a three year old mare I’m starting. Those of us in the northwest have been experiencing quite the rainy season with the last two weeks almost nonstop rain, wind, hail and snow up in the mountains. Not exactly ideal conditions neither for starting a youngster, nor for me who prefers my winters spent in the desert warmth. But without other options one must continue.

Part of the less glamorous side to my lifestyle is the maintenance- the mowing, the pasture clean up of dead limbs, the dragging pastures, the fixing fences, clearing trails in the woods, etc. Usually there’s one big clean up in the spring when I return after a long winter, but this year with all of the blustery weather it seems to have become part of my daily routine…

Many times owners are shocked at the changes in demeanor, personality, confidence, etc. in their horse after a few weeks spent with me. Part of the change they are seeing comes from my prioritizing to spend quality time with the horse and to solely focus on creating a “warm and fuzzy” experience every time I work with them. The other part is that I always try to mesh “reality” with my horse training.

It does not matter to me what long term discipline or direction the horse may be destined for. For me, I want all horses that I work with to have a solid foundation. I always say I want my jumping horses to be able to chase a cow, and my cow horse to be able to pop over a fallen log on the trail. Basically the underlying theory of all that I attempt to do with horses is to create a mental availability to “try” no matter what scenario I may present for the horse. If the horse can mentally address what is being presented, eventually physically they will comply with what is being asked of him, without the stress, trauma and drama that is more typical when someone just tries to manhandle a horse through a situation.

So back to the young mare, bad weather and using reality to build quality experiences for her. I want to make clear that I’m not suggesting that everyone runs out and does some of the things I’ll mention below, but this more to expand your thinking for when you work with your horse. I also want to mention that there were many pieces of the “puzzle” I had to present to the horse before I did any of the following with her in order to create clear communication with both physical and spatial pressure, respect of personal space, and being able to direct her thought to something specific. Without that clear communication established, the rest of what I may want to present to her would be done with a “hopeful” feeling, rather than a “helping her” mentality.

With all of the windstorms I seem to have a continuous flow of dead limbs falling off of trees in the pasture. After proper preparation of desensitizing the horse to pressure, ropes around her body and legs, etc. I then used her to drag out the fallen limbs to wherever I needed them. Rock clean up time out of the arenas is another great “learning” experience for a young horse, them having to follow you around as you’re “focused” on finding the rocks, plus throwing them to the edges of the fencing, the horse can learn to wait, and get used to the sudden movement of the rock without all of your energy being directed towards the horse. If I have to run down to the far end of the property to fix fence I’ll pony her or just have her follow me and “hang out” while I fix fence. When she’s “just standing there” she’s not allow to eat, focus on the other horses, etc. it’s rather a great place for her to learn how to stand quietly, patiently and wait for me. As I’m moving hoses to different waterers, I use the hose dragging on the ground around her feet as another scenario to desensitize her. As I fix the hay tarps she gets to focus on the noise and movement of the tarp flapping, crinkling, etc. As I ride through my woods on a more experienced horse to cut small overgrown branches on my trails (done from horse back- no I don’t suggest this to just anyone) I pony the young horse so she gets used to noise above her head, the movement of the falling branches, and can pick up on the calm the horse I’m riding is showing about the situation. At the same time I usually have two dogs or more with me to help her with sudden movement from them “popping out” of the woods and running in front, behind, or next to her feet.

One of the hardest parts in working with a horse is staying creative enough to keep each session interesting. Depending on your facilities you may have to spend some time creating obstacles or ways of presenting scenarios with variation. Too many times the horse and handler can fall easily into the routine or “patternized” behavior. This creates the false illusion that the horse is doing “well”- until a new scenario or one that is altered from what the horse is used to has been presented. Then the “real” feelings of what the horse has been carrying around come to the surface. A lot of people and horses become really comfortable with what they know and do not like change. The problem is the day you don’t have an option and must present a change from the “norm” you’ve then opened a whole new can of worms with your horse and its usually not the time for a “training” session.

If instead you can prepare both you and your horse to view any situation as one to expand their experience, exposure and confidence you’ll be building a solid, trusting partnership for the long term. With this mentality you many not seem to “accomplish” as much as “fast” as someone else, but don’t worry about keeping up with what other horse people are doing. Go with your instinct and do what is best for you and your horse. Both of you will be happier in the long run.

Have fun,

Horsemanship: Getting Down in the Dirt- More than Theoretical Learning

This blog comes as a result of several recent comments I’ve heard from horse people as they are getting “amped up” for the upcoming spring riding season. I’m always amazed at how many people I encounter that have “read something” or watched a “TV show” and suddenly been inspired to start to interact with their horses. Especially in areas of the country that are affected by nasty, cold winter weather, it seems that winter brings on a lethargic feel, and so instead of the actual hands on time with their horses, people tend to try to learn via technology, books, etc. This is great, and as I always say the first step is getting the information transmitted into your brain and then taking the time to process it. The problem is there is a “glitch” in the communication system between the person’s newly educated perspective and that of the unsuspecting horse.

Just because you have spent countless hours reading and processing the latest and greatest ideas on how to work with your horse, does not mean that from the last time you worked with him on a sub 0 degree blustery day, that your horse has any clue that in the mean time you have been on an accelerated “learning” program. He had no warning the next time you headed out to handle him three months after your last visit, that you would have a new degree of expectations of him. I don’t know why, but people can easily fall into the habit with their thinking being “Since I have read this information, my horse should have also received the news via osmosis.” Then the person gets frustrated because the horse isn’t “on the same page” as he stares at his owner with a completely blank look on his face.

The next idea I want to emphasize, highlight, bold, underline, etc. is that just because you have read or received “enlightening” information does not mean that the way in which you have processed and interpreted it will be appropriate or suitable for your horse at this point in time.

I like to think of working with horses much the same as putting a puzzle together. There first has to be boundaries (spatial in the horse’s case- the edges in the puzzle’s case) and then there has to be an organization of addressing small areas of the puzzle- just as you would with your horse. Eventually as you piece these areas together, you start to see the “whole” picture. But you usually cannot just walk up and take a random puzzle piece and place it in the spot where it belongs- although you may get lucky doing this once or twice, statistically you’re not going to do well with a 500 piece puzzle if this is your approach. The same goes for horses; you cannot just randomly wake up one day and decide “today we’re going to work on this.” Your horse is not a book. He is not a machine. He is a being with is OWN mind and emotions and just because YOU woke up today with a newfound enlightenment does not mean that your horse has.

For me, I have a bit of a problem with today’s instant gratification society. This mind set has caused what I would call a de-evolution in the horse world. Kids that once grew up riding barefoot, bareback and in a halter who were constantly harassed by bad attitude ponies, learned balance, learned how to become clear with the pony, learned how to pick themselves up after a fall, etc. Now do I think there was quality horsemanship in these scenarios? No. BUT I do feel that the hours and hours spent with the animals instilled a certain “feel” in the rider’s balance, timing, thought and decision making processes? Absolutely. Nowadays I watch many new riders gets once a week lessons and parents wonder if their child is progressing fast enough. Time, miles, exposure, and experience all add up to the makings of a quality rider.

Adults on the other hand who have a job, a life, a family, etc. are finding it increasingly difficult to spend quality time with their four legged friends. This is fine, but then don’t expect your horse to have made leaps and bounds in his education if you’re only visiting him once a week.

Also because of the “hurry up and get it done” mentality I truly believe 85% of the horses on the market today are half the quality of what they were 20 years ago. The breeding quality has gone down, the putting time and a quality education into them used to be a priority, now many training systems seem to be “churning” the horses through their system, leaving in many cases, gaping holes in the horse’s confidence, sensitivity, balance, experience and exposure.

It used to be you could take your horse and ride him to the fairgrounds (who cared if you didn’t have a horse trailer?,) compete in ALL of the classes (English, Western, whatever- as long as you were riding,) ride him back home again and the next day go and chase cows with him. It used to be “fun” to do “everything” with our horses. Nowadays we bandage, stall, primp and shine these 1200 lb animals doing everything we can to “take the horse out of the horse” so that he will comply with our human demands and then wonder why he has all of these “issues.”

The number of horses I see that are physically broken down by seven, eight and nine years old is devastating. How is this all happening? My theory is back to instant gratification. Ever heard this story?

“This horse that was an “emotional” buy, turned out to not be what I wanted, so lets get another one.”

I can understand from a safety perspective how this makes sense, and I myself might suggest it. The problem is, many of these “turnover” horses with a multitude of past owners is due to the fact that many people are spending far less time getting their hands dirty with their horse! Then we wonder why our “partner” isn’t always easy to be around. Or we wonder why on our once a month ride when we head out with a group of 20 other people our horse is the one that’s jigging the whole ten mile ride? Or we wonder why that left lead after months of brainless riding is still hit and miss to achieve the few times we actually focus on it?

If money is tight and times are tough the cheapest thing you can do is go and hang out with your horse. I’m not joking. Find out who he really is. Honestly evaluate your relationship with him- I’m not talking about your long list of complaints of what he doesn’t do, but rather look at what he DOES do for you and then stop and ask yourself “Why on earth would he do this for me?” I’m serious. If our friends treated us the way most horse owners treat their horses (even if unintentional) we wouldn’t have very many friends. Before you try and find the next “magic solution” or attend the “life changing” clinic- put some hard hours in with your horse. Just the sense of movement, timing, rhythm, awareness, etc. will affect how you interact with your horse and how he views you in his life.

Don’t wait for someone to have to stand there and instruct you every step of the way. Take the initiative with a good dose of self discipline and start building that self you must have for when you’re in the saddle. As I tell my students, when you ride, there is only one leader, just like horses in a herd. If you aren’t even clear about your thoughts, your aids, your balance, your timing, your rhythm, how are you going to “be there” for your horse? It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes a clear head. It takes moments of frustration within you. But if you quietly and diligently persist you will start to see changes. And your horse will start to show his appreciation towards you for it.

We all hang on to the dream of glorious moments spent with our equines because there really is nothing else in life quite like it. But you won’t reach those moments and memories with effort and lots of dirt under your nails.
What’s stopping you really? No more excuses, no more half hearted, distracted riding sessions. On your journey of heading out to improve your horse, you’ll actually be improving a lot of qualities about you that will affect the rest of your life.

Here’s to down in the dirt!


A ride in the desert

It's a unique experience where I spend my winters because we are near the largest sand dunes in all of North America...  Yet, as much as those dunes where hundreds of thousands of people come out to play on motorized "toys" every year, there's plenty of other desert that does not look like a realitve to the Sahara...

It wa spring break here and we organized a small ride out into the desert... Even on these rides there's still an "awareness" and not just brainless trail riding... A client rode one of my horse's and kept saying how nice it was to ride a horse that just "went" - no spook, no worry about where he was in the group, the four dogs racing around him, etc.  He patiently waited while she took pictures, was reasonable when he crashed through a hidden snake hole, etc. 

What a lot of people don't realize is, the horse didn't just "happen" to turn out that way.  Years of "baby steps" pieced together over time slowly built his confidence (not just experience) and how he viewed being worked with.  So by the time you place "any" rider on him, he has enough "eel good" to mentally and emotionally feel good even if not supported by his rider. 

So next time you head out on a trail ride- assess where your brain is at and how much you are supporting your horse throughout the ride versus if you are just "going for the ride."  If you're not "there" for your horse, don't be suprised if he has a melt down and doesn't turn to you for help, but rather "takes over" and offers undesired behavior.

Riding out should be fun, not seeing if you are going to "survive" the ride.  It's a lot slower route to offer short term experiences to your horse, but if the quality is there, you'll see a difference immediately.  We were discussing the "wet saddle blankets" theory.  In my mind why just randomly ride and ride and ride until your horse is so exhausted before they can listen?  Why not build a relationship where within a few steps you can influence your horse's entire mental and emotionaly status for the ride?

Good Luck,

Colt Starting Crimes

I was asked to assess a neighbor’s 1 1/2yr colt. The horse hadn’t been handled much, and when he was, it was done with making the colt physically comply. Responding to pressure, spatial respect, human communication had not been part of the owner and horse’s interaction. My goal was to help the horse slow his brain down so that he could learn to focus on one thing (literally) at a time. To do this he needed to be willing to hear and address me. When I did something, it would need to mean something to him. Then by asking him to “search” for what I was asking- rather than micromanaging and directing his every movement. This encouraged him to try, participate, and gain confidence from trying. 

As the mentalities and priorities of fellow horse people have evolved, so has their verbiage from “breaking a horse” to “starting a horse.” The original “breaking” term was used to break the horse’s physical resistance and limit his ability to think. Depending on the confidence, fear, and history of the horse “breaking” could vary from tying a horse to a solid post in the middle of a round pen, blindfolding them, “sacking” them out, and then hopping on and hoping to survive their bucking spree until they finally gave up and tolerated being ridden. This could have happened a few or many times until someone finally had the nerve to ride the horse “out” (in the open) – all too often this is where usually running the horse until he was too exhausted to fight the rider would create the “broke” horse- remember that term “wet saddle blankets?” Over time it would take “less” drama and the horse would give up and tolerate being ridden… But there were always the “all of sudden moments” from when these sorts of horses pushed for years and carrying tons of emotional and mental stress, fear, and insecurity would “act out.” More dramatic versions of the breaking could include blindfolding the horse, “tripping” or “throwing” (literally) him down to the ground and tying up his legs while he was covered with tarps, blankets, and a saddle, tying up a leg to get the saddle on, and much much worse scenarios.

Nowadays the public has grown a conscience and “starting” horses has become popular. Though many people with good intentions end up causing damage due to their lack of education and understanding. You can’t open a horse magazine, newsletter, email, or attend an equine expo, etc. where you don’t hear “colt starting clinic,” “colt starting demonstration,” etc. I believe most mass commercialized horsemanship "programs" decrease the quality of information presented in an attempt to be easily accessible for the masses. Yet every human/horse combination is a unique pairing. One-size fits all training programs don't work.

All too often owners don’t realize the “damage” they have done until it’s too late and the horse is pretty confirmed that people are not a good thing… Then because the horse’s behavior has reached a point of dangerousness, they usually find someone like me- who is there to clean the slate and pick up the pieces.

I once watched a clinician “talk the talk” about calm, quiet, feel good, etc. and within 20 minutes he had taken a relative calm and confident filly and had her racing in circles around the round pen as he continuously created spatial pressure by casting his lariat at her; she was lathered, fearful, and panicked by the time he was done. 

As I looked around at the audience of about 1,000 people leaning forward in their seats watching, I could just imagine them going home and trying out the same tactics on their own unsuspecting horses. Here was a nationally recognized, “respected” horseman, of course you could mimic their behavior? Another time I watched a clinician work a colt to the point where the horse was so overwhelmed, that he actually physically quit, and laid down with the clinician on him. The clinician then proceeded to kick and yank on the horse until he got back up again, blaming the horse for his response. And no these aren’t just “a few” bad clinicians- they are the people most who use the terms “natural horsemanship” are turning to- how-to DVDs, earning thousands of dollars at clinics, selling “special” equipment, you name it, they are promoting it.

So the point of this post is to encourage you to trust your instinct. Too many times people can “smooth over” a colt starting session because the colt doesn't have the confidence to resist. A young horse may take and stuff his emotions about what he is being exposed to until one day “all of a sudden” (usually at age four) he purges all that has been contained. I’ve seen weekend colt starting where the riders are literally “stealing” a ride but don't realize it until they get home where they are alone, and get seriously hurt by their fearful horses. It’s such an unnecessary shame that these young horses have gone through these initial experiences as to what interacting with humans is going to be like.

A few thoughts:

If this horse is going to be your “long-term” partner what is the rush in how quickly he progresses? Many times a horse may physically look mature but is mentally and emotionally immature for a very long time. Put it into people's terms- how much would you ask of a small child to learn, participate, and perform? No different from your horse.

If you don’t understand what or how the gradual evolution of working with your horse from the ground to working him from the saddle- YOU need to take the time to educate YOU. If you are working with someone who cannot help you understand that crucial factor of how your groundwork prepares your horse for the ride, then you need to find another instructor. A trainer, clinician, or any other professional should be able to explain why they are presenting what they are and the short and long-term education. If the trainer’s interactions with the horse do not match their words- this is a red flag.

You are your horse’s voice. Speak up if you have a problem with how someone is treating your horse. At the end of the day it’ll only be you and he- everyone else goes home and doesn’t have to “deal” with any mess, stress, or fear they may have instilled in the horse. For your horse’s sake- why even go to those “bad” places- why not stop it early on?

The BIG question: Is your trainer right for you and your horse?

Having come from the “mainstream” riding world many years ago it is sometimes hard for me “keep it in perspective” of what the general public experiences in “regular lessons.” As an instructor, I feel it is my job to assess where the horse and person/rider are on this specific day, rather than assuming that we’ll “pick up” where we left off in the last session.

I’m always amazed as I hear stories of the equestrian services people pay for and are berated, disrespected, belittled, and badgered by the "professional." And yet, if the student doesn’t know otherwise, they keep going back.

I believe that my student must be offered my respect for showing up and trying to improve themselves. They must also have trust that what I’m offering them will help them on their journey and the clarity to understand how it affects their “growth” in improving their horsemanship.

Most horseback riding lesson scenarios in today’s society have a delay in the timing or lack of quality in communication between instructor and student. Becaus the horse requires ongoing support, to help students learn how to improve their support, they need to learn how to be present every step of the ride.

Many students don’t realize the “process” it takes to create a working relationship with them. I never have a predetermined “we must accomplish this” agenda before we begin a session. Wherever the student is mentally and emotionally on that given day will influence how the lesson evolves.

My priority is to keep the human and horse safe, then to enjoy the experience. The more the student feels supported, the more they can learn. Too many times though even the word “lesson” has a negative association because of the one-way communication between instructor and horse. I can’t recall how many occasions I’ve sat on the fence watching lesson after lesson with the instructor literally repeating the same five sayings, (“head up, heals down, more, push him, good, etc.”) and always responding AFTER the student performed.

Another aspect I’m shocked at is how much the horse is IGNORED during the session. I know that sounds funny but when the instructor’s goals are predefined, "Everyone will work on x, y, and z today," there is a lack of consideration that their lesson agenda may not be appropriate for that horse at that moment in time.

I know there is pressure to accomplish a big feat each session. But what if the goal of the student was quality? Consider we spend a minimum of 12 years between elementary, middle, and high school on just the basics of human education. Why would we expect both us and our horses to “know it all” within a short 30, 60, or 90 day period? The famous “X” days of training, starting a horse, etc. always make me smile. The equine partnership journey is a continual, ongoing process and journey, not just the end result.

I truly believe more students would enjoy the “process” of educating themselves and their horses if they understand what, how, and why they were doing what they were doing. But too many times they have become “handicapped” for relying (literally) on the instructor for every part of the ride and have lost all ability to think their way through a ride.

So the next time you are about to take a lesson, audit a clinic, read an article in a magazine or watch a “quick fix” DVD on horse training, take a moment to really assess the quality of the information being provided. Is it clear? Is it appropriate for where you and your horse are at in your learning process? Did you both come away with a warm “fuzzy feeling” after the experience or was there a “blank” feeling of “never going to get it?”

Even if you don’t have years of experience with horses, trust your gut. Take care of you and your horse- he’s relying on you to make the best decisions for the BOTH of you! It’s okay to try different instructors, ideas, or philosophies to experiment with. Your top priority is to do what is best for you and your horse, even if it means stepping away from that “world-class trainer” or proven Olympian- trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and my horses are better for having had the ability to say “no.”

Horses that are difficult keepers

Some horses, especially the "hot breeds" (Thoroughbreds, Arabians, etc.) can be hard keepers- difficult to keep weight on them.  I find in most cases this is because they are extremely emotionally sensitive, the more worry, concern, or possibly even fear they carry, they less they are able to maintain an appropriate weight.
Other factors such as age, work schedule, etc. can also affect body weight.

If you find you have a horse like this, besides trying to address what is emotionally and mentally bothering your horse, you may also have to play with a combination of grass and alfalfa, or grass and weight gainers such as beet pulp, which will not make him seem so "high" due to his feed. Also depending on his lifestyle (pasture, with or without other horses, stall, etc.) make sure he not only has access to his feed without the fear of it being "stolen" from the neighbor, and all that he is current with his dental work so that he isn't in pain when he is eating. He also should be on a regular worming schedule.

Beet pulp, rice bran and corn oil are great ways to add weight without “heat” to the horse’s feed. I've had good results with Red Cell which is also an affordable alternative that has lots of nutrients to help maintain a hard keeper.

Here are a few signs that your horse may be suffering from dental issues:

• Abnormal bitting behavior

• Bad breath, halitosis

• Difficulty chewing (you’ll see large chunks of food fall out of his mouth as he tries to chew)

• Discharge from one nostril

• Headshaking

• Repeated bouts of colic

• Tenderness around the face

• Difficulty maintaining weight

Learning on your own- The Power of Video or Pictures

Well we are in the beginning stages of wrapping up another winter season here in AZ. The temperatures have skyrocketed into the high 80’s in the last few days and will keep rising until they hit anywhere from 115-120 degrees in July and August (no, that’s not a typo.)

The final schooling horse show of the season was a success in a lot of ways; many riders seemed to have started this season in a bit of “riding plateau” and by the end discovered a mental clarity within them and how they are working and interacting with their horse.

An interesting thought crossed my mind again as I was discussing/evaluating different performances of both my own students and those of other competitors. For many people in the United States who keep their horses on their own property, or live in remote locations, they do not have access to barns, get-togethers, clinics or regular lessons where they get to not only participate, but also WATCH other riders. For many people nowadays keeping a horse boarded at home is common and rewarding, usually allowing for much more time spent with their horse without having to “commute” to the barn. On the other hand this “seclusion” decreases the level of interaction the rider has with other horse people.

Take for instance a few of my jumping students. They are not aspiring to jump huge obstacles nor attend upper rated competitions, but they’d like to learn how to jump for the sake of variety and a new avenue to try with their horses. Yet, other than maybe “seeing it a few times” at some high end competition televised or in a magazine, they have no idea (visually) of “what it’s supposed to look like.” So many people nowadays rely on watching others to help them self learn.

In this particular case of teaching riders the physical position they need to be in with their upper body, seat, lower legs and hands on the approach to the face, while in the air, and then on the landing, the visual aid of being able to watch someone can help greatly. Keep in mind not all fellow riders may be setting an example, but even so, you can still learn what NOT to do too, by watching. I always encourage people to go and watch the warm-up arenas rather than the competition arena because many times you’ll see a lot more “real” riding rather than “pretty” riding due to a judge watching.

But, what if it’s not an option for you to watch other riders? Most people nowadays have a video camera or a digital camera. This is a great alternative to “barn life” and “regular” lessons. The awesome thing about digital is that it doesn’t cost anything to take tons of pictures. If you can rope a friend or family member into taking a few minutes to photograph or film you as you ride, you’ll then amazed at how much you’ll be able to “critique” yourself afterwards.

As you evaluate yourself don’t have “pretty” as the focus, rather effective. If you see in a photo or video that your horse isn’t performing as desired- start by looking at you in the picture. What are you doing? What else could you be doing? What did you think you were doing and is that what it looks like when you actually have a visual of yourself? Most performances in horse are a reflection of the partnership between horse and rider. Instead of focusing on what you could “change” about your horse- address yourself first. If you’re sitting crooked in the saddle, how can your horse move straight? If your hands are “dumped” down low, how you can use independent and effective aids to communicate to different parts of your horse if our body is moving as one? How can you ask your horse to perform, if you aren’t?

All too often, even with instruction, a rider will think that they are riding in a certain manner or using a specific aid. In their mind they feel like they are riding as they should, but when they actually see themselves with a form of physical evidence, the realization then sinks in as to how they are “really” riding.

I’m always amazed at how quickly people can adapt or change their riding “habits” once they have a clear visual on what they think are doing versus what they are really doing.

Give it a try- your horse will thank you for it! Sam

Word of the Day: Confident Horses

Confident Horse- Building a horse's willingness to try in unfamiliar scenarios without fear or defensiveness. Each interaction with the human should build his mental availability to address and search for what the person is asking of the horse. The more curious the horse is about what the human is presenting, the increase in his physical softness and reasonableness.

Arizona Ranch Remuda- Review by Sam

I just returned from a scenic five hour drive north of where I spend my winters to attend the 12th Annual Invitation Arizona Ranch Remuda Sale held just north of historic Prescott, AZ. Horses consigned were brought in from throughout AZ, CO, and NM. Beautiful weather helped set a fun mood for a crowd of at least 100 spectators.

If you’ve never been to a Remuda sale it’s a completely different experience from a “regular” auction. Even though the horses are being “judged” it retains a very relaxed feel. And I believe the “judging” doesn’t truly affect the potential buyers. Most buyers are ranchers and cowboys who know what their looking for in a proven horse or a young prospect and are not influenced much by the judging. Riders wear whatever attire they feel comfortable in horses- most look like they are about to head out for a day’s work on the ranch. Horses come in as if they’ve just been working on the ranch- there’s no worry about cleaning, primping or prepping like you find at many sales. The rider’s ages varied from eight (yes, eight) years old to late 60s, and horses ranged from coming three year olds to just ender 10 plus a few two year olds shown in hand.

I’ll give you a description of the day’s events and then I’ll break it down into an assessment of what I was looking for, seeing and came away with!

At 11:30 in the morning the horses were presented in hand and “inspected” by several veterinarians for soundness and overall health.

Then they are saddled and are individually showing their flatwork which included loping a figure 8- with either a flying or simple lead change. The horse and rider then demonstrated several “stops” from a high rate of speed, perhaps a few rollbacks, and then a few steps to show the beginning of a “spin” or the actual completion of a full spin. Then a calf is let out of a mechanical shoot and the rider demonstrates the horse’s ability to “drive the cow” along an imaginary “wall” of riders attempting to keep the calf separated from his buddies.

After a few times of (ideally) gently turning the calf back, the rider then drives the calf down the fence line in an attempt to show the horse working at speed to gain on the calf, get ahead of it, and then turn it back down the fence line. This may be done a few times; it’s up to the rider. They then build a loop in their rope and rope the calf, trying to show the horse’s ability to haze the calf, his comfort with being tied off to the calf, and then his ability to “drag” the calf- all things that would be asked of the horse in a “working” lifestyle. This individual demonstration would range anywhere from five to 10 minutes.

I tend to get frustrated watching many “mainstream” competitions whether it be English or Western disciplines due to the lack in quality of the horsemanship and the “holes” in the partnership between horse and rider. People in competition seem to get so focused on winning- with too many times the rider pushing the horse “at all costs” for a performance the horse may not be prepared for. As I tell my students, the show is not the place for TRAINING your horse and introducing new things unless you are using it as a schooling experience. The show arena should be a place that the rider and horse can confidently demonstrate their abilities. The show is also NOT the place to “try something for the first time.” I tell students they should be riding at a more difficult level comfortably at home, than the level they are planning to compete at.

So in the case of watching the ranch horses perform I was looking to see how these real life work horses “performed” in an arena scenario. Here are a few of the factors I was watching:

Rider’s skills (finesse, softness of aids, “quiet” hands/seat/legs, etc.)

Clarity of Communication between rider and horse- Was the rider just “suddenly” demanding things of the horse? Did the horse “know” the plan ahead of time because his rider prepared him for what was going to be asked of him?

Horse’s maturity- Many of these horse were young and I find for a lot of horses it takes a while for their mental and emotional maturity to catch up with their physical maturity

Horse’s work ethic- Where was the horse’s brain? Did he WANT to participate or was he tolerating what was asked of him?

Equipment- What was used on the horse, was it effective?

So now I’ll break down each part of the rider and horse’s performance using examples of riders who in my book would have scored ranging from a nine or 10 and at the bottom end of the scale, a two or three.

One of the best horse and rider combination of the day was the first rider out. The problem with this is that they set an initial “standard” – which I think many of the spectators didn’t appreciate until they saw some of the other horse’s performances and realized just how quality the first pair was. I like to tell students the more quality your ride, the more boring it should look.

What I mean by this is usually the “dramatic” ride is not a quality one. This first pair did exactly that. The rider came out with a big soft curve in the reins between his hands and his horse’s mouth. His lope circles displayed the horse’s soft body with him looking attentively around his circle, creating a light and balanced gait. His flying lead changes- which most riders incorrectly think “rushing” or gaining speed before asking their horse will help- looked almost slow motion and with just a slight skip in his step he’d easily switch from one lead to the other. You could see the rider tell the horse to prepare for the new direction, and not until that horse was committed to the new direction, did the rider ask for the lead change.

The quick stops were not “jammed” down the horse’s face with dramatic rein communication, instead you could see the rider again “tell the horse ahead of time” the stop was coming. This allowed his horse to prepare and softly stop with the majority of his weight correctly on his hindquarters and his top line relaxed.

On the other end of the scale, more horses than not, would look like they had the “emergency brake” pulled as they were literally slammed in the face for a “quick” halt. To me, that’s scary. The horses would stop so hard and so unbalanced, that they would “pop” forward a few steps to try and regain their balance from the abruptness of their “surprise” halts. The horse’s mouths would be bared open and gaping, trying to avoid the severity in which the bit was being used.

Because the first rider could ask the horse to shift his weight onto his hindquarters, the horse’s forehand was “light.” This allows the horse to easily move his front end around his hind- such steps are used in spins, quick and balanced turns such as what one would use in a rollback.

In other horses you could see where left and right (literally) still weren’t clear to the horse. There was no association with a certain aid from the rider having a clear meaning to the horse. This caused many horses to “push through” their turns for several reasons.

First, the horse never even looked to where he was about to step. Next, because he wasn’t looking, his weight wasn’t distributed in a way that the shoulder closest to the direction he would be asked to turn could step. So because he was unbalanced, he’d have to make the first step with the opposite shoulder- causing him to “walk out of” his turn. It would take two steps forward to achieve one lateral step. The “drag” that appeared in the horse’s response was due to lack of clarity. A lot of the young horses looked like they didn’t have a clue.

This is where there is a fork in the road in some philosophies in training. For me personally, no matter the discipline, I want my horse to be clear on left, right, forward, stop, back, moving portions his body independently, and having a sliding scale of the energy he moves with. This became very important to me after years of surviving riding “slightly out of control.” I was jumping horses over pick up trucks without having steering or brakes!

Today, whether I’m educating a green horse or re-education a more experienced one, I always start with the basics. To me, without the foundation of clear communication and the basics- it just typically becomes a fight between the horse and rider as the difficulty in performance is increased. If I don’t have these established “tools” to use when working with my horse, I don’t feel I am “armed” with enough options to help my horse, especially when he gets into an uncomfortable spot.

A lot more common theory on educating a horse is “wet saddle blankets.” This means that miles and miles of riding and surviving real life will give the young horse enough exposure that eventually he’ll “know his job.” I have a hard time with this theory because I find that there are very few talented riders who can still balance this theory with “helping” the horse as he learns.

More often than not, it winds up with the rider “pushing” the horse mentally and emotionally, until he physically wears out and “gives up” by not showing any physical resistance even if he is mentally stressed. To create this feeling in a young horse in my opinion can leave for a lot of years left of riding a horse that will absolutely do his job, but is mentally shut down towards the rider.

So it all boils down to what is the rider’s goal and his ability to balance that goal with his horse’s mental, emotional and physical well being throughout his education. In the case of this show, you could clearly see the horse whose attempts were “good enough” and those where the rider had prioritized clear basics.

So with the first horse you could see he had been taught to look (literally) to where he was going- again another way the rider can “tell the horse” ahead of time what the plan was. So between shifting the horse’s weight to his hind end, asking him to look, and then being able to move the horse’s body independently (hindquarters separate from the ribcage separate from the shoulders,) the rider could ask the horse to step his front end around his hind, demonstrate a quality spin.

You may be wondering why a horse needs to be able to spin if he’s working on a ranch. Well for the next part of competition, the horse had to be able to show his ability to turn back and sort a calf. If your horse isn’t watching the calf, he isn’t prepared for a quick turn that may be demanded of him in order to “cut” the calf’s movement. Take this a step farther would be when the horse is hazing the calf down the fence line, there has to be a balance in the level of energy and where that energy is directed towards that calf. The horse needs to be able to adjust his speed, movement and spatial pressure, which will affect the speed, movement and direction of the calf. This way the rider and horse can “influence” what the calf is about to do, rather than react to what the calf presents. Here of course you can imagine timing and finesse separates the mediocre from the quality horse and riders.

This ability then prepares the horse to be able to “softly” follow a calf at speed that is not being “driven” down a fence line, but rather is in the “open” and the rider has to rope it. Soft and balanced turns and lead changes are crucial to help set the rider up in the ideal position to rope the calf.

Once that calf is roped, the horse must be balanced to “sit” or sink his weight onto his haunches to bear against the weight of the struggling calf. The horse also needs to be able to quickly relax mentally and emotionally after the high speed “chase” as soon as that calf is roped. In real life the horse may need to stand on his own keep the rope tight against the calf, while his rider doctors, brands or cuts the calf.

Too many times we’ve all seen or experienced that horse that “once you get him going, you can’t get him relaxed again.” In a real life working scenario there isn’t room for that- the rider on the ground has to have full faith in their horse as their partner and “tool” to help bet the job done with as little stress to the cattle as possible.

The less educated or clear horses “sloughed” their way through their turns and spins, which was magnified when “real life” with the calf was happening. The calf would stop and turn back, and there’d be a delay in the horse being able to find his balance to turn back and move with the calf. That delay would allow the calf to get “ahead” of the horse, so then the horse would have to race at a faster speed to catch up. But because the horse was moving so unbalanced, the faster he went forward, the more dramatic his stops, the less balanced his turns. As you can imagine, it can quickly evolve into a chaotic and stressful situation.

This is the point when the rider’s emotions tend to interfere, and feeling the “pressure” of not moving the calf as desired, the rider winds up over riding his horse, causing more stress which never helps a horse’s confidence and certainly not his performance.

The other thing that was interesting was to watch how many horses only wanted to lope on one lead on their figure 8. But when they were hazing a calf or attempting to set up their rider to rope it, when the horse’s brain and attention was on that calf, the horse “all of a sudden” had no problem changing leads as necessary to follow the calf. That is such a great example of why I’m constantly asking riders to focus on getting their horse mental availability. If your horse isn’t thinking his way through the ride, everything presented appears to be a “surprise.”

There was an extreme case of that with one of the coming three year olds performance. As one rancher watching said, “that horse doesn’t even know there’s a calf in that arena.” And he was right- the horse was literally looking out over the arena at EVERYTHING except what he was supposed to be focused on.

The quality horses and riders always easily stand out, no matter the discipline. At this point I will mention that the first rider happened to be 12 years old. Yes, that’s right. I jokingly tell my adult students that if they rode with the intention and commitment that teenagers tend to ride with, so many of their horses would be clear on “the plan.”

On a funny note the calves won the “high jump” award of the day. As I mentioned there was a mechanical shoot that would let each calf out. I also mentioned part of working the calf was to show sensitivity to the “pressure” created by horse and rider. Well a few of those calves got real smart, real fast. They began to realize what the “routine” would be and by the time the rider would get to the roping portion, if the calf felt too much pressure, he aimed straight for the 4 ½ ft tall solid wall of the arena and would jump it- and clear it- to get back to his herd. There were only about six calves that were rotated through and about four of them had figured out an “alternative” to being roped.

I’ve always told my jumping students that cow could jump a fence three foot fence from a soft trot and that the horse did not NEED a lot of speed to clear an obstacle, it was all about balance of his movement when the jump was presented. The calves that proved my point!

So the return trip I played tourist in Prescott, which is home to the “world’s oldest rodeo”- although that statement has been contested several times. This was again another fun and educational road trip. Do you have a fun or unique horse event in your area? Let me know!Sam