Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rosie Requested

     Years ago I was breaking and training horses for a well-known Appaloosa breeder.  I was thrilled to be working for her - little did I know she was having severe financial problems.  So, what to do?  I saw an elegant yearling running the field and decided to trade what was owed me, for her.
     I broke Rosie Requested who I called "Rosie" out as a long 2-year old and took her to her first schooling show with 3-months training.  It was in the spring and many trainers were there getting their horses ready to show at the breed shows.  Well, Rosie did very well - in fact, she was first or second in all her classes, some of which were huge!  She handled everything well, including the very crowded arena.  It's true, I kept her out of the worst of the traffic jams as much as possible but even so, she was just easy.  This was the start of the very successful show carerer of one of my all-time favorite horses.  We eventually showed her both Hunter and Western and she did equally well in both.
     I retired Rosie after a few years so that I would have more time for client-owned horses.  I think Rosie was 6 when I took her home and let her just be a "pasture pony".  When she was 10, I leased her to a client to ride as a Hunter and she had one last really great year.  I really liked this mare and I decided to breed her after that.  The result was a filly with lots of attitue and talent and a copper-penny red coat just like her mother's.  This filly is "Rosie's First Gold++//" - better known as "Tilly".
     Tilly is now a double National Champion Hunter over fences and a Reserve National Champion in Hunter Hack.  She continues to excel in her divisions. 
     I not only wanted to share my love of Rosie and Tilly in this story but more importantly, I wanted to point out that it takes a good mare to get a good foal.  The mare is more important than the stallion in my opinion and in the opinion of many great horsemen.  My advice is to breed the tried and true good ones, not the ones you don't know what else to do with.  See you next week and Happy New Year!  JD

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Time

     I don't know how all of my many readers think of Christmas but I thought I'd tell you some of my thoughts.
     Sure, I like the tree, the holly, love the food, and just have to make some homemade eggnog every year!  Just like most of you, I like the traditions surrounding Christmas.  Being around loved ones is such an important part of the holiday season for me.  I don't just mean family but also my many friends and people that I care about.
     Those of you who know me well know I am not a church-goer but Christmas to me is a celebration of Christ.  And, this means the sermon on the mount and the other teachings of Christ.  I think about Christ telling the people who would stone a woman, that he who had not sinned could cast the first stone.  I remember Christ's forgiveness and his acceptance of those who were different.  I think of his love for all.  I remember his kindness and tenderness towards Mary Magdalene and mankind.
     The world is full of so much hate and distrust, filled with many people who have malice in their hearts.  I am reminded of the words to the song "... and goodwill towards all men...".  Wouldn't it be great if we were to say that all year long?
     The horse world is just a reflection of the world around us.  So often there is unkindness in words and deeds.  Often we as an industry forget why we started with horses.  Most of us wanted a career in horses because we just loved horses.  Maybe if we thought about the "true" meaning of Christmas, we would remember that horses were our first love, not just a means to an end. 
     I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Winning Isn't Everything

     Goodness knows, I like to win.  I set goals and then attempt to achieve them and winning is a paramount goal.  And, let's admit it, winning is fun.  I don't think though that winning is all that matters.  Horsemanship matters, ethics matter.  In other words, how you achieve the win matters greatly.  Too often, the welfare of the horse is forgotten or is not even considered.  Could this be one of the reasons that membership in all breed organizations is down?
     For me personally, becoming the best horseman I could be was what and still is what matters most.  It is what I try to teach because horsemanship is not just about winning or even the techniques of training, it's about the whole wonderful subject of horses.  But, I do not state this in a romantic sense, I've been working as a trainer most of my adult life and certainly have a very realistic view of horses.  Dreamy visions of horses won't help anyone become a better horseman.
     You see, horsemanship is part art and part craft.  It is about understanding horse behavior and not just the obvious things.  It is about the mechanics of the equipment we use and it is the need to understand form an function.  Can a horse actually perform what you want it to do?  And, all the other ancillary subjects are important also, such as feeding, shoeing, general care, overall health and soundness.
     Horsemanship is trying to learn everything you can that pertains to your chosen equine activity.  I'm continually learning more and more.  I love to learn from other people in the business.  Ultimately, everything you learn comes together and helps you win the big ones!  See you next week, JD

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fresh Mouth

     Going to a fresh mouth is an old term used by very good horsemen to describe a technique that allows a horse to be more responsive to his rider.  It's a technique that enables a hores to "listen" better.  The end result is a horse that is softer in the bridle and is more consistent.
     A short while back, I was judging a schooling show and noticed rider after rider struggling with transitions, struggling to set up for the correct lead and struggling with just plain old collection.  Each and every time the horse failed to respond in the desired manner, these riders would just pull harder and harder and get more stiff.  The horses would respond by elevating their necks, noses would go root outward and backs would hollow.  Not a very attractive picture.
     So there are a couple of salient points here.  Firstly, when problems with the bridle inevitably occur, release the rein or reins slightly.  The horse will then soften his jaw.  This is called "going to a fresh mouth".  Then ask the horse to "bridle up" agin with a little more contact.  Repeat if necessary - each time releasing the pressure for a moment before asking again.  This keeps a horse softer in the mouth and encourages a willing response.  Secondly, this technique helps to prevent the rider from becoming rigid and unforgiving with their hands.    You now no longer have the unsightliness of horse and rider pulling and resisting one another and, a really cool thing happens: the rider can feel the horse and the horse can now feel the rider and the two can communicate!  (Incidentally, this technique works equally well with snaffles or curb bits.)  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Favorite Horsemen

     When I think about trainers and breeders that I really admire -  past, present and retired - I find there they have several commonalities.  They all share traits that make their horses successful no matter what the breed or discipline and they all have an image in mind of what a good horse is, which is very important.
     These talented men and women have a deep understanding of universal horsemanship principles.  Some of which are basic but have many long-term ramifications.  Other principles are more complex to understand and implement but just as important. 
     The people I admire have also each produced quality, trained horses for many years regardless of ever-changing fashion and styles.  As a fellow trainer, I can understand how they have achieved the level of training with their horses.  A quality training job is not a mystery but takes years of learning to accomplish.  We must all keep up with and be current in our chosen breeds and disciplines but what disturbs me sometimes are people who mindlessly follow fads. 
     All of us who have trained have bought equipment that didn't work out and tried things we didn't like.    No replacement for "wet saddle blankets".  I'm reminded of a cartoon where the guy has a horse trussed up dozens of ropes and pulleys and says "I'm working on his head set".  The people I admire understand that there is no magic bullet.  (And one piece of advice on this point: don't try something if you don't fully understand the technique and process, and remember that some things just may not be appropriate for you and your horse.)
     Horse training has been developed over centuries.  If you're looking around for horsetraining ideas, look for methods that are rooted in tried and true techniques, ideas that reflect a sound understanding of horses as individuals and as a herd.  When working with horses, we are part of their herd.  All the horsemen I admire understand this.  See you next week, JD.
    
    

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It Takes Time

     Training any horse takes a period of time.  First, their foundation must be secure.  Then add layer to layer, never progressing faster than your horse can comfortably absorb.  The training process has to be about bringing out the best in your horse.
     If you take time, good things can and do happen.  Firstly, you can truly assess your horse's personality and his ability to do the job.  Secondly, you will not become their adversary.  On the contrary, your horse will probably learn to enjoy his work (assuming he has the aptitude for it).  Remember, horses are achievers and good working horses are bred to work.  Take the time to find out what your horse is able to do and likes to do.  Don't force it, don't try to make a reining horse out of a hunter pleasure prospect, etc.
     And don't forget to take a little extra time to vary your horse's routine.  It really helps them learn and keeps them fresh and interested.  I like to ride them outside whenever possible, both in the outdoor arena and just around the ranch.  The extra bonus is that you will both enjoy the diversion!  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Smoothsational: a little bay mare.

     I want to tell you about a mare I once owned and trained named Smoothsational.  I bought this mare when she was two years old and broke her out myself, which was easy.  I showed her successfully for two years or so and really enjoyed riding her, then I leased her to one of my students.  For the rest of her working life she was leased and successfully shown by my teenage clients.
     This little AQHA mare did everything.  Hunter, Western Pleasure, Equitation.  She did Showmanship, Trail, Western Horsemanship and Western Riding.  She was also good out on the trails.  She loved horse shows, always jumping in the trailer to go.  She stood patiently for her many baths, even when it was cold outside.  And, she never minded being clipped until the very end of the season came - then enough was enough!
     I called this mare Sadie.  She loved her job and won at everything she did.  When the horse show days were long, she'd just take a quick nap and be ready to go again whenever asked.  I used to laugh because she would eat anything the kids were eating, even bologna sandwiches.  She took everything in stride, never worrying or fretting.
     Truth be told, Sadie was a quirky mare.  Anyone involved with Sadie needed to know and respect her quirkiness.  If Sadie had a halter on (preferably with a short catch rope) she was the nicest mare you'd ever want.  But when she was free, she was hell-on-wheels.  She loved to spin around and kick with both back legs when turned out.  Sadie would only be caught on her own terms.  She always had a sense of herself and the devil take the hindmost when she was "free".  And yes, I did try to break her of this but it was to no avail.  We even tried roping her but that did no good, she was too smart.  Sadie was her own horse.
     Yet, I have never had a horse with a better work ethic.  She knew her job and loved it.  She also knew when she was free and loved that as well.  Sadie was one of a kind.  She always took good care of whoever was riding her and I allowed her to be her own inimitable self.
     Sadie was just one of the horses I considered myself priviledged to have trained and worked with.  When I decided to retire her, I found a really good home for her and she is much-loved by her owner.  She has a wonderful life.  It was my way of thanking her for all she did for me.  See you next week, JD

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Simple Joys

     For me, one of the simple joys in life is watching good horses doing a good job at what they are trained and bred to do.  Horses that clearly enjoy what they are doing and exhibit beauty and athletisism in their movements.  Horses and riders working together as a total partnership.
     This brings such pleasure to me.  Watch these fine horses in whatever discipline they do, whatever it be: Trail, Reining, jumping (I particularly love to watch good Hunters), dressage, Western Pleasure or whatever.  Horses working cows, whether it be cutting or working cow or roping, are also some of my favorites. 
     Broaden your interests out a little and it will make your whole horse experience even richer and better than it already is!  See you next week. JD



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Responsibility

     I've been thinking alot about responsibility lately.  There are all the obvious aspects that we all know, such as getting up in the morning and getting your work done.  Responsiblity to yourself, your family and so on.
     But I'm thinking about how we do things with horses and the horse business in general.  Every day the way we do things in public and private affects the way we, as horsemen, are perceived.  I think being responsible horsepeople means seeing a bigger picture.  Considering everything with the thought "is this the image we want people to remember?"  Can we sustain a way of doing business that encourages, not discourages, new riders?
     So often, I hear about incidents that make me question the ethics that were involved.  Was a person sold a horse that was really right for them?   What about the new owner's goals?  How about the horse? If the horse fails with his new owner, what happens to him?   When a horse is intentionally overpriced and misrepresented, not only is it dishonest but the whole industry suffers for it.  Taking horses and riders where they are not prepared to go or somewhere that is just plain out of their league, is a good way to make a lasting bad impression and permanently discourage people.
      People will definitely and justifiably complain about being unfairly treated.  It may take a while for them to realize what happened but when they do, they will feel angry and bitter.  As professionals, it's imperative that we advise people wisely and consider their own needs ahead of our own.  This is a heavy responsibility.
     There is so much discussion about the lack of new people becoming involved in horses these days.  We must remember how many really cool and interesting things there are for people to do with their free time and recreation budget.  So let's start thinking about repercussions.  A horse sale must be good for everyone involved, not just the seller or trainer or coach.  Let's be responsible to our clients, our horses and this industry that we love so much.  That's the way to grow this industry, and we will all benefit.  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Spring

     As I start this blog, I want to say that many of the topics I discuss here often come from conversations with my students and so is the case with this short topic.
     One rarely hears the concept of the horse's body as a spring.  This is a shame because it can be a very helpful training concept.  Think of compressing a spring with both your hands, holding with just enough pressure so that it is contained.  The amount of pressure determines how tight the spring is.  Then release the spring gradually - I teach my students to release this spring slowly and softly, allowing the horse to relax but not to "spring" out of its frame.  A horse with good confirmation will learn to stay collected.  Remember the spring actually over-collects the horse and the release is what allows the horse to go into the desired frame.
     This concenpt of collecting a horse is very useful for riders who struggle with collection.  It can also improve the quality of a horse's gaits.  It can be helpful with spins and flying lead changes and sliding stops.
     I should mention that this would should be done in a snaffle.  A good combination is snaffle, cavesson and martingale.  Draw reins can be used if needed but my advice is to use as little draw rein as is absolutely necessary. 
     As the horse progresses you can put him in a light weight, flexible training curb bit such as a correction bit.  Ideally, a bit with medium shanks that are not straightened and are not solid and have a soft mouthpiece.  I am not fond of mullen mouth pieces because of the pressure on the tongue.  Many people mistakenly think these are soft bits but the softest part of a horse's mouth is his tongue.  So, while mullen mouth bits are easy for a horse to accept initially, they can be very harsh when doing the type of work I have just discussed. 
     See you next week!  JD  (P.S. and to all of you who asked for more:  See! I am talking about bits again and will have more later so keep on reading!)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Teamwork

     I like team sports.  What interests me most about them is figuring out what allows a group of different people to join their talents and make it all come together to achieve a goal.  So, I try to apply what I've learned to my business - the business of building teams with horses and people.
      I really enjoy helping people learn and understand their horses and learn the skills needed to ride them well.  I like putting horse and rider together and making them a team.  I like to make the whole process make sense.
     My clients have made me the successful trainer I am.  Without them I could not have done it - no trainer does it alone, it's always a team effort.  I believe in confidence but not in overblown egos.  So, when all is said and done, it is about my students and their horses, not about me.
     One of my great joys in life is watching students ride horses I have trained and knowing they have become a team.  That they are now working as one towards their goals.
     To all of you over the years:  thank you!!  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thoughts on Success

     I've worked with many clients over the years and it has been interesting to observe the ones who are successful in their equine endeavors versus the ones who flounder.
     I think that it is very telling that almost always, the person who is successful in one area becomes successful in whatever else interests them.  These people are not easily defeated, are very adaptable and believe in themselves and their horses.  And, if the partnership with their horse isn't working out, they move onward and learn from their past experience.  In short, they don't get stuck.  Successful people are positive people and that reflects in their horsemanship.
     I have also observed that these people take things in stride.  In other words, they realistically deal with situations, evaluating as they proceed.  They are not afraid to change something, they understand that one must evaluate and re-evaluate as you go forward.
     These people also have a capacity for hard work and are very dedicated to the tasks they have chosen.  They have goals and stay focused.  If necessary, they will make sacrifices to achieve those goals.  I hope you find this subject as interesting as I do.  I truly believe what we do in one part of our lives affects all other parts.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, October 7, 2012

More About Bits

     A short while back I mentioned in a blog that if a horse was properly broke to the bridle (curb bit) you could easily ride the horse one-handed in a snaffle.  So, I want to talk a bit more about this.
     Many people seem to thing that a curb bit hardens a horse's mouth but that isn't necessarily so.  After a horse has been put through the stages of making him a "bridle horse", they are often much better in the snaffle.  Why is that, you ask?
     When a horse has been properly trained to the curb, his mouth becomes educated.  The horse learns to respond and softly yield.  As this process proceeds the stiffness a horse naturally has to a bit gradually dissipates.  What is really interesting is that when you work with a horse that really accepts and understands the curb bit and is carrying the proper one for him (maybe I should write about that too...), you can do anything with the curb that you would do in the snaffle.  Now this takes some time but it is really worth it.
     If your horse is well broke, you should be able to pick up a bridle rein individually and place his head and neck and shoulder wherever you need to.  The horse should respond by moving in that direction softly and dropping down in the bit (not pulling).  It's good to remember the basics, one of which is that the rein controls everything in front of the withers.  We can reinforce that rein, if needed with our leg because we've taught the horse to move away from pressure.
     Hopefully this helps some of you get a better handle on what we mean by the term "bridle horse".  Talk to you next week!  JD

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Believe in Your Horse

     We often hear discussions about believing in ourselves as riders, as competitors.  About having confidence and faith in our abilities.  This is so important.  Without that belief we cannot accomplish our goals.
     That being said though, there is another side to this discussion that is often ignored.  Belief in your horse.  If you have partnered with a horse that is suitable for its job and likes what it is doing (very important!), a horse that is well trained and prepared physically and mentally (showing confidence) you now are ready for the rigors of competition.  The final piece is believing in your equine partner.  This is the frosting on the cake. 
     You are a team and must perform as such.  If you don't have confidence in your partner, he can not and will not perform to the best of his abilities.  When you believe in your horse as well and as much as yourself, your personal confidence will increase and everything just gets easier.
     One of the gifts of riding good horses is what they can do for us.  But firstly, we must care for them to the best of our ablities.  We must respect them for the amazing athletes they are and, of course love them.
     Lastly, we must believe in their ablilities and talents.  In their willingness to do their job well.  Believing in your horse equates with being proud of your horse.  So ride with price - you and he deserve it!   See you next week, JD.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lessons Learned Long Ago

     The Pacific Northwest has always been home to many fine and respected horsemen.  That is true in part because we have drawn talented people from all over the U.S., Canada and even England.  One of the many fine trainers was a gentleman from California, Tony Garcia.  Now Tony influenced many, many western trainers in this area.  Those of us who have been around for a long time still talk about him.
     A little background about Tony Garcia is probably in order.  He had been taught in the old vaquero tradition and could take a horse all the way into the spade bit.  An art that in those days was still admired.  He was an all around western trainer, competing in pleasure classes, reining and cutting events.
     I was not personal friends with Tony but being the generous person he was, he kindly advised me on several occassions.  He and I had many mutual friends so I had occassion to meet him many times over the years.
     There are two very important things I learned from Tony.  One is: if a horse is properly broke to the bit, you can ride him in the snaffle one handed as if he were carrying a bridle.  When in a bridle (especially a lighter schooling bit) you can and should do any excercise you have done in the snaffle.  I see too many people, especially on the Arabian circuit, who ride the snaffle and bit completely differently.  That is most definitely not in the western tradition.
     The second thing I learned, many problems some way or another go back to the bridle.  Poor back-ups, poor transitions, bad stops, head tossing, inability to "neck rein", not responding to one handed riding and more - these are just some examples.
     As I continue to write this blog, it is my hope that you, my readers, will ponder these thoughts and ideas.  Many things I may bring up may be new or just a different way of seeing a problem.  My perspective comes from many years of training and many years of observing some of the finest trainers.  Especially western trainers.  I believe the quality of training in general has never been higher and that these top trainers have all been influenced by the great trainers and horsement of the past.  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Things I Believe

     Honesty and integrity go without saying.  Ethical behavior must be paramount.  Here are some additional things I believe.
     I believe in taking care of your old clients, those who have become dear friends, first, not last.  Not putting them on the back burner while you pursue new prospects.
     I believe the horse and its welfare must be my primary concerns.  The horse must always come first.  This is how I was raised, this is what I believe.
     In general, not having a private agenda that only or primarily benefits myself.  I believe in a path that is in everyone's best intereste and I most certainly believe this is possible.
     I believe in trying to reach everyone possible.  I don't like nor endorse exclusivity in the horse business.  It's not just about the 1% or 10%, but about everyone.  Furthermore, I hate favoritism of any kind, both of people and horses.  Yes, I have horsees that I truly loved over the years, but I don't care for them over overs.  In fact, I make a point to concentrate on the horses that are struggling.
     I believe horses are the most magnificent and versatile and beautiful athlete in the animal kingdom. I started training horses because I loved them for what they are.  I did not start out because I only wanted to win, but rather to become the best horseman I could.  It's been a very long road and I've learned so much.
     I believe that in becoming a true horseman we can become better people.  Horses do this for us just naturally.
     I believe that the best teacher is the horse himself.  You must learn to watch and listen.  The horse will teach you if you are willing to learn.  I don't believe in dumbing down horsemanship.  It's a lifelong pursuit and an art that has been developing for over 3,000 years.
     I believe in giving back to the horse community.  By this, I mean helping others in the horse business.  Amateurs as well as other professionals, especially those that are starting out.  Many wonderful trainers helped me along the way and I want to do the same for others.
     I believe in thinking things all the way through before proceeding.  I have always trained by using a thoughtful process.  It's easy to act before you understand the causes, often times you will never know but you must try to understand something through the horse's perspective.
     Most of all, I believe in conducting my personal and professional like in a manner that reflects well not only on me but also on my family, my friends, my clients and the horse business in general.  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sounds in the Barn

     I can tell by just listening how a horse is being worked.  So the other day I was in my tack room and I could hear my good friend Dian Morris working with a horse.  She was teaching this horse to "square up" and what a delight it was to listen in.  Now I know this training session sounds simple and yes it was but the cool thing was the manner in which Dian worked.
     I would hear the deliberate sounds of Dian working the horse.  The sounds had a cyclical or almost ryhmic quality to them that I liked so I left my tack room and went out to watch.  Dian worked the horse with quiet and confident authority.  She manuevered the horse by a series of blocking moves, appropriate cues and discipline when needed.  Thus the horse was worked efficiently without undue fuss and bother.  Incidentally, I dislike unneccessary energy when working with horses as I think it's very distracting for them.
     Another thing I liked was the fluidity of motion and movement that Dian used.  This a mark of quality horsemanship and horses respond very well when worked in this manner.  She also made every move count all the while being completely consistent in her cues.
     Dian and her husband Mo show a lot of wonderful examples in their work, of how top horsemen can train a horse without a lot of the unneccessary commotion that I often see.  They make it easy for the horse to understand what is being asked of them, all the while reinforcing the basics the horse already knows.
     I like always to be positive in my comments about horsemanship but I feel I must point out that some of what is being touted today as good horsemanship is definitely not.  Some of the current methods are poorly thought out or based on old wisdom but being used in a manner that's misunderstood.  The thorough understanding of where and why some ideas came about is being lost or taken out of its original context.  It's a pity that some of what is being taught today is more about making it easier for the human than about teaching the horse. 
     In good horsemanship, the horse must always come first, then everything else falls into place.  Good horsemanship can help you with everything else in your life so if you get a chance to watch good a good horseman who has a solid background work a horse, do it.  Hopefully you will find it enlightening.  One last thought, every good horseman I know, including myself, love to watch other good horsemen work.  See you next week, JD.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trying out new Horses

     When looking at unfamiliar horses, whether as training prospects or to purchase for a client, I have a very specific mental check list I go through:
     First, I like to see a horse in his stall (if possible) and also observe how he reacts to people around him.  I particularly want to watch him being groomed, saddled and just handled.  I would like to see a horse that is ready for work, likes his handlers and is just A-okay with everything around him.  In other words: not worried or anxious, nervous or angry.
     Next, I like to see a horse lounged.  This gives me an idea of overall soundness as well as an insight into his personality.  Is he quiet but playful?  A big plus as I really like playful horses.  Is he well mannered, not charging around but waiting patiently until his handler is ready to start.  Does he exhibit a frenzy of energy (not a plus, but definitely okay).  I must add that I like energy and I'm not fond of lazy horses since they can become sullen.  I will question though whether the energy level of the horse matches the work the horse will be asked to perform.
     Personally, I really like to watch the horse's owner or trainer ride him.  This gives me a more accurate idea of what the horse "knows" and what he can do.  Also, I can see if I like the way the horse looks under saddle, the way he carries himself and see more of his general demeanor.
     Last, I will ride this prospect myself.  I like to just gently flex the horse around and see how he feels in my hands and how he reacts to me.  I'll move him off my legs, make him bend and turn this way and that. I'll then go through his gaits one by one, all the while observing his reactions to me.  Is he cross or unsure, or is he willing and confident?  I really like to gently prod him with my spurs and just, in general, try to find out if he's tolerant to being trained and asked to do things that may be slightly different (just slightly at this point).  I do all this slowly and in a manner that should be easy for him to accept.  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Coming Home

     After a big, important show, it's always good to reflect on what has just happened.  I like to look back and see if I would have changed anything.  Were my final presentations good?  Were my riders well prepared?  Were they confident (very important!)?  Did I keep everything orderly and running smoothly (equally important!)??  How about the little details like did everyone get enough sleep and get to eat sometime reasonable?  How about the trip itself - was it without mishap (yes!)??
     I believe all these factors make for a  successful show.  I can't control the judges' decisions or a child jumping up and down in the stands, and I certainly can't control the weather, but I can make darn sure I cover all my bases before the trip and during the show and then get everyone home safe and sound.
   And yes, Canadian Nationals was a very good show for us again this year!  I am proud of my riders, my horses and frankly of my work as a trainer and coach.  It's an honor to show and compete with such great trainers and horses - I can't wait to do it again next year!  See you next week, JD

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Keep on Advancing

     If your training doesn't continue to advance and you don't see improvements then you are stuck in a rut so to speak.  Horses should continually improve, even when they're old campaigners, because there is no such thing as a static condition, in other words, there's no such thing as "done".  If you don't improve you will only go backwards.  Not to mention that every year things get tougher out there as some others do improve and new competitors hit the scene.
     Opera singers, dancers, musicians; they all practice all the time and are continually improving but often I see riders who are satisfied to just continue along happily without looking for ways to improve.  No horse is perfect and left on their own, horses will start taking short cuts or the easier way to do things, not the correct way.  So, in being vigilant you will find it's easy to also improve.  Many times these are just small things but the small things add up and soon you'll find your overall performance is better.
     Many riders just aren't conscious that training is a constant, evolving process.  It's part of what makes training horses so interesting to me.  I also always have an image in mind of what I want a horse to become, I think this is important. 
     I was riding Joanne Salisbury's gelding "Ex" the other day and realized he was giving me the ride I had always visualized.  Boy was that a thrill!  We got there by never staying static, never saying "this is good enough".  Let me be clear here though:  I'm not talking about individual rides, I'm talking about looking at the long view.  Looking at the top of a steep mountain and saying "I want to go there", so that day by day you get a little closer to your goal.  You and your horse will be challenged and you will become a better horseman for it!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Just Standing Around.

     A helpful hint and a really simple but excellent thing to do with your horse is to just sit on him, relax and enjoy wherever you may be at the time!
     Horses need to be able to relax with their riders and just chill out.  It gives their minds a nice break.  It also is good for a horse to be put to work, take a break, then be put to work again when he may think it's time to back to his stall.  Standing around can prevent the anticipation of the end of the work session.  This really helps horses that will be taken to shows.
     I like to see horses that know how to relax with their rider and take a break.  These horses tend to show well as they can take little snippets of rest and be refreshed when put back to work.  I also never, ever, run my horses out of air.  Their reward for working hard is to catch their breath, usually at a walk, then with a standing break.  This also helps prevent lameness and gives the rider time to assess the work that has just been performed.
     One last benefit is that I find horses and riders learn to enjoy each other more when given these opportunities to "just stand around".  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Balanced Ride

     We talk a lot about the need to ride a balanced horse, and justifiably so.  But often we neglect to talk about the need for the rider to be centered on the horse.  A centered rider is balanced and thus helps a horse become balanced also.  Together they become synchronized.
     It's very easy to make a horse's job more difficult that it needs to be.  I'm always seeing riders leaning this way and that and the disturbing thing is that they mistakenly believe they're helping their horse by doing so.  The horse must then not only balance themselves but must try to stay in balance with their ungainly rider.
     Leaning in turns, pulling downward on the reins, leaning back in a stop or back-up and leaning into a spin are just some of the examples I see of interfering with a horse's balance and making his job more difficult.  It also makes it impossible to teach him to be correct in those manuevers.  Other obvious faults are leaning forward when loping, not sitting down in the saddle, having more weight in one stirrup than the other, and my favorite pet peeve is riders leaning over the side to check their lead or diagonal. Remember, your body will always follow your head so stay centered!  If you must check leads, learn to do it looking down between your horse's ears or even better, make a real effort to "feel" your leads rather than look for it.  And relax, a stiff rider can never truly "feel" their horse nor can they follow a horse's action and a stiff rider will never be in complete balance or unity with their horse. 
     Sometime, watch a really good hunter rider take their horse around a course.  You'll see a centered rider who is allowing their horse to perform to the best of the horse's ability.  I love to watch my friend Angie Wilson ride Rosies First Gold ++/ ("Tilly") around a hunter course because they are a balanced rider and horse combo.  You can also watch any "working western" class with good horse and rider combos and you will see centered riding.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Play Time

     I've noticed some people, pros and amateurs alike, seem to be reluctant to allow their horses play time.  If you notice, many times when horses are turned out by themselves, they do not play.  There are many reasons for this but often they are just in need of a playmate.
     Joanne's National Trail Champion, gelding SS Ekspresev +// or "Ex", just loves to buck.  I mean really hog it, head between his legs and just letting go for all he's worth!  We absolutely always let him get it out before a ride.  Even if he's just been turned out, we lunge him in as big a space as we can and even chase him to encourage him to buck (his favorite "play").  When he's done, he's ready and willing to work.  The old timers I grew up with called this "gyping", as opposed to "lunging".  In other words, playing instead of working - horses aren't stupid and I believe they understand the difference.  I never expect a horse to work who hasn't had a chance to play first.  This includes ground work as well as riding and it makes for a much more trainable horse.  I've seen horses that are "broncy" under saddle for no other reason than they need to get their playfulness, which manifests itself into bucking, out of their system. 
     I hear lots about horse behavior but never hear about their playful nature discussed.  What a shame!  These are the best all-around athletes in our world.  Many of them really enjoy showing their abilities off.  When in the herd, healthy, relaxed horses do play just for the pure joy of it.
     Give a playful horse a chance - let 'em play!  Remember that often he just needs a little encouragement from you.  I think you'll enjoy his antics and once he's through, he'll be ready to concentrate on his work, giving you a better ride.  See you next week, JD   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

One Step at a Time

     While having dinner with friends the other night, I was asked a question about a horse that is frightened when it is being mounted but then rides just fine.  Since this is a newly acquired horse there are some "unknowables" about its past experiences.  What struck me the most though was my friend's rush to solve the problem.  This causes the horse to feel rushed which is never a good thing.
     When problems occur, my philosophy is that it's always best to go back to the simplest, most basic points.  Perhaps this horse was never properly "sacked out" or maybe the horse has been accidentally kicked with the rider's toe when being mounted.  It's hard to know without watching the horse but whatever the cause is, going back to basics is always part of my basic maneuver.  In this case, if that means just standing in one stirrup for several days (meaning stepping into it and out of it repeatedly) then so be it.  Take your time and don't go onto the next step until the horse is completely comfortable with the first step.  One step at a time will save you untold problems in the future.
     Horses can overcome their fear of most things if the issue is properly approached and desensetizing never ends - it's a life-long proceess.  Here's an example:  I was handling one of our best broke horses ("X-man") the other day when he became frightened of the neck warmer I was removing.  The cause?  I did it outside the barn which is not his normal routine and not where he's used to having it removed.  So, I talked gently to him and patted him soothingly.  I put the warmer on and took it off again until he was comfortable with the action.  Next thing you know, the neck warmer was off and he was confident and happy about the removal.  My point?  Think about what's really bothering your horse.  If you look, you'll probably find it - always try to see the world the way your horse does.  You'll be amazed at how much it helps you understand what's happening - and remember:  One step at a time.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ballroom Dancing

      I've been at Devonwood in Oregon for the past several days with our Hunter mare Rosie's First Gold (aka "Tilly", now 2012 Region 4 Champion Working Hunter 3'3"-3'6" and Champion Hunter Hack) so this blog is a little shorter than usual since I just got back in the door and have to change my own "tack" in a hurry to get back on the road with the Trail horses in time for this week's Region 5 Championship!          
     Watching Angela Wilson ride Tilly though makes me think of watching a wonderful dancing team.  Ballroom dancing is not my forte but I like watching it and I always equate riding with dancing.  Horses are our partners (yes, I know - I'm always harping on this!).  When this partnership is achieved it is amazing, wonderful and even joyful to experience.  And, it's great to watch a good team work (or dance) together.
     I tell my students it's like dancing a waltz.  You lead and they follow.  It's very much like listening to music and following the rythym, you don't need to count beats, just feel the "music".  Sometimes I have my students close their eyes, release the reins and ride.  It's lovely to see them relax and learn to trust and feel on another level (and obviously we don't do this on "hyper" or green horses and only in an enclosed area with supervision).
     Good horse and rider teams can make difficult things seem effortless.  A subtle communication between horse and rider.  To me, this brings horsemanship to a level of art.  The art of horsemanship should be every horseman's goal!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Those Pesky Walk-Overs

     Proper walk-overs in Trail can be a difficul manuever but well worth the effort they take to master.  Before you start though, you have to make sure the horse is comfortable walking over poles, secondly you have to be able to work with a loose rein and third, your horse must be ready to give to the bridle. Good walk-overs must be in stride.  This means you also have to teach your horse proper striding (1.5 to 2 feet between poles).  Remember that each individual foot must step between the poles - you can't skip over a pole.  While doing this, make sure the horse doesn't rush, especially after the walk-over.

     Teach your horse to drop down his head and follow the rein as it lowers (this is why the horse must give to the bridle).  Good Trail horses should drop their heads and look at the ground like a hound following a scent.  They should do this without poles or grain or treats, just on cue.  My cue (which is standard) is to ask for the bridle, lean forward (exaggeratedly) while bringing my hand forward and dropping the rein down.   Later, combine all the pieces of a walk-over you've taught your horse.  I absolutely teach each part separately and then combine them when the horse is fully confident with each part.
    
The finished Trail horse should be able to do raised walkovers and complex turns in and overwalkovers all while his head is down and he is seeking the poles.  He should stay in stride even if there is a empty space or long stretch between poles.  He should be able to do all this and execute turns on the forehand within the poles as well.

     A finished Trail horse should also exhibit style and expression no matter whether its his first class of the day or his last.  Walk-overs are beautiful when done properly.  Watch a good Trail horse at your next show and see if you don't agree!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ring-sour Horses

     Are ring-sour horses re-trainable?  This question often arises and is difficult to address because there are often so many contributing factors involved.  To accomplish this goal of retraining, you must establish why the horse is ring-sour.  The list of causes could go on and on, but here are some common causes.
     Was the horse consistently sore when shown?  Does the show saddle fit properly?  Was the horse allowed to aniticipate the announcer and anticipate reversing and lining up?  Each of these can cause a variety of misbehaviors.  Was he always allowed back to his stall immediately after leaving the class?  Is the horse used to and accepting of his show bit?  Is the class and the work the right fit for this horse?  If the horse is anxious about showing, does he have ulcers?  Many show horses do.  Are you riding the horse the same at the show as you do at home?  Have you kept his routine as close to his barn routine as possible?  Are you - his rider - nervous?  And, if you show a mare, are there hormonal issues at work?  In short, there are many things that can contribute to a horse becoming sour in the show arena.
     I don't believe all horses are "fixable" nor do I believe all horses make good show horses.  That being said though, yes some horses and perhaps many horses can be turned around and even learn to like showing.  But I most emphatically do not believe that the answer lies in taking the horse home and "just" turning him out to pasture (which is good for any horse - I always turn my horses out before and after a show).  Simply turning the horse out for a period of time though won't cure the underlying problem(s) alone.
     You must tackle each of the issues above one-by-one to find the cause or causes.  Usually there is more than one problem but I like to start with the physical issues first.  Is the horse sore?  Maybe he has been just worked too hard at the show, maybe put in too many classes (a typical error of amateurs).  Sometimes horses start misbehaving because they are sore and tired.  Take the horse to a schooling show and work with any bad show ring habits.  This will also give you a baseline for evaluation.  Be sure that whoever is riding is calm and quite and assertive.  And remember most horses need to be exercised before they are worked at a show.
     There are some things that "wind" horses up and some that calm horses.  For instance, some horses don't do well being loped in a crowded warm-up arena.  Some will not relax if you work them in small, tight circles.  There are some suppling exercises that when done carefully, can really help a horse relax in his back and neck.  Develop a warm-up routine that helps your individual horse.  Just because something works well for one horse, does not mean it is right for your horse.  Treating all horses as individuals is one of the most vital keys to success. 
     I work closely with my veterinarians.  Any issues I have are thoroughly discussed with them.  Soreness, excessive nerves, mares coming into season at shows, suspected ulcer conditions should all be discussed with your veterinarian.  There are many vets who specialize in performance horses and they should be consulted.  It is my firm believe that a successful show program is due in part to good veterinarian care and good farrier care.
     One last word: horses don't become ring-sour overnight.  This behavior develops over time and usually is a combination of several factors.  Everything is interconnected so try to find the underlying problem and then work your way through the other issues.  Be patient and be methodical and often you can have great results.  See you next week!  JD

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Announcing the 2012 Jackie Davenport Trail Clinic!

   Jackie w/ 2011 Cdn Natl Trail AOTR Ch SS Ekspresev +//

Saturday, July 21, from 10am-3pm at Eagle Mountain Ranch,

Arlington, WA*


Don’t miss this opportunity to spend time with National Champion trainer Jackie Davenport.  Jackie’s instruction and concepts on Trail have put horses in the winner’s circle on the Arabian, Paint, Morgan, Pinto, Appaloosa and Quarter Horse circuits for over 25 years.  Her 2012 clinic will include:
·         Winning concepts for all level of horse and rider: beginning, intermediate and advanced
·         Hands-on work and critique over a wide variety of fun obstacles
·         Demonstrations by National Champions VP Midnitestranger +//, SS Ekspresev +// and others
·         Bonus gift to the first 35 to RSVP
·         Light snacks, water and soda provided

Price:  $100 for horse & rider (per horse), $75 for non-riding auditors.    RSVP now to jacandjo1@hotmail.com to reserve your spot in this informative and fun clinic! 
To learn more about Jackie and read her weekly blog, visit  www.jackiedavenport.com.

 *Visit www.eaglemountainranch.com for directions.  A limited number of overnight stalls may be available, please contact Eagle Mountain Ranch directly for any stabling arrangements.




Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Soft Mouth

     So often professionals toss phrases and sayings around without any explanation – for example what do we mean by a “soft mouth”?  I personally believe it’s hard to define everything one is trying to express during a lesson, when sometime’s there’s just too much going on all at once.   So, over time, I will discuss and define some of the more common phrases I use and hear.  I hope this helps some of you.
     A horse with a “soft mouth” is responsive and not afraid of the bit or pressure from the bit.  A horse with a soft mouth doesn’t chew and gnaw on the bit or overwork a roller with his tongue.  (Rollers in bits don’t necessarily achieve what some riders want.  This is not to say that rollers aren’t a good thing with some horses.  Rollers are meant to help a horse keep a wet mouth, not pacify a nervous horse!)  The horse’s mouth should be wet, not dry.  The mouth should be softly closed, not clamped shut or gaping and opening.  He should be soft in the poll and also soft on both sides of his jaw.  And, the horse should easily and willingly follow the rein around (this includes: up, back, and right and left). 
     A Western Pleasure horse should work off the bridle, driving up to the bridle, then dropping of the bridle and carrying his own frame.  A Hunter Pleasure horse should have light contact.  All horses should be light in the bridle, relaxed in the neck and carrying themselves in the manner appropriate to their work.  For instance, Western working horses have a shorter rein than pleasure horses because of the line of communication between rider and horse needs to be quicker as required by the demands of the class.
     When a horse has an educated but soft mouth, the rein becomes a cue and the contact with the bit can become very light.  This is a lovely thing to achieve!  (and speaking of soft mouths, here's a picture of our Rosie's First Gold - aka Tilly - 2011 Cdn Natl Champion Working Hunter).  See you next week!  JD

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hauling to the Show


As I get my horses and clients ready for the next show, I think about things that can make the show experience much more pleasant. Being prepared is of the utmost importance so here, in no particular order, are some of my suggestions to help you be better prepared for a fun and successful show season:

· Make lists. I make very detailed lists of everything I want to take to each show and I categorize the items needed.
· Check any supplies and tack you may keep in your trailer.  I keep certain items loaded in the trailer at all times but I always do a quick check nonetheless to make sure nothing’s been used up or moved.
· I like to make sure the trailer is clean and in good working condition.  I’m particularly concerned with things like mats being flat, vents and windows working well, screens being in place and not torn, mangers and hay bags clean and not musty and snaps and hinges working smoothly (I give mine a blast of WD40).
· If you’re wearing last year’s clothes, make sure they still fit properly and comfortably (especially chaps, which some of my clients find mysteriously shrink over a long winter!).  Check out the fit of your boots and don’t forget that belt!  If you have a new hat, break it in before you show.
· Western hats should be shaped and cleaned before and during show season.
· Remember to take copies of registration papers and membership cards in case for some reason, the show secretary needs to see them. I personally also take the appropriate rule books with me so if I’m in doubt of anything, I can refer to them.
· Practice in your show equipment before the show so that you are very comfortable with everything from your hat to your reins.  Turn the stirrups in Western saddles if necessary and remember that your horse needs to be comfortable in his show tack as well.
· Clean your equipment and make sure nothing needs repairing.  If Western is your thing, be sure to pack a supply of assorted Chicago screws.
· Allow for plenty of travel time and time for you to set up and rest at the show.  Most importantly, allow enough time for your horses to settle in.
· I personally prefer to clip at home because I believe it reduces a horse’s stress but I always pack clippers and fresh, sharp blades and wash so I can tidy up my horses before they are actually shown.
· If your horse is an inexperienced hauler, practice loading and unloading several times before the show.  The day of departure is not a good time to find out your horse won’t load or unload!
· Whether you’re hauling near or far, it’s important to make sure your truck is in good condition.  Are the tires carrying the right amount of air?  How are the hoses and clamps?  Have the wheels on both the truck and trailer been lubed and the brakes checked?  I take my trailer in annually for maintenance and safety checks and I stay current on my truck’s maintenance as well.
I hope these tips help you have a happy and successful show season!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Leadership

     I recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C.  The city is full of monuments, museums (all free!), statues, parks and all kinds of public art.  It is also teaming with Greek-revival architecture which constantly reminds one of our debt to the Greeks and the Republican Romans.  The city holds many, many things to make me think and ruminate on. One thought that keeps coming back to me is the value of leadership and what true leadership means.  Of course, I'm interested in how that applies to professional horsemen like myself. 

     I believe that we must set an example in all horse-related activities, and not just by our words but by our actions as well.  To lead by example sounds easy but it can be very hard.  We must always be aware of the consequences of our behavior.  We must set a high standard of conduct, one that encourages the public to trust us.  What better way to bring new people into the sport of horses and interest them in our areas of expertise? 
     I believe the public is crying out for examples of good ethics from caring and responsible professionals.  When people put their trust in us, they must be confident in our honesty, integrity, knowledge and skills.  To be comfortable in the trainer/client relationship there must be trust and respect.  Respect for our skills but also for our honesty and ethics as well.  We as professionals set the standard not only for oursleves but for the entire horse community as well!  See you next week, JD

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Long vs Short

     One of my personal favorite classes has always been Western Pleasure so I'm delighted when I'm asked for help with this event.  Since we do mostly Arabians, I was helping someone with a half-Arabian recently and the discussion got around to length-of-rein.
     People seem to be overly concerned with length of rein.  There are currently two thoughts on the matter:  drape vs light contact.  I believe that framing the discussion around rein length is misleading, what makes a good Western Pleasure horse is self carriage.  Self carriage is taught through collection,  riding the horse up into the bridle.  When a horse can truly carry his frame, the cues can become very subtle.  The horse does not touch the bridle nor does the rider, which allows the frame to remain unchanged during transitions.  The horse can then go around the ring in an easy, consistent and effortless manner.
     The reins are a line of communication.  A shorter rein means a shorter communication.  That's why Trail horses and Reining horses are usually on a shorter rein.  The classes are much quicker with shorter amounts of time and distance to make transitions that are also more difficult than Western Pleasure.  But a longer rein that's appropriate for Western Pleasure allows a horse to listen attentively to other cues (all well trained horses learn to do this) but it's about degree or amount in Western Pleasure.  That's why Joanne Salisbury's horse VP Midnitestranger +// ("Wes") carried a longer rein in Western Pleasure than in Trail and Western Riding.  Incidentally, he also carried a different bit in Western Pleasure. 
     The longer rein in Western Pleasure means the horse needs little help from his rider and that is what makes Western Pleasure so special.
     I don't think the quetsion is soft contact vs long rein but rather how much drape a horse can handle and still carry himself well.  And remember that confirmation is a very big factor in this as well as a horse's overall confidence in himself.  Western Pleasure horses should not be "hand ridden" but should carry themselves in an easy manner, exhibiting beauty and quality of movement.  The best horse in the ring is not necessarily the horse with the longest rein, but the one going along in a collected and soft manner with little help from his rider.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Preparing for a Snaffle or Hackamore

     Today I'll talk about working with young horses.  It will be easier for you to make progress if you remember that your ultimate goal is to make a riding horse.  Most people understand that a trained horse moves away from pressure, but I find that many people forget that this applies to the bridle as well as the body.  You can go a long way in helping your young horse accept the bit if you teach him correctly from the ground.
     Before you ever put a snaffle in a horse's mouth, you are handling and working him with a halter.  Now let me explain, a halter is not just for containing your horse, if it is fitted correctly, it applies pressure points to the nose and the poll.  When using these points, one can teach a horse to stop, back up, stand still, turn and pivot, come forward, even help with sidepassing from the ground.
     The point is to use the pressure points so that the horse has a basic understanding and acceptance (big point!) of yielding to pressure before you put a snaffle or "side pull" on.  Now you've not only taught the horse a maneuver but helped him to understand the basic bump and release of the snaffle.
     When foals are born, their first instinct is to nurse.  To accomplish this they must use their nose to bump to bring the milk down so a horse is "hard wired" to move his nose into pressure.  Our job is to teach him to give to the pressure of the bit.  This is especially important if you are planning on eventually riding your junior horse in the hackamore.
     Make sure when you are working your horse that you are preparing him for the lessons he needs to learn later on!  See you next week, JD

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Keep on Showing

     When helping a client learn the ropes of getting a horse shown, one important lesson I emphasize is: no matter what happens, just keep on showing.  If something goes wrong in a class just get your horse back together and continue to ride, keep calm and keep showing in a dignified manner, as if nothing has occurred.  Continue to exhibit confidence and coolness, showing off your horse in the best possible way.  Don't tell the judge through your actions that they just missed seeing something - because for all you know, maybe they don't know!
     This is important for several reasons.  First, you don't know what the judge has actually seen.  Even if the judge appears to be looking right at you, he or she may really be looking elsewhere.  You also never know what else is going to happen during the class or maybe has already happened.  You may not be the only one having trouble.  And, lastly, if a judge likes your horse, they may really want to use it somewhere in the placings.  Maybe your 1st becomes a 3rd but you must keep showing your horse to the best of your ability.

     Another word of advice:  try not to get emotional, because "stuff" happens to everyone.  Just keep riding and don't give up.  Judges are judging horses, not a riders' feelings.  If you are disappointed or upset, try not to let it show but just keep on riding.  Remember, you'll have more classes to come so make the best out of any not-so-good situation.  Many times things can really turn around and a poor start can have a great ending.  You also never know when you may show under that particular judge again so make his or her memory of you as good as possible.  Be pleasant and enjoy the horse show.  Win or lose, it's all a great learning experience!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Giving Them a Good Foundation.

     I've recently been working with a newly born foal.  This filly is friendly and unafraid, and her mother is watchful but not worried so my work with her has been an easy and pleasant task.
     With help, I've been putting on and taking off her halter and asking her to move a step or two towards me, starting with asking her to move her head towards me to the left and then to the right side.  I ran a long rope around her butt and gently tugged on it, encouraging her to move forward. 
    I think it's important to talk about how this relates to a young horse's early career under saddle.  When I ask this filly to move her head or take a step, I gently bump then release, giving her time to respond before I gently bump again (and it's helpful to move her towards, not away from, her mother).  Never, ever, do I just pull on the lead or the butt rope.  In handling her this way, she doesn't fight me and her reward is that I leave her alone, not putting pressure on her nose and poll again.  She gets a little break, then I go through the routine again.   I only work with her for a few minutes at a time because I think it's very important to remember that foals this young have not developed any attention span yet.
     Now, this lesson is key because all horses naturally want to move their noses into pressure.  That's how they bring the milk down to nurse.  This bump and release is all the more necessary for them to learn and if you're considering riding your young prospect in a hackamore, it will make it easier for your horse to understand what's being asked of him.  All horses must learn to move away from the pressure on their nose, but it's especially true of junior hackamore horses. 
     This is a good lesson for you as well because you will be learning skills needed to ride in a hackamore.  You can do these early lessons in a manner that discourages resistance and encourages yielding.  Starting your foals this way not only puts you far ahead of the game, it helps to make the next lessons, including the all-important tieing lesson, that much easier to learn.  See you next week!  JD  (P.S. I'll talk more about my work with this foal later.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sad Day

     We had a horse at the barn that had suffered a significant and ultimately "unhealable" injury.  His accident happened three years ago and we have never really known what happened.  We suspect that another horse stomped on the outside wall of one of this horse's front hooves.
     We really tried to help this horse but the hoof never grew out properly.  In the injury process, he had blown out the whole side of his hoof, leaving nothing to support the laminae.  This, in turn, caused the coffin bone to severely rotate and you get the picture.... 
     We always took care of this horse as if he were still showing.  Grooming, clipping and all the good basic care and husbandry that entails.  The horse was brave.  He had a big heart - and so did his owner Jessica.  Every attempt was made to keep his quality of life to as high a standard as possible but unfortunately, this brave horse's condition continued to deteriorate and he also began to founder in his good front hoof too.
     Even with the best of care we couldn't get him stabilized, so then what?  This is the really hard part of horsemanship.  To find the right thing for a struggling horse.  Everyone has to find their own way through this dark and difficult valley.  No one wants to see an animal suffer and when it is hopeless, it seems to me the most humane answer is euthanasia.  Horses in the wild do not die quiet, easy deaths - make no mistake, there is no such thing in the world.
     So, with the advice of our veterinarians, farriers and me, Jessica made the brave decision to "put this horse down".  It was the right thing but for her and everyone who knew this horse, the hard thing.  When people truly love and respect an animal (his beauty, athletisism, talent), this is the kindest gift and ultimately the most selfless act. 
     Talk to you next week, JD.