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 to reserve your spot in this informative and fun clinic! 
To learn more about Jackie and read her weekly blog, visit

 *Visit 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.