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.