Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Practice Ride

     A worthwhile practice session is so valuable but, unfortunately a bad session is very counterproductive.  It really does no good to just ride around willy-nilly or practice doing bad circles etc.  If you're only in the mood for a trail ride, go on a trail ride but, if you're ready to get some work done, make sure you're practice time is well spent!  Here are some tips to help you have a productive and meaningful ride:
1) Be mentally ready before you ride.  Stop thinking about work, the kids, or your commute.  Focus on your horse! 
2) Be present and alert.  Be sure you are not reinforcing bad habits while you ride. Remember, every time you ride your horse you're either training him - or untraining him!
3) Make sure you are relaxed and not stiff.  A stiff rider is an unfeeling and unyielding rider.  Being stiff makes it nearly impossible to communicate with your horse.
4) Be self critical and constantly evaluate yourself and your ride as you practice.  Again, don't practice bad habits!  Ride with high expectations of you and your horse. 
5) Before you ride, make a mental check list of things you need to work on and plan to focus on during your ride.
6) "Practice" in your mind before your actual ride.  Think about proper techniques that you've been working on with your trainer or coach and how you're going to achieve results using those techniques.
7) When riding, always assess how your horse is going.  If things are going well, make a mental picture of what it feels like so you can repeat it (or vice versa if things aren't not so good).
8) I believe in emphasizing the positive so, when working with your trainer or coach, make a mental "stamp" of that good ride you just had.  Break it down piece by piece so you have a complete memory of it.  When you're practicing, focus on that memory.
9) If something you're practicing isn't working, go back to a simpler move or a maneuver you know you and your horse can do.  Build back both of your confidence then decide whether to try the difficult move again or perhaps even wait to try it with your trainer or coach.
10) Ask yourself how you and your horse can improve.  What could be better?  Make good use of your time and there will be rewards!
I hope this helps you during your next practice session!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Just Hanging Out

     Riding a little.... then watching others ride.... then talking about the ride..... then riding some more...... what a great experience for both older and younger horses.  Working, then just hanging out, then working again is especially good for the younger guys!
     I love to just sit on a horse when I teach because they start to really relax.  Maybe I demonstrate something here and there but the horse doesn't get a chance to wind up and worry.  And, it sure helps with those horses that get sullen when put back to work.
     Riders benefit greatly from helping each other so I also love to have my students demonstrate skills they and their horses excel at during a group lesson.  What a confidence builder!  Students can really learn from each other and it can start valuable conversations about horsemanship and training.  It makes everybody think about what they are learning.
    Now, I'm not talking about big group lessons with everybody just riding on the rail and doing the same thing.  My concept works best with 3 or 4 riders, including the trainer.  I like to have riders and horses at different levels in the group, for instance, an intermediate with an advanced and very advanced students. 
     I always work with my people one-on-one even during those group lessons so there are nice breaks for everyone in between.  This simulates shows - the "hurry-up and wait" when you have classes that are scheduled so close that there's just not time to go back to a stall or, the wait between Trail classes.  Another really good thing about this is how it removes the temptation for students to either override their horse or just get off (be done) too quickly - it's just not there because they're watching, learning and then maybe demonstrating something themselves.  It keeps everyone fresh.
     Also, horses benefit from riding and just hanging out with other ridden horses.  When they go to their first show, these guys just don't care about the line up at the end of the class.  If they get crowded a little, well it's ok it's a lot like like hanging out at home. Again, this all goes back to your horse having good social skills and being confident working and waiting around other ridden horses.  Hope this helps you!  Talk to you next week, JD.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Courage, an everyday thing!

     There's been so much written about courage - important stuff, from people like JFK to Stephen Crane - but I'm thinking about every day courage that relates to just about everything you do in the horse world.
     Here are some of my thoughts....
1) Don't be afraid to admit mistakes because if you don't make mistakes you'll never get anywhere.  Training is not a perfect process.  Neither is learning, not for you - or your horse!
2) When things aren't going well, have the fortitude to simply start all over again (no whining allowed!).
3) Be yourself.  Don't try to ride like somebody else.  Everybody rides a little differently, that's the beauty of it all (or the art of it all, I think).
4) Be courageous occasionally and think outside the box.  Be innovative - it can be liberating.  Every horse is different and you must find the appropriate way of reading and working with each of them.
5) Be honest with yourself and others.  Now this takes real courage!  You'll be a lot further ahead if you don't try to be all things to all people.  What I'm saying here is: don't lie about expertise you just don't have instead, listen and learn.
6) Do your difficult chores or ride your difficult horse first.  Ride that difficult "son of a gun" first thing - just get it out of the way.  You'll appreciate your other horses - or your work - so much more!
Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Dad

     My dad had a lot of wisdom, just really good horse sense.  Some of it came naturally (he was a gifted horseman) but most of it came from observing horses and thinking about what he'd seen, also from working with them.  I have spent my life time learning how it all comes together and it's true: your best teachers are always your horses.
     My dad was a strong believer in watching horses in a herd, which he had many opportunities to do.  But, he'd also just watched one or two horses together whenever the opportunity arose.
     For many reasons valuable show horses are often turned out in single paddocks, and often times rather small ones at that.  Because of this, many horse people don't get the opportunity to observe horses interacting with one another.  (I might add that I believe horses that have been in small, managed herds are often more confident when first being shown or when first working around other horses.)
     A good place to start observing horses is on a breeding farm.  Those good old broodmares are very wise about "horsey manners".  My advice to any serious horseman is to learn all you can about how horses behave towards one another.  Watch and observe them together any time you get a chance, like my dad did, and it will help you understand your horse better.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! I'll talk to you next week, JD

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tough Going

     Sometimes you go to a horse show and nothing seems to go right.  To make matters worse, the judge isn't placing you well, or even worse you can't even get a ribbon!  You get discouraged and maybe just quit trying so hard.  Believe it or not, sometimes this isn't a bad thing because when you start to relax, your horse gives a big sigh, so to speak too, and the two of you may just start working better together.
     Often, that's when things begin to turn around.  Horses start showing better, riders ride a little better, and maybe the other horses in the ring start to tire and suddenly you're back in the game.
     My advice is not to get upset or angry when the equine gods throw you a tough show.  Just keep showing and see how things turn out.  Worse comes to worse: you can have a great schooling experience. 
     When a show is going against you, use your time in the ring to practice being relaxed and not trying "too hard".  Wait for the transitions just a little longer, work on making your horse life his shoulders and collect up a little more and work deeper in the corners than you might have and, ride a longer route into the line-up.
     I believe that staying positive (but realistic) is the key to success.  If you need a new horse, move on!  If you and your horse just need to improve though. then get to work - whenever an opportunity presents itself. 
     If you have a good horse, don't lose confidence in him or yourself just because the equine gods aren't smiling on a particular performance.  Take things in stride (pun intended!) and soon things will improve.  It may take a show or two but it does turn around!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Is it Really Fear or Just Faking it?

       We all think we know what an honest-to-gosh spook looks like but sometimes looks - just like spooks - can be deceiving.  
     Remember that healthy horses feel incredibly good, better than you or I will probably ever feel, so all that energy and joy of life has to go somewhere.  Thus, "the spook that really isn't".  It's a playfulness that I love to see but personally don't enjoy riding.  What to do?
     Turn-out and longeing and consistent work are easy answers.  Look too at what you're feeding your horse - horses don't need a high carb diet (period!).  Also, too much protein can be a problem.  Some horses just can't tolerate alfalfa and, excessively sweet feed is not good either (though I do feed some horses a little grass chop which does have crude molasses in it).  Sometimes altering diet alone can really change a horse's behavior. 
     I always let my playful horses really play on the longe line before I put them to work.  I see people who don't want to take their own time to longe or if they do, may be reluctant to let their horses kick up their heels and shake their necks and really play before they get down to work.  Some people have the mistaken belief that a horse who "broncs" on the longe line will by "bronc-y" when ridden.  That is definitely not the case. 
     Horses that have too much energy are just not going to listen to their rider, their minds will be on everything and anything else.  They'll "spook" and "scoot" and no amount of trying on your part will change that situation.  They cannot focus until you let them get that energy out of their system.
     Sometimes too, "fake spooking" is actually a horse's way of trying to evade their rider and evade their work.  This is a very learned behavior so it's best to put these guys right back to work after a spook - no coddling!  I definitely will get after them for this using my spurs or crop for discipline.  I like to work these horses more in each single session.  I want to put them away a little tired - not exhausted because that can cause a horse to "hate" their work but I definitely want them worn down.  If they have the stamina and I have the time, I may even work these horses in the morning then again for a shorter period in the afternoon - I'll definitely work them at least twice a day at a show to make sure they're able to focus when I need them to.
     So, management is again the key.  These playful horses take more time but often they learn to enjoy working and their energy can be used in a positive manner.  Many of these horses go on to become really good show horses or whatever their job will be!  Hope this helps you deal with your playful horse!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


     To truly "connect" with your horse, you must be a team.  By that, I mean the two of you have a "job" to do and it is done in partnership. 
     Whether you do Western show discipline or jumping or ranch work doesn't matter, the point is that you and your horse do something together that requires you to "depend" on one another.  Your horse needs to be trained to a level that he knows his job and knows what's expected of him.  The horse then learns that you - his rider - will stay out of his way and help him do that job. In other words, you trust your horse and your horse trusts you, it's a two way street.  Both horse and rider rely on each other.
     Now, this doesn't happen overnight.  Just because you "fell in love" with your equine purchase doesn't mean you just suddenly become partners.  Nor does admiring your horse do it.  You must become a working unit together.  It takes time for horse and rider to get to know one another and trust one another.  The process can be challenging at times but stick to it because the rewards are really worth it!  One last note - partners must each do their part, your part includes making sure your horse is suitable for the discipline you choose.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Turning 65

    As many of you know, I just turned 65 and I'm glad to say it's truely, really, no big deal.  I'm so excited about the things on my horizon, the horses to be shown, new places to go, new roads to travel and new people to meet - my life is all about the future!
    Horse people always are looking to the future and I think this is so positive.  How many people do you know that don't look to the future?  Don't go into winter planning the next year, or the next season?  So many people can't even see their future but, for horsemen it's only a show season away.
    Being involved in a lifetime passion is one reason why I am so glad to be a horseman.  A true horseman is dynamic, always changing, always growing, always preparing.  Isn't that great?!  What a wonderful life!!  Happy birthday to me, and thank you all for your kind wishes!  Many, many more to come and I look to a future filled with many more show seasons! Talk to you next week, JD    

Sunday, October 20, 2013


     We all owe so much to great breeders and the great trainers that have gone before us.  We also owe much to the farriers' skill and the veterinary science that has been developed in the past (and can you imagine what is yet to come? - wow!)
     From my earliest memories as a serious horseman, I have watched and studied the horsemen I admired.  I counted myself among the priveleged few to have this opportunity.
     We recently lost a wonderful horsewoman, Dian Morris.  Dian was not only a fine horseman but a lovely person.  She was a credit to the industry.
     We have many fine older horsemen that have so much to share and give.  Their knowledge is temendous.  I really urge all of you to find these living treasures and get to know them - some may live right near you, like Dian.  Take the time to get to know then and by all means learn from them.  We will not have them forever!
     I love to get these men and women talking about the horses they knew and have trained, and shown.  I like to hear all about their careers and equine experiences.  I always come away with an increased appreciation for these horsemen who, so to speak, lighted the way for the rest of us!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Back and Stop

     All good trainers understand the relationship between the back up and stop and how those two separate maneuvers can help everything else.  But many amateurs do not.  Partly this is because they don't have a thorough understanding of either.
     My intention here is not to tell you how to train but to discuss what makes a good stop and a good backup and why they are so inter-related and how they can help you with your overall program.
     So, let's start with the stop.  The stop should be soft, with the horse bending in the poll, relaxed in the jaw and finishing the stop balanced and soft in the knees and slightly round.  I don't let my horses jam into anything, especially a stop.  I personally like to see a horse have a moment to respond to the cue to stop.  Quick stops are very hard on a horse.  Take a beautiful long slide - that is not a quick stop. 
     Sometimes in Trail however, we have to do a very quick stop from a lope in a very short distance or a confined area.  Over time these can cause a horse to stiffen into the stop if you don't work with them carefully.  It may sound odd but to keep this from happening, I always do quick stops "slowly" giving the horse a second to react and balance but if they don't listen right away, that's a different matter and I'll correct them.
     Now, about the back-up, it too should be soft and fluid, balanced and a little round.  See, here's the similarity.  If you have  nice stop, chances are your back-up will be nice and vice versa.  I like a back-up that has a definite cadence - no dragging of hooves or slushy movement.  As my horses learn, I gradually add speed.  Be warned that if you add speed too quickly, the back-up will lose cadence and softness.  The back-up definitely helps the stop but the stop will help the back-up, a concept many seem to miss. 
     All this is based on a horse that not only "gives" to the bridle but is relaxed while doing these maneuvers.  When you lift your hand, your horse should drop down into the bridle and lift his shoulder - ideal for stops or back-ups.
     After a stop or a back-up, when done properly and nicely, your horse should be ready for a good transition into whatever gait you choose next.  Hope this helps!  See you next week, JD

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bringing The New Horse Home

     When you purchase your new horse and bring him home, there are some things to remember....
Firstly, horses figure out pretty quickly that they have a new home.  Even horses that are seasoned haulers and are used to being put up in different stalls at shows seem to realize that this place is different - is more permanent.  These seasoned guys know the show routine but a new "home" is not the norm.  The young or unseasoned horse just goes "wow, where am I now??".
     So, this sets up responses and reactions you need to be prepared to deal with.   Everything from a scared horse to one that must show off to all his new buddies.  Most show horses just take it all in stride but even these troopers are probably a little tense though you wouldn't know it by looking at them.
     I try to make everything relaxed and calm for any new horse coming to its new home.  I create an easy environment for them to adjust to. 
     Many horses are not worked for two or three days which I think helps them settle in during this new period.  I always have hay in their stall and give them lots of it.  Then I ease them into their grain and supplements slowly.  Remember that horses won't colic from hay but they can colic from the combination of stress and grain.  I probably won't give a new horse grain for another two or three days after a move.
     When I turn them out, it's in a secure fenced area (no hot wire) and preferably with a calm horse in the nearby paddock or corral.  I also put geldings near geldings and mares near mares.
     When I work the new horse for the first time, I like to longe them for a while - just an easy exercise to get the kinks out.  No bitting up or expectations, just an easy work with time to look around.  Then, when I get up on them for the first time, I make sure to take plenty of time with them and ask them to softly bend around, giving and relaxing to the bridle.  I make sure the first few sessions are nice and easy, not adding to their stress.
     I find that this all makes for a very successful and easy transition.  We humans need to remember that not every barn or trainer or owner is the same.  When everything's different, a little time and patience can make for a much better transition!  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Long Haul

     I recently returned from Canadian Nationals, which many of you know is in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.  Each way is about a 1,400 mile haul for me so, I thought I'd write about how I like to make such a long haul a success.
     First of all, I make absolutely certain that my truck and trailer are ready for the trip.  The truck always goes in for a lube and oil change and while it's in the shop I have the mechanics thoroughly check out everything else. 
     They check the hoses, clamps, tires, fuses, electrical system - just everything.  If there's anything even questionable I have it replaced.  Are the batteries good, are fluid levels ok?  Are the transmission and radiator coolant systems ready for the mountains and long days?  I check and recheck my tires, making sure they have the proper amount of air for a full trailer and, that the sidewalls and tread are up to my expectations.  I do the same with my trailer tires.  A flat tire in the mountains of Alberta or the middle of the prairie in Saskatchewan is not in my plans!
     Not only do I want the truck and trailer in great shape, I want the horses to arrive in great shape too.  I put the horses on some sort of ulcer medicine before the trip and make sure they're re-shod just before we leave.  I like to increase their feed too before a long trip so that they start out a little on the heavy side.  Not really fat but just a little extra since horses tend to lose weight when hauling.  If I have a poor drinker, I start them on electrolytes in their water before the trip and continue while traveling to encourage them to drink.
     We bed the trailer pretty deep to cushion the ride even more as well as to keep the road heat out.  I put in enough shavings to allow for a clean-out at each night's stop without having to add new but I take care not to bed it so deep that it will bank up as the horses shift during the drive.
     Now, everybody does things a little differently but I like to make sure I can get to my hydraulic jack and basic tools if need be, even when the trailer's stuffed to the gills.  I also like to make sure I can very quickly get to my lead ropes, lunge lines and buckets.  It's a good idea to haul with some basics for your horses too.  Your vet should help you with this but I like to have some Dex (for bug bites or stings, which unfortunately came in very handy this year!) as well as Bute and Banamine and some real basics like leg wraps and bandages.
     We absolutely do not make any unecessary "people stops" on these long hauls.  No lingering lunch stops and no sight-seeing.  The horses come first, not us.  We stop for fuel and a very quick pit-stop which gives the horses a chance to re-position, urinate and rest for a few minutes.  We humans grab a quick snack to eat on the way and take our own quick pit stop but then we're back on the road. 
     I also find that horses don't drink much, if any at all, when stopped so we just get back on the road.  I personally don't haul with water buckets in mangers, I think it's too easy for a horse to get hurt but I do ensure they always have hay in front of them to give them something to do on the long haul.  And, I never unload until we get to our destination.  I just do my best to get to that night's stop as quickly as possible so the horses can have a real rest and maybe a roll and eat and drink in relative peace before the next long day begins.
     Everyone has their own way to haul but I feel very rewarded to have traveled tens of thousands of miles without a flat or a breakdown and to have a show string of horses that still jump in the trailer day after long day and arrive at the shows (and back home again) healthy!  I hope these ideas help you plan your next haul.  Talk to you next week. JD  

Sunday, September 15, 2013


     Believe it or not, horses are not for everyone!  Sometimes, they're not even right for people who really admire or "love" horses.  As I watch horse shows and other competitions shrink, and I observe that all major breed registries are down, I can't help but wonder if maybe this decrease was inevitable. 
     The first thing that comes to mind is that this "horse show thing" is only for workaholics (yeah, you know who you are!).  It's not for people who want to quarterback from the couch or those who are afraid to work hard and get dirty and tired, and possibly even, but hopefully not, hurt.  It also takes a good deal of money and time which means that most of you must work, work, work and then spend all your vacation time at horse-related events.  And, it means that someone like me must make a life-long obsession into my life's work.
     I truly don't think all people have the right personality to be horsemen.  Some people don't want to work hard enough and others just don't have the skill to become competent around horses.  One must learn "horse sense" and some people just can not learn to read horses at all.  Yes, it's a learned skill - like a second language - but trying to learn this at an older age without being around a variety or horses can be very difficult. 
     All that said I think that with the right coach or trainer, AND with a suitable horse, AND with an attitude and willingness to get dirty, get tired, get sore, AND all rolled up in the patience it takes learn to read horses and ride horses, many more people could enjoy this sport we all love so much!  Talk to you next week!  JD

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Old School

     As those of you who follow my blog regularly know, I believe in the old school - the very old school!  I believe that horse shows are about horses and that horsemanship is paramount. 
     The concept of showing horses was not developed simply for people to have a good time or even for competition as an end unto itself.  Horseshows were developed to further the breed, whatever breed you may choose to promote.  Shows were developed as a way of displaying the talent in horses and along with them - their riders.
     Sometimes I worry that we've lost the basic concept altogther though.  Yes, I like to have fun and I most certainly have lots of friends on the show circuit, people I'm always happy to see.  And yes, I like to win too, but we must be careful not to forget why we are really competing.  It truly is not about us and shouldn't just be for our recreation, it must be about the HORSES.
     Horsemanship in all aspect has been developed over thousands of years and we are a part of that development, part of a continuing stream of advancement.  You and I are an important part of this as we show our horses and promote their talents and abilities, and as we breed to improve the next generation. 
     Always appreciate your time with your horse, always give him the best care you can and, work on your own horsemanship so you can fully develop his talents and abilities - in or away from the show arena!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sportsmanship: The Unseen Benefits!

     I've had the priviledge of becoming friends with Ahna and Scott Bowman of Bowman Sport Horses.  We truly enjoy each other's company as well as competing with one another and that's what, I think makes this commentary interesting.
     We talk a lot abour sportsmanship but I doubt if many people are sincere.  Hypocracy seems to run rampant in the horse show world but sometimes there really is good sportsmanship.  Ahna and Scott, Joanne Salisbury and myself became good friends with each other by showing against one another.
     They own an oustanding mare called Lady Loria and Joanne owns Rosie's First Gold (Tilly).  These two mares have beat each other going back and forth for years.  We truely admire Lady Loria even though she beat Tilly and when Tilly beat Lady Loria, Scott and Ahna were complimentary right back. 
     One time, Tilly came out Reserve Champion with Lady Loria beating her once again.  I believed the better mare - that day - had won the day but I was taken aback though when Ahna said "that mare can ride in my trailer anytime".  She was sincere and complimentary.  A good sportsman and boy, did that make us feel good!
     The competition between the mares and our barns continued and our friendship grew from a few sincere words to respect and friendship.  Joanne, Angela Wilson (who shows Tilly) and I have come to love and respect the Bowmans as friends, good sports and competitors, and we know the feeling is mutual.
     Good horsemen respect one another and respect good horses no matter who wins on any given day.  Respect then makes it easy to be good sportsmen.  Improving your horsemanship will improve your relationships with fellow competitors because as you learn you will come to respect their work and as your horsemanship improves, they will grow in their respect for your work too.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Partnership: *Simeon Shai and Ron Palelek

     Many of you know from reading my Facebook page that the great stallion *Simeon Shai recently died.
     *Simeon Shai was one of the most extraordinary and famous horses in the Arabian breed and will go down forever in the history books.  His achievements have never been equalled and Shai himself was without equal - absolutely no debate about that.  I believe he was the most beautiful and perfect stallion this breed has ever produced and the judges throughout the world agreed.
     But, Shai did not accomplish his feats alone.  His training, conditioning, management and showing by Ron Palelek was unequalled too.  The conditioning program Ron undertook with Shai still ranks among the best of any breed.  In my opinion, it was right up there with that of great race horses.  Let me explain.... 
     Shai and Ron traveled to Scottsdale, Canadian Nationals and US Nationals (winning all) and shortly after US, they flew to Paris where Shai broke the record books as he went on to become World Champion Stallion at Salon du Cheval that December, the first and still only stallion to win all four shows in one year.  The Stallion class in Paris was by far the largest ever held.  I might add that the Europeans threw every horse they could at Shai and Ron and, to make matters worse, Shai was the last to show out of the more than twenty horses and Shai had only been in Paris for two weeks.  So how do you win facing such obstacles?
     Part of the answer is superb conditioning and care.  Attention to every last and least detail.  This is something my friend Ron excels at.  Shai was trained by and was absolutely Ron's partner.  Shai and Ron accomplished their amazing feat as a team, not as adversaries.  I often see horses that win in spite of their training, often times disliking or even hating (a human term) their trainers.  This was definitely not the case with Shai and Ron.  I loved to watch Ron handle Shai.  Even in retirement, Shai loved to "show" for visitors.  He was a kind stallion who was also proud and confident.  A stallion who loved attention and people.
     I feel so priviledged to have known Shai.  And so fortunate to have worked with and trained his son VP Midnitestranger +// ("Wes").  Wes has many of his sire's traits. He loves children (amazing for a stallion), he is very masculine but easy to handle and he's extremely athletic.  He's curious about everything and has brought much joy to his owner Joanne Salisbury and myself.
     Thank you Ron and Shai, for without you both we would have never had the wonderful experience of showing and living with VP Midnitestranger +//.   Shai, may you rest in peace.  JD

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Back Bone

     I believe that the back bone of the horse industry is and has always been average folks taking their kids to shows on the weekends and everday people living out their dream of owning a horse after their kids have left home and they have time to devote to their own wants and goals. 
     These fine people give up much in terms of time and money, often leaving little or no time for vacations or getaways that aren't somehow horse-related.  Their spare time is spent driving to lessons or shows or watching their horse being worked by trainer.  Their spare money is spend on tack, trailers, clothes and vet and farrier bills.
     Likewise, I think this is true of breeding. All breeds depend on small breeders who breed horses for the love of a particular mare, the hope and dreams that new foals bring, and a committment to a certain breed. Often, these breeders truely desire to advance their chosen breed or discipline. Yes, many want to produce winners but unlike the big breeders and barns, they cannot affort to just experiment so these small breeders are often very thoughtful and careful in their selections, which benefits everyone concerned.
     My hat is off to all these people because without them, we would not have a horse industry, instead we would have only an elite sport for a small and unsustainable audience.  I fear, and greatly so, that there's a perception that the Arabian breed, along with AQHA, and reiners, hunter/jumpers, dressage and cutting horses are heading down that road to where only a privileged few will have the time or the money required to "play". 
     This perception is based on some unseemly truths and I really believe that as an industry we must find ways of improving our image and being open and accessible to everyone or we will all suffer.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, August 5, 2013

Welcome to my 100th Blog!

What I love about Wes....What could I talk about in this 100th blog but the equine love of my life? 

     Well, first of all, he is truly black, no fading and no special supplements to make him darker, he really does live up to the "midnite" in his name VP Midnitestranger+//.  He is also handsome in a very masculine way, a wonderful head with prominent jowls and beautiful eyes, and we all know I'm a sucker for a good looking horse!

     Wes has tons of personality and is definitely an individual.  He exhibits lots of pride and yes, that is a stallion trait, but it just comes so easily to him.  And, though he loves to play, he doesn't often show off because he is so comfortable in his "kingdom".
     He has always been an excellent ambassador for his breed.  He was asked to "be" the Black Stallion several years ago and we took him to Seattle Center to spend the day in (in!) the IMAX theater, doing demonstrations and letting children touch him between the movie premier showings. 

He amused himself by watching the Space Needle elevators go up and down and loved watching the rides go round and round in the amusement park!  Wes has also been volunteered several times in the Arabian Horse Association's T.A.I.L. program where he literall walked up into the stands (that's my Trail horse!) at a show to be petted by severely disabled people in wheelchairs and at a different event, he gave a group of blind children wonderful rides. He was a perfect gentleman, patient and quiet throughout it all and their smiles and laughs were so rewarding.  He loved the experience as much as his audience loved him. 
     Wes is the most affectionate stallion I have ever known.  He does like to play though, so one must be very aware at all times because he will grab your jacket or shirt and play tug if he can.  Mostly though, he is just busy and curious.  He is just a fun horse to be around.  And, as an added bonus, he loves horse shows and trailer rides.  He's also good on trails and loves to get out and explore.

     Wes has always been an athlete, having won many many classes in Trail, Western Pleasure and Western Riding.  He has been shown at Regionals and Nationals countless times and has an extensive record that I am very proud of.  Wes has been a very good Western Pleasure contender, a nationally ranked Trail horse and he absolutely loved Western Riding, along with his rider/owner, Joanne Salisbury, though we don't often get the opportunity to show that class in our area.
     Wes is a good loping horse with an excellent jog and is an easy lead changer.  He can lope a 10 foot circle and make it look easy and effortless.  This is a horse with lots of heart.  He recovered from what could have been a career ending injury for many horses and though it was a long road, he's tough and I respect him for how he kicked up a notch whenever he's been asked.  Part of it is that he loves his job. 
     So, Wes is 20 years young this year and looks about 12.  He has some grey hairs but that's the only revealing sign.  We're headed out soon to take him to yet another National show and he keeps on trying hard and we keep on helping him in every way possible.  His farrier and his vet are all strong players on "team Wes"!  He feels great and it's so great to see him playing in his paddock, shaking his neck and rearing - he loves to rear and snap his front feet hooves together with a bang, yikes!  But he loves it.

  At 20, he's still playful and at times challenging.  Make no mistake about it, he's not always easy, probably no stallion really is.  But, Wes is a wonderful horse and I have been privileged to train him for so many years.  Happy 20th birthday Wes!  And Happy 100th blog to my many readers.  Follow Wes at Canadian Nationals and I'll see you next week!  JD

Sunday, July 28, 2013


     When I talk to people, the issue of bonding keeps coming up.  I think though, that bonding is an incorrect concept, I believe trust is a better word for it but, ah well, people can call it what they will.
     Sure, it's nice to feed and groom your horse.  He likes it and we as people are gratified by doing it.  It helps you to get to know your horse better and the two of you can enjoy each other much like horses in the pasture who show affection with one another by grooming.  Grooming is an important social skill in the herd.  In general though, proper and frequent handling of horses helps them to be better "broke" in the sense of ease and safety (safety being a major issue).
     But, I truly believe that there is no replacement for having a working relationship with your horse.  No amount of grooming or cooing over a horse will give you that special relationship that working together as a team will.  Horses are not big dogs, they do not feel loyalty or gratitiude just because you throw them a flake of hay. Feeding your horse treats by hand only spoils him and can create a nasty biting habit.  Many horses who are spoiled through their owner's attempt to bond become resistant, stubborn, belligerant and even angry when asked to do something they don't want to do.  Remember, horses are herd animals, not human buddies. 
     If you're having problems learning to ride your horse and work as a team with him, the solution will not come through spoiling him and just handling him from the ground.  No amount of treats and petting will change a thing but your horse will be happy to take advantage of you in the meantime.  To really be a team with your horse, you must build trust through riding and working with your horse.  And if you aren't experienced enough to get through issues alone, you must find a coach, trainer or other person who is experienced in building teams.  
     Hopefully you got your horse with the intention of doing something with him and not just looking at him in the pasture so, next time you think about bonding, think about riding and building a trusting team instead.  I hope this thought helps!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Choosing a Trainer or Coach

     Obviously, you must like, and hopefully respect or come to respect, the person you choose as a trainer or coach because you will be spending a lot of time and money with this person.  But, there are many other things to consider too which can make your time together much better.
     Often, I see people attempting to seek help from professionals who have little or no experience or expertise in the area the person is interested in.  In such a case, lasting results are rare and if you think about it, it really makes no sense for you to pay someone to "learn on the job" in the discipline you want to compete in or learn about. 
     To find a good match in a trainer or coach, you need to determine what your goals are.  You need to be realistic.  If you have an average horse and you don't have the money or inclination to purchase a higher quality horse, it's probably not a good idea to go to a trainer who's only interested in taking clients to Nationals or World.  Reality is, that trainer will probably never bother to know your horse's name, much less ever throw a leg up on him - and hopefully, they'll tell you this outright before they take your money. 
     Training and teaching styles are definitely something to consider too.  The methods used must suit not only you but also your horse.  No trainer succeeds with all horses.  You also need to think about what you're looking for personally.  Do you want to improve and learn, reach a goal, improve in the show ring?  Or, do you just want a safe hobby or maybe some social interaction?   No coach or teacher is right for everyone.  We all learn differently and we all teach differently.  Barn atmospheres vary greatly too.  Are you comfortable at the barn?  Do you look forward to your time at the barn (you should!)?  Are people too chatty, just wanting to talk when you want to ride or do they just want to ride and focus when you'd really like someone to talk to? 
     The trust factor is a very important component to consider.  Can you trust the welfare of your horse with this person?  Is he or she reliable?  There are some very talented people who for many reasons might not be good stewards for your or your horse's safety and welfare.  Are they too busy to help you when you get outside your comfort zone?  If you are not advanced in your skills and knowledge, they might not be a good choice for you.
     Lastly, training philosphies should make sense.  Training is not "gobbledy gook" it must be based on sound fundamentals and techniques that take you and horse through steps and achieve results - no matter what your goal is.  Hopefully I've given you some things to consider and, just like Goldilocks, you can find a trainer or coach, as well as a barn, that's "not too hot, not too cold, but just right!".  See you next week!  JD

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Different Viewpoint

     Do you ever try to look at things from your horse's perspective?  Do you try to think like your horse or even see things visually as a horse does  ("that's one pole, but those are a LOT of poles!)? 
I also like to remember how horses behave in the wild and in the herd and I like to teach my students to work with elementary things such as a horse's mental strong points - like memory and association. 
     If horses didn't have such good memories, they could never survive in the wild.  While their brains are small compared to their bodies and don't really have the ability to "think" and be logical like humans, they have strong association abilities that allow them to be trained.   (Though I must point out that you only have about a 6 second window for a horse to associate your action with his response or vice versa.  After that he's living in his new "present" and it does no good to discipline or reward because he won't associate it.)
     Horses also learn routines quickly and overall and they thrive on consistency.  This can be difficult when preparing for a pattern class though, too much of the same work over and over and your horse will just start to anticipate all your cues. Change up each ride enough that you achieve a goal or improvement but don't establish a rote routine - like "training" your horse to always turn left after a certain move.
     Horses are "hardwired" for their fear-flight syndrome.  This manifests itself in diverse ways, many times a horse that is unsure of himself in a training situation will simply go faster and that makes sense if you're a horse ("must go faster and get away when I'm nervous!").  This means that going back over training steps often will help your horse understand what you want so they can relax and the "fear-flight" syndrome disappears.  Most horses are also great atheletes and often take pride in their work.  If you reward them for this, they will often excel! 
     And, of course horses also need herd leadership - and that must be you.  I firmly believe every horse is born wild then, from the moment of their birth and through every interaction thereafter, we tame and teach them to fulfill their lifelong journey with us.  See how much more you can accomplish by learning to work with your horse's natural tendencies and see through his eyes and think like a horse!  See you next week, JD 

Monday, July 8, 2013


     My client Joanne Salisbury has a horse named SS Ekspresev +// (Ex) and boy does he express himself!  I call him "grumpy gus" in the barn but at a show he's very talented and is very rewarding to work with.  Joanne's other horses, VP Midnitestranger +// (Wes) and Rosies First Gold (Tilly) also love their jobs and they show it when they're working.
     My point is: I want horses to be allowed to show their individualities or "personalities".  I'm really very tired of watching horses that look like bored robots going around and around the arena, carrying their (usually) amateur riders around the ring with little or no help from the rider - each horse a copy cat of the horse in front and behind him, none seem to have any expression.  (And yes, I think every major breed is guilty of this.)
     Take the Western Pleasure and Hunter Pleasure worlds where we only reward and expect such complete perfection all the time.  Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe in excellence but we set ourselves up for abuse when expecting perfection - each horse the "Stepford wife" of his or her class.  Abuse starts to show up in how horses are handled and prepped for these classes, too many enhancing supplements and drugs are used to achieve what I think is an unrealistic look.  Frankly, it just takes the horsemanship right out of the equation.
     Joanne's mare Tilly, who Angela Wilson shows for her, can be difficult at times and certainly is not always perfect.  But, I've never seen her on a Working Hunter course when she didn't have her ears up, her eyes bright and obviously loved her job.  Wes also absolutely loves going to shows and is confidently interested in the Trail courses he's asked to work.  He's not bored or stressed or unhappy, he's just interested and in his element!  Even "grumpy gus" Ex is happier and more willing the longer we work with him and show him in his own style.
     Maybe it's time we as trainers, owners and judges, rethink how we want horses to go and look.  Hopefully by doing so, we will help people become better horsemen and allow their horses to express themselves.  Viva la difference!  See you next week.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Perfection (or.... The Lack Thereof)

     No horse is perfect and all riders, even top pros, make mistakes.  Compare riding to baseball - even the king, Felix Hernandez, has his off days.  I see riders expecting so much of their horses and some trainers expecting so much from their students.  No matter how hard they try, it seems like it's just never good enough.  This blows their confidence right out of the water.  I think confidence and belief in ourselves, in our horses and in our students is an important component of the overall success of any program.
     The pursuit of perfection can lead down a very slippery slope.  Over-schooling and excessive drilling in an attempt to get a "perfect ride" becomes destructive and counter-productive causing horses to become over-tired, sore and sometimes just plain lame.  Often, the best thing is to just be satisfied with the achievement of forward progress and say you're done for the day - or ready for the class.  I always want my horses to have some "try", some "want to", left in them when I quit riding.  I want them to be interested in their job and when showing, I want to leave the best for the show ring, not use it all up in the warm-up arena. 
     Many years ago, a very good horseman from California taught me to let my horses rest their neck and poll before I showed them.  Just relax while sitting on them or go for an easy ride around the show grounds.  No picking or constantly trying to keep their heads and necks set, just a long rein and a nice break.  Then, when I set them up for their entrance, they have a little more sparkle, a little more pizzaz, their mouth is fresher and I think they respond a little better.  Sometimes when horses start to get a little dull, a short break to relax can really help.  They get lighter in the bridle and collect up a little easier.  No one wants to be picked at constantly, especially our horses, it just dulls their senses as they tune out.
     Now, all of what I've said here really depends on knowing when your horse is ready to show or has tried to master the lesson for the day.  There is no substitute for knowing your horse, it's a vital part of good horsemanship.  Remember though, you can school what you want to teach right out of a horse.  Sometimes horses act up in the show arena because they know they can get away with it and they no longer want to perform or be picked at.  They left their "want to" and "try" in the warm-up arena!  Don't try to pursue perfection, pursue improvement instead. Consider a change of routine in your next warm up and see what happens.  Hope this helps, see you next week!  JD

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Frankenstein Component

     You can turn any good horse into a monster.  A horse that is unsafe to be around, and it is easier than you think. 
     Often people reward the wrong things and unintentionally encourage bad behavior.  Horses understand appropriate discipline but they will quickly modify behavior to get their own way, accepting treats and rewards for good - or bad - behavior, it doesn't matter to the horse. On the other hand, horses do respond to rewards, sometimes not in the way we want though. 
     Often people reward bad behavior without thinking.  An example:  a horse that puts its ears back and acts up when being saddled but gets a treat, not a smack, learns quickly that it gets rewarded for putting its ears back and misbehaving when being saddled.  Another example is a horse that is trained to come when called, with a treat, often is excited and rambunctious for the treat but then is inadvertently "rewarded" for that bad behavior too.  Behavior that is unsafe for humans, but perfectly acceptable in a herd.
     I've often had difficult horses brought to me for training.  Years ago I accepted a job working with an orphaned yearling, this young horse had no manners, no boundaries, was extremely demanding and alltogether unsafe.  In fact, he was downright scary at times!  But he was not "evil".  He had been conditioned to behave the way he did because he'd never been taught the herd civilities, no mare had ever disciplined him, not even a mother.  So, in his world, he was behaving normally, in a way he thought was "right", but in a way that was extremely dangerous to humans.  Consistent discipline and rewards for the right behavior turned that situation around very nicely.
     In our world, our equine partners must live with and put up with us, not the other way around.  But to achieve this, we must behave in a way they can understand or, in other words, behave as the "boss mare" in a herd.  We must reward good behavior that is conducive to the human/equine relationship.  Remember, top mares are the leaders in the wild.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Win Some, Lose Some

     Everyone has a journey to make in this crazy horse show world.  It takes miles and miles to make seasoned campaigners of both people and horses.  Many times, the horses become confident long before their riders and this certainly makes things topsy-turvy!
     If you show enough, you will certainly lose when perhaps you really should've had the blue ribbon and likewise, if you keep showing, the equine gods will shine on you at some show and you'll win a class after you've had a major problem but the judge just didn't seem to notice.  (There are times when judging is so strange.  Remember that things do look differently from the center of the ring and too, judging is not a perfect process, it's often just one person's opinion.  It's best not to take these things to heart, just take them in stride.)  If you show long enough, it all does even out.
     To me, it's so important to look at the bigger picture.  Are you and your horse making reasonable progress?  Is your horse working better?  Are you overcoming your own problems and getting more relaxed?  I love it when my riders are excited about their achievements and their first wins but I also believe in being honest about any achievement.  It will not do you or your horse any good to crow and puff up about an ordinary ride, no matter how the judge placed it.   There's a lot of hard work and a lot of wet saddle blankets on the road to success and I really think it's important to evaluate a number of shows, perhaps even a full season, before making a firm assessment about the progress of a horse and rider.
     Keeping things in perspective helps me with my work with both horses and their riders.  I also am always thinking of the future and thinking through what the next step is that I need to achieve to get to a final goal.  And, in the end - there's always another horse show!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Miss Tizzy Fit

     Without good horses, no one stays in this business for very long so I like to look back and pay homage to some of my favorites from time to time.  Miss Tizzy Fit was one of my earliest successes and boy did we have fun showing her!
     I found Tizzy for a client at a Paint horse sale in Madras, Oregon.  She was 4 years old and well started, she had been to a couple of schooling shows but that was about it.  This little mare was well bred on the stallion side but nothing to speak of on her dam's side.
     Anyway, I hauled her home and worked with her all through that late Fall, Winter and the early Spring.  When we took her to her first show she beat two National Champions in Western Pleasure and the rest of her show career was just like that. 
     We showed her in youth and open classes and she did mostly Western Pleasure but also lots of Showmanship, some Trail, Horsemanship and Equitation classes  - even some Hunter.  Often Tizzy took the high point award.  She was Western Pleasure circuit champion several times over and won many, many year-end awards.  We showed her all over the northwest - in Washington state, British Columbia, Oregon and Idaho. Tizzy was the right horse at the right time.  She was what the judges were looking for, which I think is a very important point as styles change and so do our thoughts on how a horse should look and move.
     I really owe this mare a lot because she gave me confidence in my training program and helped make my reputation.  What more can you ask of a horse?  I will never forget Miss Tizzy Fit, may she rest in peace.  See you next week, JD.   

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Keeping Focused

     Keeping a horse focused on you and the work you are doing can by trying at times.  Horses that spook and are nervous are the most obvious examples of a lack of focus, but horses that become bored also have difficulty focusing.  There is a sliding scale of misbehavior that can indicate a horse isn't focused.  A milder case might show up in a horse who looks for any excuse to break or just doesn't "care" to pick his feet up over a Trail obstacle.  On the other end of the spectrum is a horse that looks for any reason to spook, buck or run off.  Doesn't sound like fun does it!?
     A mild lack of focus often can be dealt with through just a reminder from the rider.  A bump with the bridle, a bump with the leg.  Maybe a back-up or two.  Sometimes just letting the horse stop and settle for a moment helps.  I don't like to let any horse build up adrenalin or as I call it "steam".  It's very hard if not impossible to bring them back to a calm state after a build up of steam occurs.  So, watch for signs of agitation and stop the build-up before it happens by letting them settle then getting them focused back on their work.
     Now, the more serious cases obviously need more help.  First of all, if they need it, I let them play (really play!) on the longe line before I ask them to work.  Then (and, especially if they're young) I'll probably bit them up next because this gets helps their focus shift from playing to working.  I like to take the more difficult horses and get them to soften in the mouth, the poll and especially in the rib cage.  I want them to not only yield to my leg but bend around my inside leg.  I want to lift a rein and have the horse drop down softly into the bridle.
     When working on a horse that really has difficulty focusing, and the horse starts spooking or thinking about everything else but me, I'll go back to basics and start an exercise that is appropriate to his level of training to get him thinking about me and the bridle and my various cues.  This may be a walking circle, might be a trotting reverse arc, may be a leg yield or other exercise. 
     Also, you will find that once a horse softens to your hands and legs, he is much more relaxed and able to work, as well as focus.  A tense horse is not a good learner.  When a horse relaxes his poll and neck, it just follows that he will relax his back and can then engage his hindquarters. 
     One last tip:  you, his rider, must also remain focused.  Don't start an exercise and just drop it because you are bored, out of time or in a hurry.  Ride for your horse and make it a point to accomplish something, even completion of a simple but well done basic exercise, with every ride.  Hope this helps!  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, May 26, 2013


     I was talking to Jessica Leigh recently and of course our talk turned to Rosco (Docs Dream).  Now Rosco was a top Western Pleasure horse in his day but when I first met him in his teens he had become very bored and resentful - he didn't like his job and was sour, very sour indeed!
     When I started working with Rosco many years ago, I primarily worked him on Trail.  He was very talented and very athletic - a natural for Trail.  As we progressed together, this horse who was so used up mentally got a new lease on life!  Jessica showed him Trail for several years and he always did very well, often winning his classes unanimously.  I always thought Rosco was National caliber though unfortunately we never had the opportunity to take him to Paint or Pinto Worlds.
     Rosco is now in his late 20s and retired, he's living a very good life.  He and Jessica go out on the trails often and he really enjoys it.  But..... here's the really cool thing:  When Jessica occasionally sets out poles for a Trail obstacle, Rosco's ears go up and he happily works the poles - still not touching a thing!
     The lesson learned here is that sometimes you need to move on to something else.  Horses change just as we do and often they like to do something different to keep them motivated or mentally engaged.  If your horse seems bored or sour - try a change.  Make sure it's something your horse can physically do and that you're interested in too and maybe you'll both get a new lease on life like Rosco!  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Let Them Be Themselves!

     Just let them be horses - it sounds pretty obvious doesn't it?  Horses have brought much joy and satisfaction to my life but, I have to also say that I don't love horses the way some people do.   I don't have a romantic view of horses the way some people, especially people who are fairly new to the horse world, do.
      I love horses "warts and all", which, at times includes some difficult personalities.  I don't have a vision of horses that is impossible for them to live up to.  I love horses for many reason, not the least being their working abilities and their beauty. 
     Horses are most assuredly not pets and should never be thought of as pets.  Now, I admit to being very fond of many horses over the years and of being affectionate with them.  But, I always remember that horses aren't people and as such, don't relate to people as if they were humans.  They relate to us as they would other horses.  For instance, many horses are not fond of being kissed and petted (though I've never found one that didn't like grooming - if the brushes were soft enough).  Most horses also "tune out" when humans just jabber (talk or coo incessently) at them - and, in tuning out, they then don't listen for the important words like "whoa" or "quit".  I think many people would ultimately have a much more rewarding relationship with their horse if they stopped anthropomorphizing (look it up). 
     Horses can enrich our lives greatly but we need to allow them to be themselves.  Though there are many different types of herd animals, horses are very unique and it benefits everyone, horses included, to recognize that uniqueness.  See you next week!  JD  (And here are some pics of a few horses I'm very fond of!  Thanks to Kathy Bressi for these great photos of Caryn on Lacy, Heather on Bear, Gina on Montego and Joanne on Wes and Ex.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Art of Horsemanship

     I believe we are in great danger of losing horsemanship as an "art" and it's becoming "just" a highly skilled craft.  Here are some reasons I've come to this conclusion.
     As an industry, we no longer talk about "soft hands".  When I was a teenager, young riders were often made to ride with string for reins.  If you pulled on the horse, the string broke.  (This not only taught soft hands, it also taught you to ride with a secure seat.)   Today, many horses are so intimidated by the bit that this exercise would be difficult but riders must be taught to "feel" the horse's mouth.  A lack of "feel" is why many people don't understand when to release and when to ask for more contact. 
     Also, we are breeding the best performance horses ever (!) yet, people are more and more dependent on supplements and legal drugs to improve their performance.  The catalogues today are full of calming and quieting supplements so riders are not encouraged to help their horse get through challenges by improving their own horsemanship.  Why?  Because every horse must conform to a mold.  Horses are losing their individuality.  What a shame!
     Maybe I've just been around too long but all that seems to be "gold" is not the real thing.  I want to make horsemen out of my riders, not mechanics.  I think it's imperative that trainers help riders and their horses perform on and off the rail, with their horses going soft and truly in the bridle.  It's a big goal and a tough one.  Especially since often I take training horses that have problems with the bridle.  A recent example is Joanne Salisbury's horse Ex.  He's a very talented horse but came to me afraid of the bridle because he'd been overbitted and undereducated.  He is not always perfect now but he can perform comfortably and confidently in the bridle.  It's work like this that makes me proud to carry on the art of horsemanship!  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Helpful Hints

     Horses can only absorb so much training so fast.  Each has a point where everything else becomes  overload and the fuses in their brains just blow.
     So, I always believe in making my cues as simple as possible and going as slowly as needed.  I also believe in going back to basics - back as far as is needed - if a horse does appear to be going on overload.  It's critical that the horse not lose his confidence as you layer on new cues and challenges. 
     My process goes something like this:  In the beginning I use lots of set-up - this puts the horse in the proper position so he's ready to listen and respond to whatever I ask next.  I then add cues so that over time, my cues can become more subtle and softer.  As the horse learns and progresses through series after series of setup and cues, his body becomes more balanced which just makes everything easier.  If he gets frustrated or stuck, I go back to the work and cues he's confident with then progress forward again from there.
     As you build layer upon layer of training, you need less set-up and fewer prep cues as the horse learns his job.  The end result is a simple and clear communication between you and your horse.  I hope this helps!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why Do We Do This?

     As I get home from one show today (another 400+ miles on the truck & trailer but well worth it!) and head straight to my office to get the paperwork in order for the next, I like to remember that all this is more about the horses than it is about me.  We had a wonderful show and spent a great time with old and new friends but I think that very often people get busy and forget that it's about the horse.  We do this, or should do this, for the love of horses not just the desire for a trophy.  We do it to further the
breeds and the art of horsemanship.  And, for trainers hopefully to share our knowledge with others.
     Yes, I like to win just as much as the next person.  Winning has put bread and butter on my table for many, many years, but if you forget to put the horses first and foremost things just get kind of crazy.      
     I take great pride in my personal horsemanship and training abilities and I take pride in my horses and my riders and their accomplishments.  I think demonstrating good horsemanship skills influence others to try a little harder.  It furthers the cause, so to speak.  Horses are such a privilege  to be around and to learn about.  They are great teachers as well if we're willing to listen.  Being a horseman is a lifelong journey for those of us who have chosen this path.
     I believe horses are one of the greatest gifts mankind has received over the millennia.  Horsemanship has evolved for thousands of years and I hope everyone involved with horses feels great pride in being a part of the world-wide community of horsemen.  Best of luck to those of you who are heading out to show, and warm thoughts to others who are heading down the trail - whatever you enjoy, remember it's about our love of the horse!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The "D" Word: Discipline

     This is such a difficult subject, many people would rather ignore it altogether!  I've worked with  some horses that all I had to do was just get their attention but most horses are not that easy to work with and require some amount of discipline.         
     Further complicating the issue of discipline is the fact that every horse is different and responds differently to reprimands.  Generally horses learn to accept proper discipline, in fact some come to expect it when they know they "deserve it".  By this, I certainly am not talking about a frightened horse, what I mean is a horse that knows parameters and understands what is expected of him and what is not acceptable.  This all takes time to achieve but is a necessary part of training any horse. 
     My students often hear me say:  Felonies are felonies and misdemeanors are misdemeanors.  This means, don't over-discipline your horse for a minor "offense".  I also never discipline a horse that is "trying".  It is very important that you choose the right discipline and for the right reason.
     Some horses respond well to a verbal response and a good kick (no spur), others need much more to make them amenable.  Some horses work well with a crop now and then while others work just fine with spurs.  In other words, some are hard-headed and stubborn and others are willing and want to please.  Some horses can be intimidated with a harsh sound but there are others you must put the fear of God into to get their attention.  Some really difficult horses may even need to be "spanked" from the ground while the trainer is riding (this can really help).  And, I've had horses that were so bad I just got off and bitted them up again.  Once they got their brain rearranged and re-engaged then we'd pick up where we left off, for a much-improved ride.
     Whatever the discipline, the more immediately and consistently you apply it, the more improvement you'll get from it.  The point of all this is to find out what works for your horse but never be afraid to discipline them - their mothers certainly did!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Everyone's a Trainer

     Make no mistake about it - each and every time you handle or ride your horse you are training it!   Many people spend tons of money having their horses professionally trained only to "untrain" the horse every time they ride or handle the horse themselves.
     I realize this is difficult because riders must learn to ride their own horses but, often I see amateurs allowing their horses to do things that professionals just would not allow.  Some great examples are letting a horse swing it's rear out after a stop, or letting it move into the rider's leg when trotting or loping off, or pulling on the reins and coming out of the bridle after a stop.  There are many, many more examples of "untraining" a horse and some are very elementary things but they are very important points of training.  Also, they are easy to understand and easy for an amateur rider to correct if they remain aware and alert. 
     A rider must be alert when riding and handling their horse.  Obliviousness makes it much harder for the horse to learn to do his job.  The horse learns quickly that it is ok when his owner is riding to pull on the reins, wiggle after a stop, turn on the forehand, etc. etc.  To make matters worse, often the horse then tries it with the trainer.  This becomes a confusing and frustrating situation for the horse.
     Collectively, we - the rider, owner and trainer - have an obligation to the horse to be consistant.  This makes for a less stressed horse, a horse that is more eager to learn, and in general just a happier equine and human partnership!  See you next week, JD.

Monday, April 8, 2013


     There are many advantages to being challenged and, one of the greatest end results is improvement.  I find that challenging my students and horses helps them succeed because it increases their confidence, keeps them fresh and interested and prepares them for their upcoming shows.  Additionally, being challenged can be fun!
     Now, I do think it can be a bit tricky to get this just right so the challenge stays positive and doesn't discourage.  I always consider where the horse and rider are at in their achievement level.  I most certainly will not ask a rider to perform something I have not asked their horse to do myself (assuming the horse is in training.  When the horse and rider are coming for lessons only, I carefully watch the horse before deciding where I want to go with it).
     I also assess the horse's and rider's weaknesses and strengths before I give them something more challenging to work on.  If you challenge in a positive manner, you can increase confidence
and improve on weak areas.  It's important to be realistic in your requests.
     Another thing that I believe in strongly is the advantage of having horses and riders that are less advanced ride with others who are further along - sometimes much further along.  When I do this, I always point out things that are maybe just too hard for the less advanced horse at the moment but that the they can aspire to do.  They're able to see a guide and then visualize their ultimate goal. 
In Trail this might be translated into asking one horse and rider team to lope certain obstacles while another only jogs the same obstacles - everyone's learning and everyone's taking part in a positive challenge.  It's a very rewarding day when I see a team do something that they thought they "could never do"!
     On a personal note, in challenging my horses and riders, I must challenge myself.  I am constantly resetting the bar for my students which makes me think and try harder!  As a group, we do this together, constantly learning and improving.  When you stop improving, you start declining.  In horses as in life in general, there is no such thing as resting on your past achievements.  (Many thanks to Gina Heinricks, pictured here on her horse Montego Bay Star, for giving me the idea for this blog!)  See you all next week!  JD    

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hunkering Down

     There are many advantages to riding your green, problem or western horses with the concept of "hunkering down" in mind.  For many talented riders, this comes naturally and easily.  But, for others, it is definitely not natural - but it can be learned!
     Many riders, even advanced riders, can tense up thus lightening their seats and going slightly forward in the saddle.  This sends the message to the horse that you are no longer in control and that you are unsure of yourself (or, let's be honest: that you're nervous).
     Hunkering down has many advantages.  It's a safe position to be in if a horse does blow up because you're behind it's motion.  It also places your weight over a horse's loin, a weaker part of their back, which can make it hard for them to balance but much more willing to move forward - away from the displaced weight.  Many horses that have been ridden this way will quit being naughty and bad the moment you hunker down and lean back on them.  They accept whatever you are asking of them more readily. 
     Just plain hunkering down on a horse can really help to drive them forward because now you're pushing with your seat as well as driving with your legs.  I hope this concept helps in your next ride!  See you next week, JD  (And congratulations to all my riders who "hunkered down" to achieve some great Trail scores this weekend at the Rally in The Valley show in Eugene, OR!) 

Sunday, March 24, 2013


     I never ride a green horse then just turn him out.  Conversely, I never bring a green or problem horse straight in from turn-out then immediately work him.  I believe many horses, especially the more-difficult horses and young horses should stand tied before you work them and after you work them.  This can be in cross-ties or in their stall and, the better their work the less time they're tied, the more difficult they are or were, the longer they stand tied.  I've found there are horses that actually do much better with a steady routine of work and a steady handling before and after their work.
     I also don't believe that just turning-out a problem horse is the solution to anything.  Many horses seem to go wild very quickly - losing respect and any desire to work - making solving the problem sometimes more difficult.  That said though, I must stress that I turn-out all my horses, regardless of age or training level, on a regular basis.  I also am a strong believer in turning out horses before a long trailer ride and after a show. 
    Every horse needs to feel the sun and fresh air and get the break that turn-out can bring.  I just believe that structuring turn-out around a horse's work schedule, age, issues, etc. can bring many added dividends to you both.  See you next week, JD!  (Blessed are the brood mares - best wishes to all of you with new foals on the way this Spring!)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Riding the Whole Horse

     I see people - trainers and amateurs alike - who are good at teaching a horse to move individual parts.  That is, they move a hip or they move a shoulder or the rib cage and, of course, this is a necessary part of good training. 
     But, here's what I don't always see: putting these disparate pieces together.  In other words - riding the whole horse, the horse as an entire unit. 
     The other problem I frequently see is that, in moving one part the rider then loses another part.  This is especially true of pushing up into the bridle.  I see riders let energy just escape so the horse learns to evade and not move up properly into the bridle when asked to. 
     When the horse evades, he can't do any maneuver properly - not even a side pass or a cross-over in front and so on.  Your horse can't be truly collected unless you're riding the whole horse.  See you next week! JD

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Over the Years

     Over the years I have developed some strong ideas about how I like to train.  Of couse, this has been influenced by the horses I have trained and the events I have trained them to compete in.
     I really dislike interfering with a horse's natural way of doing things.  By that, I mean I let the horse perform a manuever in the way his confirmation and movement dictates.  Now, this necessitates that you realistically evaluate your horse.  It also helps you to be fair to both you and your horse.  Unrealistic expectations don't help anyone or any horse.
     I always let the horse find his balance and make sure that he is responsive to the bridle.  This is important because we want to make training as easy for the horse as possible.  Remember, there is a difference between training and getting in the way.  Horses that are brought along this way often go on to be higher achievers.  They are the horses that are capable and willing to go on to higher and higher levels. 
     After a horse really understands what I'm asking, and has confidence in himself, I start putting the "finishing touches" on.  So, in short - I don't start with things such as draw reins or advanced manuevers before the horse has conquered the basic equipment and moves.
     I also work through the beginning and intermediate stuff first.  By training "in order" you have many more possibilities to work with and you will not have limited your horse's development.  Many horses that are hurried and trained for a "flashy" beginning never develop into their true and full potential and I think that's a real shame!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


     Here's the question - can you take an average horse and win against very good horses, horses that are better bred perhaps and certainly have more natural talent?  Now this is an interesting qutesion and one on which I have a definite opinion.
     The short answer is yes.  There are many ifs, ands, and buts that go with that positive answer though.  The most important part is finding a job the horse really likes and I mean really likes.  Remember that some horses will never have a discipline that they really and truly like to perform.  To beat more talented horses, this horse also has to have a great work ethic as well.
     You must work with the horse in a manner that encourages him and allows him to be "proud" of himself rather than frustrated.  A real sense of accomplishment rather than (just) labor and lather.  This is very important.
     The training must be slow and methodical.  Always looking for and finding the weak areas then looking for ways to help the horse succeed.  These horses really need focus.  You just keep showing them and helping them along the way and the results can be stunning.
     Some of the best human athletes are not the most talented ones but instead, the ones that wanted it the most.  Horses can truly want to perform too.  We just have to allow and help them to develop properly.  This takes time and thought and focus on your part too but it is the mark of a good horseman, one who can achieve a goal with his horse.
     Some of my favorite horses have been these types, they're worth the effort and the results can be wonderful!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pet Peeves

     Some things I really dislike include oversimplification of a reining horse spin or a Trail walk-over or any manuever involving striding.  It also iritates me to see various styles of a stop combined into one  -  a reining stop is a reining stop and a halt in dressage or a quick stop in Trail are unique and the individual aspects of each must be understood and respected.  Among my biggest pet peeves are explanations that are "dumbed down" to the point that we are to longer advancing the art of horsemanship. 
     And, on the flip side, I find over-complication of training a horse to be just as bad!  Collection is balanced motion that has been contained.  A horse that leans with any part of his body (including his mouth) is not balanced.  This is not "rocket science" and it's up to us to teach our amateurs all the underlying principals of training.  The principals of good training are not a mystery and they don't do any good if we don't teach them and pass them on.  A rider must be able to work all parts of the horse then put those parts together and ride the whole horse.  It's not difficult if you let your horse teach you but first you must be ready to listen and learn.
     And no, all styles of riding and showing are not the same.  Just because someone rides one discipline does not mean they understand another.  Riding dressage doesn't mean you can train a good Western Pleasure horse.  We must all appreciate each and every discipline and its specific particulars and the the different talents that all these disparate disciplines demand of the horse.  For me, it always begins and ends with the horse!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nervous Nellies

     With show season starting, I thought I'd comment on something we should all know but that's sometimes forgotten:  All horses will be nervous their first few times out.  Some horses seem much quieter and calmer than they really are so remember, your horse needs you to be calm, quiet and cool.  If you are nervous and edgy or rushed, it only confirms to your horse that there really is a need to be nervous and prepared to flee.  You are their herd leader and they will "follow" you if they trust and respect you and feel you'll take care of them.
     Horses are emotional beings.  They have all the basic emotions that we experience and the difference is they only have them in real time.  They don't experience dread nor do they fret when resting.  In your training and show preparation, teach your horse to focus on you and his job.  A focused horse is a calm horse.  A horse that knows his job will be more confident.  Don't introduce new material, new ways of riding etc., at a horse show or similar new circumstance.  Above all else, ride your horse, not someone elses.  In other words, don't copy things that you haven't practiced on at home - ride as close as possible to the way you do at home. 
     You may be nervous too but be patient and don't get emotional.  Horses do not deal with human emotions well.  Don't become frustrated or angry, it only makes bad things worse.  I see many very talented horses ruined this way at shows.  Remember, take care of your horse first and there will always be another horse show!  See you next week.   JD