Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Lope

     What is it that makes for a good lope?  Well..... let's start wth the basics, a lope is a three beat gait and it's sequence should go like this:  first beat = outside hind leg; second = inside hind and outside front moving together and third = inside front. 
      A lope has a "lead" and the "leading" legs are the inside front and inside hind.  Now ideally the inside back and front legs should move equal distances.  The outside hind is what I always call the "push off" leg - the leg providing the initial impulsion for the gait.
     (And a reminder for those of you who are just starting out:  Unless the rider has deliberately asked for a counter-canter which is rare, a horse is on the correct lead when leading with his inside front and back legs or, another way of putting it: when loping to the right, the horse should be on his right lead with his right legs leading.  We'll talk about counter-canters in a whole other blog!)
     Often, you will see some horses that appear to be "trotting" behind when loping but actually, what is happening is the horse is short striding behind to the extent that there is no longer a leading hind leg.  Of course this is not correct but you may see it in some novice horses as they learn to properly push off and reach up under themselves with their hind legs (and unfortunately, you also see it in some of today's Western Pleasure horses when they lack proper impulsion).   When horses are loping correctly the lope should be an even, flowing stride, exhibiting the same cadence and same speed all around the arena.
     A horse that is loping well does not drop his shoulder when going through a corner but rather pushes deep with his outside hind and then takes a longer stride with his inside hind because of the arc of the corner - or line - the horse is traveling.  If a horse must pass another horse at a lope, he also should not drop his shoulder but should almost move over laterally.  When horses drop their shoulders they pick up speed and generally just look a little sloppy because they cannot be collected when traveling with a dropped shoulder.   Remember that a horse must always be balanced from back to front and also side to side.  The operative word here is balance.  No "leaning Towers of Pisa"!  No pushing on your leg or rein!
     In short, a good lope has a "distinct gait, an easy pleasant way of going, nicely bridled, soft on the rein, carrying his back and shoulders up, engaged with the hip".  The horse should not pick up speed but stay in the same frame, at the same speed and with the same cadence all around the arena or obstacle.  
     I hope this helps you fine tune your lope or perhaps just learn to see or feel your leads better.  Talk to you next week and, Merry Christmas to all!  JD.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pivot, Turn-around, Spin

     In the winter or any off season I like to focus on exercises that can improve a horse's "basics".  I gave you some ideas last week but here are some more thoughts on some key movements.
      Pivots, turn-arounds and spins have similar components but they are not the same things and I most definitely train each as it's own separate maneuver.  This can be alot of ground to cover so I'll talk the pivot in a later blog....
     A turn-around is, simply put: a slow spin.  It's a maneuver that teaches a horse where to place his feet.  A horse should be very limber in his shoulders and execute the turn-around in a low, sweepy manner.  Turning on his haunches but reaching with his front legs.  The sequence is: outside front, crossing over inside front.  The outside leg always crossing in front of or "over" the inside leg - this is very important as the opposite impedes impulsion and will cause the horse to lose his forward motion.  Many people forget that the turn-around is a forward maneuver - especially as it builds into a true spin.  As horses build up speed in the turn-around, it helps to stablize their hindquarters but only when a horse is good at this maneuver though will I worry about their inside hind leg or "pivot foot".  Many times, this develops as you ride them. 
     A trotting circle establishes good rythm, a walking circle teaches a horse where to place his legs.  Counter bends are important because they "push" the shoulders over.  Horses that are over-bent never learn to spin properly.  I tell my students that a good general rule is to always keep a horse's body arced along the line he is traveling.
     So, lateral work is very important when teaching these moves.  Small, correct trotting circles help because a small circle positions a horses front legs correctly, helping the horse to begin the cross-over.  As I stated before, I always teach the cross-over first.
     Really good side-passes are a necessary prerequisite too.  A horse should move front and back together, not leading with either shoulder or a hip.  The body should be straight with little or no bend against the line of travel.  Often you see horses that need more work on this bent incorrectly against the line of travel, for example: side-passing to the right but bent to the left.  The bend is a training aid that helps a horse accomplish this move but as you work on the side-pass your horse's body should get straighter and straighter.  This allows the horse to really step over with that outside leg.
     If a horse starts to stall out a little when he's asked to turn-around, just squeeze with both legs, asking the horse to slightly move forward and then bump with your outside leg. 
     As you progress, the horse should "seek" the turn but not over bend or "rubber neck" so I like to bump with my outside leg, push the shoulder with my outside rein, bump the head to the inside with the inside rein and lastly, take my inside leg off the horse and give him space to move into. 
     Good luck with your regimen of winter exercises and stay warm!  Talk to you next week, JD

Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Exercises

     I hope everyone understands the value of (good) loping circles but there are so many things you can do with the circle as the basis.  Of course, your circles need to be consistant in size and speed, with the ability to speed up and slow down.  The circles need to be as round as possible - not elipses or ovals.  Once you've established good loping circles then you can really start having fun!
    I always teach my horses to spiral into a small circle and then spiral back out into a large circle.  I push out the circle out with my inside leg, keeping the horse's whole body arced nicely, then push the horse back into as small a circle as he's comfortable with, then repeat.
     I teach all my horses to counter bend when loping circles, again, making sure to move the rib cage, not just the head and neck.  About this time in a horse's training I will also introduce simple lead changes.  I always do simple changes before teaching flying changes as this helps a horse to collect up and get ready for the advanced maneuver of a flying change (assuming I choose to teach them and they're able - some horses just aren't built to do a flying change comfortably).
     I start doing counter-canters about this time as well.  I deliberately lope the horse into an egg shaped counter-canter pattern, exagerating my cues.  As the horse gets better with this, you will not have to use such obvious cues and your egg shape can potentially become a counter-cantered circle.  (Email me if this doesn't make sense and I'll help you visualize it!)  Counter-cantering really cleans up a lope and helps slow a horse down as well.  It does this by really lifting the back and shoulders and forcing a horse to use the leading inside leg.
     I also like to lope circles into the wall, using the wall as a tight barrier on one side of my circle.  This helps a horse drive up underneath himself, without me having to force the issue, just some encouragement with my leg is all that is needed.
     I really like a stop, pivot, lope off routine too.  Usually I pivot to the outside and lope off on the opposite lead, being careful to keep my circles the same size and the horse's shoulder up, with their body straight in the transition.
     Another exercise I sometimes use is to ride a circle then ride a straight line out of it and then build another circle (visualize a P or a 9, with the tail of the nine straight though! - the top is your circle, and the leg of the P or 9 is your straight line, then at the end of the leg, build another circle...).  Your horse should line his shoulders up straight whenever he comes out of your circles.  I make sure my horse is not on the wall when I do this as the wall will support the horse and I want to make sure the horse is straight in the shoulder from my cues and my leg and not just from the support of the wall, and I want him to stay straight until I arc him into my next circle.
     An advanced maneuver that is very good for Western Pleasure horses is to lope squares.  The trick here is to have very straight lines connected with sharp 90 degree angle turns.  This helps a horse to lift his shoulder but don't try this unless your horse gets very good with all the circle work I've described and remember that you'll really have to ride the rib cage to accomplish this!
     Another execise I like is to put my horses on the rail at a lope and then flex them off the bridle both to the inside and outside.  Be careful to keep their shoulder up and straight and just flex them in the poll, not the middle of their neck.  Having a horse work the wall with his head and poll flexed to the outside will really slow a horse down but again, make sure he has good basic circle work before you introduce this. 
     It takes quite a while to accomplish everything I've described here,  probably close to a year for most horses but it's well worth it.  Don't try all of these at once and don't over-ride any of them but add them patiently and carefully into your routine and I think you'll find they're a challenging way to keep your horse - and you - in tune!  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Does "Bridle Horse" Mean?

     One of you recently asked: what does "bridle horse" mean.  I love the question because there's so much to the answer!
     "Bridle horse" is an old horseman's term that came specifically from California.  It was a term used to describe a horse that had moved from the snaffle to hackamore to bridle.  Usually the term was used to describe a horse that was completely finished and "in the bridle".  These were horses that carried a spade or modified spade bit.  Often working in four reins for a year or more.
     Though the term is used today, it describes a different horse.  The old bridle horse was completely accepting of the bridle and could do any job asked of them while "packing" that bridle.  Nowadays, we usually just mean a horse that has a lot of headset on a loose rein, carrying a curb bit. 
     The old bridle horse not only carried the bit well but carried his body well.  This allowed the horse to do difficult maneuvers while "up" in the bridle.  In other words, not pulling and getting stiff, he
showed no resistance.  Many times the modern horse just hangs in the bridle, accepting the bridle but not necessarily being totally comfortable with actually working with the bridle.  Most horses today carry a different type of bit in the working classes, bits that are much easier for a horse to accept.  The modern demands of the show ring and the lack of time to bring horses along prevent us from making true bridle horses.  We still achieve horses that carry the bit well and can be very pretty but, in the true sense, they are not "bridle horses" even though they are still bridled up.
     So no, the Western Pleasure horse working in Romels is not a true bridle horse.  That phrase and the tradition goes back, way back, to when vaqueros worked cattle in California and carried 60 foot reiatas and sometimes even roped Grizzlies!
     Hope this clarifies the term for you.  If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


     I cannot tell you how very important it is to believe in your horse.  This is something I harp on with my riders all the time!  Now, this belief must be predicated on choosing the right horse for the job and choosing the correct level of competition for the horse and rider.  That being said and understood, I'll go further with this short discussion.....
     Believing in a horse's abilities gives the rider a confidence that just shines through when needed.  It gives a "look at me" appearance that can be the winning edge at a show and it helps the rider ride with assurance.  It also helps manage nerves - they just seem to melt away, allowing the rider to enjoy showing their horse.
     Believing in your horse gives the horse confidence as well.  That confidence can help them give their best performance too.  Good horses have a way of coming through with very good performances when they are allowed to succeed (read: believed in!!) by their humans. 
     So, before your next show do your homework - work hard and diligently, build and stick with those practice routines I've discussed in prior blogs - but then set the highest, most realistic expectations you can - and believe in yourself and in your horse. 
     Go to your next show or just your next lesson or ride with an "I know we can" attitude and you'll find you can achieve a lot more than you thought -  and probably have more fun along the way too!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Mare Called Sadie

     Her nickname was Sadie Sue and her registered name was Smoothsational.  She was a bay, 15 hand, Quarterhorse mare with very little white.  She was definitely her own self!
     She was an outstanding show horse, very broke to ride and competed in a number of events - Western, Hunter, Trail, and more and very, very successful at them all.  I kept this mare for years because I didn't want to be beaten by her. 
     But here's the thing:  If Sadie did not have a halter with a little catch rope (6 inches or so) on her, she was wild and unpredictable.  She would spin out, run off and kick up her heels for all she was worth and God help you if you were in the way.  And, yes, I tried various things to change this behavior.  I roped her from the ground, I made her drag a rope when loose, I put kicking chains on her, but nothing changed her.
     She was also very "snarly" in her stall.  She wanted to be left alone thank-you-very-much! But.... as soon as that halter went on she went to work and I had no problems at all.  She would go quietly to be groomed, saddled and ridden.  She was such a joy to ride.  I even gave lessons on her.  This mare really liked to be ridden and worked. 
     I have heard some very good trainers say they assess a horse by it's behavior when it's loose in a stall or pasture but Sadie proved that theory very wrong.  You can't know a book by its cover and you can't really know a horse until you've worked with them.  Rest in peace Sadie Sue - you'll live on in our memories!  (And I hope those of you who have won her perpetual trophies over the years enjoy knowing a little more about her!)  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Making a "Broke" Horse

     Wow - a broke horse, what a wonderful animal!  This is a lengthy subject though so I'll go into more detail with it in another blog.  For now, I'll start by defining what I mean by a "broke" horse.  Here are some attributes that I think are very important besides just "the basics" that go along with a good ride:
- Ability to handle from the ground easily and safely.
- Loading, hauling and unloading easily and safely.
- Being tied up without having a fit or exhibiting any behavior like pawing or rearing.
- Accepting things such as clipping and bathing (though I'll make an exception for clipping ears...they can tickle!)
- Being cooperative for the farrier.
- Knowing the word "whoa" from the ground as well as under saddle.
- Standing quietly when being saddled and groomed.
- Standing quietly with a rider on their back, waiting patiently for their next task.
- Accepting such things as a rider putting a jacket on and off while on their back.
- The skill to drag objects or carry things when asked.  My horses learn to carry flags, pull logs, carry buckets and sacks etc.  Generally, learn to trust their rider and do whatever they're asked without fear or worry.
- Opening and closing gates is also a skill I value in a "broke horse" - even if you don't have any gates to deal with, I think the movements involved in a gate - the side-pass, careful back up, moving forward slowly and deliberately when cued - can be helpful in alot of other situations (like posing for a win picture!). 
- Ability to be lead easily from the ground while my arms are full or I'm pushing a wheelbarrow.
- The ability to "pony" another horse when asked.
- And, a really broke horse might even move cows when needed (tame cows, I must admit).
     So, a broke isn't just the horse that can win their class though that's definitely a part of it.  A broke horse can do the job it's trained for easily and confidently and also live successfully and stress-free in our human world.  A broke horse is a safe and pleasant horse to be around!  More on how you get there in a future blog.......   Talk to you next week.  JD

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Old Saying

     My Dad always taught me to take care of the animals first, before anything else.  This probably came from his farming and ranching background in a time when people really depended on their animals, but I think his thoughts also came from his general fondness for animals.
     Unfortunately though, we as a country have generally left our agricultural heritage behind us and in doing so, many people have lost any interdependence with horses.  What I mean is this, we do not need our horses for plowing, hauling, transportation etc.  They're now "just" for our recreation - which I'm personally very grateful for - but here's the conundrum.....
     Horses depend on us for everything even though they only have indirect and subtle effects on our lives these days.  What I hear frequently is how much horses contribute to our emotional well being.  Now, I'm the first to admit that horses have contributed greatly and positively to my own emotional well being, but somehow, the horses still come out a distant second to many of our own needs.
     You can observe this conflict in the way we breed horses, in many training practices and in the way we care for horses.  So often, their needs are not truly our number one concern.  Examples include barns that are built to be warm and toasty for people but are really breeding grounds for germs that can attack a horse's fragile respiratory system.  You see it in mares that are bred at our convenience but foal so early that the resulting filly or colt will often struggle with health issues, lameness issues or have their ability to interact well with humans or even other horses severely stunted.  I've seen some barns that were beautiful by human standards but didn't have anything near adequate in the way of turnout or exercise facilities. And, one of my personal pet peeves, you see it in people who rush to ride or show on their busy schedule but without a thought to the down-time the horse might need before he's really ready to show or ride again.  And I could go on and on....  but you get the picture. 
     So, to wrap it up - and my apologies to John F. Kennedy:  "Ask not what your horse can do for you, but what you can do for your horse!"   Look around to figure out ways you can improve - truly improve - your horse's life.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Riding Older Horses

     Training and conditioning older, geriatric horses is very different than working with younger horses and especially middle-aged horses.  Those guys, in the midst of their working lives are by far the easiest. 
     One thing I truly believe in is that working older horses in a manner that is approprite to their overall soundness is the best option for them, it simply keeps them younger, longer.  Now, it is very important to work with your vet too when you're working with an older horse (and any horse, really) because most older horses have some issues going on, but veterinary medicine has advanced so far, it's just amazing what we can do for older horses to keep them in great shape well into their older ages. 
     As you plan your work, you'll have to make some decisions on what is right for not only the horse but what you endeavor to do with him as well as what you can do within your budget.  Here are some tips for working with the older horse:

1) Older horses lose condition quicker with age and it takes longer, much longer, to return them to a good working condition so a solid and sustainable conditioning program is a must.  Work up to condition slowly, don't rush, but once you've started the program keep it up!
2) Older horses - just like people (darn it!) - need more work to stay in condition than their younger counterparts.  A well conditioned middle-aged horse will usually keep his condition on three or so days a week riding if turned out for some additional exercise.  I find that the older horse needs four or more days a week of moderate work in addition to their daily turn-out.
3) To achieve and maintain that certain level of condition, I like to work the older horses two days back-to-back then every other day for a few days, then two days back-to-back again (this can work well if you have a busy schedule yourself.  Work your horse every other day during the week, then both days on the weekend). 
4) Remember that the older horse needs his rest but may come out a bit stiff or stocked-up after that day off.  Don't let that deter you, just warm the older horse up slowly - I like to do lots (lots!) of walking and suppling before I start to work them.  I also like to give them a breather after doing any loping and walk them again for five minutes or so between harder work. 
5) I like to do "carrot stretches" (look it up) with my older horses before and after they work.   I've worked this into Wes's daily routine and it really loosens up his neck and back before a ride - and he loves the added carrots!
6) When I'm working the older horse, I encourage them to get their neck down while we're taking our walking breaks.  This helps them stretch out and can also help keep their back stronger.
7) I personally really like keeping my older horses on Adequan.  Most get a monthy dose and sometimes more if they're doing a long haul or a hard show.  I only give bute if they've done some exceptionally strenuous work or at my vet's instruction.
8) Regular shoeing is of the utmost importance as well.  These older horses just need all the help we can give them so work with both your farrier and vet to make sure you keep them at their best from bottom to top.
9) Some of my older horses also get accupuncture as well as chiropractic care to ensure they're as flexible and comfortable as possible.

I hope these thoughts help because these older horses are real treasures and there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy yours well into the golden years!   Talk to you next week, JD.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Guide

     According to the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English, the definition of a guide is:  "A person who leads or shows the way, or directs the movements of a person or group".
     All of the people I work with have various degrees of accomplishment in the horse world.  Some more, some less, some have a long list and some a list that's still growing.  But, all of "my" people have a very good grasp of horsemanship.  They cannot be hoodwinked with bad ideas or just plain gobbeldy-gook.  It's why I enjoy them all so much.  I try to make them all into better horsemen and they make me a better horseman and teacher.  God bless each of my "students"!
     So often with my more accomplished riders, I see my role as a guide rather than a teacher.  My role is to set examples and show them ways towards their goals and lead them down paths that have been successful for me.  My job as guide is also to help them avoid pitfalls that I have either fallen into myself or have seen trip up others.  I try to help my riders avoid the errant paths that I see some others so willfully go down....
     At this point in my career, I'm not into controlling other people's actions or decisions.  That makes everything so difficult and often causes clients much frustration.  Instead, I try to give my riders enough information and background so that they can make up their own minds and make their own decisions.  I give them the best advice I possibly can and I don't ever want to discourage anyone, but I do want all of my people to be realistic.  Realistic evaluations and realistic goals prevent everyone from being disappointed or frustrated.  Sometimes though, I find that my job as their guide is to nudge them back onto a successful path when they have made an unrealistic decision or, say - want too much, too fast, from their horse.
     So, I continue to guide, and I hope lead by example as well as by advice.  I want everyone to be successful but even more importantly, I want everyone to be the best they can be.  That's my personal goal!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Friendship and Horses

     I have a friend who has loads of ability, plus works hard, is willing to learn and really likes horses.  In short, this person is just about everything you could ask for in a successful trainer.
     Slowly, we became friends just riding together, warming up horses and talking mostly about our work.  We discuss training techniques, management issues, equine personalities and so on.  In the process, a friendship developed, a friendship based on mutual respect.  And just as older trainers helped me, I've been passing along some of my knowledge and experience to my friend.
     Over time, I've been able to give this person some input on things that I've learned and I've watched this trainer come to have a much better understanding of the whole process, watched their skills improve and their techniques change when needed.  I've enjoyed watching them achieve a whole new, much higher, level of training.
     This is more important to me than money or winning.  This is passing the baton on to a new generation, a generation that will ultimately improve the whole art of horsemanship just as every past generation has done.  And what a priviledge this has been - friendship and horses make everything worthwhile!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, August 10, 2014

More on Left and Right.....

     A horse with a very hollow side - for instance on the right - will often lope a little faster that direction because the horse overbends and is not in balance.  Often they will drop their shoulder which, in turn, will cause their left hip (in this example) to go to the outside. 
     On the opposite side, the horse often travels in a less cadenced manner and will often have trouble reaching up deep with his inside hind leg causing his body to appear stiff and straight.  Most horses look their best with a slight arc to the inside (very slight, I tell my riders they should only barely see the in-side of their horse's eye) so this stiffness, caused by the hollow side, makes the lope less pleasing to ride and to look at.  Every horse is different and some do need to be a bit straighter than others so good judgement is also part of this exercise.
     Now, when the horse becomes properly supple and balanced, the quality of the lope will definitely improve and so will his speed.   The horse will round up, lift his back and slow down.  But remember that they cannot do this if they're too stiff or too "hollow" because then they cannot balance.
     So.... I teach that balance is not only back to front but also (and this is so important!) from side to side.  If for instance, a horse is leaning on your leg or your rein, he is not balanced.  Some work that can help you with your horse's balance include a series of spiralled circles (first large, then with your outer leg, pushing the horse into a small circle, than back out again into a large circle - careful to keep the spirals circles - no ovals or stop signs!).  Also, leg-yields and counter canters and reverse arcs can help to lift the shoulder and build balance.  I always work both sides but I like to start with the stiff side, then the good side, then back to the stiff side again. 
     As I said a few weeks ago though, none of these exercises are "one hit wonders" - you have to stick with a program to see results.  Think about which warm-up exercises will help your horse the most and work them in every time you ride.  I hope this quick tip helps with your next ride!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cookie's First (Real) Trail Show!

     We recently took Joanne's mare Cookie (CHF I Double Dare Ya) to her first real show as part of our show team.  Cookie has alot of experience going to shows but not performing as a Trail horse.  In Trail, she's still quite the novice.
      So, the goal was to get to know her in a yet another different setting.  I don't think you ever know a horse thoroughly until you show them.  Our other goal was to continue to school her on different Trail obstacles, different bridges and gates etc.  Though she truly did need schooling - or, as I think of it, ongoing exposure to different things - she did really well with the new challenges and we were very pleased with her progress.
     Earlier this year the Open and Amateur Trail courses would have been very difficult for her and I very much believe in NOT over-challenging a Trail horse too soon in their career (I expect all my horses to have very long careers!).  I believe in building confidence, not sucking it right out of them.  So, earlier this year we took her to another show but only put her in one class - a non-rated walk/trot class with Joanne (a "ten and way-over" walk trot class!) - where she did very well for her level of training.  She was able to warm up on all the obstacles and even school on some lope poles in the warm-up arena.  In the main arena though, she did only walk-trot and while even some of the trot obstacles were a push for her, she was able to maintain her confidence and wasn't overchallenged.
     Between that early show and now, I've worked to build Cookie's abilities, teach her how to lengthen and shorten, bend in the ribcage and pay attention over obstacles.  As she showed ability and confidence with one lope pole, I added another, then three and I'll keep adding various other challenges as time goes on, but always with an eye to maintaining her confidence and form.
     So, Cookie continues to learn and become a confidence Trail horse.  She still has a ways to go and I will continue to look for maiden and novice classes for her if I can find them just as I have all the other horses I have started in this demanding discipline.  But our patient building blocks are paying off.
     Does she still have some issues?  Yes, but as she gains confidence and learns how to negotiate a course and, importantly, learns to trust her rider, everything will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle!   Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Staying the Course

     (Aaaah - I'm back after a nice break for some shows and personal travel and I have a lot on my mind to tell you about!  A break does everyone - and every horse - good now and then!)
     So often, I see people going to this and that clinic, taking a few lessons here and a few there, trying out yet another new trainer or buying the current fad in bits or training equipment.  Trying every latest thing to "fix" their horse when maybe what needs fixing is the rider or the program.
     Every rider must learn the principles of basic training and they also must work on their own seat and hands, their timing and their rhythm.  Everyone needs to evaluate their technique and understand what works and what doesn't and what's appropriate for their horse and discipline.  (I know - I tend to harp on this!)
     Along with their riding skills, they need to decide a good course of action, say - a specific program.  And, once you choose a program you must give it a chance to help.  Trying something for a day or week or even a month and expecting miracles just doesn't work.  Horses are not trained overnight.  I can give you the best advice in the world and know in my heart that my advice will help your situation but if you don't work at it, day after day, not even great advice will help.  I do expect to see progress but that doesn't mean a problem is instantly fixed - they take time.  So this is what I mean when I say "stay the course".
     Also, be sure you consider how and why some methods were developed.  Some things just won't work with some horses - period.  There are so many variables: conformation, trainability and breeding are at the top of the list I consider when I make a plan.  Some horses work well with some methods and other horses of the same breed will absolutely fail. 
     So, before you try another new method or technique, consider all the factors.  Then, if you are satisfied that you've found the right method or right trainer etc., give the program a fair chance to work.  Expect progress yes, but in small doses, one step at a time, and even with a set back now and then but, if you stay the course often you'll end up on top of the pyramid!   Hope this helps, talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thoughts on Transitioning to the Bridle: Snaffle to Curb

     Most horsepeople understand that horses should be started in the snaffle and most even have a basic idea of why this is correct but, I'd like to review it a little anyway to make sure it really makes sense.
     A snaffle has direct contact only, not leverage.  It works primarily off the corners of the horse's mouth and puts some pressure on the tongue.  A snaffle is easy for a horse to learn to accept and learn to pick up and carry in his mouth.  It's easy for the rider too because it works well with primary rein cues (i.e. direct rein and opening rein).  It also works well with alternating reins.  All in all, it's good basic education for the horse.
     Now, a horse must learn to "give" to the snaffle too.  He must learn to turn and follow the rein around, backing up and having a nice easy stop with no resistance.  All of this is very important before he transitions to a curb bit.  I want a horse to be able to collect up at all gaits and in all transitions.  He should also circle well at all gaits (and I mean circles - not eggs or stop signs!).  The horse should show no resistance at all, he should not push on the bridle or root or elevate his neck.  All should be soft and pretty.
     I like to teach all young snaffle bit horses basic things like side passes, counterbends and flexing to the side.  Serpentines and spirals are nice exercises too.  This work is all based on that circle work done earlier in the training process.  (It really works too, to remember these exercises and make them an ongoing part of your horse's training and warm-up program.  They should never go away.)
     Only when a horse has accomplished all of the above do I think he's ready for the next step.  If the horse is a junior horse, I will move him to a hackamore next.  A hackamore gives nice indirect leverage and with two hands.  The horse must learn to do all of those basic maneuvers in this new piece of equipment.  He starts to understand the "lift" and the feel of leverage and I think it helps a junior horse learn to respond softly and confidently to the curb.
     If the horse is six years or older though, I'll put him a very mild, jointed and limber curb bit with short curved shanks.  And......the process starts all over again!  I think its so important that the horse learns and gains confidence as he progresses through each layer of training so I think of the transition from snaffle to bridle as a series of building blocks, one on top of another.  Hope this helps!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Luck of the Draw

     Luck?  No, I'm not thinking about Poker.  As usual, I'm thinking about horses or, in this case rather, the breeding of them.
     Good and knowledgable horsemen study pedigrees, phenotype, show records and everything else.  They consider the mare versus the potential sires' strengths as well as weaknesses.  They endeavor to make a foal that's better than either parent.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.  If you breed often, the role of the dice occasionally falls in your favor but then, there's always the "fluke" too - that absolutely gorgeous foal out of very ordinary parents or those world-champion parents who produced a very ordinary foal. 
     So, what am I leading up to?  That there is a large element of luck in any horse breeding!  People can brag about what smart breeders they are all they want to but in the end it's often a gamble.  If you look at the number of foals top breeders produce to get that top colt or filly, you'll see that along with all that study and planning - luck often also figures in.  (I guess I'm just a little tired of hearing the
media talk about how smart the breeders of California Chrome are and just how stupid everybody else was!) 
     I have bred just one mare in my career.  A mare I dearly loved and that I thought was worth attempting to reproduce.  I did my homework and found I had a vision in mind when I picked the stallion and I got a really nice filly out of the cross.  She's now a multiple National Champion and has done more than I dared dream she'd accomplish.
     But, no - the filly, "Tilly" wasn't exactly what I had in mind either.  She loves to jump and is very good at it but I don't train Jumpers - that certainly was not in my "vision".  See what I mean?  You just never know the outcome when you decide to breed.  Was I smarter than someone else to end up with a multiple National Champion out of one cross?  Absolutely not!  I just won the "luck of the draw"!   Talk to you next week, JD.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Excuses, Excuses!

     I hear people make excuses for their horses all the time, trying to find a reason for the horse's errant behavior.  An assessment is all good and fine but horses don't reason and they don't talk so while examination of an issue may be necessary, be careful you don't go down the slippery slope of making excuses.
     To explain what I mean, I'll tell you about a little dog we adopted a while back.....  This little guy had alot of baggage, including a biting problem that stemmed from fear.  He was very unsure of himself and very afraid of children.  He'd been roughly handled by his previous owners and hurt by children. He was on "death row" at the pound until we gave him time and attention and security and we were thrilled to see him improve consistently. 
     He was well on the road to success except in one area.  He still snapped at children.  He would even run at them and snap at them even if they weren't really near him, for instance, five feet away.  Bad - very bad!  We had tried reintroducing him slowly to children who treated him gently as we held him.  We worked to give him security and control.  We worked carefully to teach him the difference.  So, there were no excuses but instead, it was time to try another tactic.
     The time had come for some discipline, which we quickly applied. It took only a few sessions and now this little dog is completely trustworthy with children and everyone else.  It pleases me so much to see the kids at the barn playing with him and watch him make many friends.
     So, here's the thing, this is no different than bad behavior with horses.  It doesn't matter what started it, you must deal with the misbehavior in a decisive manner that the horse understands.  If one approach (applied thoughtfully and consistently) doesn't work, don't make excuses, make a change. 
     Horses live in the moment and often what starts out as a reaction to something just becomes a habit the horse has learned to do and there's no longer even a connection between what originally caused the problem and their current acting out.  Horses can quickly become like spoiled children, but they are 1,000 lb spoiled children so that's a real problem!
     Getting the horse's attention and disciplining them for bad behavior (eg. pawing, jumping up and down in the trailer or cross ties, refusing to stand still, and oh so much more!) will ensure the horse learns manners and doesn't become more and more difficult, to the point of being dangerous.
     Horses have to live with people and must be safe to be around - just like that little dog.  Horses that succeed and learn good manners usually lead very good lives but those that don't learn these lessons often end up in very bad situations.  Help your horse succeed by thinking twice next time you're tempted to make an excuse for his bad behavior.  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


     I'm a big proponent of the KISS method of training and teaching.  For the uninitiated, KISS is the acronym that generally means "keep it simple, stupid!".  It means the gobldy-gook stops here.
     This way of viewing things, I think, is good for all - horses and students and even trainers.  One of the many reasons I believe this to be true is that so often the basics seem to get lost.  We either forget to teach them or just don't understand the importance of the basics ourselves.
     I have often said that what seems to be a rather simple concept can have far-ranging ramifications.  For example, simple things like balance or collection or momentum - what do they really mean and how do they work together?  How do we apply them?  Something so simple as moving a horse's ribcage can be so misunderstood!  Or how forehand versus haunches.  And what about a pivot on the forehand versus a true turn on the forehand?  Here's another one I see so often misunderstood:  A proper side pass and how to start it.  Yikes!  I could go on and on but I'd probably bore you!
    Here's the thing though, the future of the horse industry really depends on good training and solid teaching practices.  As we are scrutinized by "outsiders", we must rely on solid basics, not gimmicks for our wins.  True training takes time.  I have spent my lifetime thinking and learning and just plain trying to understand how and why it all comes together.  Why and how some techniques work and some don't and how they are related.  The more you understand, the easier - and simpler - everything becomes.
     Training horses is not just about being a good jockey, it's about technique and it's about understanding the way horses move.  It's about learning the basics, learning all you can about equipment and, learning to have soft hands and being wise about how to use them.  In the end though, it's about KISS.  Look, listen, learn, ask questions and KISS..... "keep it simple, smart!".   Talk to you next week, JD

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Right & Left

     Some people seem to believe that horses are only more left sided than right sided because we primarily handle them from the left side.  I don't believe that to be the case.  I've seen horses that are more right sided than left though the left does seem to often be their more preferred side, just as the right is in humans.
     What is interesting to me, and helpful as I train, is that the side the horse prefers is his stronger side - whichever that is.  The opposite side - often the right but sometimes the left - is typically more supple or the "softer" side.  Now, this is important.  Horses are not as one sided as most people are and some show little preference for the right or the left.  It seems the more athletic a horse is, the more "ambidexterous" he will tend to be.
     So, how all this works out is:  horses have what is called a stiff side and a hollow side.  Often the horse that is naturally left leaded will turn better and easier to the right, and, for example, will do a flying lead change easier to the right.  That horse changes easier into his softer, more supple side.
    As trainers and riders, our job is to make our horses more evenly sided.  As I mentioned, very talented horese don't show strong prefrences and are often much easier to train but the majority of horses do have a clear supple versus stiff side. 
     By understanding which side your horse is supple on and which side he's stiff on, you can focus your work accordingly.  Perhaps starting excersises on the stiff side, then going to the supple side, then ending on that harder side until the day you find that you can't really tell the difference!  I hope these thoughts help during your next ride!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

An Old Saying

     As the old saying goes: "time is money"  So true!  And, so all of us must use our time in the most efficient manner possible.  Often, this means evaluating what our goals are, where we want to end up, and prioritizing accordingly.  As with training....  Focus on a goal then decide what needs to be done to accomplish the end result.  Also, consider the time factor if there is one - for example, aiming to compete in a Fall Futurity - what must occur between "now" and "then" to make it happen?
    Also, consider whether you're teaching the horse what it needs to learn for the discipline you are riding.  To do otherwise is inefficient and a "waste of time".
    Many people mix up techniques that don't go well together.  This just makes everything more complicated to say the least.  I firmly believe that one must fully understand every maneuver and technique when riding.  For instance, an opening rein when used on a young colt is absolutely the correct technique but, it is of limited value (i.e. usually a waste of time) when working with an advanced horse. 
     Spend your time with your horse wisely and you'll reap the rewards!  Talk to you next week, JD

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Good Memories

     I've got a closet full of show clothes that I'll probably never wear again.  For various reasons I do not show personally any more but I just can't let go of these hats, chaps, shirts, etc. 
     I still remember getting my first pair of chaps when I was just a kid and how excited I was.  I remember my first good western hat with the perfect shape and crease, done by hand of course! 
     In my early days, I didn't have a lot of money so I saved and saved.  I always bought the highest quality I could possibly afford.  I did this because I was proud to be a horseman and because I came from a tradition where proper quality attire reflected your seriousness about horses and horsemanship. It wasn't about bling, though we did want to catch the judges' eye, it was about style and class, which is as important today as it ever was.  Yeah, the styles may be different, but you can still spot the class acts every time.
     Along with chaps and hats, and boots and shirts, I always paid attention to all my equipment.  I invested in quality bits and saddles.  I may not have had nice furniture at home but I always had good tack!  I wanted my horses to look their best and perform their best too.  I believed and still do, that all this makes a difference.  It tells the world that you care about your horses and your horsemanship.
     So, when I open that closet door it brings back so many good memories.  A lifetime with horses and I have no regrets.  Being a horseman is a journey that I will continue going on until my life is over.  I know no other path, nor would I want one.  It's true:  Old horsemen never die, they just ride off into the sunset!   I hope you are building your own good memories!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Horses are Horses

     Sounds obvious doesn't it?  But, in reality, I constantly see people who don't seem to have the least bit of awareness of who and what horses are.   If you acknowledge the uniqueness of the species it makes everything else so much easier to understand.  But trying to put human thoughts and values to a horse just doesn't make any good sense.
     For horses to excel in our world, we must accept them for who they are.  Among what they are is an athlete who runs or shys whenever they feel at risk.  This is basic survival for a horse!  They are not being stupid they're just being survivors as a species.
     Horses also have another survival trait: a very good long term memory.  They also have good powers of association which makes them trainable, but they are not logical thinkers by nature.  They have all of the basic emotions but in a thousand pound body. 
     Horses do not however "love" -  it's just not part of their make-up.  They are not capable of it, it's only we humans that can give our love.  Horses are though, very capable of definite likes and dislikes, and sometimes very intensely so.  I've had horses that formed very strong friendships with other horses and showed signs of depression when their equine friends departed.  I'm not talking about "herd bound" syndrome but friendship does make sense if you put it in context of getting along in a herd.
     Being herd animals really helps us as trainers and owners etc. because all herds have a hierarchical system.  Herds that I've watched not only have a lead horse but also a second-in-command.  And, make no mistake that there are definitely horses at the bottom of the chain, use this to your advantage.  If a horse respects you and you respond in kind, you have a better basis for a great relationship.
     Never forget that every horse is born wild and we tame each and every foal that is born, it doesn't matter that it's born in a stable or not.  Horses are so capable of learning and adjusting to domesticity that they can become willing partners.
     Horses that understand what is expected of them are potentially content or "happy" (not a good term).  It sets them up for success but to achieve this, we must train and treat them as horses, not as  human buddies.
     So yes, groom your horse to you heart's content, it's part of the herd's behavior, but for example: don't over do the treat thing because that's human behavior and just causes horses to get pushy and rude.  Instead, reward your horse with a pat (I do) but remember that the best reward of all for him is for you to just get off and loosen the cinch.  Treat and understand your horse as a horse and he'll give you back so much.
     I could go on but that's enough for now.  I hope these thoughts help you build a great relationship with your horse!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Making Friends

  Ok, I may be biased, but I think horse people are some of the best people on earth!  They work hard, play hard (if they ever get the time!), love their horses, are crazy about their dogs, are competitive but are always willing to help when needed.  No pulling on face masks here, if you get my drift, horse people are just horse people at their core.
     I've made long lasting friendships on the show circuit just by sharing a cup of coffee on a cold morning or sipping a glass of wine with someone after a long day.  I've made friends by loaning out something simple to someone in need - like a crop or a longe line or some tail wrap.  I've made friends by helping someone with a pattern or just by holding a horse.  Sometimes it's the little things that can bring people together and really make such a difference.
     I've shown a lot of breeds and I think what makes Arabian shows so nice is the camaraderie.  People mingle between disciplines and mingle between barns.  While I'm walking the dogs, people often stop to ask about them and it's a nice way to start a conversation that builds beyond what we show.  Almost anybody at the show will help you when asked.  If you forgot something, someone will probably be able to help you out and they do it so gladly! 
     These examples are among the reasons why I became an Arabian enthusiast.  It's not just the horses I love, it's the people too!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


     Movement is such an important quality in a horse so I'd like to briefly address this subject.  In short and in fact, the horses with the better conformation generally move much better.  That said, keep in mind though that halter horses are bred for the breed ideal and are not bred for performance so rarely are they the best movers, often they do move nicely but not greatly.
     We evaluate a horse's movement depending on the standards of the breed and the type of work the horse will be doing.  Horses that are good movers within their breed and discipline standard make the job look easy and effortless.  Often, these horses find their respective jobs less demanding than their less talented stablemates.
     A good moving horse is not only a joy to watch, he is also easy to ride and nice to train.  If (for instance) you have found that the jog is difficult to sit, you most certainly have not ridden a horse that has a natural easy jog.  If you are having trouble teaching a horse to lope, it is probably due in part to the horse's lack of natural ability and comfort at the lope, and so on....
     Now yes, we can improve a horse's gate through training.  Supplying excercise also helps all horses.  Teaching horses good collection always improves a horse.  The work of a good shoer is also a "must" in my opinion.  But, you cannot make a bad mover into a good mover with shoes, nor can you make a mediocre mover into a very good mover with shoes.  The horse either has it or he doesn't.  Now, I certainly believe you can enhance a good horse through good training and shoeing - just as you want the proper running shoes on an Olympic miler.
     So, when you're evaluating your next horse, be sure to look for good movement!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


     Unique = of which there is only one; unequaled; having no like, equal or parallel. 

     I've been training horses for a very long time.  I've thrown my leg across many, many horses and,  I've found that each and every one is a unique individual.
     In general, people like to categorize things and trainers like to categorize horses.  I do it as well.  It helps clients understand their horses in a broad sense and it also helps them realize their problems are shared by other horse people.  But, every time I use categorization as an aid to teaching or in a discussion, I'm aware that there is more left unsaid than said.  Sometimes its so hard to really express or describe what I want to say so I fall into broad categories.
     But, every horse is unique, like no other horse has been and like no other horse will be.  They are individuals and when we forget this we never do the horse justice.  Sure, there are lazy horses and overachievers.  There are worriers and fuss-budgets.  There are stubborn horses, sullen horses, fearful horses, confident horses and horses with no confidence whatsoever.  But, each one has his own personality and deserves to be treated as a unique individual.
     When we remember to do this, we give the horse the respect it deserves and a greater chance to succeed at whatever task we are teaching it and, we are no longer just mass producing horsees for the show ring or cow pen or whatever.  We become better horsemen and our horses are just so much more fun and interesting to be around.  The whole process of training and developing a horse to it's full - and unique - potential is so rewarding!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


     Over coffee recently, with a long-time friend who's also a professional horseman, we got to discussing why some people seem to always be having trouble with their horses being resistant or "heavy".  It was an interesting conversation that could have gone on all day but I want to relate one small but useful gem from what we talked about, or - truth be told - what I was thinking while we talked.
     I think most people understand the concept that you can't make a heavy mouthed horse (or heavy sided horse for that matter) soft by just being soft.  The opposite is quite true.  If you meet resistance in the mouth, you must create what I call a soft wall with your hands, then bump your horse forward into that wall until the horse softens and gives to the bit.  (For more tips on how to create that soft wall, see my January 27, 2014 blog.)
     So far so good - right?  But here's where the problems start......  You must release (or "soften") just as soon as the horse gives and yields to your hands.  If you do not soften your aids - in this case, your hands - then the resistance comes.  If the rider fails repeatedly to soften or "give back" when the horse gives, you often see horses just "give up" and then they can get really heavy, really quickly.
     My good friend agreed with me that there is so much more to this subject and we could have talked all day.  Instead, we mutually agreed to leave some of the topic for a later conversation but I hope this thought helps during your next ride!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


     Definition:  Efficient = Productive with minimum of waste or effort.

     One thing I take a small amount of pride in, is that over the years I have learned to be an efficient trainer.  Now, this does not mean that I rush things or work in a hurry because that is most definitely not the case.
     What I mean is that I don't waste time on things that have proven to not get the results I want.  I have learned to let my horses tell me when to move onward, or add a level of complexity.  I have carefully honed my skills so that the techniques I use get results, and, of course results are the
ultimate key to success in anything you do. 
     I'm constantly assessing and re-assessing every ride to make sure there is real progress.  I am quite happy with slow progress but progress none-the-less.  I believe the turtle most often wins over the hare and that if you hurry and rush, often you must go backwards to "fix" a problem that has arisen.  I see this happening frequently to people.
     To be truly efficient, you cannot try to teach a horse something he is not yet ready to learn.  For example, don't begin trying to teach a side-pass if the horse isn't yet willing to move his rib cage off your leg. Or, don't start to teach a horse to spin before your horse easily crosses over in front.  Don't try to teach a horse to back between poles before he backs readily and straight without poles.  I think you get my point....
     I hope these thoughts help you consider how you might make your program more efficient and get results!  Talk to you next week, JD

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rants and Raves

    For those of you who like the "Rant and Rave" column in the weekly paper, here's my own version:

Rant:  People who decide to bathe horses for absolutely no reason in below-40 degree weather.  Horses get cold just like we do so put off bathing until the weather or barn is warm.  A good, deep curry can do wonders in the meantime and if you must bathe, think about just washing a tail or make sure you have plenty of warm coolers to pile on after the bath, and make sure you have time to wait for them to do their job of wicking the moisture off your horse.

Rave:  People who sweep up after their horses in the cross-ties every single time.  Thank you, thank you, thank you is all I can say!

Rant:  People who don't make any effort to walk their horsees out after a hard, sweaty work and just tie them up with a cooler.  Walking out to cool down keeps the blood circulating while the horse's respiration also gets back to normal and decreases the chance of them stocking-up.

Rave:  People who make the time and effort to warm up their horses before putting them to work.  Going to work cold can cause injuries.  I like to make sure my horse's brain, as well as his muscles, tendons and ligaments are ready for work. 

Rant:  People who wait until just before a show or event then decide they need a lesson or help with something.  My advice: stay current and ride like there's a show tomorrow, all year long!

Rave:  People who prepare themselves and their horses far in advance of a show and stay ahead of the game. You know who you are, and you enjoy the results.

Rant: People who think horses are there for them, instead of the other way around.  We must be there for our horses, otherwise it gets completely out of whack. 

Thanks for listening!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Long Haul, Part II

     My thoughts are with all the people hauling trailers this time of year.  Whether you've headed to Scottsdale over the Rockies or through Oregon's Siskiyous or you're just trailering up the road to a local show it can be tough if you're not prepared (and that also includes being prepared to cry "uncle" and know when enough's enough - there's always another show!).  Be safe everyone! 
     Last fall I shared some of  my thoughts on taking care of your truck and trailer and loading and planning for a safe trip.  Here are some more of my tips on how to make those long hauls as successful as possible:
     My main focus is on getting the horses to where they are going as quickly and safely as possible.  All long hauls have some inherent stress but I make every attempt to make the haul as easy on the horses as I can. 
     I usually don't offer my horses water when I stop for fuel.  I find they either don't drink or don't drink enough to make a difference (since a sip or two won't hydrate a horse).  Horses in the wild often travel long distances to find water and go for hours without it.  Horses that are experienced travelers learn to drink deeply when they arrive at their destination and I find that by trying to get them to drink on the road just wastes precious time that would be better spent gettting them to that night's destination where they can really rest and drink their fill.
     I also don't grain my horses when hauling long distances but they can have all the chop, hay, alfalfa pellets or beet pulp they want.  When I get to my final destination, I will wait for several hours before giving them grain or I might even wait until the next day's noon feeding.  I feed three times a day and I usually feed grain and supplements mid-day and evening.  In the morning, they get hay only.  (This can also help when you have early classes.)
     At overnight stops, I like to plan my arrival and departure so I can rest my horses 8 or 9 hours.  I find they are ready to go the next morning and need less time to recuperate from the haul once we get to the show.  If your horse is a finicky drinker, add electrolytes to its feed during overnight stops.  Electrolytes will encourage them to drink.  We also always give the horses some sort of medicine such as a probiotic along the way, to prevent colic. 
     Something else I should mention:  I try to put horses together in the trailer and at nightly stops that get along with each other.  And, if you have a horse that bites, put a muzzle on him.  I haul a mix of sexes, a stallion, mares and geldings.  The stallion goes up front, then geldings and finally the mares.  If you have trouble with your stallion, I find that a little Vicks in his nose will help so he can't smell the mares (and I'll sometimes do this a mare too if she tends to act up around a stallion).  I always start the mares on Regumate before the haul so that helps them as well.
     I don't like to haul in leg wraps.  I find that horse's legs really heat up under them - not good if you're on the road for hours.  If I must wrap a leg, I will use heavy quilts under the wraps and secure the wrap with duct tape so it won't come undone during the haul.  We might use a wrap on a horse that hits itself or its neighbors while hauling.  There's just no hard and fast rule here, whatever works.  We do use bell boots with some horses to keep them from pulling off shoes, especially if they're built up or have extra support. 
     I'd like to add that I make sure all my horses have at least one whole day to just rest after we arrive after a long haul.  They get some light excerise on the second day and are back to regular work by the third day.  And then, they're ready for the show!  There's nothing better than a horse that's easy to load, happy to haul and and easy-keeper once you get where you're going.  I hope these tips help you eliminate some of the stress of hauling.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Soft Wall

     I didn't start writing blogs to teach people how to train horses but, rather I wanted to share information on how to become better and (hopefully) more successful at their horse endeavors.  To that end, on occassion I write about discussions we've had at the barn.  Here I go again....
     When I ride, people (not just clients) often ask questions and so I get a chance to explain what I'm doing and why.  The other day, I was working with an older horse, a horse that can be a little afraid of moving up to the bridle when loping.  Now this horse has a lot of natural head set and can pretty much "hang" in the bridle as long as nothing is asked of him.  Well, that doesn't work for Trail and it certainly doesn't work when trying to improve a horse's collection. 
     So, I will let the horse hit my hands when it hits the bit.  I don't pull or jerk, I just create a soft, pliable wall with my hands.  I tighten my fingers on the reins but my hands stay put.  After the horse hits this "soft wall", it will drop back to the bridle as I push him with my legs (being careful to not add too much momentum).
     Using this technique, the horse will lean to move up to the bridle when asked and not to be afraid of the bridle because you're not hurting his mouth, you're just containing him.  You've made it easy for him to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing.
     This method is borrowed from classic dressage and it helps greatly if the horse has been bitted-up and worked properly from the ground during longing or ground driving.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Orleans

     As many of you know, I love to travel and see "the world", I like to walk and wander the streets of a city, just absorbing everything around me.  I was back in New Orleans recently doing just that.
     The French Quarter in New Orleans has many mule-pulled wagons for tourists.  For the most part, the mules are well cared for and are suitable for the job so I like to go down, deep into the "Quarter" and admire them.  I was really annoyed though at one driver, here's what happened.....
     There's a lot of crazy traffic in New Orleans, tourists and locals driving the narrow streets, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, bicycle carts, noise, music and lots of confusion - even a one-man-band taking up a lane of traffic as he played and pushed his "float" of dozens of instruments down the middle of the road. 
     So, this mule driver somehow got into a real problem at an intersection.  It probably wasn't his fault (not sure) but instead of calmly trying to get out of a bad situation, he lost his cool, got really mad - cussing etc. - and nearly got his mule hurt and his wagon wrecked.  He darn near jack-knifed his wagon and in the process almost hit a car (who was probably the problem in the first place) and put his mule in a very precarious situation.
     The mule "knew better" and didn't want to make the turn but the driver forced the mule.  Now, in this case it all turned out ok but not because of the wagon driver who thoughtlessly put his mule at risk.  So, what bothers me about this?  Well, several things really.
     Firstly, we as horse people do not make good decisions when we are mad.  The thinking human in this case lost his temper and was not taking care of his animal or even himself.
     Secondly, all good training is based on trust.  The bargain we make with horses is that we will take care of them and not put them in harm's way.  We will be responsible in our expectations and our behavior.  The horse's (or mule's!) part of the bargain is to willingly do what we ask and give their utmost when needed.
     Thirdly, we as a horse community must be very aware of how we are perceived by the non-horse-owning public.  This mule was well cared for and this was probably an isolated incident but I'm sure many people were aghast by what they saw of the driver's actions and reactions.
     Here's the big problem: I think that if we in the horse community are not careful in our actions, we stand to be interfered-with by well meaning but ignorant animal rights groups.  The non-horse-owning public and even some owners with little experience are often not qualified or  prepared to understand the relationship between horses and their trainers and riders/handlers.  I firmly believe that only horsemen have the knowledge to give the best care and insure that horses lead good and productive lives.
     Horses and mules are not pets, they are working animals.  Most, if trained properly, are happy with this bargain we make.  Just watch any good horse doing "his job" and I'm sure you will agree.  This relationship could change if we allow outside sources to have input into the care and training of horses.  The only way to prevent this is to make sure we conduct ourselves in a professional and horseman-like manner at all times!  See you next week!  JD (And...... Go 'Hawks!!)

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Side Pass

     I see many people struggle with the side pass.  Often their horses have not had enough basic work leading up to the side pass and sometimes the horse is just not ready.  This makes for lots and lots of resistance on the part of the horse.
     So briefly, here are some of the steps I go through in developing a good side pass:  First, the horse must do good walking and small jogging circles - bending through them with their whole body, stepping up with their inside hind leg and dropping down nicely into bridle while wrapping around my inside leg.
     Second, I like to spiral the jogging circles, making them large then small again by applying my inside and outside leg appropriately.  This begins to move the horse's rib cage.  The rib cage is so important!
     Next, I like to teach a counter bend, preferably at both the walk and jog.  Often it is easier to introduce this maneuver from a jog as the momentum really helps.  Again, make sure the horse is yielding softly and dropping down in the bridle. 
     I rarely find it necessary to use a fence when teaching a side pass, it's just not necessary and I think it can create another set of problems to deal with later.  I also rarely start a horse side-passing over a pole, I'll introduce the pole later, when the horse is comfortable with the basics of the maneuver.
     When the horse is totally comfortable and accepting of all this, then I start the side pass.  I like to ask my horse to step forward (from a stop, then ask him to move laterally over.  Be sure to give your horse a space to move into by releasing or opening up your leg on the side the horse is moving into.  If the horse starts to lead with his shoulder, I stop the shoulder (essentially blocking the horse momentarily with rein and my leg slightly in back of the cinch) and move the hip until it is in line with the shoulder.  If the horse's hip is getting ahead of his shoulder, I open my off rein up and "push" the shoulder with the opposite rein and use my leg right at the cinch.  If the horse gets balky and resistant, I move him forward and try it again.  If he's still resisting, I might work on something else for a while, let my horse clear his mind, then come back to try the side pass again with a fresh start.
     I always finish a side pass with the horse's body in a straight line - never curved.  Over time you will get a nice side pass with the horse crossing over in the front and the back.  Hope this helps!  Talk to you next week, JD.