Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Importance of Being Flexible

It's important to be flexible. I'm not talking about being able to touch your toes - although that's nice too. No, I mean in working with horses.

I have a horse named Two Strike. I acquired him in January 2010 when I went to pick him up to train for someone and he ended up being given to me. I'd actually seen him for the first time the past May and he'd stuck in my mind ever since. So when he was offered to me, it didn't take me long to make the decision.

He is a... "different" kind of horse. Highly reactive and not very trusting at all. In an oddly ironic way, he has lived up to his name - having met my thigh with his hoof two times. The first was an accident, the second was my fault. Both were cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with a horse who thinks everyone and everything is going to eat him, right NOW.

Despite all of the challenges he presents, I can tell that he wants to be a good boy. He tries hard, sometimes too hard, to give what is asked of him. By that I mean that he will move QUICKLY when asked. He is always on alert and it's rare to ever see him in a relaxed state.

Anyway, he hasn't had much work done with him over the past several months due to the roller coaster ride my life had taken me on this summer. Last night I decided to get back to work with him. So I gathered up some tools - a training stick, lunge line, and bridle. Then I went to get him.

We started in the arena at liberty. I let him blow off some steam while I set the direction and speed. Then we moved to the round pen. I found myself working him off line and I ended up focusing on two things. One - turning in to face me when he changes direction. Two - "Whoa" means stop where you are and don't move. Somehow along the way he had come to the conclusion that "Whoa" means "Come here" - which has no translation for when someone is on his back. Whoa means whoa... or quite simply, stop.

We worked on those little things until I was happy with his changes of direction and until he stopped three times and stayed at the fence. Then I called him in and gave him some attention.

My next step was to climb up on the fence and got him to come in close - something he's always been very wary of (having someone up high). We worked through that for a little while. All I did was stroke his neck over and over and over from above, until he relaxed. He was surprisingly calm and seemed quite relaxed at the end of our training session.

As I walked him out of the arena, I happened to notice the training stick, lunge line, and bridle all hung neatly outside the gate where I had put them. I smiled a bit as I remembered that I'd had plans for the training session. I ended up on a different path and I think it was for the better.

Yep, it's important to be flexible when working with a horse.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

False starts

I feel like my life has been a series of false starts. It's almost like once I get things going well and building up steam, everything derails - in some cases catastrophically - and I have to start over, again. Maybe that's why one of my favorite symbols is the mythological phoenix. Wait, there are no maybes about it - that IS the reason why I love the phoenix. If I'm not a human example of a phoenix then I don't know who is.

I came into the beginning of this year flying high with plans for my horses. I had a couple of different show schedules lined up and was finally going to jump into the world of shows. Cazador, my Spanish Mustang colt, was going to be one heck of a breed ambassador this year. Bo was finally going to stand at stud up here. Then the derailment happened. I won't go into details, but everything came crashing down and for several months it was all I could do to just survive. Once again, my horse dreams went up in smoke.

This has happened before, most noteably in 2008 when I lost a week old foal to a massive freak summer blizzard. For a long time after that, I merely went through the motions with my horses. I'd feed them, then go home. All my plans for them had seemed to vanish with that little colt. Then Cazador came into my life and many months later I credited him with reawakening my horse dreams and inspiring me to make plans again.

Summer is now coming to an end and I'm frustrated that yet another year has gone by, crashed by another false start. Now I'm starting fresh - again. I find myself very hopeful though, because I think this start - this rise from the ashes - is the one. The one start that won't be false. I'm hopeful that this really is the start to a new life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Road to the Horse and Richard Winters

First off, I haven't been near as active on my blog as I'd like to be. I've had several things pop into mind over the past few months that I've wanted to share, but then other things pop in and somehow I never make it here to write them down. (or would it be type them up?) I'd rather not turn this post into a novel, if I can avoid it, so maybe I'll try to be disciplined and type up some of those things over the next few days. But for now... I'm sipping my coffee and surfing the net and something has popped in.

The Road to the Horse event takes place in a few days. One of these years I'd like to go see that in person. I think it's an event that would be great to go to, just to say I had been there. Last year the Champion of the event was a trainer named Richard Winters. I'm not sure I had heard of him more than in passing before the event. After he won I remember there was a great deal of hype about the fact that he was the first competitor to win riding in a halter. I remember being surprised, over and over, when I'd see another mention of how extraordinary it was.

I have always started my horses in a halter. As a matter of fact, I don't even ride a horse with a bit and bridle until they've already had several rides in a halter. I also start my horses bareback. People have thought I'm crazy for that. But the way I look at it is that I think a saddle, a bit, AND a rider are a lot for a young horse to worry about all together on a first ride. Now of course I introduce my horses to the saddle, and the bit, well before I ever climb on their back, but when it comes time for the first few rides, it's just me, a halter, and leadrope on the horse. I don't want to jinx myself, but so far I've never been dumped during those first few rides. I think it's because I do a lot of ground work and preparation leading up to that first ride, but also because the minimal approach means there's just not much for the horse to get upset about.

I guess I'm still amazed at the widespread misconceptions that surround horses. Such as - you HAVE to have a bit in their mouth - and you HAVE to have shoes on their feet (but that's a whole 'nother blog entry I'll save for some other time). I just have to kinda shake my head when I see all the mentions of Richard Winters being "the first!" to win Road to the Horse without a bit in his horse's mouth. Please understand I'm not trying to take ANYTHING away from him. Actually I think it is FANTASTIC that he won in that fashion. I hope his victory has sparked some dialogue about how you don't HAVE to put a bit in a horse's mouth to start them - or even to win a prestigious competition like Road the the Horse. I hope he was the first of many to come.

I just saw a message about the event being in a few days and I was reminded that Richard Winters is competing again this year. I ended up seeing a link to his channel on YouTube this morning and then I wandered onto his site. I happened to notice that he has an article right on his homepage about handling stallions. I have to admit that when I clicked on the link, I had my hackles up a bit, because I am so used to the "big name" trainers taking about how horrible stallions are. (that's actually ANOTHER blog post I've been meaning to make) To my surprise, the Richard Winters article on handling stallions is just that: some tips on raising and handling stallions. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I'd say between his Road to the Horse win in a halter, and this article on stallions, I'm going to have to look into his methods. He has quite an extensive list of videos on his YouTube channel and I'm going to check them out!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Ok, so I pulled out an issue of... a big stock horse breed association's journal. (is that vague enough so as to not point fingers at any certain breed?) I was flipping through it yesterday while waiting for the truck to get some work done. I remembered the sense of horror that I usually have when flipping through this publication. There were several full page ads bragging about such-and-such multiple World Champion stallion. These poor horses look like those freakish men you see on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. (sorry, I'm not a fan of THAT MUCH MUSCLE) I really felt sick looking at the pictures of these horses.

I just do not understand WHO can look at pictures like those and think that the horses look GOOD?? And who can do that to a horse and think that it's ok?? I see plenty of other ads in this magazine that feature "stocky" stock horses with muscle, but they look nothing like these poor... "freaks" (??) I see in other ads. I just don't understand it and I don't think I ever will. I've been told that Bo would do well in Halter and I plan to enter a few classes with him, just for the heck of it. But I will never, NEVER subject a horse to looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Does that mean that I'll never, never have a World Champion Halter horse? I guess it does, but I don't care. I'm not surprised at all when I think back of how I've heard that many top halter horses succumb to things like laminitis at an early age.

Perhaps no one cares what I think, but since this is my blog I'll say that I like my horses to have muscle, but I like them to be FIT and ATHLETIC. The purpose behind a "stock horse" is to work "stock". So for those breeds, I want a horse that looks like he could run cattle all day. I can't see how these overly muscle-bound Halter champs could even get out of their own way. Maybe they can, but could one of those extreme human body builders compete with a marathon runner in a race? I don't think so.

It's things like this that make me even more thankful that I'm now getting involved with a more "natural" breed. I hope the day will never come that a Spanish Mustang is expected to look like a body builder to be competitive. I can't see that ever happening... but maybe the people involved in the early days of Quarter Horses and Paints thought the same thing...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Get Him!

Last night Jeff went with me to the stables. I turned my horses out in the indoor arena so that I could clean their stalls. Jeff wanted to ride and thus the fun began.

But first, some back story...
I have two horses - Bo, a 9-year-old Paint stallion and Cazador, a coming 2-year-old Spanish Mustang stud colt. When Cazador came into my life it was my hope that Bo could act as a role model for the up and coming young stud. You know, keep him in line, teach him about things. To my dismay, for the first several months, all Bo did was act as a chew toy and jungle gym for Cazador. Picture my mature stallion standing around with a tired look that says "kids these days..." and a yearling colt climbing on him, chewing on his neck.

A little while back, Jeff was riding Bo in the indoor. I wanted to turn Cazador out so I was on my way across the indoor, to the round pen in the corner. Jeff said "you can turn him loose out here with us." I warned Jeff that Cazador is a little punk around Bo and he'd have to watch his back or else Cazador would be climbing up there with him. He insisted it'd be fine. So I turned Cazador loose, advised Jeff that the word "quit!" works to keep him off Bo when Bo has a rider, and I left the arena to go do chores.

It turns out Jeff invented a new "game" that night. He was annoyed with cazador trying to "punk" Bo all the time, and he was bored. So he started making Bo follow Cazador and push Cazador around the arena for once.

The next time I turned them out together I noticed Bo was a little less tolerant of Cazador's attitude. He still isn't mean, but he'll push Cazador out of his space and follow him around at his "plowhorse" walk. I told Jeff that he "empowered" Bo. Haha.

Ok, back to last night. I was cleaning stalls while Jeff was riding Bo, with Cazador on the loose. I kept hearing Cazador gallop around in the indoor. At one point I considered going to get him so that Jeff could ride in peace. I thought Cazador was harassing them again to no end. Imagine my surprise when I went to peek in the round pen and see Cazador running around, with Bo trailing him and Jeff with a big smile on his face.

It turned out Jeff was doing the "follow Cazador routine" all that time. He was all smiles when he told me "I taught him a new command, I've fallen off twice." LOL (Jeff rides only bareback, I've offered to let him use a saddle, but he has never taken me up on it - he wants to ride bareback - a good way to learn to ride I think) The new command? Well, when Bo would get close to Cazador, Jeff would say "Get him!" and Bo would lunge at Cazador. I didn't get to see it in action, but Jeff tried it a few times and I did see Bo put his ears back at Cazador and pick up his pace. Jeff said he'd had Bo do it 4 times - twice he stayed on, twice he fell off.

I told Jeff that believe it or not, what he's been doing is good for both of the horses. Cazador is learning he's NOT the boss and has to move his feet away from Bo. Bo is learning tracking. I told Jeff that I've always heard the first step in teaching a horse to work cattle is to track a cow - just follow them around for a while. Jeff said "I wish we had a cow here!" LOL

As far as the "Get him!" command? I think it's funny. Jeff expressed concern that it might be teaching Bo aggression, but I don't think so. I think it's good for Bo to learn anything that gets him to MOVE OUT. He also still needs to assert himself more over Cazador. I think a command that teaches him to move out quickly towards a target will help when and if I ever do get to work cattle with him.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Thankful Thursday (a day late)

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday. I wasn't able to post this last night, but I figured "better late than never!"

Here are a couple of things I was thankful for on the last day of 2009:

A full moon... The skies were cloudy last night, but there was still enough light reflecting off the snow to go for a late night ride on my stallion, Bo. Riding at night by only the light of the moon is something I had not done before. It was a lot of fun.

Bo... He is SUCH a good boy and even though he wasn't terribly happy about going for a quick ride when it would normally be dinner time, he was a trooper and took me on yet another beautiful, memorable ride.

Having a good time... We went out to a bar with a few acquaintances and even though my idea of a good time is NOT hanging out at a bar with people I don't know, or barely know... I had a really good time. We played pool, talked and laughed, and I even got up and sang a karaoke song - something I haven't done in a long time.

I'm really looking forward to this fresh new year. I have a feeling I'm going to have a LOT to be thankful for as 2010 rolls on. :)