Friday, May 17, 2013

Personal Equestrian Goals.

Do you ever set goals to reach with your horse(s)?  If you answered yes, then great for you and your horse.  If you answered no, then why haven't you?  Goals are an important part of any aspect of your life.  Even if they are small goals, like trot around the arena one time without breaking gait; or larger goals like, train my horse to accept a rider.  Just like in any other aspect of life, you need to set both long-term and short-term goals.

For someone who has been riding for more years than they care to count, setting goals will help remind them why they loved working with horses to begin with.  For a beginner, setting goals helps them see where they are in relationship to where they want to be.  For example; you set a long term goal of training your horse to run barrels at next year's annual rodeo.  This makes you look at the fact that you're currently watching barrel racing at this year's annual rodeo, and while your horse is trained to ride, he/she is still a long way from being finished.  So, you know where you are and where you want to be a year from now; and from there you can set some short-term goals to help you achieve your long-term goal. It could also make you realize that you don't know the first thing about barrel racing, and that your time would be better spend with an instructor or knowledgeable friend that does know something about barrel racing.  Funny how things can work themselves out with a little goal setting.

New hand or old hand, set goals for you and your horse to reach together.  You will be glad you did when you accomplish them.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Asking for Your Help.

Today, I am taking the time to thank all of the people who have taken time to read my blog.  Thank you so very much!  I sincerely appreciate it.

If I could beg a couple of further indulgences from you, I would ask that if you like what you read, please post a comment to let me know.  Even if you don't like it, let me know.  I have it set-up where I have to approve comments, but I will approve them whether they are positive or negative.  My second request would be that if you enjoy reading this or learn anything from doing so, please share my blog with friends and other horse people.

I would greatly appreciate your help with these matters.

Good luck, happy trails stay safe and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Does Your Horse Earn its Keep?

The answer to this question varies depending on whom you ask.  Some people will not own a horse that can not be utilized in some manner, like riding or driving.  To me personally, if I found out today that I could never ride again, I would still keep my two mares.  Why?  Because to me, the couple of hundred dollars that I spend a month on them is worth the time I spend out at the barn simply being there.  The horses are the one thing in my life where I am completely stress free, and that makes them worth it to me.

So, regardless of what anyone else thinks of your horse(s), it's what you think that matters.  So, do your horses earn their keep?

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Balance Between Desensitizing and Sensitizing.

I have heard the phrase, "people who practice 'Natural Horsemanship' have lifeless or dead horses because of all of the desensitizing" too many times to count.  This results from an unbalanced ratio of desensitizing to sensitizing.  It comes from someone who wants a "fearless" horse, and figures that the more objects that they can get the horse used to the better.  So, this person spends countless hours desensitizing the horse to whatever they can dream of, but next to no time sensitizing the horse to ques.  The result is a horse that shows no physical reaction to anything, including what it is supposed to.  Sounds like a fun horse to ride, right?  I personally don't think so, but if that is your cup of tea then get after it.

The purpose of desensitizing a horse is not to teach them to react to nothing.  It is to teach them to look to you for the appropriate response.  It's to show them, that if you stay relaxed and calm; so should they.  That is why when you start the process in ground work, you are supposed to keep your body language neutral and relaxed.

The purpose of sensitizing is to get them to respond to light pressure, like a change in your seat position, versus a heavy direct rein because that is what it takes to stop the horse on its best day..

The biggest issue with using desensitizing/sensitizing in training horses is finding the proper balance between the two.  Wouldn't the world be perfect if it was 50-50 on every horse that you ever worked with?  (I hope you can see the sarcasm dripping from that question.)  Every horse, just like every human, is different and requires different ways of training.  If you start with a horse that is laid back and quite frankly lazy, you will want to focus more on the sensitizing.  Doing this will get the horse where it responds to your ques to move off your leg, or to simply move faster.  If you were to start with a horse that is very reactive to everything, you would want to focus more on the desensitizing.  This would help calm the horse down and probably slow it down.  If you worked this horse on a 50-50 ratio, you would quickly turn it into a complete and total idiot that spooks at everything and bolts when you ask it to move off your leg.  Whereas, if you done a 50-50 ratio with the laid back, lazy horse, it might not move at all for you, or it might have the energy and response of a fence post.

Neither desensitizing nor sensitizing is a complete training program by itself.  They have to be used together and in balance for each particular horse for them to develop the proper results.  This is what most people miss, and just to the desensitizing exercises.  Find the balance for your horse, and you will end up with a horse that ignores what you want it to, but still responds lightly and quickly to your ques.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ah Ha Moments

If you have spent anytime at all working with, or around horses, you are probably well aware of what I am talking about.  You are probably also aware that both you and the horse have them, but it's usually for the opposite reason.  The horse has them when they figure out what it is you are asking them to do; you on the other hand have them when you realize why the horse is not responding in the correct way to what you are asking for.  I much prefer for the horse to have way more of these moments than me, because if I'm having more than the horse, I am doing a whole lot of something wrong.

I try to train horses using baby steps or the K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple Stupid) method, which ever you prefer to call it.  I try to break everything down into the simplest steps, regardless of how many it takes, and not move tot he next step until the current step is nearly perfect. (I know that perfection is an illusion, but it conveys the message better.)  And by nearly perfect, I mean instant and light.  I'll use getting a horse used to being saddled as an example.  For the sake of keeping this post on subject, I'll state up front that I've already had this horse long enough to do most of it's ground work, so it knows that in the center with me is where it gets to chill out and rest.  So, what all is involved in getting a horse saddled and ready to ride?  First is the saddle blanket or pad, second placing the saddle on the back, third letting the girths down, fourth reaching under to get the front girth, fifth tightening the front girth, sixth reaching under to get the back girth, seventh adjusting the back girth, eighth getting the breast collar around the chest, ninth adjusting the breast collar, tenth attaching the breast collar between the front legs to the front girth, eleventh checking the front girth for proper tightness.  And all of that is just to get the saddle on, we're not really worried about getting in the saddle right now.

So ok, first thing first get the horse used to having a saddle blanket on them.  I like to use a thin Navajo blanket, because it can be folded up to be pretty small.  I start with letting the horse see and smell it with it folded up as small as possible.  I do not have the horse restrained in anyway.  If the horse chooses to leave, it can within the confines of the round pen.  I work the horse for a few minutes, then allow them to come back to the center, and repeat the first step.  Once the horse will calmly sniff and look at the blanket, with it still folded up, I start to rub it all over their body.  Again, if it wants to leave it can, it will be worked shortly then invited back to the center and I will start with the first step of seeing and smelling again, because I know that the horse is good at that step.  I again try rubbing the blanket all over the horse's body, not moving forward in the process until the current step is rock solid.

Now, for the sake of this, time wise, I am going to write this out in a step by step list, but keep in mind that you do not move on to the next step until the current step is basically set in concrete.  There will be some notes to describe the current step.  I do this process in a round pen with no halter or lead rope, but if you are not comfortable with that you can use them.  Now, on to the list.

Getting a horse used to being saddled:

  1. Let the horse see and smell the blanket with it folded as small as possible.
    1. A navajo blanket is usually used folded in half.  I can usually get about three more folds in it before it gets too thick for me to hold with one hand.  So, I can get it down to about 1/16th of its full size.
  2. Rub the horse down with the blanket, all over its body.
  3. Remove one fold & repeat step 1.
  4. Repeat step 2, with one fold removed.
  5. Remove the second fold & repeat step 1.
  6. Repeat step 2 with two folds removed.
  7. Remove the third fold & repeat step 1.
  8. Repeat step 2 with the third fold removed.
    1. At this point you should have the blanket at the size that it will be used on a regular basis.
  9. Take your lead rope and wrap it around your horse's heart girth.
  10. Pull the lead rope snug with only your hands, and then release the pressure.
    1. This is to get the horse used to pressure in that area gradually.
  11. Put a surcingle on the horse, and adjust it snugly.
    1. If you do not have a surcingle or access to one, you can make a temporary one using two girths, an off billet, and a cinch.  It doesn't have to be spectacular to serve the purpose intended.
  12. Remove the surcingle.
  13. Let the horse see and smell the saddle.
    1. Depending on your saddle size and weight, rubbing the horse down with it is out of the question.
  14. Set the saddle on the horse's back, but do not let go of it.
    1. Leave all of your normal equipment on the saddle, but have it tied up, like how you store it.  Let the off side stirrup hand just like you normally go.
  15. Remove the saddle.
  16. Repeat steps 14 & 15 until the horse stands calm and relaxed for it.
  17. Pull the front girth under, and cinch it up, just enough to keep the saddle in place.
    1. Cinch the girth slowly, allowing the horse to adjust.
  18. Pull the back girth under, and adjust it properly.
  19. Pull the breast collar around and secure it properly.
  20. Secure the breast collar to the front girth, between the front legs.
  21. Tighten the front girth, slowly allowing the horse time to adjust to the new pressure.
  22. Ask the horse to move off.
    1. The first time the horse moves with the saddle, its reaction can range from explosive bucking to just walking off calmly.  Either way, be prepared for it.
  23. Repeat steps 18-22, until the horse stands relaxed until you ask it to move, and then it moves off in a calm manner.
The reason that I wrote all of this out is to try to explain how I try to avoid my Ah Ha moments.  Whoever said that you can not plan out how to train a horse was wrong, except for one aspect, the time.  It takes however long it takes.  But you can plan out the steps to get there, in an attempt to prevent your Ah Ha moments and increase the horse's Ah Ha moments, which come from them getting what you are asking for.  In the example above, we want the horse to stand, quietly and accept being saddled and then move off when told to do so.

The process that I described above actually takes less time to do that it took me to write it out; and possibly less time than it took you to read it, depending on your reading speed.  The key for it to work is to keep repeating the entire process until the horse no longer resists any part of it; and to not move on until the horse has its Ah Ha moment about each step of the process.  You may not be able to plan this out to the minute, but you can plan out the steps required.  Then you will have measurable results, regardless of if it took you one minute or one hour, just be prepared to spend whatever amount of time it requires.  Just remember to increase the horse's Ah Ha moments and decrease yours.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time, 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is there a Difference between Discipline and Physical Abuse?

Yes, there is a difference between discipline and physical abuse.  There is actually a fine line between the two, where once crossed discipline can actually become physical abuse.  The problem comes from the fact that nearly everyone draws that line at different positions.  Some people view any type of discipline as abuse; while others don't see tying a horse and beating it mercilessly as abuse.  I am somewhere in between those two extremes.

Horses understand discipline, they have to.  Since the day they were born, they were taught the rules of herd life, and breaking those rules resulted in being disciplined by a member of that herd.  In the beginning the discipline is simply being expelled from the safety of the herd for a short period of time.  As the foal matures it is expected to remain respectful of the horses above it in the pecking order, and it it doesn't it will be punished by whatever means the higher ranking horse sees fit.  I have never personally seen one horse that just beat on another for no reason.  I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, just that I've never seen it.  I have read about and heard about horses that could not be turned out with other horses because of aggression issues though.  This however is not the norm, or horses would not be herd animals.

I think of abuse as excessive force administered for extended periods of time.  I think of discipline as anything that happens within 3 seconds of the unwanted behavior, that lasts no longer than 3 seconds, and utilized anything that you currently have on your person.  Short of keeping an arsenal with you at all times, you can not physically abuse a horse within those three rules.  If you stay within those rules, you can not physically abuse a horse with anything short of carrying a gun with you at all times.  Even following my rules, there are some people that would consider it as abuse because I struck the horse with anything to begin with.  There is really nothing that I can do about how someone else views what I do as a whole, just like they can not do anything about how I view what they do with their horses.  But that is a completely different story anyway, so I shall move on.

Again discipline is something that horses understand, if you do this I will do that.  Just for a simple example; if you come into my space without being invited, I will make you leave.  Abuse is completely foreign to them.  Like, if you come into my space without being invited, I will tie you up and hit you with a whip until you no longer think about doing that.  See the difference?  Now, granted those are overly simplified examples, but they get the point across.

I also mentioned that discipline can cross the line into abuse, and it usually happens when our frustration grows and grows, because of what ever reason.  This to me, is the only time that it is acceptable to just walk away for a little while (just make sure to leave your horse in a safe situation) and calm down, because chances are, if you are frustrated your horse is confused.  Take a break, long enough for you to collect your wits about you, and try again.  This time in smaller steps, and as soon as the horse does anything right, end on a good note and stop for the day.  That is how to avoid discipline becoming abuse.

Training horses can be simple or as frustrating as we make it, add in the pressure of someone else watching and judging every little move that you make, and it can be overwhelming.  Do what works for you and your horse and let the other people do the same.  Unless they ask for your help directly, or you ask for theirs, there is no reason to worry about someone else thinks.  Even with that being said, if you see someone truly abusing a horse, please turn them into the proper authorities, as no horse deserves that.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God less you and yours.

Until next time,

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Come to Jesus Meeting

Yesterday I wrote about how your body language effects your relationship with your horse, or any horse for that matter.  In that blog post, I mentioned a "Come to Jesus Meeting" between my paint mare Lady and myself.  I had a friend read the blog before I posted it, because I felt that I was missing something, she assured me that I hadn't, but said that I might want to write a blog explaining what a "Come to Jesus Meeting" was.  So, here I am, going to try to explain it, as best I can.

On a few occasions, Lady will decide that she is in charge of the pasture, whether I am there or not.  She usually tells me this with the usual body language they use when a lower ranking herd member tries to over-step their position.  Glaring, pinning her ears, the usual, which I reciprocate as best I can, and depending on how much conviction she has, maybe a charge when I don't back down when "told" to.  This, is usually handled easily with stepping in her direction, clapping and saying, "NO" in a stern voice.  But on the rare instance where she really wants to push the issue, it comes down to having a "Come to Jesus Meeting" either in the round pen or on a lead rope.  There is nothing really different than regular ground work, then the fact that I push her a little harder because she is pushing back.  As long as she is showing any signs of defiance, raised head, swishing tail, ears on anything but me, charging when coming in or changing directions, anything I continue to push her to move her feet quickly and frequently change directions both toward and away from me in the round pen and just toward me on a lead rope.  As soon as she starts to show any signs of submission, I back off and allow her to rethink her position in our herd.  If she can come to me right, and like she is supposed to, the meeting is over.  However, if she shows any signs of being defiant, the process continues with increasing pressure to move quickly and even more turns with her hustling through them as well.  Again, as soon as she shows any signs of submission, I back off and allow her to think about it.  If she wants to settle down into her role, as subserviant to me, we are done.  But as long as she is being defiant the process continues.

This whole process usually takes anywhere from five to thirty minutes, and that time is tied directly to her conviction for being the lead mare.  Most times it's a five minute meeting, but it is what it is.  With any horse, a "Come to Jesus Meeting" can be beneficial under the right circumstances, but only if the person conducting them is absolutely confident that they can win the argument, so to speak.  If you are new to horses, and your horse has gotten where it is really pushy and disrespectful towards you, you will require the help of a more knowledgeable and confident person to do this process, as you watch.  Then, once the horse is a little more compliant, you might attempt it with the other person assisting you, to make sure you are doing it correctly.  Once you know, when to apply and release pressure, and to what extent, you might try it with the other person watching, much like you did the first time.  After you are absolutely sure that you have the method down, you can do it on your own.

Now, the draw back of the "Come to Jesus Meeting".  If you lose the argument, even once, you will cement in the horse's mind that it is the leader, and that you are to follow his/her lead.  This is why you have to be absolutely certain that you are going to win the "argument" before you ever start it, if you are not, get help, period.  This is not something that you can start, then in the middle of it decide that you are in over your head and quit, because, if you do, the horse wins and it will be harder next time.  It really becomes a vicious cycle.

Now, if you have read and paid attention to what I have written, you noticed that I never said anything about actually touching the horse to apply pressure.  That is because for me, I do not find it necessary, I can successfully complete this with just my body language, but I still keep a whip or stick in my hand just to in case I need it.  If I need it, it is usually as an extension of my arm to extend my reach, but I'm not against using it on the horse, in the proper manner of course.  I am not telling anyone to abuse or beat them, but you may have to get a little harsher to get this job done.  So, with that being said, here's hoping that you never have to utilize the "Come to Jesus Meeting", but if you do, that everything goes as it should.

Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.

Until next time,