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,

Friday, May 10, 2013

How Your Body Language Effects Your Relationship with Horses.

If you've ever watched a herd of horses out in the pasture; or had the pleasure of watching Mustangs in the wild; you probably noticed that the majority of their communication is done via body language.  The majority of your communication with your horse takes place without a word ever passing your lips.  Just like they read the body language of their herd mates, they also read your body language just as well.  When you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Ever notice that when you spend time at the barn, around your horse, when you are happy, sad, angry, whatever your horse behaves differently depending on  your mood? Ever wonder why?  It's because your horse is reading you, much like you are reading this blot. (Thanks, by the way.)

To horses, reading body language is easy, and just part of everyday life.  People however have gotten out of the habit of paying attention to the subtle details that make up body language.  For the most part, when we communicate with each other, it is verbal, and because we are taught to look as whomever is speaking, our focus is usually on their face.  We have spent so much time looking people in the eyes when we talk to them that we can easily read the emotions on their face, but what about the rest of their body?  Can you easily read how someone feels about themselves by simply watching them?  If you can't, you can bet that your horse can.  Ever notice that your horse is a really good judge of character?

Horses notice and read (quite well, I might add) the very subtle ques of body language, including the body language of humans.  Before, you ever get close to them, they know if you are confident or scared, happy or sad, calm or anxious, and anything else you may be at the time.  As your mood and body language changes, so does your horse.  Where the relationship between a horse and a human is concerned, we are operating at a huge learning curve compared to them.  They live their lives day-to-day reading body language; and we live ours day-to-day listening to tone of voice and watching facial expressions.  Because of this, we have to learn to read their body language, while they have us pegged from a mile away.

So, what do you do?  Well, being as every person is truly unique in how they handle different situations, this is a nearly impossible question to answer in a way that will cover everyone.  I consider myself a very stable person (pun intended), that's not saying that I don't have the stresses, worries, or anything else that any other person has.  I just know how to deal with them in a way that suits me.  For me, the way that my place is set-up, I have to go through a gate to even get to the barn, and that is the way that I like it.  Before I walk through the gate, I stand up straight, square my shoulders, and hold my head high, then walk into the pasture like I own the joint.  I have two horses, both mares, the paint mare, Lady, is the Alpha mare, and the chestnut mare, Fancy follows her lead.  Lady knows that when I'm not there she is in charge, and takes that role very seriously.  But she also knows that the second that I step into the pasture, the role of Alpha mare switches from her to me; and for the most part she follows it willingly.  Every once in a while she'll decide that she wants to be Alpha regardless of if I am there or not.  That action from her demands a "Come to Jesus" meeting, and at the end of it, she's good with following me again.  After it is all said and done, I try to figure out what made her try it.  I do not dwell on it while in the pasture, but I will sit in the truck and think about it.  It usually boils down to me losing my concentration on the task at hand, and my body language changing as a result of it.  She views it as a weakness, and tries to take advantage.  She is very quick to remind me to pay attention to my own body language.  As a result of this, I have learned to also pay attention to other people's body language, and gotten quite good at it, I think.  I actually enjoy going to public places, and watching people, just to read their body language.  Give it a try, you will be amazed at what you will see when you are looking for it.

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

Until next time,

Barefoot, Barefoot with Boots, or Shoes

Hoof care is something that most horse people try to keep on a regular schedule of every 6-8 weeks.  Scheduling depends greatly on several factors; how fast the individual horse grows hoof, if barefoot how the individual horse wears its feet down, how a horse is kept, what type of terrain is in the horse's enclosure, whether the horse is conformationally correct, and the list can go on for what seems like eternity.  And the answers to these questions will affect how you manage your horse's hoof care schedule and how its feet are kept, whether it's barefoot or with shoes.

Before you decide to try barefoot with your horse, have a detailed conversation with your farrier, and your vet, in regards to how you use the horse, how it is kept, whether there is currently any corrective shoeing being utilized, your vet can point out the pros and cons of going barefoot for your horse.  You will also decide if you want the feet trimmed like they normally are, just minus the shoes; or if you want to start to set up the Mustang Roll, which closely mimics how Mustangs wear their feet naturally.  Not every farrier know how to develop the roll, so you may have to change farriers to find one that can; A.) properly set-up and maintain the Mustang Roll, and B.) get along with and handle your horses to your liking.  To me, B is just as, if not more important than A.  If Lady isn't happy with a farrier, than neither am I, and she makes no attempt to hide her thinking that someone is over-stepping the boundaries of their position at the barn.  She's never offered to bite or kick, but she gets agitated, and shows it, depending on how the new farrier acts, she either settles down or gets worse.  I've only ever found one farrier that bothered her, and that was because he was actually intimidated by her and she picked up on it.

Back to the proper subject, not every horse is a candidate for going barefoot, because of hoof conformation defects, living environment, and breeding (not Breed).  An extremely flat footed horse will usually no do well barefooted, but you'll never know until you try, just be aware that you may to be able to ride until your horse adjusts to being barefoot again.  Horses that live in a stall 24/7, or are only turned out for short periods in grass fields, usually aren't candidates for going completely barefoot when being ridden in anything other than an arena that is prepared and soft.  These horses, however can be barefooted the majority of the time and wear some type of hoof boot when necessary for their comfort.  They get the benefits of being barefoot, without being uncomfortable from being on footing that they are not accustomed to.

Some horses just can not be without shoes of some sort or another year round, even when they are not being heavily used.  If your horse requires corrective shoeing, you know it because you are paying for it, and usually a lot.

I personally think that every horse owner should look into the feasibility of their horses going barefoot, on a case by case situation.  Because whether it is completely barefoot all of the time; or barefoot the majority of the time with the use of hoof boots for riding on unusual or hard terrain; the horse gets the benefits of running around like nature intended it to.  I personally keep my horses barefoot, and also completely understand that this option is not necessarily  feasible for every horse.  So, I am not going to say that every horse should be kept barefoot.  I will however say that every owner should figure out what works best for their horses and them.

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

Until next time,

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Can I Hurt "Precious"?

"Precious" is a term borrowed directly from Clinton Anderson.  He uses this name for a fictisious horse, who's owner just will not make it behave, because they can not stand the thought of hurting "Precious" in anyway.  "If I make her leave me, she will think that I don't love her anymore" or "If I hit her with a wet noodle, I will hurt her"  Neither of those two comments are anywhere near true.  I will take both of these statements and explain exactly what I mean.

First, let's examine "If I make her leave me she will think that I don't love her anymore."  Just to clarify her being close to you has absolutely nothing to do with her loving you, or you loving her.  "Precious" is constantly up in your space, and on top of you, that is not love, it's disrespect.  It's also very, very dangerous!  If she were to spook at something, she wouldn't think twice about jumping right on top of you.  It doesn't matter how big or small she is, that is going to hurt, ... you!  Make "Precious" respect your space, and then if she spooks she'll jump away from you because she will know that she is only allowed in your space when you tell her that it's alright for her to enter it.

Now, for the second statement, "If I hit her with a wet noodle, I will hurt her."  This statement to me is even more ridiculous than the first one.  Because, short of tying her up to a very solid object, and working her over with a shovel or a 2" x 4", you're not likely to physically hurt her.  I don't care how strong you are, you can not generate the type of force that another horse does kicking, and this isn't the type of hitting that any trainer that I've ever heard was talking about anyway.  When it comes to applying pressure to your horse, use as little pressure as possible that will get the job done, but as much pressure as is necessary to get the results you want.

Let's use the example of teaching a horse to lunge, counter clockwise.  The lead rope will be in your left hand and the whip/stick will be in your right hand.  The horse will be within close proximity to you, but not within your space.  Use your lead hand to gently guide the horse into the correct direction, without the horse entering your space.  If that works, great that was as little pressure as possible and got the job done.  But, if it didn't work, you need to increase the pressure until you get the response you wanted, any forward movement in a counter clockwise direction, even if its only on step, then the pressure is removed completely.  So, with your lead hand, still gently guiding, add pressure with your right/whip hand by simply lifting it behind her.  If you have not spent any time getting the horse used tot he whip, this will likely be enough pressure to make her move forward, as soon as it does, lower the whip, and repeat, gently guide, no response, raise whip, movement, lower whip, and keep repeating until it only requires being gently guided.  Eventually when you raise your left hand the horse will move off in the correct direction.  But, for this purpose, we're going to say that your horse isn't doing what you want it to do, when you want it to.

So, for arguments sake, lets say that when you lift the whip, the horse either remains standing, or starts moving but in the wrong direction.  What to do, keep the pressure from your left hand constant, but keep increasing the pressure from from your right hand gradually applying more and more pressure until the horse moves in the right direction, forward and counter clockwise.  Start with raising the whip, increase by gently waving the whip, increase the intensity of the wave, if still no forward movement, touch the horse with the whip, then tap the horse with it, and keep increasing the firmness of the tap until you get what you want.  As soon as that happens, stop all pressure completely, but not until you get forward, counter clockwise movement.  If you remove pressure before that, you will teach the horse to do what-ever it was doing at the time that you removed the pressure.  Let's say that the horse rears up, and it kinda scares you, so you remove the pressure.  Since you removed the pressure, the horse thinks that rearing up was what you were looking for.  So, the next time you start to apply pressure, before you apply as much as you did last time, she rears up again.  It freaks you out again, and you remove the pressure.  The cycle continues, and all you have taught the horse is to rear up, the horse has taught you, that if you apply pressure it will freak out and rear up.  You leave, saying, "Precious" was abused by some one in her past, and needs to be handled with care because she does not trust people."  When the reality is, that "Precious" is that way because you just trained her to be.  Now, are there horses that have trust issues with people, yes!  The paint mare in my profile pic is one of them.  When she is loose and can come and go as she pleases, she does not care who is around, new people, familiar people, it really doesn't matter.  She will let them rub on her, love on her, no problem.  But, when she has a halter and lead rope on, she is a little more leary of people that she is not familiar with.  Until she sees that person is a confident, leader she tends to kind of lean away from them.  The only people that it doesn't matter if they are confident or not is children, especially small children.  She will go above and beyond to do whatever a kid wants to.  She will actually drop her head to their shoulder level, if they are leading her around, and with her being 16.3 hands high, it's an effort on her part.

But, the truth be told, I don't handle her any differently than I handle any other horse that I've worked with, slow and steady progress.  How slow, depends on the horse's ability to learn; not their past.  Most horses live in the presence and do not dwell on the past.  All a physically abused horse needs is a strong, fair minded leader, not to be treated special because you can't let go of their past.  You keep reliving their past for them, and in an attempt to comfort them, they preceive you as weak and take full advantage and become the leader, and go from a horse that does not trust people; to a horse that tries and often succeeds at dominating people; and you excuse the behavior by saying, "Precious was abused in the past."  It's really a vicious cycle.

All any horse needs is:

  1. Water
  2. Food - grass, hay or grain, doesn't really matter.
  3. A safe environment - stall or pasture they don't even require shelter, and will rarely use it when you think they should.  Mine use the run-in for a restroom and that's about it.
  4. A strong, fair-minded leader - and if you are not willing to step up and be this, they will, and their idea of appropriate pressure can easily injure an/or kill us.
They do not need to be coddles, or need excuses made for poor behavior, they are not "Precious."  They need to be treated with respect, and expected to treat you with respect, period!  I hope that no one took this post as a personal assault on them, as that is not how it was meant.  It was meant in an educational manor, and I hope someone learned something from it.

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

Until next time, 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Worst Behavior that You Allow, is the Best Behavior that You can Expect.

Today's title comes directly from a Horse Forum member named Cheri.  It is the most honest statement about training that I have ever heard.  She also has a great thread on that website titles, "Every person IS a horse trainer..." and she states that any person that is around a horse, is in fact training that horse.  And for whatever reason, this obvious statement is completely overlooked, or missed altogether.  Training horses is not hard work, especially training them for bad habits, of any kind.  That is actually quite simple, and is the reas that most beginner horse owners, buy a perfectly mannered horses, and a few months later have an ill-mannered brat.  The beginner unknowingly trains the horse to be the brat, and never even realize it.  The hard work in straining comes when someone, or the beginner decides that enough is enough and tries to untrain the bad habits that the horse has learned.  This is one reason that if you would like to own a horse in the future, riding lessons are a good idea now.  They give a beginner a chance to be around horses under the supervision o a knowledgeable horse person.

If riding lessons are out of the question for whatever reason, make an attempt to find someone in your area that knows something about horses.  Most horse people will gladly share their knowledge about horses. You may go through several mentors over the ears as your knowledge increases, but they will be the best investment in time and money that you will ever spend.

If you don't want to find a mentor, or can't find one, you have a couple of choices.  Books, are a good start, especially if you are someone that is good at reading a book and then applying that knowledge.  There are also videos that you can buy or rent.  There is a website that is like Netflix, which you can stream videos like the ones you buy from people like Clinton Anderson, Pat Parelli, and the like.  There are also thousands of training videos on youtube, but be careful because there are some videos on there that will quickly lead you down the wrong road.  Depending on your location and monitary situation, going to clinics is also a way to get access to knowledgeable horse people, I know that all of the ones that I've checked into, spectators are only charged like $25.00/day, and you can still ask question and get answers. They are a good way to be introduced to the world of horse training without having to buy a horse.  And there is a huge variety of chilcians to choose from.  I've seen a few of Clinton Anderson's videos, and he is brilliant at explaining how to do something, but I've also heard that he can be quite harsh and crass at those clinics.  But that can also be because he tends to not sugar coat things, if someone is doing something wrong, he will quickly point it out.  I personally would love to go watch Buck Brennamen, especially after watching his movie, "Buck" he seems to be a sincerely genuine person.  And that seems to be a rarity these days.

Regardless of what route you choose to gain knowledge from; Trainer/Instructor, mentor, books, videos, or clinics; horse knowledge is something that never stops coming in, especially where training is concerned.  And, since we are all trainers, we should never stop learning, ever.  When we stop learning, we stop progressing in our relationship with our horses, and when you stop progressing, you might as well just sell out and move on.

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

Until next time,

Monday, May 06, 2013

Horses and Sunburn.

If you've ever owned a horse that has very much white on either it's face or body; then you are very aware of the fact that during the summer they get a sunburn just like people do.  With the exception that they will never tan, instead they just keep burning.  Now, if the white is not covering the area where the saddle sits, yyou can easily continue riding your horse throughout the summer with little or no thought to this subject.  If the white is on the horse's nose, it may not take to being bridled because of your hand being near it's now extremely sensitive nose.

So, how do you handle a horse that has been sunburned?  My suggestion would be to prevent the sunburn in the first place.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure, after all.  But, I ask how to handle a horse that has been sunburned, didn't I?  If the horse only has burns on a small area, such as it's nase, the best thing that I have found to treat it, is a cheap Vitamin E cream that is in the lotion aisle at Wal-Mart.  It is like, less than $2.00 for 4 ounces, and you use it sparingly, so it lasts a while.  If the horse has large areas, you will have to resort to one of the methods of prevention that I'm about to describe, and wait for the burns to heal.

Methods of Sunburn Prevention:

  1. Stall kept - If you have access to stalls, you can put the horse up during the majority of the daylight hours.  Like us, horses get Vitamin D from sunlight, so they do need to be turned out some during the day to soak it up.  The downfall to this method, is that some horses become hot when being kept in a stall for long hours.
  2. Sunscreens - Yes, they actually make sunscreen specifically for horses.  As you can imagine, it is expensive, like the majority of products marketed for horses.  You apply it to the white areas of the horse, with a sponge that greatly resembles the one that some women use to apply make-up.  The stuff appears to be mostly Zinc Oxide, you can tell where it has been applied.  It will sweat off, so it will have to be applied every morning.  I would just as soon, go buy a sunscreen that is sweat resistant with a SPF of >50, and use that.
  3. Bug sheets and Fly masks - Some of the bug sheets marketed provide some UVA/UVB protection, but not all of them, and the majority of the fly masks do.  Depending on where you live, your horses may bet a little warm usung this option.
  4. Feed - The only feed that I know of that will prevent sunburn, is Purina's Omolene 200.  My paint mare is probably 80% white, and lives in a 16 acre pasture 24/7.  She has not had a sunburn in years, except for when I changed her feed to Purina's Strategy.  Within two weeks she was burnt to where she didn't want to be touched.  I switched her back to the Omolene 200, and in about a week, she was good to go.  I even asked my vet if he had any other customers that had noticed this particular side effect of the 200.  He said that no one else had, but that it was likely due to some vitamin or mineral in the feed that reduced the sensitivity to the sun.  After I figured it out, anytime someone talks about their horses getting a sunburn, I tell them to switch their feed to Omolene 200.
Above are several options for preventing sunburn in your beloved white horses.  Take whatever measures you want to, to safe guard them from the sun.  They deserve to be comfortable, and I'm sure we all know how uncomfortable a sunburn can be, especially when you're outside with one.  Take care of them, and they will take care of you.

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

Until next time, 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Pets or Livestock?

Many people consider their horses as pets, and some consider them family.  And the pets versus livestock discussion usually quickly becomes a heated argument; with die hard fans on both sides.  Many consider horses as pets because of projected emotions that they place upon the horses.  Horses do not show emotions like we do, in fact they have thousands of years worth of instinct instructing them not to.  Respect for you, is the closest thing to love as they are going to get.  And as long as they have food, water and space to move around, they are good to go, I guess you could project happiness on them here.  They do not get angry with you if you "punish" them or make them do something that they may not necessarily want to do, like leave their heard mates or cross a stream, when it's over, it's over.  They may appear to be mad or upset with you, but in reality they just think that you are over-stepping your role in this herd dynamic.  You haven't been the leader, so they have had to be, and now you're trying to tell them what to do?  You're in for a fight, just like any other herd member that tries to move up in the pecking order!  At the end of the day, all your horse wants, is to know who the leader is between the two of you.  And it has to be either you or the horse, and preferably you.

What is considered a pet?  Often the definition of what animals qualify as pets will be laid out in your state and/or local legislature.  To me, a pet is something that can be kept at your residence, even if you live in an apartment in a major metropolitan area.  Dogs, cats, birds, and some exotic animals fit in this description.

What is a barn yard animal?  These are small animals that are usually found in a farmer's yard which legislature usually prevents these animals as being kept as pets in apartments or communities where the lots are small, and your neighbors are close.  Chickens, ducks, and rabbits are a few examples.

What is livestock?  Most legislature defines bovine, equine, swine,  and ovine, of any size or variety whether kept for pleasure, food, or breeding purposes as livestock.  So a horse of any kind by definition of law is livestock, regardless of what purpose that horse serves.

To me livestock is any animal that requires more than 1-1 1/2 acres per head.  In terms that everyone can kind of grasp, if you lived in New York City, NY, U.S.A. in an apartment that overlooked Central Park, you would have to lease or rent a place to keep a horse 24/7 that makes them livestock.  You may treat them like a pet, but that does not change the fact that they are livestock.

Regardless of how you see your horses, the law and law makers see them as livestock, period.

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

Until next time,

Rider Balance.

If you, for one moment don't think that your balance does not greatly effect your horse's ability to perform, let me lay out a scenerio that will likely clear it right up for you.

Let's say that you are a 130 pound woman, in good shape.  Find two kids, one that is roughly 20% of your body weight, so about 26 pounds; and the other about 30% of your body weight, so about 39 pounds.  Please use either your kids or a friend's kids for this, I don't want you going to jail and saying that I told you to do it. Lol!  Just playing with ya some.  Now, with you standing upright, like you normally would put the first kid on your back, and have him/her stay as balanced as they can and hand on as best they can.  Walk around with them like that for a little while to see how it feels.  Once you get the feel for that, start having the kid lean left or right, forward or backwards.  Compare the two feelings mentally.  Now, get down on your hands and knees and give them a horsey ride.  Again, once with them balanced and again with them leaning in every direction.  Notice how differently you have to move to stay underneath them when they are leaning.  Now, repeat his entire process with the heavier kid.

By the time you finish this exercise with both kids, you will more clearly see how your balance or lack thereof effects you horse's performance of even the simplest tasks.  The weights that I used as examples are common percentages that we regularly expect our horses to cart around on a daily basis, so it really isn't unrealistic to use those same figures.

Ok, so you have some balance issues that are effecting your horse's performance.  Where do you start to correct it?  Well, first things first.  Check out yesterday's entry titles "Importance of Saddle Fit for Horse and Rider."  Make sure that your saddle is not hindering your effort at a balanced ride.  For the sake of this post we're going to say that the saddle fits the horse and you properly, and move right along.

Ok, the saddle fits you and the horse, what's next?  Let's do some exercises that will help evaluate your balance.  Take a 4" x 4" x 8', and place it on the ground.  Can you walk from one end to the other without falling off or rushing through because you lost your balance?  If the answer is no, then you need to work on your balance on the ground before worrying too much about your balance when mounted.

How do you work on your balance to improve it?  You have quite a few options and they can be a simple or a complicated as you wish to make them.  On the simple side, you can work on increasing the time that you can stand on one foot without losing your balance.  Start on level ground and work up to using a balance board or ball.  On the more complicated end, hire a personal trainer, and work with him/her to improve and balance out your over-all strength.  Also go to some yoga classes to help you remain flexible and also aide in increasing your balance.  Now, most of us will fall somewhere between those two extremes, and some of us will do nothing at all to improve out balance.

So, let's say that you fall somewhere between the two extremes.  You have access to a gym, either at home or a membership, but you don't really have access to a personal trainer, or you really just can't afford to use one.  That's alright, in today's world the internet can provide you with plenty of information to get you started.  Sites like offer free memberships, and offer thousands of articles written by personal trainers to get you started.  The thing that you have to keep in mind, is that your core strength is what helps keep you balanced.  I mean your abs, right?  Wrong!  I mean the entire trunk of your body, abs, chest, upper back, lower back, and obliques, trained in symmetry to create a strong base from with your arms, legs, and head extent from.  If your core is symmetrically strong, it will increase your over all balance, both in and out of the saddle.  The key is for opposing muscle groups to be equally strong, because they pull on each other, to stabilize the body.

Many exercises work more than one area of the body at the same time.  So, instead of just aimlessly going from station to station at the gym, write out a clear and precise plan for the day that includes; which part of the body you will target, which exercises, how many sets, how many reps per set, and the weight used for each exercise, even if it is just your own body weight.  Make a plan and stick to it.  Your balance will not improve over night, but it will improve, but it is something that will have to be continually worked on.  Which is only fair, we expect our horses to get into shape for riding, so should we.

Improving your balance will not only improve your riding ability, it will increase your horse's athletic performance as well, because he/she will no longer have to compensate for your imbalance.  Over time, as you and the horse get accustomed to your new found balance, your confidence will increase and so will your horse's.

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

Until next time,

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Importance of Saddle Fit for Horse and Rider.

I'm sure that anyone who has spent any amount of time in a saddle knows how important it is that the saddle fits both the horse and rider properly.  But, for someone that is new to horses and riding a quick internet search will turn up over-whelming results on the topic, this particular part of this blog is likely one of them.  What makes this blog any different from any of the other results?  Nothing really, I guess.  You will likely find the same information here, as you would on any number of the thousands of websites.  What's the difference, you may ask?  I'm going to try to explain it in a way that literally anybody can understand.  I will use examples that you can identify with, and correlate to the horse.  Proper saddle fit, regardless of discipline, is important.

Now, for obvious reasons, if you use a treeless saddle, your saddle will fit almost any horse, as long as the horse is not extremely narrow or long in the back.  But, be aware that these saddles can be quite expensive, and the special blanket that has to be used with them are as well.  The only discipline in which a treeless saddle is not available for, to my knowledge, would be roping, either calf or team, and bull dogging or steer wrestling.  The tree is needed in those activities for extra support to the horse's back.  The main fitting issue with a treeless saddle is it properly fitting the rider, but I'm not to that part of this subject yet.

Regardless of whether you ride English, Western, Australian, endurance or what ever type of saddle, there are different tree styles, gullet widths.  There are even saddles in which the gullet width can be changes, but those are mostly English style saddles in my experience.  If you are not sure if your saddle fits your horse properly, you have a few options.  The cheapest option is looking at how it sits on your horse's back without the pad or blanket, and without being cinched up at all, simply placed on their back where it goes.  It should appear level, with neither the front for back being higher or lower than the other.  You should be able to run your hand between the saddle and the horse's back from front to back on both sides, with little resistance and no gaps or pressure points.  One of the easiest ways to tell is when you take the saddle and blanket off after a good ride, in which the horse begin to sweat.  If there are any dry spots, that is where the saddle is putting more pressure and it doesn't fit properly.

Another cheap way, considering your internet speed and usage, is to look up videos on the internet about fitting saddles.  I'm positive that youtube will have multiple videos on the subject.  Most reputable tack stores will have someone that knows how to properly fit a saddle to both the horse and the rider, and most will not mind your horse being hauled to their place.  Some places may even check your current saddle for proper fit, in hopes of you remembering that in the future when you want a new high ticket item.  If you have the resources, you can also hire a professional saddle fitter to come to your place and evaluate your horse for saddle fit.

** Something to keep in mind.  Saddles fit differently, as the horse's body condition changes.  Think of the saddle much like your favorite clothes in this manner.  As you gain or lose weight, the clothes fit differently than they did.  The same goes with a saddle that fits a horse.  If th horse was in tip top condition when you had the saddle fitted to it, it may very well become ill fitted as the horse loses conditioning for whatever reason.  So, just because the saddle fits today, does not mean that it will still fit properly six months from now.  So, with that in mind, saddle fit should be checked regularly.  And anytime there is what seems to be a sudden change in behavior that is not favorable, like grumpiness, bucking, rearing.  Check the saddle for proper fit, and other areas for pain before assuming that it is training related.  It may take a chiropractor and some time for the horse to realize that the saddle is no longer the problem, but maybe it was to begin with.

Back to the subject at hand.  A saddle that is too narrow places all of the rider's weight on the outside edges of the tree, instead of spreading it evenly over the entire tree like it is meant to.  Think of it like your 10 pound puppy standing on you where most of it's weight is on one of it's legs.  It doesn't take long for that puppy to feel a lot heavier than it actually is.  Whereas, if that same puppy is standing squarely on all four legs, you barely notice it at all.

The too narrow saddle also pinches at the shoulders and/or the hips, causing a restricted movement.  You will probably notice a change in the way the horse moves.  Think of this like wearing a button up shirt that is too tight across the shoulders and chest.  If you stay within the confines of the shirt, it greatly reduces your range of motion.  The same goes with pants that are too tight, especially if those pants are made of a material like denim that does not easily stretch.  Don't believe me, put on the tightest pair of jeans that you can fit into, and try to mount a tall horse from the ground.  Then try it again with a pair that fits properly.  It will be a whole lot easier the second time, I promise.

Over time, using a saddle that is too narrow will produce a sore back, white scars from pressure sores, an altered way of moving, and will usually change a horse's attitude about being ridden, but not in a good way.  Most of these issues are correctable, with usually some adjusting by a chiropractor, a proper fitted saddle, time, and exercise.  The only one that can not be corrected or fixed is the scars from high pressure areas, which these usually show up around the withers.

A saddle that is too wide, will rest the majority of the rider's weight directly on the horse's withers and/or back bone, instead of spreading it over the total area of the tree like it should.  These saddles are easier to compensate for with pads that are built up on the sides, but a properly fitted saddle is still better than just making due with pads.  To give you something to compare this to, imagine being on your hands and knees on the floor, and someone else placing 10%, 20%, 30%, or even 40% of your body weight directly on your spine.  Doesn't sound comfortable to try, much less to try to move around with it for very long on your level floor, much less outside on uneven ground for 30 minutes or longer.

Needless to say, this type of ill-fitting saddle will definately have you calling the chiropractor, if left unattended to.  Of the two main types of fitting issues, this one is easier to correct with saddle pads, especially if you buy a pad that has adjustable shims, shim pockets.  These pads are usually plain colored and ugly as home made soap, but can be covered with a navajo blanket of your choosing.  I would rather have a saddle that is too wide than too narrow, because it can be adjusted somewhat with a pad.

Now, in a perfect world, all horses would fit in one width of tree, and I mean fit it properly.  In a near perfect world, all horses would fit into one of the categories above, wide or narrow.  Alas, this world is no where near perfect, and many horses fall somewhere between wide and narrow, and some are a combination of the two.  Ever seen a horse that the saddle fits toward the back, but is too wide at the withers, so it sets almost directly on top of the withers.  You try a narrower saddle on the same horse and now it fits better at the front, but is too narrow in the pack and pinches the hips.  What do you do for this horse?

There are a few issues for this horse, and the first couple are restricted by your budget.  The first option is to have a saddle custom built, tree and all, to fit the horse and you.  This option is VERY expensive and out of reach financially for most recreational riders and some that are considered professionals.  Another option is going treeless.  This can also be expensive as the cheapest quality treeless saddle that I have found was >$800.00, and they can go up considerably from there.  The final option is to choose the wider treed saddle, and use a shim pad to fill in the gaps at the shoulders, while making sure that the spine/withers have good clearance of the saddle with weight in the saddle and the girth tightened properly.

A saddle that is ill-fitted to the horse also effects you!  A saddle that is too narrow will leave you sitting way above the horse, and leave you with an unbalanced and disconnected feeling.  A tree that is too wide will have you closer to the horse, but will leave you feeling unbalanced from side-to-side as the horse moves beneath you.  A saddle that is too wide in front but fits in the back, or a saddle that fits in the front and is too narrow in the back, will leave you feeling tipped forward and unbalanced.  When the saddle fits the horse properly, it will actually help you stay balanced instead of throwing you off balance.  Now that is not the only balance issues that you may or may not have, but your saddle should not hinder your balance in anyway.

Now, on to the saddle fitting you.  To me, I prefer the saddle to fit like a good pair of gloves or jeans.  It should neither be too tight not too loose.  I'll explain the seat fitting first.

A saddle that is too small will push your center of gravity up and out of the saddle.  Just a small amount of unexpected movement will place you firmly on the ground, unless you are extremely talented at hanging on and part tree frog.

A saddle that is too big, will not help you hold your seat because it will offer you no support, which is kinda on of the purposes of the saddle to begin with.  A rider should not have a whole lot of movement from front to back in the saddle.  You should lean forward from the hips, not actually slide forward in the saddle.  You should sit deeper with your seat, and some lean slightly back from the hips, not move back in the saddle completely.

A saddle that fits you will feel snug, not tight, but allow for some movement, but not excess movement.  Sounds confusing right?  Ladies can relate proper saddle fit with a good pair of control top pantyhose.  Too small, and they cut you in half; too big and they don't do their job.  When you get the right fit, it helps you control what needs to be controlled, but doesn't really restrict your range of motion.  Guys, I guess you could compare it to a jock strap.  Sorry for being so personal with these comparisons, but they were the best ones that I could think of.

Once you make sure that the seat fits you properly, you will need to adjust the stirrup length to the proper fit for you.  Stirrup length is something that varies greatly from rider to rider, and to most riders it is influenced greatly by discipline, experience, and personal preference.  At first riders may want a little more contact with the stirrup, and that is fine; as their confidence grows so can the length of the stirrup leather.

Too short stirrups.  If you stand up in the stirrups and can place more that 4 of your fingers between you and the saddle, your stirrups are too short.  If you look like you are sitting in a chair, they are too short.

Too long stirrups.  If you have to keep your legs completely straight to keep any contact with the stirrup, they are too long.  If you are having trouble swinging your off side leg over, try shortening your leather a notch or two and try again.

Right length, you will know that your stirrup length is right for you, when you can sit, relaxed in the saddle and maintain a comfortable (for you) level of contact with the stirrups without having to push down or pull up your feet.  For me, I know that my length is right when I can feel light pressure from them on the balls of my feet, with my legs totally relaxed as the horse walks around.  I keep my heels down to where it looks like I am standing on a level surface barefoot.  After several minutes of riding, I should not be feeling it in my knees.  If I am, they are too short.  If I am constantly loosing a stirrup, it is too long.

Now, regardless of discipline, every rider should learn to ride every gait and several maneuvers without the aide of stirrups.  This is extremely difficult for some riders, especially if they have balance issues, but it will show you what you need to be working on, because 9 times out of 10, a rider's weaknesses become very obvious when a stirrup or two are lost.  Now, there are the rare riders that naturally, actually ride better without stirrups.  These riders actually need more work with the stirrups.

Ok, now that saddle seat and stirrup length have been looked at, let's look at one final point, that to me is usually determined by discipline and rider preference; and that is stirrup width, which seems to be a mostly Western discipline issue, but still bares looking into.  If you spend long hours in the saddle, either trail riding, ranch work, or training multiple horses per day, a wider stirrup (1 1/2" - 2" wide) gives you more support.  A lot of ropers prefer a wider stirrup.  To me, they are too heavy feeling on me and I don't like them, so I don't use them.  Then there is the narrower stirrups (1" - 1 1/4" wide), they do not offer as much support or gripping surface.  These stirrups are lighter feeling, but easier to lose, so if your riding ability falls apart with the loss of a stirrup, either work to improve it or stick to a wider stirrup.  Then there is the oxbow stirrup (< or = to 1" wide), and these are an acquired taste, ability, or whatever else you want to call it.  I am still getting used to mine, and if I could find lace-up boots that weren't work boots, I would go back to the stirrups that came on my saddle so quick your head would be left spinning like a top.

Once you get the seat fit, stirrup length, and if applicable stirrup width right for you, you can enjoy a comfortable and secure ride that is not interfered with by a piece of equipment that is made to help you.  A properly fitted saddle is equally important to both horse and rider, and is something that should be checked often, on both sides of it, because as you and the horse change shape, the fit of the saddle changes as well.  This is something to always keep in mind.

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

Until next time,

Thursday, May 02, 2013

My Preference of Halter.

I know that there are several types of halters for a person to choose from.  There are nylon web halters, leather halters, store bought rope halters, "cowboy" or shipping halters, the clinicians' rope halters, and home-made rope halters.  The last one is my absolute must have type of halter.

I tie my own halters, and braid the lead ropes to go with them.  I could buy cheap rope to make the halters, but instead I buy a military grade 550 cord or para cord.  It is thin, but strong, and soft and flexible to the touch.  I have found that it will get a horse's attention with a lighter touch than even some of the big name clinician's halters will, and they won't knock the hide off the horse like some of the stiffer rope halters will.  I understand that a lighter touch is required with them,  While I would not recommend my halters for a hard handed person, they work just fine for me.

Everyone has their preferences where halters are concerned, and while I absolutely love the look of a well made leather halter on a horse, I prefer the functionality of a rope halter to any other.

I guess that I should explain why I prefer my home-made halter over the other types of halters and explain what it is I do not like about each type; even though some types have the same issues as others.  Those that have similar issues, I will group togther.

  • Nylon-web/leather halters - My first draw-back to these halters, is the hardware on them.  The hardware is usually the first thing to break, on the nylon halter and the leather version, if the leather is not taken care of.  Plain and simple, the hardware is the weakest part of these halters.  My second drawback is the width of the halter.  For training purposes, it is too wide and disperses the pressure too much.  They are ok for horses that are well trained, but in my opinion training is never finished.  So, these halters are just not for me.
  • "Cowboy" or Shipping Halters - While these halters have no hardware to break, they are often made of cheap material, and not worth spending my hard earned money on.
  • Store-bought Rope Halters - While it is not uncommon to find these for $10.00 or less, they are cheaply made and it is quite obvious.  Again, no hardware to break, but the lead rope is simply tied on and usually cheap as well.  They are usually easily broken.  For training purposes they are too weak to hold up to a horse pulling on them very much at all, especially if teaching a horse to stand tied.
  • Clinician Rope Halters - While the material used to tie these are considerably higher quality than the general store bought rope halter, the difference in material does not justify the price difference!  Most of what you are paying for is the actual clinician's name, not the material quality.  Most of these do not come with a lead rope of any kind, and you can easily expect to spend anywhere between $40.00 to $60.00 for the halter and lead together.  To me that is just too much.
  • Home-made Rope Halters - The biggest downfall of these lies in the person's ability to tie a knot and follow directions.  If you are not someone who can read directions and follow them, you can probably find a video on that will show you how.  The advantage is you can choose the quality of material that you want, based on how you use it and your preferences, and of course, your budget.  That's nothing to be ashamed of, we all have them.  You also get to choose whether the lead is permanently attached or has a clip, and the lead rope can be braided out of the same rope type/style/color as the halter to produce a truly matched set.  Also, if you choose to put a clip on it, you get to choose the kind of clip that you like to use.
** Just a side note - I personally am not what you would consider a creative or artsy type person.  But, I find tying halters and braiding lead ropes very relaxing and fun.  I may, in the future consider offering my halter/lead set for sale, just because I enjoy making them so much.  I wouldn't make much profit from them, because it takes so long to do the lead ropes (5-6 hours, of non-stop work), and no one would pay for that. But, I have considered having the lead ropes tested for breaking strength, just to see what it was.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.  Everyone that deals with horses has to figure out what works for them.  While my rope halters work for me, you might find that you prefer a nylon web halter works best for you.  Just like training horses, different things work for different people and horses.  Find what works best for you and your horse.  At the end of the day, it's not so much how you got it done, as it is the fact that you did get it done!

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

Until next time, 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Apologies to Everyone.

I must apologize to everyone who takes the time to read my writings, over the last year multiple dramas have totally sapped my will and drive to write.  I seriously need and plan to do better.  I plan on writing about several topics that cover horses, and possibly a few that cover the people that love and care for them.  I don't know why my drive/want to write has suddenly returned, but I am thankful that it has, and feel the need to have a pen and paper in hand when seated.  I'm sure that my "articles" will have no type of chronological order to them, as I usually write about whatever crosses my mind when at the barn, or speaking to another person about horses, especially if it is a person that is just learning about horses.

I look forward to the future comments from readers, and sharing knowledge on a subject that I just love to talk about, so, "lets get talking!"