Monday, October 31, 2011

Destiny Day 8

After a wonderful weekend, Destiny and I got right back to work. Destiny amazed me with how much her lope has improved. She is much softer and more coordinated. Her yields and flexes are getting quicker and more consistant. She saddled up like a pro today. She was not the least bit worried or nervous. She longed around and was even softer through her entire body with a saddle on. Destiny just wants to please. She is so wonderful. If I've ever had a training session that's gone perfectly, this was it!

Muscle Memory

I often talk about muscle memory with my students during their lessons. We talk about how in the heat of the moment, your body must react. If you have to think about what you should do and then do it, usually you are already sailing through the air.

I had to laugh at myself last night. I was laying in bed thinking about horses. I was planning on showing my assistant something with my stallion and was thinking through the highlights of our lesson. I started getting sleepy and I was to that point where your thoughts start wandering and it feels like you are no longer in control of your thoughts. It was that point where you may fall and then your whole body jerks. Well in my thoughts (dream if you want to call it that though I wasn't completely sleeping) Achilles took a step forward and I immediately corrected him. Laying in bed, my arm jerked across my body as if I were stopping his forward movement! Talk about muscle memory! Ha!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mornings at the Barn

The crunch, crunch of horses chewing hay fills the barn. It is a peaceful sound. The clean shavings give a fresh scent to the air. My bunny friend visits each morning, but looks at me as skeptically as the day before. He twitches his nose one last time before bounding off to his bunny friends. The arena is fresh and smooth. I quietly urge Achilles to finish eating so we can go dig it up! Just another day at the office!!! I don't mind Mondays at all!

Horses: A Dangerous Prey, A Dangerous Passion

I love horses.
I love people who love horses.
I hate how dangerous horses can become when we don't understand them.

Horses have become pets, part of the family, loved ones. I know; I have quite a few hooved children! What I think sometimes people forget is that they are prey to many other animals including us. They are naturally flight or fight animals. Aren't we all to some degree?

We know our horses are flight animals and if they can't run away, they fight... So what do we do? We stick a halter on them. Put a hard piece of metal in their mouth. Slap a saddle on their back. Climb up. Then we expect them to carry us through the mountains, over the logs, into the cold river. We expect them to behave 100% of the time.

Behave 100% of the time??? Really? If there were no police officers sitting alongside of the road, would you really drive 35 mph?

I am definately not saying our horses have the right to misbehave. I'm saying that we need to teach them how to behave and enforce it every day with realistic expectations.

The hardest part about being a horse trainer is seeing the common mistakes that so many people make. The reason this is the hardest part for me is because it affects so many people and I know I can help, however I can only help those who come to me and ask for help.

The most common mistake I see is assuming that because a horse has recieved training, he is trained. I was trained to be a Geneticist. I was pretty darn good at it....7 years ago. Right now I can't remember how the bases bind together in DNA. I couldn't pass that part of a test right now. Because I knew it so well a long time ago I bet I'd just have to glance at a book and I'd say "oh ya!" Now, Organic Chemistry I was never very good at. I never truely understood what oxidized that or how to do those crazy equations. I'd pretty much have to study it all over again. So when we buy a horse that had 30 days as a 2 year old (he is now 8), we shouldn't expect that we can go galloping off into the sunset on the left lead, gracefully. We can't expect that when we point right, he longes right. This is the teach part. We have to teach them what correct behavior is and how to do the things we ask. We have to show them that there isn't anything to fear when we tie them up. We will direct them gently from the saddle. Compassion and understanding will help in this area.

Now for the enforcement. Your horse already knows what to do. He's been longed for 10 years every day. Ridden all over, done lead changes, trail rides, stops, sidepasses. So why is he running you over? Why did he just rip the lead rope out of your hands and is now running across the pasture toward the open gate? Because there is no officer waiting to pull him over! I had a client who had a horse who wouldn't load into a trailer one day. She called me upset and ready to sell her horse. When I asked her if her mare loaded perfectly yesterday, she said, "No, it took me about 10 minutes to get her in." Turns out the last time the mare loaded perfectly was about a week ago. This mare didn't suddenly not load, she tested her owner a few times and found out that her new owner was not a police officer. She refused to go in for 1 minute. There was no consequence. The next day, 2 minutes-no consequence. Eventually, why go in at all?? "If I don't show up for work, I still get paid," is what the mare is thinking.

One time I roundpenned a little girl. Actually, I've done this on quite a few occasions! So many people have a hard time using correct pressure with a horse. One little girl had a pony and she'd get so mad at him because he'd just run like crazy all over the roundpen; it didn't matter if she was in front of him or not. If she, or anyone else were in his way, they better run because he's going to plow them over! What she didn't realize is that it was her who was making him run. She'd just wait for him to blink wrong and then give him a consequence of running around the pen. He stopped associating the roundpen with roundpenning because everytime she'd take him to the roundpen she'd chase him with a whip until he couldn't go anymore. I guess he figured he better just get it over with! Of course I didn't chase this little girl around with whip until she couldn't run anymore! I asked her to run as fast as she could around the pen. When she stopped, out of breath I asked her if she could do it again. She wasn't keen on the idea so I hope she realized how her horse was feeling. The second little girl had the opposite problem- her horse wouldn't go. I pretended to roundpen her and I kept spanking the ground with the whip as she did. Eventually she stopped running and walked. She wouldn't run no matter what. Then she just stood there looking at me. I asked her why she stopped running because she knew that when I spanked the ground, it meant to go faster. I absolutely loved what she said to me. "If you are going to swing the whip if I run and you're going to swing it when I'm standing here, I'm just going to stand here. I don't want to run any more."

Horses can be a dangerous prey and a dangerous passion. Just because we are passionate about horses, doesn't mean that we understand them. When we scare, confuse, or fail to enforce, our horses resort to their natural instincts. Somethings are purely accidental and not preventable, however many of my clients who have suffered head injuries, collapsed lungs, broken bones, etc could have prevented these incidents. I applaud them for coming to me for help. These kind of incidents have the ability to change your passion into a fear. To prevent that from happening, please know that it is ok to ask for help, to say you don't understand. Consult a professional to evaluate your horses abilities and knowledge. If you do not possess the skills to teach your horse, please allow a professional trainer to do the teaching. If you do not possess the knowledge to enforce, please ask for help to do so. Don't let your horse become dangerous and let your passion stay a passion forever...

Destiny: Week 1 Complete

Destiny's first week is complete. She has such a well balanced personality; I'm so excited to see what she can accomplish.

Monday was the first day I got the chance to really work with her. I had been cleaning her stall and petting her over the weekend, but didn't get to do much beyond that. I walked into her stall and she was there waiting. She didn't shy to the back of the stall or anything-she actually stepped up to me. We headed to the arena with a little encouragement from behind from my mom and got to work. She was leading within minutes and shortly after was longing at a walk. She was not worried about desensitizing with ropes, whip, training stick, etc.

Tuesday she was longing at a walk/trot and when asked to stop she was yielding her hind quarters to face in toward me while staying exactly where I left her. She didn't push into my space. She didn't anticipate what we were doing next. She just waited and was petted. Her leading was even better and she was really watching my hand for any signals to walk on or stop. When I stopped, she stopped dead in her tracks.

Wednesday was unfortunately my day with the 24 hr stomach bug going around so I decided to let Destiny and me have the day for rest.

Thursday Destiny was walking/trotting/stopping excellent while longing and attempted some loping. She is very willing and tries to figure out what I want without getting wound up. We started doing lateral flexes and she is going to be very soft and very responsive. I just hardly lift on her rope and she brings her nose around! She started doing hind and front quarter yields.

Friday her loping while longing was much better but she still has some figuring out to do. She needs to figure out how to soften through her ribs. She works really hard to be soft through her head and neck, but is realizing that isn't quite enough to give her the release she is looking for.

Today we had our Halloween Trick or Treat Spooktacular. I was amazed by Destiny. She had her head hanging out of her stall into the aisle full of people most of the time. She had decorations on her stall front and even got a huge hug around the neck by a little girl and loved it!

Stay tuned for Destiny updates, pictures, and video posted to the website. Thank you all for your support, encouragement, and affection toward Destiny. Speaking on her behalf, she truely appreciates it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Horse Smiles

Getting a new horse makes me smile! It's like I'm a child and walked out to the livingroom on Christmas morning to find a huge gift with my name on it! For me it is a gift that keeps on giving!

The newest (temporary) addition to North Star Horsemanship is named Destiny. Destiny is a beautiful grulla paint that my assistant and I found at a local auction. She had one little scratch on her face and her hooves were a bit long, but otherwise healthy and sound. My assistant and I kept looking at her and petting on her. She was so sweet and curious. A woman working there estimated that the horses would sell around 4pm, the time my last lesson began. A bit disappointed that we wouldn't be able to help this little mare, we drove back to the barn to finish our day. I got a call at 5:30 saying that the horses hadn't sold yet. The scale had broken down and was slowing the sale. I debated whether or not to go back, knowing pretty well that my heart would win the battle over my wallet if I walked through that door. I pulled into the parking lot and about 15 minutes later she was mine!

We decided Destiny was the perfect name as there were so many things that day that happened to get me there in the middle of the day to meet her and slow the sale for me to be there in time to buy her. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure she's the only one who went to a "home". It saddens me to think of the others who may not have been so lucky...

I showed up this morning to pick her up and the gentleman saw the halter and rope in my hand and told me he didn't think I'd want to try to put a halter on as she "wasn't too friendly". I told him that I was going to need to lead her through a barn when I got her to where I was going. The look on his face told me that he thought I was out of my mind, but wasn't going to say so! Destiny was so wonderful! When I put pressure on her, she moved away. When I stepped back, she turned and faced me. 15-20 minutes later she was wearing a halter and I wish that gentleman could have seen us walking out with her halter on!

It is clearly obvious that Destiny is not halter trained, but she was trying very hard to get it right. I'd pull and she'd take a few steps. She jumped right into the trailer as if to say, "Get me out of here!"

When we got to the barn it took both my mom and me to get her into the stall. My mom was putting small amounts of pressure with a training stick from behind and I had the lead. Although it took two of us, it actually took very little effort. She walked right into her stall and started munching on hay. She tolerated being stared at and admired all day. She even took some hay and an apple core from a little girl.

Before I left the barn for the day, I stood at her stall and scratched her neck. She seemed to like that and even let me touch her face and ears. She has the type of personality that is priceless. She knows nothing, yet tries so hard... even when she isn't aware that a reward is coming her way. I can see that I'm going to have fun with her during our time together. We will accomplish much and I am excited for Thankgiving to come around and look back to this day and say, " I can't believe this is the same horse...." I smile... thinking of the endless possibilities that this young mare now has. I smile... thinking that one day this young mare will have a home of her own. I smile... knowing that her new home will not dwell on where she came from, but cherish the horse she has become. I smile...because I was able to be part of this horse's destiny and it is beautiful.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Buying a Horse

Purchasing a horse is a big decision and many things need to be taken into consideration. I have met people who have looked at horses for years and never found "the one" and some who bought the first horse they found. The best advice I can give to someone looking to buy a horse is to make a list of the most important qualities in a horse. Once you've looked at a few horses and have found one that seems to fit your needs, have a professional or a trusted, experienced horse friend come evaluate the horse.

The most common complications that occur when buying a horse is (1.) falling in love with the horse's looks (2.) Relying on what the seller tells you only (3.) Not spending sufficient time and efforts when trying a horse (4) Price.

1.) Falling in love with the horse's looks...The ancient saying "Looks are only skin deep" comes to mind!!!! Of course it is fun to own a gorgeous horse, however no matter the color, or conformation, the ugliest horse is the one that just bucked you off. Of course if you plan on spending the time and money to provide training for this gorgeous horse, looks may be a big factor that you'll want to consider, but no matter how much training a horse has, the true personality of the horse will never change.

It just kills me when I ask my clients what they are looking for in a horse and the first thing they say is Buckskin! If you are willing to wait until that perfect horse comes along in Buckskin color, so be it! Just know that you may end up looking for years to come.

2.) Relying on what the seller tells you only... I am not going to say that every seller lies, because they don't. I have met quite a few though who will stretch the truth or only point out the good qualities in a horse that fit the description of what you say you are looking for. Even a truely honest seller who tells you exactly how they feel about the horse may lead you astray. Things such as "too slow for me" makes it sound as if it is a laid back, kid's horse. When, really, if I say that about a horse, it is generally still too quick for most of the people I ride with. "Easy to learn on" sounds like it would be great for anyone. Not necessarily so...Easy to learn what on? I know a horse who is so easy to ride if you are a beginner learning balance and basic steering, but not a good one to learn collection on. If you ask her to do more complex movements, she is very cranky and resents the hard work. It's not that she can't get over that aspect with more training, but if you are looking for one to learn on then you probably aren't looking for one who needs more training.

Also perhaps a horse is really good at many things and is very responsive with the current owner who is very assertive and experienced. That doesn't mean that the horse will respond that way with you who may not be as experienced. Believe me I've seen this one over and over again. People tell me how naughty their horse is and then seem pretty disappointed when their horse didn't try to buck me off! As a professional horsewoman I am able to see the holes in a horse's training and fill them without usually having to deal with the naughtyness the owner describes. Their horses learn the correct behavior, but if the owner doesn't take the time to figure it out... the horse starts seeing the holes in the owner's training and starts to take advantage!

3.)Not spending sufficient time and efforts when trying a horse ... I can't believe how many people buy a horse without trying it!!! A long-time client and friend of mine was looking to buy a horse. She was looking for a confidence builder who she could learn to ride better on. She had lost confidence through time riding very spooky horses. She asked me if it'd be silly to bring tarps and bags, etc along just to be she the horse was ok with it. I'm sure you know what my response was! "SMART WOMAN!!"

It seems more that silly to me that someone looking for a trail horse would go try out a horse and only walk him around a roundpen. A roundpen is not even close to being similar to the trail. Even more silly is someone looking for a beginner's horse and not taking it for a test ride. If you are too nervous to ride the horse when you go to look at it, bring a trusted professional or friend. An even better solution for someone too nervous to test the horse is to instead of purchasing the horse, go take lessons on a trained horse with a professional to teach you what to do. Then when you have the experience, go find one that suits your riding level.

Another thing that happens when you don't spend enough time with the potential new horse is that you buy it and get it home only to find out it is lame. I've seen this happen a lot. A prepurchase exam is a great way to avoid this, but less expensively is to spend the time with it. A previous client of mine spent lots of money on a well broke horse and it was well broke, but it turned out lame. When I asked her if she saw the horse loping both directions, she realized the owner had only loped it to the left. Well, turns out that if they would have loped him to the right, he would have started limping. Be cautious and alert. Inspect every inch of the horse you are looking at, especially if you are an inexperienced horseperson.

4.) Price.... When is price NOT a complication?? Some times you get lucky and find a great deal. Sometimes a horse will be an excellent horse with issues that you are able to handle and will make the horse less expensive. No matter if you pay $500 or $5000 the initial price is usually the least expensive part of owning a horse. After vaccinations, farrier care, hay, boarding or mortgage on horse property, vet care, etc horse owners spend thousands every year on their horse.

Be realistic in the pricetag on your horse. You usually get what you pay for. The only exception is perhaps that rare good deal when someone is really in a financial bind and needs to sell the horse or if you meet someone who really can't keep the horse but wants it to go to a forever home. The latter of the two usually won't be advertised anywhere; you'll only hear about them through word of mouth.

If price is a limiting factor in your horse purchase, lessons and/or leasing may be a better option to satisfy your horse craving.

Remember there is no such thing as a bad horse, just a bad fit. A horse may be perfect for one person, but not another. Just like they say about couples, "there is someone for everyone..." same with horses-just a matter of finding that special one!!! Good luck!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Confidence....This is a topic that comes up with many of my students. Often I find it being the topic several times in one day. So what is confidence? We use the term so loosely that I think we sometimes forget what it really it. I usually hear "I'm not a confident rider." "I'm so unconfident." It's usually the riders who have the knowledge to be riding beyond their current level that I hear this from most. Confidence is defined as " the belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities." I think we often confuse confidence as fearless. Fearless is "without fear, bold, brave."

It is harder to convince people that they are capable of achieving their dreams than you could ever imagine! I wish my students could see the ability in themselves that I see in them.

I want all of you who say "I am not a confident rider" to realize that it is ok to be afraid sometimes. The confidence comes when you work to overcome that fear because you believe in yourself and know that you can accomplish it. Of course we may sometimes be afraid of what could happen, but we are confident and know we can achieve it. Being a professional trainer there have been many times I've been less than fearless. I'm not sure how many people will admit their fears, especially when it pertains to their career and lifestyle, however I want you to know you are not alone!

When I was younger, I used to ride around all over the planet bareback. As a professional horse trainer who primarily started young colts for the last 7 years, I realized that my riding had changed in many ways from my younger years. For the 2011 new year, my resolution was to ride bareback more often. Easy enough right?? Whenever I had the opportunity I would choose a horse in my riding lineup to ride bareback. It was usually a huge tank of a Haflinger named Sammy or a sassy little paint named Rae. Rae was the most fun and I did lots of bareback and bridleless riding with her. I did plenty of playing around at all gaits but was hoping to take it to a new level. Now living in Montana, I've been giving more lessons to riders and less training to horses so I've had fewer horses to choose from.

As many of you know, I've been waiting for the day to ride my stallion, Achilles. I've probably gotten a total of somewhere between 60 and 90 rides on him. Pretty broad span, but that tells you what our riding schedule has been like! I only ride him when I can find a spare minute to ride between lessons or while I'm snacking on my lunch!!! This is where my "big" idea comes in.... "Why don't I ride Achilles bareback???"

So those of you who've known me for a long time say "Achilles bareback???" And those of you who are just getting to know me, Achilles has always been a quick guy who has these quick turns that we used to joke about, saying he'd lose anybody riding him through those turns.... okay, so we may have been exaggerating a bit, but it goes to say he's pretty quick! Achilles is a guy who runs, naturally sits back, rolls over his hocks, and runs the other way. I started putting skid boots on him when I longed as I was worried about him scraping up his legs sliding through the coarse roundpen I used to work him in.

Back to my bareback sessions. I started off walking and trotting. My wonderful mother encouraged me to try a lope. We both have a great understanding of horses and felt he would do great, but here is my mother watching her daughter getting ready lope on a green horse bareback, a stallion never the less. It went great! He was as smooth as could be and we had a blast.

Several sessions later, Achilles was having a cranky day and refused to lope!!! My assistant and one of my students were hanging out watching Achilles in all of his stubborness! I was getting pretty exhausted of fighting him and decided to take one of my own lessons. "Passive Passenger" exercise..... here I come!!!! I do this exercise with every horse that comes into training, however I will be completely honest-this was my first time attempting it bareback. He picks up a lope and I'm happy that we've worked through the stubborness of the day. As we turn for the gate that leads to the aisle (that leads to the mares) I feel a faint flutter of butterflies in my stomach. For those who haven't done this exercise yet, I assure you: you will do it soon!!! This exercise restricts steering and for the most part stopping... I take my big breath and say "now or never". I was afraid that I might fall off. Afraid about what may happen once we got to the gate. Afraid of many things, but the feeling deep inside was more overpowering-I knew there was no question about if I could do it; I knew deep down that I could and that Achilles was a great horse and we were going to do amazing things together. That is my best description of confidence: overcoming the what-if's and replacing them with I can's.

I'm not saying confidence comes overnight. Usually it takes time. Time, practice, and desire. I love watching my assistant around the barn because she has the true horse passion like me. She is willing to put in the work to achive her horse dreams. I told her the other day, "If you want it, let it burn." Meaning don't give up. So many people give up when it's hard or scary. I'm not telling people to go out and take crazy risks, but if you want it bad enough, work that extra 10 minutes on your weakest area. If your working on your posting and feel you can't do one more lap, Let your muscles burn and do just one more. When you feel you are out of breat and can't keep up longing your resistant horse, Let your lungs burn and push to get that one correct step . Let your heart burn with passion for your beloved equine friend every day. Never give up and you can accomplish anything.

As for Achilles and me we've still been working on the "Passive Passenger" exercise. He is still too green to be bareback and to pick a nice soft circle and lope ever so nicely... For the time being we still head for the gate, run past, stop, roll over his hocks and take off the other way quick as can be. While I'd like him to get to the next level of this exercise, I am enjoying this stage to focus on me and continue building my confidence. After all.... If I can stay on a rollback like that bareback, what can't I do??? Next challenge: world peace! lol