The horse pictured is my horse Lakota. I purchased her from a novice rider as an 8-year-old horse. The first time I put the snaffle bit in her mouth, she chewed heavily on it, tossed her head up and down continuously, pulled against it, and seemed to do everything she could think of to try and escape it.
When I start a horse, or restart a horse, I always complete the early ridden work without a bit. We ride in a rope halter, hackamore (handmade rawhide), side-pull, or a bosal depending on the horse. It is my goal to get the horse responding softly in all of the foundational riding exercises before TRANSITIOINING into a snaffle bit.
I recently road in a clinic with a clinician who was relatively new to me. I brushed the surface of some of his work online, and audited a clinic of his for an hour or two previously, and felt there may be some benefit to me for riding in his clinic. I paid extra for a small group lesson prior to the clinic and brought two horses. One horse to work in the lesson and one to work in the clinic. I rode my young filly during the lesson portion. She rode wonderfully in her rope halter and I explained to the clinician that we are in our early rides outside of the round pen and working on steering exercises at home. As we worked through some typical foundational exercises, such as controlling the hindquarters, it was not surprising that he had different ideas and methods than what we typically do. With an open mind, I attempted to retrain my brain for a period of time to try the exercises he asked of us to examine the benefits for myself.
During the clinic portion of our evening, I rode my 10-year-old gelding. This left my filly standing tied, unsaddled, open for another handler. The clinician approached her and asked if I minded if he used her for some groundwork demonstration. Again, keeping an open mind, I had no problem with that and felt it could do her some good. For the majority of the clinic, we worked on groundwork. It was not until after a break for dinner that we returned for a short period of time for ridden work.
As the clinician approached my filly again, knowing my saddle was put away in my trailer, I assumed he was going to demonstrate the groundwork correlations to ridden work with her again. He walked across the arena with her, grabbed a saddle, and began to saddle her. While saddling her, he asked if I minded if he rode her. Knowing there was not much time left in the clinic, knowing that he saw me riding her earlier in her rope halter, knowing that he spoke with me earlier about her current level of training, and knowing that he is a well-known and successful rider and trainer, I gave him permission. I continued working with my gelding and glanced over my shoulder to see him working a bit into her mouth. From across the arena I said, “She’s never had a bit in her mouth.” To which he replied, surprised, “Well why not?!” As I attempted a short explanation, he continued to bit her as if my explanation did not matter to him. On the verge of debate, my manners and character got the better of me as I felt like debating was not my place. The riders and spectators paid to see him as a clinician, not to hear he and I debate our opinions on starting horses. He had his mind made up that he was riding her in a bit. As he rode, I cringed as I saw her mouth gaping open, his hands pulling up, over, and all over the place as he attempted to push and pull her around into what he considered a “connected” frame, steer her, back her up…
As I said, during his clinic, I did not feel it was my place to talk over him and debate with him, defending and explaining the reasons why I start my horses without a bit and systematically TRANSITION them into a bit. But here, this is my blog, and I can write about whatever I want. I felt like this was a good place to explain the “why” and the “how.”
All of the groundwork I do with horses at my barn, is set up to mirror ridden work. Groundwork is done in a halter. The cues and directives utilized in groundwork with the halter and lead rope, feel and mean the same thing as the cues and directives utilized with the reins during ridden work. A world renowned horseman and friend of mine insists that, “You don’t ask the question, until your horse knows the answer.” The groundwork exercises build on each other in a way that supports this statement.
So, if your horse learns everything on the ground in a halter first, why on Earth would we jump on their back and throw a bit in their mouth expecting them to know how to respond to it? Instead, I keep the halter on for first rides and change only one variable at a time as we progress. When it is time to transition into a bit, I make it a step by step process, again changing only one variable at a time. With the horse pictured, this was her first day working with a bit. On the first day, I keep all variables the same, except for the addition of the headstall and bit. Notice the reins are still connected to the halter. This is step 1. Can the horse ride, steer, and move as softly and freely as before, while simply carrying a bit in her mouth? After this is mastered we continue in both the rope halter and headstall with bit, as we add a small soft pre-cue with the reins and bit, quickly followed by the halter and lead rope feel that the horse is used to. We work through the ridden exercises from the first step to the current step making sure that at each step, the horse has transferred the response from each halter and lead rope cue to each rein and bit cue. Once every response is mastered from the ridden work step 1 to current ridden work step, the halter and lead rope are removed and the horse has smoothly and easily transitioned into a bit.
If you have questions about how I do this, or would like to voice your opinions, I welcome feedback. Please reach out to me via my contact page.
“Horsemanship, like humanship, is a never ending journey in which many have gone before us and many more will follow. None better than the other for we are all on a journey, although at different places. To those ahead of us we owe gratitude. To those behind us we owe inspiration and encouragement. To those beside us, let’s ride in honor of those before us and light the trail for those following.” – Van Hargis
I crave learning opportunities and am always searching for the chance to improve upon my knowledge and skillset. That being said, I attend a lot of clinics, look for opportunities to meet and talk with other experts in the horse industry, and try to ride with a variety of other horsemen with varying levels of ability. In doing so, I have met a lot of people and have learned that there are two types of people in this industry.
The first type, are the people who have the most to offer this industry. They are truly great at what they do and their greatness goes much deeper than in the saddle, their greatness seeps through into the core of their character. These are the people who not only inspire us by all that they have accomplished, but they make the effort to encourage us by making us feel like we too can accomplish greatness. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to meet a few of these people. In doing so, not only have I learned and improved upon my horsemanship, but they have much to offer in the art of humanship as well. They seem to always be seeking opportunities to give back to the industry that they have been so successful in. They listen with an open heart and open mind as they look to discover how they can best assist those wishing to follow in their footsteps. They take the time to connect with those who look up to them, by listening and asking questions, they build a level of comfort and trust allowing for strong and open communication that is shared, rather than being one sided. Warwick Schiller, Jesse and Stacey Westfall, Michael Lyons… these are a few traits they share and I am sure those traits are partially to thank for the successes they are accomplishing.
The second type of people, I have found on the surface appear to have much to offer the industry, however their strength in character leaves much to be desired. These are the people who dominate the conversations with their accomplishments and experiences, as if they are trying to prove their worth to you. When you share your experiences and goals for the future, they don’t deeply encourage you. They mention words of encouragement, but they do not seem sincere or heartfelt, they look for the opportunity to point out that they have already accomplished and surpassed those goals. Rather than encouraging you and offering guidance on how to best reach your goals for yourself, they offer you shortcuts that in the end will offer some benefit to themselves. As I am venturing into the new terrain of the working cow horse, and am bringing up and training a filly in this regard to showcase, it is in this group of people that I have a had a local professional tell me to buy a finished horse from him and showcase it to the public as one I’ve trained. I have had others frown upon my decision to travel and learn from others, suggesting that I will not learn anything they could not already tell me.
As you are traveling along your journey of horsemanship, as well as humanship, be sure you know who you are following, and pay attention to who you may be inspiring as well.
Anyone who has spoken at length with me about Applied Behavior Analysis and training horses knows very well that I believe the principles used in both areas are synonymous. And I would not believe this were true, if I were not having the results in both areas to back up my conclusion. Very often when working in one discipline, I find myself pulling an idea, method, or technique from the other and using it successfully to help accomplish an objective. Like many other days, today, while working with a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, I was able to pull from my bag of horse training tools to make some progress.
“Destination Addiction: a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job, and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.” Have you ever had a horse: rush home to the barn, gravitate towards the arena gate, stomp around not wanting to leave the trailer, etc… Your horse is experiencing destination addiction. Your horse is under the impression that if they can just get back to the barn, get over to the gate, or stay at the trailer they will find happiness. You may be asking, “Well, what exactly do horses find happiness in?” It’s simple. Observe them in the pasture at their leisure with no demands being placed on them and you will find the answer. Typically, for the majority of their leisure time, they partake in activities they enjoy, including resting and grazing with their herd mates. It is not hard to imagine, that when they are rushing home, gravitating to the gate, or refusing to leave the trailer, it is because they are associating their favorite leisure activities with these destinations of choice. Which leads to the next question, “How do you solve destination addiction?”
That’s an easy answer. Make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy. Let’s use the trailer example to illustrate this principle. If you were to make an observation at a horse show, rodeo, organized trail ride, or the like… you would notice that horses are tied to their trailers while waiting for their class or event. Most riders will untie them and move to the practice arena for some warm up before their class or event, then return them until their class or event. When it is their time to show, riders will again, retrieve them from the trailer, show them in their class or event, and return them back to the trailer. It’s not hard to see, how the horse can start to picture his time at the trailer to be the best part of these days. While at the trailer, he is allowed to stand around and relax, if he’s lucky, his rider has packed him a nice full hay bag he is allowed to munch on at his leisure while standing there. To the contrary, every time he is untied and moved away from the trailer, he is put to work. Whether that work is warming up, showing, or eventing does not matter. It is all work to a horse. And so the destination addiction sinks in, the horse becomes reluctant to leave the trailer as the horse has developed a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is at the trailer. Take a minute now to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy and visualize how things begin to change. Make the trailer the work spot. Work the horse in some groundwork or ridden work exercises at the trailer, but allow him to rest in various other places, including the warm up arena (if allowed), or right outside the show ring. You will start to see your horse transform into one that easily and happily leaves the trailer as he starts to assume that away from the trailer is where he will get to rest.
This very same principle of making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy came up while I was working with a client this morning. This two-and-a-half-year-old boy had some destination addiction about his play room. My goals are to work on catching up some developmental milestone delays. For convenience of organizing our materials, a lot of our tasks are centered around a table in the room adjacent to his play room. It was very clear to me that before our work time could be done effectively, I needed to solve his destination addiction. It would do no good for me to attempt to present tasks to him while he squirmed around trying to get to his play room. So for the first part of our session I followed him around his play room presenting him with a variety of simple tasks. When he wandered into the adjacent room, near our work area, I pulled some toys out to play with him, sing to him, blow bubbles, etc… We repeated this process for several minutes until our table became the place he was happiest to be. It then became fairly easy to hold his attention and keep his materials organized as we were now able to work effectively at the table. I love seeing the overlaps between horse training principles and ABA.
I recently attended an Equine Career Conference hosted by Miracle Mountain Ranch in Pennsylvania. The conference was organized by Jesse and Stacy Westfall and Matt Smith. Included in our panel of experts were the conference organizers and Jo Anne Young, and Molly Wagner. Each had very interesting and differing experiences that led to the knowledge they had to share in the conference. The information gained was invaluable for someone like me; someone passionate and determined to make a living in the equine industry. However, what I enjoyed most about this conference, was the incredible generosity of this panel of industry experts. There are no secrets to their successes. They were more than an open book to the attendees, rather they were an overflowing pitcher just outpouring with knowledge and advice for the attendees. Stacy made a comment, I’m sure I am paraphrasing a bit here, but she explained that as she is climbing this mountain of success in the equine industry, she is reaching for the students below her to pull them up as well. She recognizes that she used to be one of those students. And she did not achieve the high levels of success she has achieved on her own. It is so important that for this industry to thrive, and survive, for us to help each other. Share the gifts that we have, and help each other however we can. That message was very clearly repeated, at numerous times throughout this conference.
As I reflect on the expanding business of my own in the equine industry, I hope that I can live up to the high standards of generosity this panel has shown me. I seize every opportunity I can to learn about quality horsemanship practices and am continuously striving to improve my own skills. I am eager to share everything I have learned with those who are willing to listen. During this conference, I discussed my program and future plans for my program with the panel whenever I could. A piece of crucial importance, as agreed by these experts, are the lessons I am including with my training packages. It is crucial that as an industry we continue to educate those willing to learn. With that, we want to ensure that a quality education in horsemanship is provided to them. For some, sending their horses through my program may be the only exposure they have to horsemanship that celebrates the mind of the horse, recognizes the horse’s ability to think on it’s own, and uses this gift to create a calm and willing partner guided by the rider.
I look forward to the opening of our indoor arena. With this, the opportunities to give back to the horse industry, as those who I admire have inspired me to, will be endless. I have big plans for providing educational opportunities in my area, stay tuned for details.
In the mean time, I am inviting questions from the public via my contact page on my blog website or my Facebook page. My primary focus at this time is training from the ground up and rehabilitating horses. But ask me anything, if I don’t have the answer I will consult my resources and find you an answer. Or at the very least, point you in the right direction to an answer.
Seize the day and take every opportunity that is offered to you to #createthelifeyoulove.
I recently read an article on eclectic-horseman.com entitled, "Should you start your own horse? Some ideas to consider if you're wondering whether to do or delegate." It was very well written by Sylvana Smith. This article really spoke to me. Having not been someone who grew up with horses, and being almost 30 years old, receiving the majority of my experiences with horses in the past 5 years of my life, I reflect a lot. I am human, and like all humans, in those moments of reflection, I do occasionally have self doubt. Most often this stems from when I see someone who I perceive to be better than me simply because they grew up around horses and have more experience than me. Or so I thought. This article served as a reminder to myself that, they have a different type of experience than me, and it is not necessarily "better," when relating to the goals I have set for myself as a trainer.
We all have experiences and everyone's level of experience is unique to the individual. I may see someone who has grown up with horses and at first glance assume they have more experience than me. But when you compare the types of experience, you begin to realize what is important in regards to training horses. While the said individual may have grown up with horses on his grandfather's farm, been trail riding since he was 5, been working cattle on the farm since he was 10, and now competes at a prestigious level, these experiences alone have little to do with training a horse. Although I do not have my entire life thus far put into my horsemanship experiences, I do have every ounce of my horsemanship experiences put into experiencing and educating myself on educating horses.
I've always been an educator. When I was young I helped teach the younger kids at soccer camps. While in school I worked as a para-educator assisting students with disabilities in a school setting. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in education and began teaching middle school aged students with disabilities. I received my masters degree in another area of teaching, and then went on to post graduate level work in Applied Behavior Analysis where I completed coursework and later experience necessary to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. With that new title I continued to educate others as I worked with families and other service providers to educate them on methods and strategies for improving independence and quality of life for those individuals they love and care for with disabilities. The educator piece is clearly there, that is why it comes as no surprise to me, that when I first got horses of my own, I immediately set goals and sought out experience and resources to help my horses reach those goals. And so, as my horses, and the horses I have been working with, have been learning and improving their skills, I have been gaining the experience important to my personal goals related to training horses.
My background in education and behavior analysis has given me the tools necessary to understand the science of behavior and learning. I have a keen awareness for detail and know how to recognize the steps in a desired outcome, to allow me to work on each component of a skill in a piece by piece manner, perfecting each step along the way, to create a seamless transition when asking for the entire skill sequence at once. I take those skills I had previously, and combine them with knowledge, guidance, and methods from leading individuals in the world of horsemanship, to create very successful training experiences for both myself and the horses I work with.
The link to the article is posted below. I believe it is a must read for anyone who sends their horse(s) to a trainer. It points out some important things to take into consideration when choosing where you send your horse(s).
I am typically an impatient person who is so strapped for time. I often find myself rushing through life from one thing to the next, always concerned about getting where I’m going. Where I consciously make an effort to slow things down and enjoy the journey is when I’m working with horses. You have to remember to pay attention to the small things and reward your horse for making even the smallest of improvements. A very well-known trainer who I follow says, “If you improve your horse 1% a day, then in 100 days you’ll have 100% better horse.” As humans in this technologically advanced world, with the idea of instant gratification at the forefront of our minds, we often forget that goals are not reached over night. We get frustrated over not reaching our goals fast enough and, it is easy to fall victim to feeling like a failure and giving up. We must remember that small improvements over time can lead to big results for the future.
I recently read an article about a study Psychologists completed at Sussex University regarding the horse’s ability to read emotion in a human’s face. The scientists reported that horses are able to distinguish between positive and negative emotions in humans, based on their facial expression. One of the notable reactions to the human’s angry facial expressions was a quick increase in the horse’s heart rate.
I found this information very interesting. Being so involved with horses, and seeing how in tune they are to other aspects of human emotion, I always assumed horses could recognize some aspect of human emotion. It’s nice to see that research now proves it. That being said, I think it is important for people who own and work with horses to think about how this new information will affect their interactions with their horses.
The horse that spooks at the judge’s stand when showing. The horse that won’t cross a shallow creek on the trail. The horse that nips at you when it’s feeding time. The horse that nearly pulls your arm out of it’s socket when lunging. The horse that won’t load in your friend’s new trailer for a ride. How do you react to these situations? Are you helping your horse or is your reaction making things worse?
I am jokingly criticized by my family and those close to me about the lack of emotion I display. Don’t take this to the extreme, when big events and life changing things happen I feel like I react in a typical manner. However, on a day to day basis, I tend to remain very level headed and objective in my encounters. Where my humorous, playful, and social, husband, may view this as detrimental. I believe my horses thank me for it.
I am not one to become frustrated or angry with the horse for not responding to something in the way I was intending for him to. I operate in a very sequential and rhythmic pattern, following a specific set of principles and methods which I believe help to alleviate the need for me to react to a horse’s behavior in some negative emotion. There is a quote by Buck Brannaman which reads, “It’s been a long time since I was afraid. Fear has to do with helplessness. The only thing that conquers it is knowledge. When you learn about how a horse thinks and makes decisions, that helplessness goes away.” I feel that the same can be said for negative emotions such as frustration and anger. You see a lot of people reacting with frustration and anger at their horses. When the handler runs out of knowledge and doesn’t understand well enough how the horse operates, to better assist their horse in the task at hand, anger and frustration can easily surface. It is best to keep those emotions at bay and seek help when you need it. I don’t have all of the answers, and I’m really not sure anyone does. But I believe it is in the horse’s best interest to remain calm, focus on the task, and try to determine what you can do to help your horse, rather than react quickly in a way that may hinder progress.
Gaining that knowledge, and gaining education of any kind, involves reflection. I encourage everyone reading this to take a moment to reflect on this new study, which now proves that horses can read negative emotions, and ask yourselves, “Does this change the way I interact with my horse?”
You know you have found the right trainer, not when they tell you everything you want to hear, but when they tell you the truth.
This has become a new favorite quote of mine. I can see where it would be so applicable in many
areas of life.
A parent of a student with a high level of special education needs, knows they have found the right teacher when the teacher explains the special education services the student needs to make true success, rather than tell the parent that the student is ready to be placed in mainstream classes to socialize with peers.
An athlete knows they have found the right coach when the coach informs them of endurance and strengthening exercises they need to do at home to reach their goals, rather than telling them to get plenty of rest between practice sessions.
In all areas of life, when we trust someone else to teach us, or guide us in the right direction towards reaching our goals, it would be most favorable for that person to direct us to sit back, relax, take the easy route, and simply let our goals happen. However, we all know how obviously unrealistic this is. We have been taught by others, and seen in our own experiences, that success comes when you put the work in to start at the start (your baseline), address the problems (identify your weaknesses) and work up to your goals (step by step, as long as it takes). So why do so many horse owners seem to think that these same rules do not apply to our horses?
I recently had someone contact me about working with her horse. To paraphrase the description she gave me, she said her horse had great groundwork, could stand to be saddled, could turn, and could stop. She continued on, stating the problem was that her horse was acting spooky and getting moody under saddle. The moodiness was characterized by pinning her ears.
She went on to explain that she needed her horse safe to trail ride, thought that some consistent riding would accomplish that, and she simply didn’t have the time to do it herself. I could have easily appealed to her interest, and increased the odds of her choosing me to train her horse by telling her what she wanted to hear. I could have agreed to put some rides on her horse in a 30 day training package and probably would have made some minimal and temporary progress with her horse, enough to have satisfied her with her choice in trainer for the time being. However, by following this plan, 6 months from now the band aid on her horse’s problems would have ripped off and she would be back at the search for a quick fix trainer. If I were lucky, she would have come back to me and we would repeat the same quick fix, and gotten ourselves started in this vicious cycle that would have ended up profitable for me, a waste for her, and really unfair to the horse.
That is not how I operate. I genuinely try to appeal to the best interest of the horse. Starting where the horse is and progressing as the horse is ready. I am not in it to make money off of people resending their horses to me over and over time and again. I am not in it to apply a quick fix or push the horse outside of its comfort zone to produce quick results that won’t last. I will always be honest with an owner, and will never sacrifice the truth, to tell an owner what they want to hear, or to sell a training package. I treated this case no differently.
I explained to her a typical scenario when I have seen moodiness in horses in the past. It’s quite possible that her horse may have become a little lazy. Regardless the cause, it was important to me to get this horse responsive again. I explained how I would work through groundwork to get respect and responsiveness back and that groundwork was much more in depth that lunging, grooming, and picking up feet. I also gave a quick explanation of desensitization and the necessity of balancing out the responsiveness with desensitizing to create a calm and willing horse that will develop trust in the handler and learn how to keep a level head while riding. With trail riding being this horse’s purpose, I also talked about wanting to address destination addiction to ensure there was no barn/trailer/buddy sourness. All of this was the truth. These are truly things that need to be addressed with all horses and are often overlooked as people rush through things selfishly focusing on getting their horses to do the things they want, when they want, rather than taking time to address a horse’s training adequately.
I ended our conversation as I do all of my initial training contacts, offering to meet her and her horse to really assess where we were starting and get an accurate idea of what needed to be done. Unfortunately, it did not come as a big surprise to me that this owner has not gotten back with me. I am assuming she has chosen a different trainer who appealed to her interests by offering to put rides on her horse, without taking the time to meet the horse and assess a starting point. This is usually how it goes. People want the results they want in the way they feel will be easiest.
In trying to appeal to public interest, this sadly used to be how I operated. With the first horse I had in for training, outside of my own, I rushed through exercises to try and get to where the owner wanted her horse to be in the 4 weeks I had her. I made some progress, and the owner was pleased with the progress, but ultimately, I do not believe the progress will be as lasting as I would like. And that is when I made the decision to stay honest and upfront in addressing the horse’s needs with all horses that I consider training, even when it costs me a client. Those who are searching for a quality trainer, will know they’ve found it, when they hear me tell them the truth.
My passion for riding and training my horses lies in the working cow-horse. From the time I first got involved with horses this has always been an area of interest for me. However, I never realized I was capable of learning and doing it myself until I started training. With the skills I acquired (and am still acquiring), and the progress I see with the horses I train, it has opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of my riding career. Since then, I have begun educating and training myself and my horses in this new area. In all areas I am passionate about, I thoroughly enjoy educating myself further and developing my skills.
I eagerly attended a Reined Cow Horse clinic this past weekend with my older gelding Broker. It was about a four hour drive for me. As I have not been able to find any clinics or many valuable educational opportunities in regards to working cow-horse in my area, the four hour drive for me seemed worth it. And it was! It was a lot of fun, I met some great people, and have added a couple people into my circle of awesome. (circle of awesome = people whose opinions I value, and consider their constructive criticism something I can truly learn from) One of the best parts is, that they will continue to be doing clinics on a monthly to month and a half basis in an attempt to bring about more interest in the working cow-horse in our state. I am excited to say that I now have a consistent resource for learning and self-improvement in this area of my training and riding.
I brought Broker to the clinic, and will continue to bring him as I get started in this new area of riding. While I realize there may be some limitations to how far we can go and how well we will be able to compete in this area, I do feel that there is some benefit to learning with an older horse such as him. He will be more forgiving of the mistakes I make as I learn. He is a very special horse to me and him serving this role as the horse I will be allowed to make mistakes with as I progress will only further solidify his special place in my heart. In learning with him, he will be paving the way for the future horses I train in this discipline. No horse will ever be able to replace him. We have learned so much and have come so far together.
In working with him, with his build and his age, I have realized that it is more difficult to get the quick stop necessary for working a cow. When I run into areas where my horse or I have difficulty, I am not afraid to speak up to others and get ideas and opinions from others in how to best improve a skill on a horse I am working with. However, I am very selective in who I ask for these ideas and opinions from. I only ask them of people who I consider experts in the world of horsemanship. Often times, these are the same people I place in my circle of awesome. Typically, when I seek input from these individuals, it is well received and they seem to appreciate someone who is working hard, dedicating time to their improvement, and not afraid to speak up to ask for outside influence. However, that did not seem to be the case I encountered this morning when asking for some outside ideas. I asked for some help from someone who I revere as the utmost of experts in the world of quality horsemanship. Rather than providing me with a new idea, or a tip for working with my horse on this skill, it was simply implied that there are no tips for me, I just need to reach a level of perfection in what I’m doing and then continue to practice at this level of perfection. This was hard for me to accept. As I am looking for improvement, I obviously do not consider myself to be at a level of perfection yet. So how am I supposed to automatically be at this perfect level, to practice at this perfect level? I was a little disheartened by the lack of resources provided by someone I typically rely on. Although surely I am wrong, in my heart I took it as him saying, “You’re not an expert. You’re not at a level of perfection. So you cannot practice at a level of perfection. So you will not be able to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish.” Luckily for me, one of my intrinsic drivers towards my goals is determination.
I am a very determined individual who is not afraid to put in the time and push myself out of my comfort zone to take action to accomplish the things that I decide I am going to accomplish. This would be no different for me. Although Broker’s build may be big, and I may not be an expert practicing the skills he needs to work cows at a level of perfection, I will not let either of those factors stop us from learning and improving our skills to be able to accomplish our personal goals in the world of working cow-horse.
People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.
I actually enjoy mucking out horse stalls. Not because scooping poop is an ideal way to spend my free time, but when I’m not pressed for time and can muck at a leisurely pace, I relax and find myself getting lost in thought. As I continue to seek out the opportunities necessary to make training horses a successful and full-time career, “What can I be doing better?” or “What am I not doing that I should be doing?” are often the themes of my thoughts. Today’s topic went back to my “Why?” I’ve already blogged specifically about why I train horses; to TRAIN horses to be calm, yet responsive to cues, and to change the mindset of others who feel that dominance and submission are the tools necessary to break a horse. Today’s thoughts drifted back to the beginning. I paused for a minute and looked at my own horses as I realized, it all started with them. This goal of a successful and full-time career training horses started with them. And I started asking myself, “Why did I decide to train my own horses?”
I reflected on Lakota first. She was in my immediate sight and I often think of her first when I think of training, because she seems to have the most to learn. When I first bought her she was very high strung. Her eyes were big, her head was high, and she quickly turned away or bolted from anything out of the norm. She was nervous about trailering. She would toss her head, pull back in the trailer, and kick the trailer. At first she wouldn’t even back out of a trailer, this progressed to rushing off the trailer backwards when I was trying to load her. She was sensitive to every touch. I could barely pet her behind the withers without her twitching, much less put a saddle on her without her quivering and snorting. She wouldn’t let anyone near her back feet. The first time the farrier was out I think he spent an hour on just one of her rear hooves. It took a long time for me to get her showing any signs of relaxation while working with her.
Why did I decide to train her myself? Because she is going to be a horse my daughters will ride. I want her to be responsive. I don’t want them to have to use force to get her to do the things they are asking. Too often I see young riders pulling and kicking on their horses as hard as they can to try and get their cooperation. I’ve seen annoyed horses act out in dangerous ways with their riders, and people act like it is no big deal. What is that teaching the next generation of horsemen/women? As well as responding to cues, I want Lakota to have the mental skills to remain calm. In new situations and moments of surprise and uncertainty, I want to be able to trust the horse my daughters are riding, to keep a level head, and keep them safe. From what I have seen as typical, and not knowing many trainers in my area, much less the methods they use, I was certain that to achieve these two goals from Lakota, I needed train her myself. I’ve been working with Lakota for about a year now. She has come a long way. She does great with trailering. I pick up and clean all four feet in a matter of minutes on a daily schedule. The farrier is out regularly with no troubles. She will flex laterally, disengage her hind end, walk, trot, and lope on a loose rein, steer, and back up softly. She will walk, trot, and lope over small obstacles on the ground. We are currently working on side passing. My oldest has ridden her on leadline. My daughter is only 3 years old but has already made up her mind that Lakota will be her horse and they will do mounted shooting events together. In her words “Ride Lakota fast, shoot balloons.”
About the same time I started training Lakota, I started retraining Broker. He was my first horse. Before he was my first horse, he was my sister’s first horse. He is an older horse, who has always been a great horse, until he started bucking. It didn’t take me long to realize, as most bucking issues are, it was a result of inconsistent and improper handling. In this case, it was my handling. With him being my first horse, I didn’t know any better, and I allowed him to be disrespectful and lazy for long enough that it evolved into bucking. Why did I decide to solve this and retrain him myself? Because he was my first horse, who had been patient and forgiving in a lot of situations in the very beginnings of our relationship. This lasted until he realized, at the time, I was not an effective leader and someone needed to step up the plate, he felt it might as well have been him. And I let him. I made that mistake, and I owed it to him to be the one to work with him to fix it. After re-establishing our roles, so that he realized I was a leader who he could trust, and also one he should respect, we began working on the bucking. It did not take long and I was able to ride him again without a buck. Until I started asking for a lope. This is where I really saw the laziness come out. The buck was back when I asked him to lope. However, I now had tools to work on this. I put the time in and we worked through this. He is now my willing partner when we ride and if I give him a job to do, he is more in tune to me than ever before. I’ve realized with him, I can actually start working on and accomplishing some of the things I have always dreamed of doing in my riding, but never thought were possible. And this was all done by re-TRAINING my horse… not breaking him.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.