Outside of training horses I work as a Behavior Analyst. Simply put, I work with children and adults, and the individuals who care for them, to design and supervise implementation of interventions to improve behaviors. After an appointment this morning, I realized, I am spending my life pioneering exceptional methods for improving the lives of horses and individuals with disabilities. After a quick summary of my appointment, you’ll see where I’m going with this.
The individual I met with today is a young adult female, old enough that she has graduated high school and is now attending a day program for adults with disabilities. She does not have the skills to communicate vocally. She does have a speech generating device, it is through an IPad, but she does not display the skills to independently utilize it in its entirety. In her program, the daily routine includes group work followed by individual work, with an emphasis on teaching these individuals simple job skills. I have been working with this individual for about four months. I typically see her every other week. During today’s visit, while working on one of her individual jobs, she used her IPad to say, “listen to music.” This was the first time I have seen her independently use her IPad to make a request. I honored that request, put her job aside, set a timer for 3 minutes, and let her listen to music. When the timer went off, I told her it was time to turn music off and time to do her job. Again, she said, “listen to music.” I replied, “I hear you. I hear you want music. First do work, then listen to music.” And presented her with her job materials. She completed her job, I set the timer for 3 minutes, and she listened to music. And so the sequence continued for 3 additional times until she was finished with her current job. I noted that each additional time, with the anticipation of music after her job, she got quicker with her job. As my appointment was ending I approached the program staff and relayed what had occurred during my visit. I then asked, “Does she use her device to make requests like that with you all?” One of the staff immediately spoke up, “I don’t let her.” She must have seen the horror on my face because she felt the need to explain. She explained that she holds her IPad and only gives it to her at certain times of the day. Another staff member stated, “She wouldn’t get any of her jobs done otherwise.” The first staff member to speak explained that during morning group, if she is using the device and tries to manipulate it out of what they are working on, she “blocks” her from doing it. In my mind, my jaw dropped and these thoughts ran through my head, “She has no way to communicate with anyone! To keep her 1 method of communication from her, only providing it when it is opportune for you is like ripping someone’s vocal chords out and trying to give them back when you want them to speak! To block her from accessing things she wants to say is like slamming your hand over someone’s mouth as they open it to speak!” However, on the outside, I did my best to keep my composure as I tried to advocate for this individual’s right to speak and the importance in allowing her to speak. As I left, all I could do was pray that my message got through.
On my drive home I realized, what I was doing there is the same thing I feel I am always doing with the horses I work with. Whether my own horses, or someone else’s horses, I feel like I am justifying the importance in providing what the horse needs, rather than what we want the horse to be doing.
Example 1: Bringing Lakota to her first horse show and having to explain why we are not riding in the show but instead working on groundwork to get her relaxed in the show environment so that she can be successful in future shows. Then having to politely decline when someone else offers to have their daughter ride her in the show for me.
Example 2: Bringing Broker to a cattle working “lesson” and opting to work on the basics, rocking back on his hocks and turning, rather than forcing him into a herd of cattle. Then deciding to invest in a mechanical flag of my own, so that I can work him on the flag and train him so that it is his decision to follow that cow rather than mine, before attending another cattle “lesson.”
Example 3: Going back to the basics to work through groundwork in order to discover a horses’s “worry” and address that “worry” before doing any ridden work. Doing this will solve problems with ridden work rather than covering them up, and this is done with any horse that comes to Forever T Ranch despite how many rides or how seasoned the owner claims the horse to be.
In those three examples, I have found that what I am doing with horses seems to be quite contrary to popular belief. The same is often the case when I am working with individuals with disabilities. However, in both cases, (I hope that it has been made obvious) although contrary to popular belief, it is what the individual/horse needs.
The name of my ranch is Forever T Ranch. My business is called Forever T Ranch Equine Training and Rehabilitation. I recently had someone ask me, “What do you mean by rehabilitation?” I have to refer to the way I have been training Broker, my 18 year old gelding. Broker is my first horse. I got him from someone, who said that the previous owner before her used him as a roping horse. She had him for about 2 years and in that time boarded him with a full service boarder, and took him on a couple trail rides. Then I took him over. As my first horse, it goes without saying that I handled him inconsistently and unknowingly taught him many bad habits. Despite his bad habits, I had some riding lessons with him and was still able to successfully trail ride him on and around my family’s property for a couple years. I always described him as a “big boss man,” but I was happy with our trail rides, didn’t know any better, and let him be the boss. Every once in a while as we were riding he would hop his back end up a little, but I just assumed he was trying to get a fly off and ignored him.
It was while riding him early in my second pregnancy that I felt, and realized he had a buck. I actually was riding him double with my oldest daughter. He let out a couple small bucks, and I immediately got myself and my daughter off. I didn’t want to risk anything with my pregnancy and decided to stop riding him until after the baby was born. Once my daughter was born, it didn’t take long and I was back in the saddle. I was so excited to be riding again, the only problem was that his couple small bucks, had turned in to more frequent, bigger bucks. Just riding at a walk around my family’s property, we couldn’t go much longer than 5 minutes without him bucking. I loved riding, and loved my horse too much to give him up. I decided I was going to learn how to fix this issue myself. After attempting a few methods that didn’t seem to work for me, I found the subscription training program, Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship. The videos posted showed amazing results and all I could think about was how much I wanted my horses to perform as his did. With my background in Applied Behavior Analysis, not only did I easily see the success he was having with the horses in his videos, but I completely understood the science behind it. I soon began following his program with Broker.
So where do you start training with an 18 year old ex-rope horse? The same place you start with a filly, or an 8 year old green broke horse, at the beginning. I took Broker back to the very basics of groundwork and we worked our way up through hooking on, desensitizing, sensitizing, lateral flexion, disengaging under saddle, first rides, walk/trot/canter on a loose rein… so the list goes on. I was seeing success and found that I was able to solve most of the bucking problem while on the ground. The trouble was, I still was getting a buck when I asked him to transition from a trot to a canter. I took Broker to Ohio for a clinic put on by Warwick Schiller himself. It was here that I discovered just how lazy Broker actually was, and that the reason the buck was still lurking around was that I had failed to really get my horse “doing more than me.” Under Warwick’s guidance at the clinic, I learned how to get my horse “doing more than me” while riding. I took those techniques home and continued to work through this issue with Broker and can now proudly say that his bucking problem is gone.
The bucking problem may be gone, but Broker is not finished learning. As I said, when we started working through his problem, we started at the beginning. We are always working on improving those skills, while I continue build on his strength and endurance teaching him new skills. His history is not real clear to me, I am not sure exactly what he used to know (and may still know), but that does not matter. Whether training a young horse or rehabilitating an older horse who has developed a problem or two, you start at the beginning and take the time that it takes to get every step good before moving on. When sticking to this plan, there is no telling how far you and your horse will go.
As this show season comes to an end I reflect on my first season of showing. Someone told me at the start of the year to write down my goals for the year. Apparently, research suggests that you are more likely to achieve your goals when they are written down. My goals were simple:
As the season was close to beginning, I eagerly scoured the internet for shows in my area that seemed to fit my interests. My calendar filled up quick. Along with packing my calendar full, I needed to make sure my horses were ready. This was a little more difficult than adding events to my calendar. I had just started Broker and Lakota working from the ground up, through the Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship curriculum online via his members only site. Broker was on a refresher course for me to gain his respect and get rid of a buck he had developed due to my previously inconsistent handling. Lakota was desperately in need of everything we were working on. I am not sure how much training she had had prior to my purchasing her, but from our first interactions, and our first attempt at riding, it was clear we needed to start from the beginning as I worked to earn her trust and respect. I was trying to squeeze all of this in to about a 4 month time window.
Show #1: My friend had told me about a local university who was holding an open show to kick start the season. I looked over the show bill and planned to enter Broker in a couple different Western Pleasure classes. There was even a couple lead line classes for me to enter my oldest in with Missy. From what my friend had told me, and what I’d seen on the internet, Western Pleasure seemed to be a safe route for me and Broker. Plain and simple, I felt like all he needed to do was walk, trot, lope around the arena. The timing felt right too. Broker and I had spent extensive time working on walk, trot, lope on a loose rein in the training curriculum we were working through. As the show day approached I spent all of my free time working with him trying to get walk, trot, lope on a loose rein perfected. While practicing at home in the arena I could sometimes keep him at a trot on a loose rein, but more often than not I was having to correct him for breaking into a lope without my asking him to. Meanwhile, my friend was filling me in on the details in regards to show attire and grooming and clipping my horses. With her help, I showed up with neatly groomed and clipped horses and coordinating show shirts for my daughter and I, and a coordinating shirt for me to wear matching Broker’s headstall. I felt like I was ready for my first show.
After bribing and convincing my daughter to ride in her first class, she was happy to have earned some rubber bracelets given to all the kids in her class. She did not win any ribbons, but she did not care, she loved her bracelets. She got on her horse for her second class with a bit more ease as she thought she would get some bracelets again. Too bad for her, she placed 4th and got her first ribbon instead. Now it was my turn. I rushed to get my daughter back to my family, get her horse untacked, and get myself and my horse ready to go. We warmed up for a bit in the warm-up arena, but it was awfully crowded so we didn’t do much. Then our class got called. My first class was Novice Western Pleasure Walk/Trot. From the moment we entered the arena I rode with 2 hands. I realized I wasn’t going to win anything and felt like I had more control over Broker this way. He was very quick and rushy throughout our time in the arena. And what’s worse, I felt like I was holding him back, with tight reins, the entire time we were showing. After a quick break our second class was called, Novice Western Pleasure Walk/Trot/Lope. It was pretty much a repeat of our first class. I didn’t even attempt to lope as I was holding him back too much at the trot.
Despite my friend’s encouragement, it was not a successful day for me, and I dropped from a third class Broker and I had signed up to ride in. I let myself and more importantly my horse down. I never expected or even wanted to win anything, I just wanted to show. And that destination addiction sent a very confusing message to my horse. At home we worked on a loose rein and he was allowed to make mistakes so that he could be correct and learn from them. Here at the show, I was keeping him on a tight rein trying to keep him from making mistakes. I was disappointed in myself and felt like I had just ruined any of the progress we had made in working on a loose rein.
Show #2: My friend found this show for me too. It was another university holding an open state saddle club show. At the time this meant nothing to me and I had no idea how this differed from a fun show. I just saw it as another opportunity to get Broker out to a show. Only this time I wasn’t going to screw up our progress. So that I could focus on Broker, and so as not to burn her out, my daughter did not attend this show. In truly attempting to focus on Broker and what he needed, I actually did not even attempt any classes. My friend had urged me to sign up for a couple, and assured me that my horse would do fine, so I did sign up for a couple. But it didn’t take long for me to go and pull my name out of those classes. Broker and I spent the entire day working on walk/trot/lope on a loose rein in the practice arena. It was good for him, he was getting exposure to the show setting and we had a day to spend on just what he needed. Although we didn’t show in any classes, this was my first successful show.
Show #3: This show was a fun show with a local saddle club. By this time I had seen enough shows, and researched enough online that I was starting to figure out what the different classes were. My daughter came and showed Missy in two lead line classes, where she earned two more 4th place ribbons. I signed Broker up for Western Pleasure Walk/Trot and Horsemanship. Although our walk/trot/lope on a loose rein was much improved, and he could stay at all 3 gaits when asked to do so while on a loose rein, he was just so much quicker than other horses in Western Pleasure so I did not feel comfortable entering him in the loping class. Although our Horsemanship class called for a lope, I opted to walk and trot through the whole thing. As our classes finished, even though we did not win anything, again I felt successful. In our training process, Broker was only working in a bitless sidepull halter. I did not give in to the pressure of using his bit just because that was a rule for this show. I again felt like I was focusing on what he needed rather than what the show called for.
Those three shows were the only three shows I took Broker to during that season. Throughout the time that passed and mine and Broker’s progression with his training I never felt like we really found our niche in the horse show world. I started researching what else was out there, I wanted something more functional and something where I didn’t feel like my horse would lose points for moving how he was naturally meant to move. I found the American Ranch Horse Association. (Details will come in a later blog. J )
Show #4: As the season was coming to an end, my friend informed me that the university where we attended our first show as holding another open fun show to end the season. After my mistake of rushing Broker into showing, I made sure not to do that with Lakota. It was now the end of the season and I felt like she was ready to travel to and attend a show. Notice I said, “ready to travel to and attend a show.” I did not say, “She was ready to show.” I entered my daughter and Missy in two lead line classes again. She earned 2nd and 1st place ribbons. By this point she had caught on to the idea that these ribbons were a big deal and she was very proud of herself. All I planned to do with Lakota was get her out to a show around other horses in a novel environment. My husband, and family had come along to this show to watch my daughter so that did allow me a little bit of time to work with Lakota. And she definitely needed it. She was not used to being tied to the trailer for an extended amount of time, and she got worse when I led Missy away from the trailer for her classes with my daughter. In the little bit of time I had to work with her, Lakota and I focused on the basics, groundwork. In this new environment with all of these distractions, I just worked on keeping her focused on me. That was our goal for the day, and that was accomplished. I felt good about our experience.
Show #5: This was the last show put on by our local saddle club that I was able to attend in the season. My daughter did not attend. I only brought Lakota. This gave her the chance to come out by herself for the first time. I didn’t plan on showing her, I just wanted to give her another chance to get some show environment experience. We arrived at the show about 10 minutes before the show was to start. The announcer came on asking everyone who had not yet to sign up for their classes. I was sure she was talking to us. I approached the stand and explained that we were just out “sight-seeing” for the day and were not going to be showing. As I paid my fee for the day, a well-seasoned rider and volunteer announcer, expressed her disappointment that I wouldn’t be showing. Despite having seen my horse, or asking me any questions about my horse’s experience she offered to let her daughter ride my horse for me. I politely declined. I then went back to my trailer and began working on getting Lakota to focus on me amidst all of the distractions. Once that was successful I allowed her rest time at the trailer before doing some very small, very basic ridden work. After a little over 2 hours of “sight-seeing” I called the day a success and headed home.
Although I did not accomplish the very broad goals I had set out for myself during my first show season, I felt like I did accomplish something more. I gained the confidence to put my horses’ needs over my own desires. I overcame my own destination addiction.
Okay, so I wasn't brave enough to take the halter off... but I took my mare on her second trail ride today. We did it bareback with only her halter and lead rope on. I thread the lead rope through her halter so that it would mimic rein action. I am incredibly proud of how far she has come.
When I purchased this mare I was a very inexperienced buyer. I purchased her before I learned anything about a horse's mental state or boundaries. I bought her simply because she was cheap and she looked pretty.
On my first day out to see her it was storming. I drove 2 hours to see her, the rain didn't stop me. I was very eager to buy. When I got there her owner led me out to the area they kept their horses. We stood under a small lean-to. I didn't see any horses. Her husband joined us with a bucket of corn and dumped it into a feed trough under the lean-to. Here come the horses. I believe there were 5 horses all together, including a hackney and a mini. They all came in and gathered around the feed trough, right up next to us, bumping shoulders and pushing into each other's space, including ours, as if we were not even there. Her owner didn't ride her and didn't know much about her background. She made me feel like the expert, so I took things into my own hands asking for a lead rope to attach to her halter. To me, she seemed friendly enough. She let me lead her away from her food. She let me pick up her feet... well her two front feet anyway. She led well enough, a little close but I didn't know any better at the time. She was smaller, only about 14 hands. The two horses I had at the time were both bigger. I thought it might be nice to have a smaller one. I was sold. Although I didn't mention that to her owner at the time. I told her I was eager to come back and ride her as soon as the weather dried up. A few days later I did just that.
When I came out to ride her, her owner had a friend with her. She said her friend knew more about horses and has always helped her out with this mare. The horse was already in a small pen. The owner's friend brought her son with her and asked her son to get his saddle and blanket. We walked over to the mare. She tied her up and got the blanket and saddle from her son. With the movement of the blanket towards the mare her eyes got big, her head shot up, and she snorted. "Easy." she said. "Here, you want to sniff it a little." After about 30 seconds to a minute of sniffing, she put the blanket on her back. She repeated a similar routine with the saddle. She then asked me if I wanted to ride or if I wanted her son to get on first. I opted for her son to get on first. I watched him ride her around in circles. At the time I didn't know much to be looking for. The owner's friend commented on some things, "She doesn't neck rein, she plow reins." "She will be more controlled with an adult who knows how to use their legs and body." I just shook my head in agreement.
Then it was my turn to ride. We walked around some. I could pretty well keep her in a circle. Plow reining was different for me, both of my horses at home neck reined very well. But I thought to myself, "How hard could that be to teach? I'm a Behavior Analyst. I'm sure I can figure it out." I got off shortly and immediately began trying to make arrangements for delivery (at the time I did not have a horse trailer). Lucky for me, the owner's husband was available to deliver her that evening. I was ecstatic. I paid her cash, plus a fee for delivery and eagerly went home to make sure I had everything ready for her arrival. I got home and realized, I didn't know how to introduce a new horse. I googled it. I read a few different theories and opted for just turning her out with the other two horses and letting them sort things out. Luckily this worked out okay.
The next day I was eager to start working with her. I got to use my newly purchased snaffle bit. I slowly saddled her up, just like I'd seen her previous owner's friend do, and got on. I was ready to start teaching her to neck rein. The only problem was, she wouldn't move. I kicked and kicked and kicked.... nothing. How was I going to teach her to neck rein if I couldn't get her to move? I gave up and came in defeated.
I came home to my mother watching my children for me. I talked with her about my struggles and tried to get some ideas from her. She didn't ride and knew even less than I did. She suggested a couple people I may try e-mailing and asking questions, including a friend of hers who used to be a teacher, but was now "big into horses," and was a lesson instructor. That gave me a brilliant idea. I used to be a teacher, maybe I could get "big into horses" and become a horse trainer. I began a search for online horse training courses. After all, my Master's degree and Behavior Analyst coursework was done online, maybe horse training coursework could be found online. Success! I found courses you could work through at your own pace and upon completion earn your PHT! I could become a Professional Horse Trainer! I was very excited. I immediately began weighing my options to see which course I would sign up for first. I signed up for 1 course that night, and added another the following day. And so began my battle with stud chains and lunging...
It's painful to watch now. One of the first exercises in the training curriculum I follow is "Hooking On." After unsuccessfully lunging my mare, I was so excited to see some forward motion out of her, that I thought I really had something awesome going on. My only trouble was, I couldn't get her to "hook on" on her right side. With the trouble I was having, I purchased a virtual lesson from Warwick Schiller and anxiously awaited his praise on all the things I had going great, and his tips for getting my mare to "hook on" on both sides.
I was disappointed in myself to find out that I did not have much good going on in my 10 minute video I submitted. Apparently, I didn't even understand what was happening in the process. In my naivety I thought it was called "Hooking On" because your horse was learning to "hook on" and follow you around the round pen. This is not the end goal. That is a nice side effect.
Re-watching the video I can see it all clearly now. I provide my cues too quickly. I am not prepared to follow through if my horse does not respond to my "ask." She comes into my space, I step backwards. She pins her ears... pretty much the ENTIRE time. She looks towards the outside while mentally blocking me out. My body position is often side on to her. I don't back up my "ask" with the lunge whip even once during the video, although there are countless times when following through with the lunge whip would have been necessary. She is pushy and in my space. The list goes on and on...
As painful as it was to hear the feedback in my virtual lesson, it was a necessary piece for me to fully understand what I was getting myself into. The feedback Warwick was providing gave me a clear indicator that if I were going to do this on my own, and do it successfully, I was going to need to step out of my comfort zone. Step out of my comfort zone and step towards my horse. Step towards this 1,000 lbs. livestock animal who was pinning her ears at me. If you've never done it, trust me, it's out of your comfort zone.
Before working with my horse again, I practiced these 3 steps over and over in my house: 1) Ask, 2) Step Towards, 3) Follow Through. I practiced until it became rhythmic. Point and click, step forward, swing whip. Swing whip... was I going to have to whip my horse? *Step out of my comfort zone again.* I was going to swing the whip at the space my horse should have moved out of when I asked. If she moved out, "Phew! That was close, glad it didn't get you." If she didn't move out of that space when asked, "Pop!" ...and now we are both out of our comfort zone.
And so began a new journey with my mare. A journey where she learned to focus on me, paying attention to my body language and cues, respecting my space, respecting me, and learning how to learn. She was "hooking on."
"I need some guidance. I am not someone who has grown up with horses and have only had horses of my own for the past 2 1/2 years. In that 2 1/2 years, all of my interactions and riding done with my horses has been self taught. Needless to say.... I have let my horses develop some problems. I have always had the best of intentions and have always sought knowledge constantly asking questions and seeking advice from people who I thought knew more than me. I have always been desperate to learn more about how to get a better performance out of my horses. In my professional life, I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and have found that a lot of the principals I have learned in my school can also be applied to working with my horses. I have an older retired roping gelding, about 17 y/o and I recently purchased a 7 y/o "green broke" mare. It is with the purchase of the 7 y/o mare that I decided to formalize my horse knowledge and enrolled in courses to help me train my own horses and I have an end goal of becoming a professional horse trainer. Along with enrolling in school, I have subscribed to Warwick's videos and have began following the blogs of Stacy Westfall.
In one of my courses, one of the first things they tell you is to "Forget everything you think you know about training horses." At first that was easy, because I didn't know anything. Well now after watching Warwick's videos, I feel like I do know some things. *smile emoticon* And I love his natural horsemanship methods.
I've got some conflicting information happening now. In my class, while working on groundwork (leading and lunging) I am told to be using a stud chain on my horses' halters. They absolutely hate it and after a week of using it while leading, my mare still keeps her ears pinned the entire time we are walking. I used to be able to lead her out to the round pen and lunge her with no trouble, but now she makes it difficult to even make it out to the round pen. My mare and gelding have both even reared a couple times while wearing the stud chain being lead and while lunging. I was told that the stud chain will teach the horse to submit to pressure and to keep using it... but I have never seen Warwick mention using one. Has anyone had experience using stud chains with the horses they are training? Were your experiences successful/unsuccessful? Or are their videos of Warwick's with other methods that work with teaching a horse to lunge?rate to learn more about how to get a better performance out of my horses. In my professional life, I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and have found that a lot of the principals I have learned in my school can also be applied to working with my horses. I have an older retired roping gelding, about 17 y/o and I recently purchased a 7 y/o "green broke" mare. It is with the purchase of the 7 y/o mare that I decided to formalize my horse knowledge and enrolled in courses to help me train my own horses and I have an end goal of becoming a professional horse trainer. Along with enrolling in school, I have subscribed to Warwick's videos and have began following the blogs of Stacy Westfall."
This was my first post to a Facebook group, which then pointed me in the direction of quality horsemanship. I felt lost and deep down, I knew that what I was doing was not in my horses' best interests. Without much persuasion, I soon dropped the class and began to learn on my own, following the web-based "curriculum" of training videos posted on Warwick Schiller's members only site. The change for the better in my horses' demeanors, as well as the quick, successful, and lasting results I began to see in my horses, led me down a path to better horsemanship (without stud chains and lunging) and I have never looked back.
I hope to use this blog to recount where I've been, and how far I have come in horsemanship. I want to inspire others, to search for a better way to train horses, and rest assured that there are methods out there that are better than average.
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.