For those of you who don’t know, the government (the Bureau of Land Management) has been removing and stockpiling wild horses (nearly 300,000) from western public lands and placing them in holding facilities to clear the land for the livestock industry since 1971, and continue to do so. The ongoing round ups have resulted in more wild horses in government holding facilities (more than 50,000) than are left free on the range (<30,000). With the massive difference between the number of horses in these holding facilities, and the adoption rate of these Mustangs, there is increasing pressure for these facilities to sell these horses to slaughter. (More detailed information can be found at http://www.wildhorsepreservation.org/problem ).
Whether this is news to you, or you have known about this problem for a while, I am sure you are just as saddened by this information as I am. When I first learned about this problem, I was devastated and confused. I thought to myself, “How could something so ridiculous be happening in America, and how can I help?” So, I found a petition, signed my name to it, and shared it to social media hoping to educate others and get more signatures petitioning for a more humane method for controlling the mustang population. I then moved on with life, disappointed that there was not more that I could do, but feeling some closure in thinking I had done all that I could. In this past week, my eyes were opened to this issue again and I realized that there is indeed more I can do to help.
In April of 2015, a documentary titled Unbranded was released. Through social media I learned last week that this documentary was now streaming on Netflix. The documentary follows four friends on a 3,000 mile journey with 16 Mustangs across the US from the Mexico Border to the Canadian border. The purpose behind their journey, and what really sold the film to me, is to prove the worth of the wild Mustangs. Before they begin their journey, the documentary films the friends going to one of these governmental holding facilities for rounded up Mustangs and adopting the 16 Mustangs they are going to bring across the country. I don’t know what kept me from realizing it before, but this was the “lightbulb” moment for me when I realized there was more I could do than just signing a petition to help these wild horses. I want to adopt, train, and rehome these Mustangs.
This new inspiration comes as no surprise to my family and close friends. In my professional work, both currently as a Behavior Analyst and previously as a Special Education teacher, I have always been drawn to the clients and students displaying more challenging behaviors. I enjoy the thought process behind the hard work attempting to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Of course this drive can only be fueled more powerfully when combined with my passion for working with horses.
I attended a barrel racing clinic this past weekend. I’ve not barrel raced and I personally am more into the working cow horse kind of thing with my performance horses. However, I know how popular barrel racing is and want to improve my knowledge and skills so that I can better serve the horses I work with and their owner’s. Also, I’ve got two little girls who will probably want to barrel race when they get older, so I need the knowledge to teach them. With this in mind, I brought our horse Lakota to the clinic. She is the little paint mare I’m working on getting ready for my girls when they start riding on their own.
Lakota is a good horse. She has never offered to buck or rear. She learns quickly and has gone from a dull lazy horse when I first purchased her to a responsive energetic horse with the training we have accomplished thus far. Where we continue to work, and probably will be continuing to work for a while is on building her self-confidence and keeping her worry down when she is away from her herd or in a new place.
When I first started working with Lakota, we took a lot of time working at home and working at the indoor arena we use on some groundwork skills and basic riding skills to teach her how to relax and cope in stressful situations. Since those skills have become solid, she has only been out, away from her herd, away from home by herself, on 3 occasions. In each of those instances, we did have to take some time, probably at least 45 minutes, to work on our groundwork to calm her down. I assumed today would be no different, I planned on arriving early and working on groundwork before the clinic started to get her mentally prepared for the clinic. Plans changed when I had a trailer tire blow out on the highway on our way there. No longer were we set to arrive 45 minutes early, we now arrived 20 minutes late.
Our set back didn’t sway me to deviate from my plan. I try to keep my horse’s best interests as a priority over my personal interests. It would have been a lot of fun to hop right on and lope her through that barrel pattern right away with everyone else, but I knew she was not mentally prepared for that at our arrival. So we came in tacked up and got to work on our groundwork in the corner of the arena trying to stay out of the way of the other horses. I was a little disappointed figuring the clinic would be an hour underway before Lakota and I were actually ready to join the group. However, in this instance out on her own, things were much different than our previous times out on our own. It took less than 10 minutes of groundwork before she was blinking and licking a chewing, showing signs that she was relaxing. I was so proud of her as I got on to start riding a bit.
Groundwork was good, and at this point she was more relaxed than I thought she would be. However, I knew she had never been to this arena before, so I knew there would be some “spooky” areas of it for her. I took some time to walk a couple laps around the arena to identify where those “spooky” spots. Once we found them, we were ready to start addressing them. Her happy comfortable place, was in the middle of the arena with the other horses and riders (she is very herd dependent). So we made this our work area. I didn’t want to miss anymore of the clinic so we joined the others and worked on our lateral flexion, disengaging, and back up while I listened to instruction and observed the others. During breaks from instruction, or when others were running the course/obstacle I took Lakota to rest in one of the “spooky” spots of the arena while I observed and listened to the feedback the instructor was giving other riders. We went last on every course/obstacle and while we waited for our turn, we rested in one of the arena “spooky” spots. It would have been enjoyable for me to wait our turn for the courses/obstacles with the other horses and riders so that I could socialize, but preparing my horse was more important than socializing.
By the end of our day, I was very proud of Lakota. By taking the time it takes to make sure my horse was mentally prepared, we accomplished so much more than just learning barrel racing basics and training techniques. My horse was a calm and willing partner as we worked through each course/obstacle. There was no tail swishing, no ear pinning, no crow hopping etc… she was the most well-mannered horse at the clinic who gained the most in life experience that day.
If you want things done right, and you want to make a lasting change in your horse, you have to be willing to take the time it takes. I have a mare who came to me as an 8 year old. When I first started working with her it was clear that she hadn’t had any quality work put into her. Recently we have started working on backing up. When we first started, it was clear that someone was hard on her mouth in her past. She was very dull and resistant to my cue to back up by picking up on both reins. We probably worked on backing up for about 30 days. By putting that time in, we now have a nice, soft, bend at the pole, rock her weight back, and step back, back up. (I have videos posted on my facebook page, www.facebook.com/forevertranch/)
When a horse comes to me for training, I want a minimum of 30 days with your horse. Sometimes 30 days isn’t enough. But in that 30 days, if it is your horse’s first time with me, I will go back to the very beginning, with basic groundwork, to determine where your horse’s starting point is. Groundwork provides what your horse needs, before we start asking for what we want. On my way, working up to the skills you want your horse to have, I will work to perfect every step along the way. If I uncover any underlying hiccups on our path, I will take the time that it takes to correct those hiccups before going forward. At the end of your horse’s first 30 days, it is likely that all of the goals you had for your horse will not be met. However, the goals that were met, or the problems that were resolved, will have been met and resolved in such a way that it will be a lasting change for your horse. Meaningful change takes time and if you allow, I will take the time to make that meaningful change.
Occasionally I see training ads advertising a week’s worth of training for a certain rate, or a certain number of rides for a certain rate. I call this superficial. These are the trainers who put a band-aid over a temporary issue or make a short term change. Often I hear of horses engaging in a problem behavior, in a certain situation, and being sent back to a “band-aid” trainer. Upon return to the same situation a couple months later, the horse repeats the same problem behavior, and is sent back to the trainer again. It is cyclical. Not only do I want to uncover and solve the issue causing the problem behavior, but I want to provide you with the knowledge of how the problem was solved. This is why within every 30 day training period I have with your horse, I offer you three lessons included. This allows me to teach you how to cue your horse and follow through with your cues so that you have the same results with your horse as I did. I want to provide you and your horse with lasting results, not just a band-aid fix. To do this, I’ll work with your horse, but more importantly, I’ll train you to understand your horse.
On Monday of this week I had Michael Lyons of Michael Lyons Horsemanship come out to work with me and a few of my horses. Prior to booking a private day with him, I had no idea who he was. His father, John Lyons, I had heard of him. I knew that he was big enough in the horse world that he had a book, which must have had good reviews because my mother gave it to me when I first started working with horses. At that time, I began to read the book, but was also reading about 4 other books, trying to learn everything I could. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I cannot say that there is a thing I remember from any of the books I was reading when I first began working with horses. But the name John Lyons stuck with me. It stuck with me so much that when I saw a post on Facebook about Michael Lyons being in Missouri for an event and trying to put on a clinic in the days after, I knew I should at least look into it. I love to learn and am always looking for improvement in myself.
I quickly asked around on the pages of a couple horse groups I am a part of on Facebook. As these groups of mostly comprised of like-minded individuals who also love to learn, almost unanimously, I was encouraged to attend the clinic. I figured, if this were a worthwhile clinic going on and being held in my state, I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend. I quickly responded to the post to book my spot as a rider. Shockingly to me, (yet not as shocking when I really think about it), there was not enough interest in a clinic to hold a clinic in my state. I was given the option of a private full day or half day if I were still interested in learning from Michael. Although I am an avid follower of Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship, I am also an avid learner and knew time spent with a well-known clinician and my horses would not be wasted. I booked a full day.
I was not disappointed. Not only did Michael support and reaffirm my belief in the methods I was already using to train horses, he added to my knowledge by introducing me to a few new exercises and providing some additional explanation to the theories behind some of the exercises I’ve been using. But most importantly, Michael left me feeling inspired.
Since not having grown up with horses, and just beginning my path of training horses at the age of 28, I have always felt like I got into the game late and would always be behind desperately trying to catch up with those around me who have been doing this their whole lives. Michael shared the following information with me about his father. John Lyons did not start riding until he was 26 years old. By my standards, that means he got started even later in the game than I did. And he certainly ended up doing well for himself.
Being overly critical of myself in all areas, throughout the day I questioned myself. Towards the end of the day Michael went on to explain that throughout his life, in all areas of his life, he has found the following has always been true: (paraphrasing) “The people who are good, who really know what they’re doing, are the same people who think they aren’t good enough, ask questions, and continue to learn. In contrast, the people who think they know it all, don’t ask questions, and have stopped learning, are the ones who really need the most help.” I definitely am not afraid to ask questions, and I jump at opportunities to learn, so I must have something going for me.
I have heard this before, and have preached it to others, “Work with the horse being presented today. Do not go into a training session with an agenda in mind.” I have warned others of destination addiction and advised them to work on the skills the horse needs in each day rather than jumping ahead to the things they may really want to be working on. I have no trouble spending time on the basics, without jumping too quickly to the things I want to be working on. However, Michael helped me to realize I have a hard time letting go of where my horses used to be. I enter training sessions with thoughts of our troubles with past exercises still lingering in my mind and have a hard time realizing when my horse is beyond that. I need to give my horses credit for the things I have taught them, and trust that they have been taught well. Since riding now, for the past couple days with this new mindset, I am seeing my horses progressing even quicker with new skills. It is truly fascinating.
So even if I forget all the answers, exercises, and theory shared with me that day, I will not forget the feeling of inspiration Michael left me with at the end of the day. I can be great, I will be great, and I will make a difference, even if just a small difference, in the world of horse training.
I was challenged today to determine my “Why?” If you want to make a difference in the world, you must be driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. Life is too short to have no why… or a fuzzy why. So I began really thinking about my beliefs, and why I am doing what I am doing for horses and their owners. Here’s what I came up with:
When I first began educating myself on how to train horses, the methods I was studying just didn’t feel right to me. It was all about force, and getting your horse to “submit to the pressure” you were applying. The behaviors being displayed by my horses were very clear indicators that they were scared, confused, and reacting to stressful situations without thinking. In my gut, I knew this was wrong and that there had to be a better way. But I felt so lost. I was enrolled in coursework being taught by people who had been in the business with years of experience. I thought of them as experts. I personally e-mailed my instructors expressing my concerns in my horses’ behaviors. I was told to continue what I was doing and that my horses would learn to “submit to the pressure.” This seemed to be the mindset of the majority of people I spoke with when it came to training horses. More correctly, I should say, breaking horses. I believe there is a very big difference between breaking a horse and training a horse. Realizing this led me to the discovery of my “why.”
I believe, when you are breaking a horse, you are using dominance and power to force your horse into a situation where they feel their safest option is to submit to your will. After repeatedly doing this, eventually the horse stops thinking for itself and simply follows orders. On the contrary, when training a horse, you are teaching your horse to be a willing partner. You are recognizing the horse’s ability to think, and allowing them to make decisions for themselves. The art of training is when you have taught the horse to want to do, what your cues are asking them to do. This creates a calm horse, who remains responsive to your subtle cues.
Recently, this past summer, as I introduced my yearling filly to a friend of mine’s 6 year old daughter, the naive 6 year old asked me, “So are you going to break her?” I smiled and corrected her as I said, “I am going to train her.” This is my why. This is why I am doing what I am doing. Because the mindset needs to change. Horses can be trained to become calm, responsive, willing partners, without being forced into submission. I am not only attempting to train horses, but I am also attempting to educate their handlers and owners, to teach them how to create a healthy relationship with their horse that is made up of an equal balance of trust and respect. By following a step by step process, guided by the principles and ideologies of experts in the world of horsemanship, I am training horses. I believe in the process I am using. I have seen great successes with the process. And I want to educate others.
“Training” horses should be the standard across the industry. “Breaking” horses should become a thing of the past.
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 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.