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Having Horses At Home Changed My Training Style

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I’ve had my horses at home for almost a year now. A glorious, empty bank/full heart year. I wanted to share a few of the huge changes I’ve begun to understand about my training process now that I have my horses at home. There are aspects of keeping horses at home that I never fully understood about owning horses until I was living in MY own home.

Now a little back story: I grew up with horses. I saw them every day. I heard their nickers, I fed, cleaned stalls…groaned and complained about my chores….and I rode them, bred them and foaled them. I lived the ranch life but I didn’t really understand what a privilege it was when I was a wee kid. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone…and yet when began my adult journey and I started boarding horses I was just so happy to have my horses with me, in a new state, with no one I really knew so my horse was there to comfort me.  (yup I was the weirdo at work always talking about my horses but never really interacting with people)  Horses were a source of comfort and a retreat from the culture shock that is adult life:  A slice of the familiar in an unfamiliar world.

So what did I do each time I saw them at the barn? Fed them treats, brushed them, talked to them and rode them or worked on a specific something each time. Usually in that order. My whole focus was getting my boys going so I could Event them and if you look at my early blog posts here you can see that.

Then I found my current awesome, amazing home….and I took a MAJOR leap of faith and bought it. For the first time in over 7 years I had my horses HOME. Not my home growing up or someone else barn. MY home. Things began to change with how I began approaching training. As I began to see my horses day in and day out I began to notice nuances that I never noticed before. I began to see the individual personalities of my horses. The uniqueness to both my horses all the time not just under saddle. I became curious of how horses actually responded to each other and their responses in turn. I started seeing how they looked at things. From items they saw every day to something new I set out just a few minuets before.  I began to see how they interacted with each other. From playing to ass whooping and everything in between.

As I began to observe their changes of behavior I began to hang out with them more. I’d spend time scratching both boys. Sitting out reading a book while they grazed and just being around them but not asking for anything in return.  As the days, weeks and months wore on I started to see them accept me as part of their herd. A weird herd mate with very abnormal tendencies in their eyes, but they began to relax around me and see me as a friend instead of just a treat machine (though they never stop begging). They began to hear the sound of my truck and meet me at the fence and appear to be excited to get out of the field to see me.  If I was doing chores they happily gather to graze close to where ever I’m working

I began to realize that every time I went to see them I didn’t have to bust out the saddle and bridle and ‘work’ on something. I began to experiment with body language (a very ongoing learning experience I might add) and see how the boys reacted to it. As I began to use more conscious body language the boys began to react to me differently. Respect was earned on a herd level. Cash, the alfa of the 2 horse herd,  suddenly respected ME as the Leader when I moved him off like he moves Jack. When I stood my ground and made him back off using only my body language.

Jack began to play with me. Running and kicking and having a great time (especially with treats involved) and Cash began to investigate the playing as well and would try, and usually succeeds, in stealing me away as ‘his’ human, much like a horse will keep a buddy away from others in a pasture.

The longer I have had them at home the more I’ve realized that what I required was less ‘training’ and more listening. As I begin to listen to my horses. Watch their moves and learn what is a ‘I don’t understand’ response from the ‘I’m an unruly spoiled brat’ response our understanding on the ground AND in the saddle has exploded.  As I have begun to use patience and persistence in training my horses have come around 100 fold in their trust and effort to please. As I have gained respect so I have given it. I realize now when I’m pushing something to hard, When I’m asking a for a specific response wrong and when I need to re assert myself as leader. Or when my horse had reached his limit and we need to stop, regardless of how long or short the session has been.

Nothing is with force anymore (unless I let my emotions gain hold…I’m still human after all). Now I don’t mind spending a whole session at the walk. I don’t mind completely deveating away from what I thought I was going to do that day. I will continue to change my training for each individual horse as best as I can. What works for Jack doesn’t work for Cash all the time and vice versa.

I think one of the biggest changes for me is I no longer care if I event. I no longer care if my horse can jump 2’6 or is in the perfect frame and ‘accepts the bit’. Heck half the time my horses aren’t even wearing bits. While I still love the feel of jumping, the adrenaline rush of competing isn’t needed anymore. Instead of working towards shows, I’m now working towards building relationships based on trust and understanding for both of us.

Having my horses at home has completely changed how I look at my horses, how I train my horses and how I advocate for my horses. My ideals have almost done a 180 from where I was a year ago and I’m perfectly happy with it. If we aren’t seeking to better ourselves then we are failing ourselves and our horses.

In the end I think my horses have taught me more then I could ever teach them.  It’s all still a work in progress and I’m sure I’ll make more then a few errors along the way but for once I’m looking to my horse to help me out and not another human.

Until next time.

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The Walk: An often over looked gait

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So I was eating pie after work, yes pie. Delicious concord grape pie with ice cream I might add, Trying to center,  relax and calm myself. Work was a long day. I spent the majority of the day at the vets with my soon to be retired working dog (nothing serious I promise just a dental) and she had decided she’d rather sleep all day in the warm blankets then wake up and go back into the vehicle to go home.

The rest of the day I spent trying really hard not to let my tongue do the talking around my boss…I mean some days I do great and other days it’s all I can do to save myself a lot of grief for no real improvement one way or another. I was frustrated and frazzled when I got home.

That wonderful rich, handsome, loving, wanna be husband can show up ANY TIME so I can stop working to support my addicting horsey habits….ok back to the pie.

While I was eating my delicious and somewhat nutritious homemade pie, my mom messaged me a link about Walking: The queen of gaits from Dressage Today and as I was reading I was struck by a massive unavoidable thought…..I have been neglecting the walk. REALLY neglecting it and a lot of the issues I have, especially with Cash, could EASILY be avoided if I worked more at the walk.

Now why would I avoid the walk you might ask. Well first and foremost I apparently believe it is boring. If I’m walking it’s usually on the trail and having fun enjoying the sights but in the arena… ummmmmm well it never crossed my mind. I always walk for warm up and then immediately go into the trot. Many times I will work on walk-trot transitions or such but I never stay in the walk.

I also thought my horses would see it as boring. They are highly intelligent and I thought that maybe walking would get their pesky little mischievous brains working on not so happy ideals.

Oh how wrong I am! I jumped on Cash eager to test a theory. Was I just assuming I had good basics or were they actually there AND was Cash listening to them or just guessing at what I wanted and hoping it was right?

So I ask for walk (I’m bareback but with his bitless bridle on) and he starts down his normal path and I use my legs and seat for a turn to the left. He thinks about it a second and keeps going the direction HE wants to go. Not surprising he wants to go where he ‘knows’ he will get a treat and so I gave a tiny half halt on the left rein and I gave him the leg aids again. This time he turned his head and shoulders but decided he’d still rather go in the straight line towards his stall.(shoulder-in anyone?)  So I give a bump with my outside leg near his shoulder (I prefer Buck Brannaman’s way of turning instead of classical dressage style), I shift my weight slightly to the inside suddenly he turns and goes where I want. Hummmmm…..OK…. Was it me or was it him or a combination of both. What did I do differently the third time I didn’t do the first two?

To figure this out,  the rest of the lesson was us walking big figure 8’s around my “jumping” area.  Cash  kept trying to go over my experimental jump (post on that later) because he had gotten a treat for it earlier and just knew if he went over it he’d get another one. But over all as I began to ask again and again switching directions it became as if I could think what I wanted and he would start to turn.

What I found kind of eye-opening about working exclusively on the walk and truly focusing on it was how well I could time my aids. I could give the turning aid with my legs and then realized that my weight was being thrown to the outside and I could easily shift it and that would be the little push he needed to go the correct way. In fact most of the time I was asking for turns I was forgetting to give the seat aid and only giving the leg aid! The seat aid was the key to him turning and not just bending or completely ignoring it. It was in the subtitles like that we seemed to refine and I believe we started creating muscle memory. It wasn’t long before he truly understood exactly what was asking of him and if I was asking it correctly that he got the impression the first time instead of the second or third.

By working at the walk I was able to detect where I, as the rider, was going wrong and clarify exactly what I wanted. He’s a boy. His intuition is not the best (sorry to all the men reading this). How could I expect him to understand my aids in the trot or even in the canter when I wasn’t even giving them correctly in the walk?!

I think part of my mistakes with giving aids has been laziness and not really working on the refinement of the aids at all times. I have been more focused on my horse and not myself when it’s myself that has been causing some of the confusion. Could Cash have understood what I wanted without the refinement? Yes. Was he being a bit stubborn about it? Yes. But Cash is and probably always will be my teacher in many ways.  And for our walking session he was teaching me that I need to get my crap together in order for him to do it properly or he’d just blow me off.

I feel several more walking lessons in our future before we graduate back to trot and maybe even canter. If I can get him going 100% at the walk and I can get myself asking correctly the first time then I think our experiences in the faster gates are greatly going to improve! Now I gotta test it on Jack muh hahahahaha.

So if you have issues with the aids, your horses just are not listening or you’re getting an opposite reaction maybe try going back to the walk and seeing if it’s you who is giving the wrong aids or not enough of parts of the aids (like the seat). You can do almost every exercise at the walk! You and your horse will greatly improve in many aspects I do say so. I know we did here 😀

Until next time

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Just Who Is The Beast Of Burden?

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Pic by J L Werner

Owning horses at home. The wonderful, heavenly idea! It’s fantastic, amazing and almost magical….until it isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love drinking my coffee and seeing my boys pleading with me to hurry up and come feed them. To watch them graze and be so peaceful……And then I get the bills… and my wallet starts screaming “oh god please not again!”

My bank account keeps giving me the alarm that it’s empty and there is nothing left and I begin to contemplate whether plain rice or a PBJ sandwich would be better for breakfast.

The big bills always seem to roll in together. The barn needs to be re-roofed, The truck suddenly needs new tires/new breaks, hay needs to be paid for and stacked, don’t forget the farrier….oh and that lovely house payment so you can keep said horses at home just to top it all off.

Then you start wondering if you can wrap your horses in bubble wrap and duck tape on the off chance they might get hurt because one more bill might just do you in and you’ll be down graded from PBJ to Raman noodles and start having flashbacks to your first year away from home.

But those horse are so adorable and they just nicker to you….Right before they rip their brand new fly sheets to pieces and put a huge crack in their hooves so you have to call the farrier out AGAIN and you begin to wonder if maybe you can float said check before the bank registers there is actually no money to pay for said service….fariers still take checks right?!!! oh please tell me my farrier takes a check!

Then you have an amazing ride on your horse! That would be right before you get off and realize your saddle is magically two sizes too small in the gullet and now you’ll be shopping for new saddles….Wait….Who needs a saddle anyway? The natives rode bareback! I shall embrace that tiny sliver of native blood flowing through my veins and throw caution to the wind…..and hope and pray my family hears my pleas come christmas time and buys that fancy saddle I’ve been eyeing for two years!

But oh by golly I’m living the dream! Them beasts….sweet little beasts are happy in their stalls, eating the best hay that can be bought. With the, yet again, new fly sheets, newly trimmed and polished hooves, and a coat so shiny it can blind the neighbors if the sun hits them just right and a nice misting of fly spray so they don’t wear themselves out before the next ride. A ride THEY  get to ride in, in the new trailer that costs more then my truck, my old, much loved truck. *sigh*

Wait a minuet…..Which animal is supposed to be the beast of burden? Who exactly is the slave to whom? *Eyes narrow* I think I have been duped by the system….and yet….Those adorable beasties just nicker and their eyes sparkle and….”Oh yes sir, I’m bringing the treats!”

Until Next Time

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Reporting A Case Of Neglect: A Few Helpful Tips

Pic from horsehaventn.org
Pic from horsehaventn.org

This is a touchy subject but one I wanted to cover after seeing some very iffy situations being publicly posted on social media and it’s a situation a lot of people don’t like to talk about.

I have been in the horse industry for a LONG time. Growing up our ranch had a fairly big breeding and training operation. I have seen horses coming from champions to back yard pets and everything in-between. Having sold many horses over the years I have also seen some amazing homes that will forever touch my heart but some of our horses were returned in horrible conditions because owners were to prideful to call for us to come get the horse when they couldn’t afford to feed them until they were nearly dead. (Thankfully it was a rare occasion but it did happen)

In todays day and age the internet is literally at our finger tips. We are able to send information out to various social medias with just a few clicks of a button but there are times when doing so is a VERY bad idea. Recently I ran crossed a lady on a public local horse forum spouting off a neglect case.

Normally I don’t get embroiled in stuff like this but what this young whipper-snapper was saying was (and this is paraphrased) “This horse is standing in a huge heap of poop, in a TINY back yard with no food or water or shelter and it’s an obvious neglect case. I’ve owned horses I know neglect. This horse lives by such and such and here are the pictures. Who do I call to report this?”

I have a few issues with what this lady, who in all honesty believed she was doing the right thing, did to not only herself but the people with the mule. (It was a mule not a horse).  This “expert” posted pictures and a rough address of this mule. A pretty good, albeit old, looking mule that had a shelter and a rather large one at that in the background that she apparently didn’t see. He was not skinny, in fact his ribs were not even showing and he was bordering on fat for mule. His top line wasn’t there (possibly due to age) but his feet were trimmed and his mane combed and he was not sucked up from lack of water. Other then the poop in the pen there was no obvious signs of neglect.

All this woman saw was the “huge” amount of poop and no visible water/food source and posted publicly that these people were neglecting their animal. Without knowing the situation, without even trying to contact anyone who knew this animal she threw wild allegations around that these people are animal abusers and this mule (oh “horse”) was being starved and in a very small community form.

What she did right there, my good friends, is called Slander. And it will get you sued faster then you can blink. When pointed out the fact that the MULE was not being neglected and given reasons why from the the pictures she posted, the woman threw an even bigger fit saying she should not be contradicted and she just knew this horse was getting neglected. So to prevent anyone from getting into a situation where you can possibly get sued, but you think there might be a neglect case here are a few steps you can take:

**Note** Please refrain from trespassing or breaking any laws while following the helpful tips below. If you’re unsure if it would break a law please don’t do it!

1.) Look at the situation as a whole:  Is it truly neglect?  Is it just less then perfect living arrangements. Trust me I have seen less then stellar living arrangements, some that even made me cringe but the animal itself was in good condition and seems to be alert and happy. Do they have water? Do they have food.?Do they LOOK neglected (Ie. Matted hair, untrimmed feet).
**Late add in** As a friend reminded me, just because you see a super skinny or neglected looking horse does not mean it’s current situation is one of neglect. As I mentioned above we got horses back nearly starved to death, and if you just happened to see them in a pen by themselves you could think that they were in a bad situation when in fact they had already been removed from the bad situation!! Which leads right to my next bullet….

2.) Try to contact the owners and find out their situation. This is a very hard thing to do as most people do not like being told that someone thinks they are neglecting their animals BUT sometimes said people are beginners/new to animals and in mild cases may not realize what they are doing wrong and a HELPFUL person can help straighten out the situation. They could be someone who is also hurting for money temporarily and doing the best they can. I’m not saying it justifies neglecting an animal but we could help someone out, rather then start blaming them for neglect. Sometimes all someone needs is a helping hand for a minuet to get back on their feet. Also like mentioned in bullet #1, the horse may have been removed from a bad situation and is in recovery mode but still looks skinny/in bad shape.  Don’t just rush up to their front door and start yelling at them. No one appreciates that and in fact will probably not listen to a word you say and just call the cops for trespassing. Be polite please. Use honey not vinegar!

3.) Contact a local vetrinarian. If you are that concerned spend a few bucks and have a vet come look at the horse, if possible without trespassing, and check the body score and living conditions. (They are way better at body scoring then the average person normally)  If seeing them well from a road isn’t possible try to take them really good pictures and ask if they can give you an assesment. Many times vets will have contacts with local animal groups such as animal control and ASPCA so further action can be taken should the vet deem they are being starved/neglected. His/her words will have much more weight then yours in this type of situation. You can also check a horses condition score (and even your own using charts like the one posted below)

**Note** Not all vets will do this if they are not your animal, and they don’t have a request from an animal group mentioned below. Don’t get upset with your vet if they choose not to give an opinion because they are trying to protect themselves and their business.

4.) Contact your local Animal control/ASPCA/Humane society. I know in many areas animal control isn’t much help with equine related issues but if you begin contacting these groups eventually they will have to come and assess the situation, especially if there are more then one complaint about it. It may not be overnight but if you get the ball rolling, many times it will work out in your favor IF proven to be neglect/starvation case.

Now just because we see a situation that is not ideal or one we think is neglect does not mean that there is a good case for the above mentioned animal groups. You can do all you can and sometimes nothing happens.  Sometimes they meet just enough of the wickets, or the horses are in just good enough condition they cannot do anything but warn them and do welfare checks. Sadly this happens and at this point you can try going to the internet but like mentioned above do so at your own risk.

Seeing neglect and starvation in horses is horrible and something I sincerely hope no animal ever has to go through but it is a sad fact that it does happen and sometimes quite often.  If you are unsure if it even merits a call talk with your trainer, or your local horse friends and get other peoples honest opinions about it. Sometimes the best we can do is learn what not to do.

If you’re still unsure if it’s a neglect case Here is a great article about reporting it. It’s for vets but it has some great information in it http://www.aaep.org/custdocs/aaepfaqsequineabuse.pdf

Until next time

body condition scoreing horse

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Going Treeless Part 2!!

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I am here to report my progress with going treeless. I must say it has taken some adjustment but not nearly as much as I expected. I believe that both horses are much more comfortable in my treeless then even my Stubben saddle and I am very comfortable it in as well. (If you didn’t see Part 1, check it out HERE)

I’ve had several nice rides in it now and I’ve tweaked it a bit to fit my boys and all I can say is WOW! The feeling in a treeless is so much….more, which is also a bad thing sometimes. Riding Jack, he’s young and inexperienced being out by himself and in my treeless I can feel the second he starts to tense his back muscles and think about doing something.

It’s wonderful in the fact that I can REALLY get ahead of him before he does something silly. It sucks in the fact that I feel him tense ALOT. Not all of it is “Bah I’m a baby” moments some of it’s just insecurity in a new situation or figuring out what I’m asking so I’m having to learn when the tensing I’m feeling is a spook or buck and when it’s just normal tensing at the unknown.

I’ve found the boys are much more forward in the saddle and I am able to keep my balance much, much better with them throughout all the moments and transitions. I feel like some of this is how the saddle sits me in the seat. Since I am able to adjust where my stirrup actually sits in relation to me I can get an actual shoulder, hip, heel alignment without having to force my leg back. It feels as if my leg is naturally sitting where it is supposed to without any huge thigh rolls. I feel I’m sitting much more correctly on my seat and pelvic bones so I’m able to quickly adjust myself to anything going on without falling out of balance or stabilizing myself with the reins. And biggest of all, I’m more relaxed over all.

Somehow I always ride more relaxed in my body while riding bareback. Since I get such similar feelings in my EZ Fit saddle I think the switch in my brain keeps me more loose. Being properly positioned and not having to fight for my alignment REALLY helps as well.

Now onto the comfort for the horses. Like I stated above both my horses seem to be much more relaxed in the treeless saddle! Cash’s strides are much more loose and forward and I can really feel him using his back and not running around on his forehand or working at the speed of molasses. I am actually tempted to try riding in a bit and see if a lot of his chewing was due to discomfort in the saddle. I get wonderful sweat patterns with him that shows even distribution and spinal clearance. He hasn’t had any back soreness that I have been able to detect. He’s much more excited to transition through his paces and over all just a better ride.

Jack no longer has bucking fits on the lunge line and he rarely throws in a little crow hop in the canter anymore. Jack has also stopped most of his dancing around while being saddled up. I think something must have been really uncomfortable for him even though the fit of my treed saddles seemed correct from all aspects. He actually sighs and stands when he realizes I’m putting the treeless on. I think Jack appreciates the feeling and the clear signals I send as well. Like  I mentioned I tend to get much more tense in a treed saddle when doing arena work and since he’s a young’n he really feeds off of me and the snowballs start rolling.

With the weight of the saddle being only 15 pounds I think it has also helped with my horses workability. My boys are in pretty decent shape but every pound you can shave off will always help them work longer and more comfortably.  Between the weight and not having and tree points potentially digging into their shoulders both boys seem to be giving me the rides of approval.

Now I mentioned adjusting the treeless so I figured I’d show you what the “inside” of the saddle looks like so you can see what pieces you can adjust and why I think it’s superior to other treeless saddles I’ve seen.
Treeless underside
The seat is movable. I actually had to move the seat back a bit so I wasn’t sitting on the cantle. These treeless saddles come with three adjustments. Mine is a medium so I can adjust it between 16 and 18.5′ english sizing. My seat is sitting about 17-17.5 right now and it’s just perfect for me. I could have probably used a small size just fine but beggars can’t be choosers.

The Stirrups are adjustable forward and back. As you can see one of the straps forms a D like shape crossed the back of the saddle and one goes over where the typical stirrup line is. This is a pice that really really helps distribute weight of your stirrup pressure, especially if you are a heavier rider. If you’re a petite person you could run them along the same line without much problem. The saddle includes a measuring tape on both sides so you can get the adjustments exactly the same on both sides!

Treeless underside 3That sliver ring in front of the stirrup straps is your front girth ring. You can move those forward and backwards depending on how it’s sitting in your horses girth grove. I find this saddles natural girth position is several inches back from a typical girth location but I find the horses are a lot more comfortable with it. If your horse is prone to galls on the back of their front lets this will help relieve that pressure and prevent more of them from forming.

Everything is secured using heavy duty velcro and then the seat is velcroed down onto the top. I haven’t had any issues with things slipping or coming undone. The seat folds back down and is secured with the buckles ounderside treen the back. The buckles are more of a failsafe on the chance that the velcro releases so I think you would be just fine without them but they don’t bother me at all so I leave them on.

The pads on the bottom of the saddle that create the spinal channel, and also make it possible to ride without the use of a specialized bareback pad are also held on by the heavy duty velcro. I haven’t had any issues with it slipping here either and I love that I can tweak it a bit as the boys grow or fill out/loose weight through out the season AND I didn’t have to spend another $300 on a good treeless pad. I have been using just a regular western pad with no issues so far!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and if you have any questions on my journey treeless feel free to ask away 😀

Until next time