Coeur d’Alene’s first Christmas

Lena doesn’t know what all the hype of Christmas is about. She thinks it stinks so far. Okay so she got a cookie with breakfast but after that it was hard work!
I forgot to bring my GoPro out so I only had my phone camera.

Today was a day of firsts.
-Although I have picked up Lena’s feet and cleaned them out over the summer, she has never had them trimmed. First pedicure. Front feet only as I don’t want to make it overwhelming. She is still quite young.


Checking out some of my tools.

Whenever I have picked up or cleaned her feet I have done it at liberty. Today it was time to start learning to tie. Not in a knot, of course, just wrapped around the trailer tie three times. Enough to not let her walk away but not enough to keep her there if something happened and she panicked. Since we have been working on leading, standing, backing, and all the other things on a lead rope over the summer, she understood not to walk away.

Baby’s first trimmings.

-Both front feet cleaned, trimmed, and filed.
She knows that “good girl” means she did good. We worked on that this summer. Scratching the best spots and giving treats while telling her “good girl.” That helped as I was working on her I could verbally let her know what she was doing was the right thing. I would also give actual scratches while giving her a break as a bigger reward. She did great.

In the fall I had taken Lena to the north side of the farm to see her sister, Juno. At the gate entrance to the north side there is a wooden bridge over the big wash. Lena stepped on it and decided it was not at good thing to walk on and proceeded to leap over the rest of the bridge to the other side! Today we started on the desensitization of walking on wood planks. After all, Shoshone did it for me in the spring when moving to the south side to the maternity pen. All I had to do was ask her and she walked right over. Time for baby to learn that she can trust me when I say it is okay.

An introduction to the bridge before starting.

I lead her up to the small (5 foot), partially covered, bridge over the small wash into my backyard. Of course she didn’t want to touch it. I had a bucket of hay by me to help with the big reward when she did come up. Each time I would encourage her to move forward a little further. She was not allowed to go backwards. If she did I would pull the lead rope with little tugs until the exact moment she made a forward motion. Forward motion doesn’t have to be an actual step at first. A forward motion can be as small as a shift of the body forward or a lifting of the foot with the intention of going forward. Always reward the absolute smallest of things at first so they get the idea then build on it. I wanted to reward not only for trying but for thinking about trying and concentrating on the task at hand.

Below are the videos I took with my phone. I did the best I could with one hand. Each time I stopped the video I gave her a break. We walked around the yard as I gave her scratches etc. to give her a mental break and reward. I didn’t want it to be overwhelming.

Video 1– I encouraged her to explore the bridge by looking, sniffing, and yes…licking. She is Licky Lena, after all. We had only been working less than a minute before I thought of getting my phone out to record.

Video 2– Lena takes one step onto the step in front of the bridge.

Video 3 – Getting a little stuck and attention going elsewhere but she stepped both front feet on the step and then a foot on the bridge! That gets a big bite of hay reward.

Video 4 – Another successful step onto the bridge. Getting a little more okay with it.

Video 5 – She is getting a little fidgety and nibbling the lead rope (she was getting a little mentally overwhelmed so she was looking for something else to do) so it was important she step on the bridge again so she can get another big bite of hay as a reward or I would have to give her a break from it. Getting her to step would reinforce the stepping on the bridge and getting hay idea. She did it!

Video 6 – She is getting comfortable with it. A little encouragement and she steps right up with both front feet and gets a big reward.

Video 7 – Much easier and quicker now. She steps right up and gets rewarded.

Video 8 – The last one for the day. Right up on the bridge. We will work on the back feet up on the bridge a different day. This was a lot for her today and she did so well!

This is really the same principles I use for introducing probably most, if not all new things.
-Keep the focus but don’t let it become so challenging that you loose them mentally.
-Reward for the littlest of things at the beginning and build on it.
-Always let them know when they are doing the right thing.
-Give them breaks so they can mentally reset. After they did the right thing is a perfect time. They can process what just happened.


Myths, misconceptions, and just plain wrong information

This post is dedicated to a friend after she was advised to withhold her horses breakfast before transporting them to move to a new facility. It would have been about 15 hours after feeding dinner before they loaded.
After years of research (creditable places) and talking to vets etc. I have learned a lot. It surprises me still when I hear people who care for horses with wrong or bad information. Here are some of the things that people swear by or “have always done it this way” that is either not true or there is no data to back it up.

  1. Diatomaceous earth (food grade) is a great natural horse de-wormer– As fantastic as a natural non-chemical de-wormer sounds, there isn’t any that has proven to be effective although I read all over the internet to use it as a de-wormer.  I have heard people say they feed it to their horses and it works. Really? Have you done a fecal egg count? Because that is the only way to tell. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring soft, talc-like powder consisting of the fossilized remains of diatoms, single-celled phytoplankton with hard cell walls made of silica. According to the National Pesticide Information Center “Diatomaceous earth causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Its sharp edges are abrasive, speeding up the process. It remains effective as long as it is kept dry and undisturbed”.  Hmm, kept dry and undisturbed.
    A- It is neither dry or undisturbed when ingested and traveling through the G.I. tract.
    B– Some worms such as large and small strongyles go into the intestinal wall, liver, etc. so DE traveling through the G.I tract wouldn’t even make contact with them.
    C– I have asked several vets and one replied “I have no studies to offer, just my own observations. I’ve challenged owners that use DE to the “fecal egg count challenge” We run a fecal test on your DE treated horse. If it comes back negative, I pay for the fecal and will give using DE some thought. If it comes back positive, you buy the appropriate dewormer from me. So far, I’ve never paid for a fecal.” Others have said they have never seen a low count on a horse treated with DE.
  2. Over de-worming– I knew a trainer who gave all her horses a tube of Ivermectin every month no matter what! Wow, can you say chemical resistant super worms! I still hear people de-worming every two months. Period. This is a subject where more is NOT better. De-worming should ideally be done based on fecal egg counts of each horse and targeted that way. At the very least it should be based on geographic location, weather, density of horses, age of horses, exposure of those horses to outside untreated horses (for example, performance horses on the road), management practices (pasture rotation, manure removal, etc.) There have been no new classes of de-wormer since the early 1980’s. There are only 3 classes of de-wormers that are available for horses:
    a. Benzimidazoles – Fenbendazole (Panacur) and Oxybendazole
    b. Macrocyclic lactones – Ivermectin and Moxidectin (Quest)
    c. Pyrimidines – Pyrantel (Strongid)
    If fecal egg count tests are done, then you can determine which horses need which class of anthelmintic. Then two weeks after de-worming check again to see if it is effective.
  3. Sand colic is not a real thing– I spent a whole night at my vets facility in the private waiting room with a t.v. monitor showing what is going on in the operating room. I had never heard sand in my BLM gelding until a few weeks before he almost died from sand impaction. $7,950 later my horse was sand free and I have kept him sand free since. All my horses get the recommended dose of psyllium 7 consecutive days a month. If I do hear sand in anyone they get at least 30 days of a double dose or until I don’t hear sand anymore. Living in the desert it is easy for them to ingest sand. It is all over. Some people do a test by putting a few pieces of fresh manure in a plastic bag with water and breaking it up, letting it settle and looking for sand in the bottom of the bag. That only tells you if sand is being ingested and coming out. A horse can ingest sand and not have it come out at all or only a little bit come out. That test is not effective in telling you if there is sand in their gut. You have to listen with a stethoscope. Some horses ingest sand simply by eating off the ground. Another way that horses ingest sand is by eating something off the ground that sand has stuck to such as manure or half eaten pellets. It could even be mixed in their hay. I have seen bales of hay have huge dirt clods in them as well as ones that just seem to have dirt mixed in with them. If a horse eats them I don’t think it matters if they live in a stall lined with stall mats and never come in contact with dirt. I have also witnessed horses outright licking the dirt which is natural but not good in places with sand. A BLM mare that just came onto our farm is full of sand. Her previous owner said she doesn’t have any issues with sand at her place. Hmmm.
  4. Warm bran mash is a great laxative, clears out sand, prevents colic, and keeps a horse warm– A warm bran mash might make humans feel warm and good giving it to our horse but it does not warm a horse up. The digestion of forage does. It may seem like it is a laxative because it can make the stools a little loose but that is not because it is working as a laxative. Any time we change a horses diet suddenly the bacteria in the hindgut are affected. That’s why we introduce new foods gradually, over a period of weeks. Cornell University has done studies on this. There have been no studies or tests that show it to be effective in clearing sand either.
  5. Hauling or working horses on an empty stomach
    Unlike humans who produce stomach acids when we eat, equines produce stomach acid all the time, 24 hours a day, continuously, always! I doesn’t stop. The horses stomach has tissue that helps protect it against the stomach acid. However, there is not so much of this glandular tissue at the top of the stomach. That means there is acid built up from not eating, say from overnight. Then when a horse is worked their movement and movement of their internal organs push the acid up into the nonbuffered area which can result in an ulcer. A stressed horse is also more prone to ulcers. Hauling, disrupting social dynamics, changing the environment, working, and many, many other things cause stress in equines.
  6. Horses should have shoes– A controversial issue debated over and over!
    About 20 years ago I was walking one of my horses and a lady scolded me because “she” didn’t have any shoes on! The lady said she was appalled that I didn’t care enough to put shoes on my poor little baby horse. She claimed I didn’t care about her. Although none of my horses have shoes I was walking my 6 year old mini gelding that day. Geez. There has been so much research about the shod vs barefoot horse. Horses are better off without shoes. There may be medical reasons or exceptions…maybe, but over all barefoot is much more healthy. It is amazing how many moving parts there are in a hoof. The hoof flexes and does all sorts of things that help blood flow. Shoes do not allow for that. For horses that need something to keep them from wearing their hoof down too fast there are hoof boots.
    OneShodThermograph400This thermograph shows (in a real-life horse) what happens to circulation when a metal shoe is nailed on. This horse is wearing one metal shoe, on his front right. The other three hooves are barefoot. The thermograph is set to show blood circulation (or lack of it). He was walked around in a big circle and then the thermograph was taken.
    As a farrier to my own horses, and a few others in the past, I could go on and on about this but I will leave it at the above image. All it takes to go barefoot is a proper barefoot trim and a proper diet.

It’s a small price to pay for the life you lead.

Wild horses are a majestic sight to see out in the wilderness. They conjure up emotional feelings like power, strength, grace, beauty, and most of all…freedom.

 When these magnificent beauties leave the wild and enter our lives there is a trade off. I am NOT discussing whether they should remain wild or not nor am I talking about the round-ups. That happens before they enter my life. I am talking about their new life. With me.

In my life on my farm they give up their freedom to roam around as they please. Yes, I would love to see them standing upon a grassy hillside with the wind blowing through their mane and tail but the fact is I live in the desert on a fenced in farm. The fence that keeps my mustangs in also keeps predators out.

They give up being able to do whatever they want when they want. Of course most of the time they are not told what to do other than to stay within the fence but there are times when they need to do something even if they don’t want to. It is a necessity for them to be halter trained, stand tied, let me pick up feet, and let me touch them all over while behaving. This is non-negotiable because I need to be able to lead them places in an emergency, stand at the hitching post if I need to doctor them, pick up their feet so they can be trimmed, and touch them all over also in case they need to be doctored.

Is it necessary for them to do more? When I rescue or adopt I do so with the intention of caring for them their entire lives no matter how long or short that may be. Being that I am human and not immortal I have to think of giving them the best chance in life even if I am no longer there. If I knew for a fact that I would be there for their entire lives then the answer would be no but since I am mortal, my opinion is yes. Yes because in order to give them the best chance in life I need to have them used to things horses encounter in their domestic life other than abuse, neglect, etc. What a great way for my horses and I to bond as well. Doing things together! Most people have horses to ride them. A horse that has never been under saddle may not be as appealing as one who has. Get the idea? It doesn’t have to be limited to riding.  There is driving, horsemanship, trick training, etc. Most of all, an all around well mannered horse is very attractive. If you are not interested in actually riding, driving, or anything else then there are many things you can do to create a well mannered horse. Why not tack up with a saddle or harness or do some desensitization? Doing this in a positive way at the horses pace is not just a fun way to spend time and bond with your horse. It is a great way to set them up for success even if you can no longer be a part of their life.

They may have lost their freedom, family, friends, and home but in trade I give a safe place to call home, food, water, shelter, medical attention, new friends, and new positive life experiences.


Lemme Tell Ya’ ‘Bout My Best Friend

Adding a new member to an existing herd can be risky. When bringing a new horse home there are several things to look at and consider. First, where is the horse coming from? This question is the first crucial question as you want to evaluate risk of disease. There is always a risk when bringing a new horse home. Does the horse have all of its shots? Was it around horses that were potential carriers of anything? How do you know it’s safe? When getting a new horse it’s highly advisable to have the horse in quarantine, away from all your other animals (not just horses) for 30 to 60 days. This will allow any diseases that may not be showing symptoms at the time of purchase to come to blossom. It helps keep the rest of your herd safe, healthy, and your vet bill down. Auctions and feedlots are great examples of places that should absolutely have animals quarantined before interacting with established stock. Private homes where horses don’t go many places and are current on all vaccinations are less of a threat.

Once the new addition has passed the health check phase you can proceed with introducing horses. I don’t keep my horses stalled together (exception: the mini stallions) as I don’t have a stall big enough. If I could, however, I would. I do try to have co-turnout for my horses though. Horse-horse interaction is a vital requirement for the healthy mentality of a horse. As any horse obsessed person knows: horses are herd animals. They’re social. Beyond the company of another horse co-existing in the same yard they need physical contact with the other horse. Like humans, not every horse will get along with every other horse. Some do: some get along with any horse you introduce them to, others are not okay with any horse they’re introduced to, and the rest fall somewhere in the spectrum between the two extremes.

It’s best to go slow, wade into the water, than to just dive in head first. Horses are not small animals. Their hooves can do real damage to each other. I like to know my horse’s personality first: where would they sit in a herd? Is your horse submissive (do they give in easily during training)? Are they more dominant (constantly challenging you, pushing into you, or not moving)? Are they somewhere in between or a combination thereof?

Before turning two horses out together I like to, ideally, have them share a fence line. With sharing a fence the horses can be evaluated for how they interact (to a degree) but still have safety to prevent any terrible fights. They longer they share a fence line, the better.

With Kahlua and Juno I didn’t have the luxury of shared fence line due to the way stalls are set up and occupied. I’ve had Juno for almost a year and in that time I’ve come to know her goofy personality pretty well. She’s kind of… Head in the clouds. She’s extremely smart but book smart. Common sense she is just so…blonde. Every horse (and human) is her new best friend (according to her). She doesn’t understand personal space and comes on very strong. Thankfully Juno is submissive so in the end I’m never worried about her. Even though I haven’t had Kahlua that long I have the luxury of knowing her second hand through her former/first owner/mom. She’s easy going, not necessarily submissive but not the aggressor. More of a stand up for herself kind of mare. She gets along with nearly any horse, provided they’re not aggressive. It sounded like a good match so… I tried it.

It worked wonderfully.

The mares did amazing together. As of now I’ve turned the girls out together several times and they’re nearly best friends. Kahlua gets a little touchy when food is involved (such as right before I bring her in from turnout for breakfast). Though I can leave the girls alone while I do chores and not worry about them. They pal around the arena together with calm interactions. I know they’re on the path to being inseparable.

While the girls were getting along so famous I decided to take things one step further: turn Flint out with them. Flint and Juno get along so well. He’s a fairly docile guy but does still think he’s a stallion… I armed myself with a whip and brought him to the arena too. The whip is key: should a fight break out it allows me to intervene without putting myself in harms way.

Well, true to my thoughts Flint tried to be big bad stallion. While he didn’t come over to Kahlua guns blazing with aggression he did act like a teenage boy in love. Kahlua was quick to put him in his place with a few warning kicks. Flint was just a quick to back off and simply pal around with Juno. There were a few moments where it looked like Kahlua was almost trying to get between Juno and Flint and “protect” Juno from Flint. Another reason I think they’re on their way to being such good friends.

Horses are social animals and need interactions but as important as interactions are for horses safety is equally important.


Horse show and Welcome home Kahlua!

It’s only now that I’m finally caught up on sleep and the days have returned to normal (with 90 some 5th grade trudging through my classroom doors) that I’ve begun to reflect of the blissful chaos of this past weekend (and week really!).

It started nearly two weeks ago when a little (okay 15hh and not so little) buckskin mare that I had admired for the better half of nearly two years became available.  She was in need of a loving home first and foremost as her situation wasn’t bad (at all) but her owner had come to the decision that the mare needed better. Better. Better how? A home that would love like her owner did, where she could be cared for, safe, loved, and potentially work. She had a bucking problem but a kind eye. She’s had plenty of days of professional training and was beyond beautiful. WIth a few discussions I messaged about her. A few moments later I was set up to meet her. A week later the news came that our home was selected and we’d be getting her. It was between the first message and the good news that I decided to enter her in the local mustang show. I’d have no time to work one on one with Kahlua, the new mare, before the show. I figured she was trained and I had a fair amount of horse sense. It would work. We win the extreme trail course and take home the money. It was a perfect plan. We didn’t need a bond. We both had past experiences.

I will never underestimate the bond between my horses and I and what it does for us again. Until I forget and I do underestimate it’s importance at least!

Don’t worry; we did not win.

Kahlua is going to be a phenomenal mare (in most aspects she already is). But we didn’t have the critical bond, the trust, needed to succeed.

This show was a scary one for me at first. I was going to enter with a horse I barely knew, on my own, and show out of my car. What was I thinking?

In case you’ve never seen a scion packed for a horse show, here it is! Hay, buckets, grooming tools, tack, and everything shy of the horse itself all thrown into the hatchback.

I was nervous. A horse I had only met once, I my friendship with people at the show was Facebook friends at best and even then only a small handful, I was on my own without my show assistant/mom. I was excited. The horse I was entering was drop. Dead. Beautiful. I was confident in my ability. I was confident in my mare.

Well… That bond is crucial. Kahlua was a good girl. Kahlua was an amazing girl. Nothing spooked or phased her. When she was concerned she simply lifted her head and stared as she evaluated the situation. She stood tied,unflinching and unmoving when I had to use the restroom or get a drink of water. But we didn’t have that trusting bond despite her saintly behavior. We didn’t have the established relationship and roles of who’s is truly lead mare and who is supposed to listen. She didn’t know to trust me, to listen, when I said “let’s go” in an uncomfortable situation. Trail obstacles that presented a challenge were met with a refusal. A soft, kind, mule like stubborn refusal. I’ll take that over rearing, kicking, bolting, etc but I know had we worked and practice it could have been better.

Trust with a horse comes from time. It takes time to get to know a horse, time for a horse to get to know you, and time working together. It’s through working together that a partnership is formed-a team created. Round pen work is where I like to start, followed by in hand walks and trails. Trick training is another favorite of mine as they’re quick exercises that get a horse’s brain to engage differently than when you’re simply asking for physical tasks such as walk, trot, canter. Kahlua and I will work on these just as Flint and I and Juno and I.

The show itself was an absolute blast. It was different than any show I’ve been to before. I’ve found that often, with breed based shows, people tend to look out for their own and their own alone. This isn’t to say helpful people can’t be found but it’s… different. With the miniature horses I met plenty of friendly people, a few helpful, but most stuck in their own cliques that seemed to form around barns, stables, and/or trainers. The mustang show was a world apart. Everyone was willing to help out everyone else. When Kahlua refused to move into the wash rack the nearest person offered to step in and help with pressure from behind. The same when loading her into the trailer. People were happy to help hold horses, offer training advice, help out with a difficult horse, set up props, and just plain check on a newly-met-friend/former stranger’s well being. It was a community family of support. We all understood the trials and tribulations that come with wild horse ownership/training/domestication. Everyone wanted everyone to succeed. There was still the edge of competition but it was offered with such a supportive network behind it that the experience was nothing short of magical.

It leaves me waiting for the day I can return with Kahlua (and Juno and Flint) to experience it all over again but this time win.

The Feed Regime

If you ask a horse owner “what should I feed my horse?” you’ll get as many different answers as there are colors of horses and then some. Every one has their own opinions: some are rooted in research, others aren’t, some are done because that’s the way it’s always been done, and others can’t seem to find a reason but that’s just what they do.

We’ve come a long way in equine nutrition since the days where horses were building civilization. There is much research to be found about different forage varieties, supplements, vitamins, and other concoctions. Growing up I attended horse seminar after horse seminar with my Mom. I took in all kinds of information about horses: safety, anatomy, wound care, disease, tack fitting, and nutrition. My mom has always done as much research as she can for the welfare of our animals.

My mom and I feed our horses nearly the same things. My feed regime is catered to my horses, especially Mr. Picky-Pants (Flint McCoy) as any animal’s diet should be. What is below is my opinions based off advice from my horse’s vets, my incredible mom, and my own research.

Pictured is my “big horse” feed set up. The minis have their forage stored with my big horse’s feed, however, their “grain” is near their pen. I use the term grain loosely as none of my horses get true grain, instead they all have some type of pelleted feed or combination of different pellets.

Forage for all my horses consists of Bermuda grass hay. I know there are many horse owners who choose to feed alfalfa. Personally I love the way alfalfa smells though as a forage feed I find it too rich-especially in protein. My smallest mini doesn’t process alfalfa well which makes my decision not to feed it an easy one.

My “grain” is what is in those buckets: purple for Juno and teal for Flint. The minis (unpictured) get Purina “Mini horse and pony feed.” It’s so easy for such small horses to put on weight with any type of pelleted feed but I’ve found with Purina’s line for the small equine they can easily maintain their sleek figures (or in my boy’s case, cushy!) but receive all the nutritional benefits from guaranteed vitamins and minerals (hello glossy coat!).

Both Juno and Flint receive alfalfa pellets. I know, I know, I just stated I don’t feed alfalfa but that’s as a forage feed and the bulk of the diet. These pellets are sun cured (no molasses) pure alfalfa pellets. My vet advised having some alfalfa in their diet so they were not only Bermuda (not enough variety could potentially cause it’s own set of problems). They’re also the only pellets Flint will eat. The only pellets he will eat. Even the smallest of others he will spit out. It’s an impressive albeit annoying feat. It’s a nice bonus that I can use these pellets as treats during trick training or other training.

Juno gets a bit extra. While I feed Bermuda as their forage and main part of their diet I know Bermuda alone doesn’t provide everything they need. That’s where Purina’s “Strategy GX” comes into play! Purina offers two types of forage supplemental pellets in their strategy line: GX for grass hay and AX for alfalfa. While Juno absolutely loves her GX pellets these teeny little pellets of goodness are absolutely detested by Flint.  Oh well. Maybe one day (probably not though, honestly!).

These two little supplements are my secret weapons in the feed regime war: apple cider vinegar and garlic powder. Together I’ve found a noticeable difference in the amount of flies on Juno. Flint to a barely noticeable extent as he does try to avoid eating anything contaminated with the fly-repelling duo. On it’s own garlic can be a hotly debated supplement in any animal diet. Testing through various researches has shown in large amounts it can lead to anemia, however, the amount that has to be given is far more than any normal horse would consume or owner would try to feed. Apple cider vinegar on its own is a wonder. From helping to break down intestinal stones, to producing a shiny coat, to helping regulate insulin resistant horses, apple cider vinegar is my go-to horse supplement. Equine Wellness wrote a great article about ti’s benefits located here. This amazing tag team of supplements goes directly onto Flint and Juno’s pellets.

There are many times when prepping the equine meals for the day I feel as if I’m some sort of mad scientist, chemist, or crazy pharmacist thrown into a gourmet salad kitchen surrounded by the smell of garlic and vinegar. While there are hundreds of way to create a horse’s diet I’m happy with mine. So long as you’re happy with yours, the reasons supporting it, and your horses are healthy then you’re diet is just as great!


The Five Basics

The five basic moves that take you from passenger to driver.
Great things for your horse to know even if you never ride or drive them!

Growing up taking English riding/jumping lessons I found it frustrating that the way my friends rode was so simple and my lessons seemed so complicated. They mounted their horses and took off. Kick to go, pull to stop, and pull on one side of the reins to turn in that direction. Why did I have to do so much work?
Collection, connection, on the bit, lateral, cadence, engagement, blah, blah, blah. And what about the eluded half-halt! My friends never talked like that!

Eventually I grew up and started riding and training my own horses. There are five basic moves I like to teach my horses on the ground that transfer into the saddle. They are the basics of almost everything I do in the saddle and can be taught to horses no matter how young. Foundation building blocks, I would say. They are not something new that I invented or even thought of on my own. They were taught to me years ago.

I still do these on the ground and/or in saddle before every ride (after warming horse up) to check his responsiveness and attitude.

  1. Flexion of the nose/face
  2. Turning on haunches
  3. Turning forehand
  4. Reverse
  5. Stepping latteral

Flexion of nose/face
Goal – When I “ask for his face” he will give softly, willingly, and completely.
I use it to ask for bend and stretch and to be soft and supple.
I started by standing my horses side at the shoulder or neck area. For the first few times at least, I had my lead rope attached to the side of the halter at the nose band area and not in the middle. Holding the lead rope about 1 foot away I applied a light intermittent pull until he turns his face, even ever so slightly, then I immediately STOP as the reward. I praise him for a bit and repeat. If he doesn’t do anything or turns the other way, I make the pulls a little faster and firmer until he does. As he learns what the correct response is he starts turning his head easier and I can ask that he turn it more and work my way to him turning and touching his nose to girth area with a very very light “ask”. I do this on both sides equally making sure to switch the lead rope to the side I am working on!

Turning on haunches- (yielding forehand)
Goal – My horse will step his front outside leg in front of and across his front inside leg while pivoting on the inside rear leg .
Used to gain control of my horses front end (shoulder and leg).
I start by standing at my horses shoulder holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click. My horses know that click sounds mean to move. 1 click = walk, 2 clicks = trot, and repetitive clicks mean canter. In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his shoulder or wave the rope at his shoulder in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his front end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his front inside leg with his front outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I step closer to his face to block off too much forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside hind leg in a complete circle.

Turning on forehand- (yielding haunches)
Goal – He will step his back outside leg in front of and across his back inside leg while pivoting on the inside front leg .
Used to gain control of your horses back end (hip, leg, and motor-
more on the motor if anyone needs).
I start by standing at my horses hip holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click.  In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his hip area or wave the rope at his hip in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his back end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his back inside leg with his back outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I take the slack out of the lead rope and bring my hand toward his withers to shut down his inside shoulder and forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside front leg in a complete circle.
Sound familiar? It’s the opposite of the turning on haunches.

Reverse or back up
One of the most important pieces for any horse to learn whether riding or not!
Goal – He will backup when I very slightly move or lift the lead rope or step toward him.
I start with a long lead rope or decent weight lunge line and stand in front of him. Slightly and slowly I move my hand and lead rope back and forth in a horizontal movement. I want to see very small waves in the rope. I increase the size and speed until he takes a step back or at least shifts his weight in a back motion. I stop and praise any attempt at the right response no matter how small. I work my way up to as many steps as I want with as little amount of asking as possible. If he tries stepping off to one side or the other I take the slack out of the rope to stop the movement sideways.

Stepping lateral (I only teach this AFTER they know all the other moves at goal level! It will confuse them if they don’t know the other moves)
Goal – My horse will step completely sideways (not forward or back) crossing both front and back legs.
I start facing my horse at his barrel with him standing at a fence facing it in order to prevent any forward motion. I raise my hand closest to his shoulder to ask to move over like I am asking for one step of turning on the haunches. I only want one step. Then I do the same with the hand by his rump. Again only wanting one step. Continue this alternating shoulder to hip and he will be stepping completely lateral.

Did you see the theme with each of the exercises? I am doing something that encourages the reaction I am looking for and as soon as I get it that something (some kind of little annoyance of a poke, rope swing, etc.) stops immediately. Timing is extremely important!

Right or wrong, this is what was taught to me and what I do with my horses. Every horse is different and it has to be broken down for some more than others or find a slightly different way to communicate to each one. It is my job to communicate with my horse in a way he understands and set him up for success! Just like children, if they don’t understand what you are saying, break it down into smaller pieces or say it in a different way until they understand.
Coeur ‘Alene had already learned back up and turn on forehand at only two months old. Now at four months I can ask for either without a halter and rope and back up usually with just verbally. When it cools off we will work on more.


Finding your seat

Finding your seat in the saddle by riding without stirups.

With any saddle work you will need to make sure you have a correctly fitting saddle and that it is placed correctly on your horses back. One of the reasons I like the dressage saddle is it keeps my horses shoulders free which is most important for my Missouri Foxtrotter but also important for all my horses as well. The seat of the saddle should be level horizontally from a side view.
Have someone help you by taking photos or a video to see if you are in the proper position with your ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle in a straight line. It is important you do not have a “chair seat” where from the side view it looks like you could be sitting in a chair. Picture that if you removed the horse from under you whether you would still be able to stand on the ground without falling. If you are sitting in a chair and the chair was removed then you would fall. Stand on the ground with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and pointing forward. Squat down a little and open your knees a bit. Your pelvis will be tipped slightly back. Open your chest with your shoulders softly back and down. Head looking forward and not up or down. That is a nice dressage position. When on a horse your arms should be soft and supple. From shoulder to elbow will be relaxed at your sides and there should be a straight line from your elbow, down the reins, and connecting to the bit. If your hands are too high or low the straight line and connection are broken. 

What’s in a name?

Hippology, the non sequitur study of the preposterous pony-or something of the sort. Hippology. It sounds like it deals with hippos, perhaps the study of hippos. Maybe an odd offshoot of Anthropology, selling hipster attire to the overly indulgent hippo. But alas, it is not!

So what is this “hippology” business? Beyond this blog the word hippology means “the study of the horse.” This makes sense when the word is broken down into its Greek roots. “Hippo” translates to “horse” and “ology” means “the study of.” Hippology: the study of the horse. That brings us back to hippos. Shouldn’t horses be called hippos and hippos be called something, anything else?

Hippopotamus can also be broken down into directly translated greek roots. As mentioned before “hippo” is horse-already hippos seem to be horse related. “Potamus” in Greek means river. Hippopotamus: river horse. It’s easy to see why they would garter such a name and why ancient Greeks thought they must be related in some way. The reality is far different. Hippos are more closely related to whales than horses! Horses are related more closely to Rhinos than hippos. Yet, even still, I refer to my horses as hippos and not just due to some of their weight. It makes for fun teasing at meal time to call them “hungry, hungry hippos.” Albeit I’m not inaccurate when calling them hippos, at least according to the ancient Greeks.

That very word explanation brings us to the point of this blog. To the non sequitur study of the preposterous pony. I was raised by a horse loving, neigh, horse obsessed mother and I followed right along in her footsteps. Along the adventure that has been horsemanship the two of us have learned many things; made mistakes; made the best decisions. We have shared adventures with our horses, some funny others difficult. There have been tricks we’ve picked up along the way, tidbits of advice we wish someone had shared with us, and other little useful musings. All things we are happy to share, to pass long, in a sometimes non sequitur manner centered around those horses, those preposterous ponies, my mom and I love so much.