Horsing in the Rain

18 02 2009

It is no fun for either horse or human to work in the rain. But sometimes it has to be done.

ladyhawkeNot the best picture, but its wet here!

I took Ladyhawke out today. She is a pretty polite girl. I let her buck and play in the round pen for a bit so she could get some energy out. When she was done, she came to me in the center of the pen. I asked her to walk with me. She walked right along with me. When I asked for an inside turn (turn toward me), she moved herself around me to remain right at my side. “Good girl.” When I asked for an outside turn (turn away from me), she faltered a little bit. Instead of yielding away from me, she stopped moving forward and lifted her head, likely reacting to the pressure I was putting on her left shoulder and neck. Not physical pressure. I was merely walking into her neck. Because these were new requests, I decided to let her have that one. I continued on and turned in front of her. She then made an inside turn and joined me at my side.

No technically, this is not correct. What she should have done was when I began to turn into her, she should have yielded the space and stepped away from me while staying at my side. Instead she reacted to my pressure by halting and saying, “Not cool with that.” She was taking the dominant role and telling me no. As I said above, these were new requests, she was doing pretty well, so I let it slide. After doing a few more turns, I put her halter on, and we exited the round pen. Behind the main house there is a creek and a flat grassy area. I wanted to see if Ladyhawke trusted me or if she would resist being taken out of sight of the other horses.

We walked down the short path to the flat grassy area. Ladyhawke’s breathing quickened, and she became very twitchy. I thought, “Oh boy.” By the time we got to the bottom of the hill to the grassy area, she had completely forgotten I existed. Every sound she heard could be the boogie man coming for her! She bolted forward a couple of times and swinging her whole body all around. After about 5 minutes, I’d seen enough. I walked her back up to the round pen to work more on her confidence and trust. Leading a horse to a new placeis a good way to evaluate how well they are actually listening to you. Its one thing to be in a place they feel secure in and have them behave. There is no real threat and if the horse is a kind horse, she may comply with your requests because its in her nature. But once put into a situation where she may feel threatened or insecure, you can quickly determine how much the horse trusts you. Ladyhawke clearly did not trust me yet.

Once back in the round pen, I thought I’d change subjects and work on respect. I brought some food into the pen, put it down, and asked Ladyhawke over. She came over and plowed into the food. After a couple of minutes, I walked away from her. I circled around behind her to see if she was paying attention. She was not…..

Now was the time for the “Taking Space” ritual of Carolyn Resnick‘s. In the “Taking Space” ritual, the point is to surprise the horse and run them off the food. In horse herds, only the lead horse would do this. In horse society, one horse may establish dominance over another by surprising him. Back to Ladyhawke. Since she was not paying attention, I was able to surprise her and run her off the food. She was shocked and went to the other side of the pen and looked at me. Over the next few minutes, she walked over a couple of time and I shoo-ed her away. The point is for her to give up on getting the food. Once she does that, she can have it. It helps to establish that I control her food, just like her mother would have done.

So here’s where it gets cool. Ladyhawke did give up. She settled in over at the other end of the round pen. At that point, I said “Good girl!!!!” I walked a bit away from the food and invited her to me. She wasn’t real sure, but she came to me. I told her what a great girl she was and I led her over to the food. She looked at me and I directed her down to the food. What a good girl. After several minutes, I went to leave Ladyhawke. I wanted to get behind her again to see if she was watching. I circled around behind. At this point, she moved her butt in order to keep me in her sights. Good girl! That is what she is supposed to do. Horses in a herd keep an eye on the lead horse. If they don’t they get surprised.

I went back over to Ladyhawke. I groomed her a bit and then went to leave again. This time she came with me! She voluntarily left the food to come with me. I’m not sure if I inadvertently asked her to come with me or not. I was so pleased! I told her what an angel she was then led her back to the food. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I again walked away from her. She picked up her head and followed! I was beyond pleased. She chose to leave the food to come be with me. So sweet.

Ok. Now I wanted to readdress the trust issues she had with walking down the path to the creek. We walked back and forth in front of her paddock each time going further towards the path. I kept her attention on me by asking her to stop, back up, and turn. By keeping her busy, she didn’t have much time to freak out. We got about halfway to the path without her getting worried. I thought that was a great ending to a great, but wet day.


R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Using a cocktail of trainers

12 02 2009

So today I went out to see Picasso. It has been raining like cats and dogs here for a few days. We desperately need the rain, so I’ll refrain from complaining….. too much. I went out and put a halter on The Man. Robin Gates told me about a nice little “pulse check” tool. She said a horse may move away when asked, but can you control his nose? She said I should be able to move his head left, right, up down, back, and forward. So I took hold of Picasso’s halter, one hand on either side of his nose, and proceeded to test. He gave down, he gave up. He gave left. When we tried for right, he moved his butt around so as to avoid actually giving. I repositioned him and asked again. He gave this time. We tried all directions and except for a couple of hiccups, he did great.

Now for food! As we did the other day, we were going to practice “head up” and “head down.” I placed his grain in a flat rubber pan and put it down. I told him to wait, then grabbed his halter, pulling gently down, saying “head down.” Once he was thoroughly engrossed in his grain, I said “Head up.” He brought his head up. It wasn’t panicky, but he brought it up quickly. “Good boy!” I waited to see if he would try to drop his head. He held still, so I said “head down” while pulling gently on the halter. We did this a few more times while he finished his grain. I tried to extend the “head up and hold” time so that he learned it wasn’t always going to be a quick up and down. I want him to learn he can’t go down until I say “head down.” He’s doing good.

Now for my trainer cocktail. Thanks to Robin, I have a better idea of how Picasso subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shows his disrespect. One way is that when we walk together, he will either walk ahead of me or try to get his head behind me. Both of these are attempts at dominating and controlling where I go. He will also subtly move into me to try and alter my direction. I remember Carolyn Resnick saying that hand walking was a good way to develop a bond. So I decided now we be a good time to walk to our mailbox. We live on an about 3/4 mile dirt road. So its a nice 10 min walk to and from the mailbox. As we walked out of the stable yard, I remembered an exercise Paul Dufresne had me do at a clinic. He asked the whole group to get on the rail and lead our horses. “Ok this game is called ‘How Fast Can You Go; How Slow Can You Go,'” he said. As we walked around he would shout out, “How Slow Can You Go!” and we were supposed to slow our walk down to….. as slow as we could go. Our horse was supposed to stay with us and adjust his speed. Alternately, when he shouted “How Fast Can You Go,” we were supposed to walk as fast as we could while still walking. Our horses were supposed to adjust their speed accordingly. I did this clinic with my mustang, Rowdy. Rowdy, of course, had mastered the exercise even before we started it. (Why oh why did I SELL HIM!!!!) (sigh) Anyway, I thought Picasso should learn this exercise…..again.

We started down the road. At first Picasso attention was everywhere but me. So I took a tidbit from Chris Irwin. Chris says that when a horse looks away from you, two things are happening. 1) The horse is saying, “That thing over there is more important than you. If I decide its scary, we’re leaving.” 2) The horse is bowing their ribcage into the handler. This is a sign of disrespect and invasion of space. Chris solution is by using you hand, bump the horse in the ribs. This is a like little “pay attention” button. By doing this, I am essentially “calling the horse out” on their disrespect. With the proper sized bump, the horse will turn their head back to straight and will be paying attention again. So, as Picasso stared off into the bushes. I reached over and bumped him in the ribs. He ignored me…. I bumped harder. There we go, now he was back.

We walked down the road in what was thankfully a break in the rain. I altered my speed from creeping to speed walking and back to regular. At first Picasso just stopped when I slowed down. I said nope, move your buns. He then would get ahead. I would say no, maybe give him a tap on the chest with my whip handle. He was a bit miffed that I was making him pay close attention. As we walked along, I decided to see how he would do at a job. Recently, he has been snarky and would pin his ears at me when we trotted together. He tried it today. I stopped very quickly. He halted right next to me with a shocked look on his face. I grinned…. “Got ya.” He walked on. All the way down the road, I alternated speeds. Near the end of the road, I could see Picasso battling with himself to pay attention! “There were so many things to look at, but she might change speed. Must keep an eye on this one….” I could see him look off and then bring his ear around to me and his head straight, almost like he was saying, “Bad Picasso.”

At the end of the road, we stopped to check my mailbox. No mail. Phoo….

On the way back, I thought lets try the right side. I want to keep him ambidextrous. The right side was definitely more rusty and it took more correcting. But as we walked up the hill to the ranch gate, he was doing much better. His halts were crisp, he stayed with me, and he was paying attention!

This day just goes to show you don’t have to follow any one trainer. You can integrate the teachings of many and achieve customized programs with great results. Each horse is unique and requires a unique approach. I’ll leave you with a shot of the massive rainbow over the barn this afternoon.


Ms. Zephyrine

7 02 2009

I had this great little mare in for training during the fall of 2008.  Her name is Zephyrine, aka Zephy. Zephy is a 3 yr old Andalusian-Arabian.  Zephy is a dream girl.  She is sweet, spunky, curious, and down right gorgeous!

When Zephy first arrived, she stepped off the trailer and immediately there was an energy in the air around her.

zephy1Look at that face!

Along with being all those descripters above, Zephy was also opinionated.  Before she was brought to me, I went down to her home to meet her.  While there I discovered she wasn’t a fan of the “squeeze”, i.e. going through doorways or anywhere there was a solid wall on at least one side.  I also discovered she was a bit “sided.” Zephy was not a fan of being led, pet, or at all messed with on the right side.  While fiddling with her at our first meeting, I would go on to her right side and she would deftly move herself around to put me back on her left side.  Cute….

So, back to her arrival to me.  The day after she arrived, I went down to get Ms Zephy.  I thought I’d grab Picasso too, walking two horses…. no biggie. Oh was I wrong. I had Picasso, I went to grab Zephy. As Picasso stood outside her pasture, I haltered her and made her walk through her gate, not fly. Well, at this point I thought I wa safe. No…… Little did I know, the tarp of death was at her feet. As I walked Picasso over it, Zephy launched herself over the tarp. She rammed into meand then flew by me. Two of my rather long nails snapped backwards and I got a massive rope burn across my hand. Once over the tarp, Zephy was still wired. Turns out this was her M.O. When pressured or spooked, she would spurt forward. I was able to remedy this tendency with one session, although total habit rehab took more time. We started with leg yields so she knew what I meant when I told her to move her hinny.

When Zephy looks away from me, she bends her ribcage into me or into my space. That, in horse society, is disrespectful. She is essentially saying, “That thing over there is way more important than you, so if I decide it’s too scary, we’re leaving.” So, by tapping her ribs, I am calling her on her disrespect and asking for her attention. Its amazing how subtly a horse can show lack of respect for their handler. Carolyn Resnick talks about how horses will nip each other when one horse is not paying attention. Horses establish hierarchy by catching each other of guard. If I can surpirse Zephy when she is not paying attention to me, I can establish my leadership. I am always aware of her, she needs to be always aware of me. As you can see, she improves dramatically after only a few repetitions.

Zephy has a great heart and mind. More on Zephy later.

Little Red

28 01 2009

Ok Red is adorable. A bit assertive for a little guy and a bit skitish, but toooooooo cute! See…….

I am attempting to teach them that when he is polite, he gets petting and scratches. When he is too bold or bites, I will retreat or ask him to leave. He really loves attention and facial scratches, so he’s picking up on his lesson well.

Gotta Love Babies

27 01 2009

So today, I went out to Welcome Ranch to see Goldie. I arrived before all the fog had burned off. The barn sort of appeared out of the mist. I found a plastic chair and drug it out to Goldie’s pasture. She is pastured with another mare named Hanna. Hanna is more dominant, so I couldn’t really spend time with Goldie. So, poor Hanna got tied so I could chat with Goldie. I sat down in my chair. Goldie was already next to me investigating this new toy.

As I sat there, Goldie nosed me all over. This is fine until she starts to push on me or bite. At that time, I get up and move away. I am attempting to teach her that if she is polite, she can have my company. If she is not, I will leave. She of course followed me and when I sat down she resumed her investigation. We did this several times. She is learning though that if she stands there and just hangs out, I stay.

After spending about 30 mins doing this, I moved to another pasture where a young colt is living. His name is Red. Red is by himself because when he is pastured with other colts his age, he is impossible to catch. I went in and sat with Red while he ate breakfast. The chair and I were immediately more interesting than food.


Red is an interesting little character. He has such a machismo personality. He will come straight up to me, head high, chest pushed out, and then he’ll rear and charge away. But at the same time, he is hyper-sensitive to fast movement and touch. He is like a little ball of energy, just bubbling for something to do.

So how to handle this little man. I started by just sitting with him and reading my book. He came over several times and sniffed me. He was very pushy with his sniffing and tried to nip a few times as well. Yet when I flicked even a finger he would jerk his head away. After 20 mins of this, I decided to try playing with him and establishing some rules of engagement. He has demonstrated to me that he was a playful guy by trotting circles around my chair and playfully striking. I put my chair outside the pasture and backed away from Red. He followed me cautiously, not really sure what I was about. When I kept retreating and even broke into a small jog, he got the idea and came right after me. He had no problem coming after me and showing me just how cool he was. At this point I decided it was time for a rule. We can play, but you can’t be aggressive. So I turned around and walked in his direction. He looked at me as I came closer. He wasn’t really sure what to do. I kept moving and started to shoosh him away with my hands. He backed up and gave a little half rear but did not retreat. He was being defiant. I shooshed BIGGER. He finally reared and trotted off, annoyed. I followed him. I moved him all over his pen. After getting him to gve me space, I then stopped and put my hand out to say hello. He looked confused, but came over to me for a sniff. We did this little dance several times. At one point, I brought the chair back in. He thought this was an amazing toy. He bit it and pulled it, thinking this was the best! We played ring-around-the-chair together and he had fun. He was so cute when he would bite the chair and then the chair would move, he would strike out like he was telling the chair it was being bad. I laughed out loud more than a few times.

After an hour, I decided that was enough. I look forward to working more with Red. He is a super confident guy. He needs some hierarchy manners. Carolyn Resnick talks about foals and how they are inducted into the herd. First, foals are very mindful and obliging. They do everything they are told. Once they get enough confidence, you’ll see foals kick their mothers. The dam doesn’t kick back because she is trying to allow the foal to develop some confidence. Once the foal gets to the arrogant stage, then mom will discipline him. Its a push and pull between being submissive and being dominant. Carolyn says only when a horse will let you massage his character, asking for him to be submissive and then asking him to be more confident, will be accept training.

Having never done this method fully, I will be learning a lot from Red on how much is too much and how much is not enough.


Welcome to Welcome Ranch

24 01 2009

Today I started training for Welcome Ranch, a Morgan breeder in Mendocino County, CA. Welcome Ranch is the home of the outstanding Robbie Sue’s Mr. Alert. What a stud…. I have been hired to start some horses, handle some foals, evaluate some “supposed to be broke” broodmares, and I get the privilege of riding Mr Alert as well.

Welcome Ranch acquired some broodmares that were said to be broke to ride. I will be testing that statement for the owners. They want to more trail riding, but neither wants to find out that said mare is not really as broke as she was supposed to be. I am very excited and honored to be training these excellent horses.

My first student is Ms Goldie!


Goldie is a 7 yr old mare Welcome Ranch has used for breeding. They would like to downsize their band of mares, so I am going to start Goldie. Goldie is a sweet, sweet, mare. I went out today to just sit with her and evaluate her temperament. I took her into the round pen and sat on a stool in the middle. She came over many times to sniff me. I then got up and stood along the edge to watch the foals playing. Goldie came over to hang out with me. Sweet Goldie is a wee bit pushy. She comes up and sticks her nose right in my face or over my arms, saying “Pet me!” When she does this, I simply move away from her. She usually follows and attempts the same tactic. I keep moving away. Occasionally I will shoo her away when she gets too pushy. When she stands politely next to me, I will reach over and pet her. I do this so she learns that if she is polite and respectful, I will stay with her. If she gets pushy and demanding, I will leave. She started to get the idea today, but she still tries her old tactic.

I next took her for a walk to see how her walking manners were. She was pretty distracted, and I wasn’t really on her radar of things to pay attention to.

I have no doubt Goldie will come around very quickly. She is a quick study and will learn respect and patience well.


She also is a huge grass hog! If there are green shoots within her line of sight, she is going!

Looking forward to a great time with Goldie!