Trailer Loading as a Personal Reflection

Trailer loading has been fascinating to me over the years that I’ve worked with the public, because it’s where people’s emotions seem to come up the most. Trailer loading shows you with crystal clarity what you really have going with your horse, in terms of lead rope work, and your relationship. It also shows what’s really inside of a person. It’s where horses start shoving, panicking, avoiding, or are responsive, willing, and soft. It’s where people get frustrated, push, bribe, force, or wait, direct, and stay calm.

Another fascinating aspect of trailer loading to me is how often people need help, but are unwilling to turn over to someone else completely. Maybe they feel the whole process isn’t happening fast enough, so they might try to help out by bribing the horse with treats, pushing or pulling, while someone else is working with your horse to get in the trailer. Sitting and waiting and watching might feel difficult to do, especially if you’ve just spent some time frustratedly trying to get your horse in the trailer. The thing about trailer loading, though, is that it absolutely does not work if the two people working on loading are not on the same page, and if both aren’t willing to give it the time and space it needs to happen. You can’t set the horse up to wait, but just get in there for one little nudge or push. If emotional control is out of reach in this task, if you can’t watch without interrupting, or getting frustrated, it’s better for you to go inside and have a glass of water, or better yet, a glass of wine. Negative emotions and horses do not mix well.

Sometimes people ask me when there are folks around struggling to load their horse, why I don’t offer to help them. I’m happy to help anyone, but if you have different ideas about how loading should go, what I do will not work. It’s less confusing for the horse if I just let them keep doing what they’re doing, until they’re ready to give something different a shot.

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Some Thoughts on Colt Starting

Some thoughts on colt starting for the public-

It’s my job to prepare the young horse for their life with their owner. That means preparing them for seeing all kinds of things and being able to deal with them with confidence. It also means helping them be prepared to deal with some fumbles on the riders part- we talk about preparing the horse for their rider, not for us trainers. That means your horse should be able to tolerate something like a leg dragging on their butt while you mount or dismount, or putting on a saddle somewhat less than perfectly.

But I believe I have a responsibility to the welfare of the horse and clients safety first. Some horses are naturally more tolerant than others. Some always will be on the more sensitive side, and others in time have the potential to be very amateur friendly. But it is not my job nor is it ethical to subject your horse to poor feel, bad hands, or sloppy legs. This is incredibly frustrating and scary for a young horse who is just learning about life with people. If you worry about the steadiness of your hands or legs, or confidence in the saddle at the walk, trot, canter, gallop and a few little acrobatics here and there, a young horse is not for you. There is absolutely no shame in finding the right match for you. Riding is a lot more fun for both horse and rider when you both aren’t soiling your pants.

Why Isn’t the Advice I Sought on the Internet Working?

Why Isn’t the Advice I Sought on the Internet Working?

The internet is a valuable learning tool. We have google and YouTube in our pockets all day long, ready and waiting to answer our questions. Really, we have no excuse not to learn in this day and age. Lots of good horsemen and women are on social media, sharing valuable information for free with the public, eager to help. We want you to succeed, and we want horses everywhere to experience a better life through the education of their owners. Most of us don’t mind taking time out of our hectic days to help answer your questions, but when it comes to advice over the internet, it gets tricky.

So why doesn’t internet advice always end up with the desired effect?

-you may not have described the problem accurately. If you don’t understand the problem and its roots, it’s easy to miss important details. Or you don’t understand the relation of one problem to another. This isn’t a fault of yours, but it makes giving out advice without seeing the issue in person tricky. Why is your horse biting “out of the blue?” I don’t know, because I didn’t see how it was lead into the barn, I didn’t see the 12 treats it was given before it bit, I didn’t see it’s daily routine with you, so I really can’t say.

-you may misinterpret my advice. Without being able to physically show you and make sure you understand, my words have to run through the filter of how I perceive things, through the filter of how you perceive things. Then that has to be processed through your ability, and finally interpreted by your horse. So, like a game of telephone, the chances are high that what I said and what gets done are not the same.

-you could get hurt. This is the last thing any of us want. So if you ask me “how do I get my horse to stop bucking,” but your timing isn’t right or you misinterpreted the reason he bucks, and you take a spill, I would feel absolutely responsible for your injury. I don’t want you to be hurt, I want you to be safe and enjoy riding.

-you could interrupt a training program you already have going with your current trainer. Ask any trainer about this and watch their eyes roll back into their head, never to be seen again. No trainer wants to be working with a client on a program that is working, only to have them say “but YouTube Sensation So-and-So says…” I don’t want to be that person. I’m not there with your horse daily like your trainer is. So it’s best you take their advice first. Also, any good advice won’t work in fragments, so if you try to piece meal different programs together with a program that is incompatible, none of it will work.

-you could cause harm to your horse. This, along with you getting hurt, is about the worst thing I can imagine.

So don’t hesitate to reach out for help; but consider these things when asking for advice. We love to help, but we’re much more helpful in person.

Photo is of Mary Ann Downey and her lovely pony

How to Ride with Confidence

People often ask me how to “de-spook” their horses. They are afraid of their horses energy and physical capability. A horse is a powerful animal, so this fear is rational.

But a horses’ main job, after eating, is to be wary. To look out for danger. This ability has kept him alive and evolving for centuries. In my opinion, it is completely unethical to take the horse out of the horse by systematically dulling them to outside stimulus. Bombproofing clinics, methods and tools are wildly popular because the average rider grapples with fear as part of their ride experience frequently.

That being said, it’s incredible what horses can adjust to. They’ve been into battle, on ships, they pull carts and logging equipment, they work in inner city riots, they go into hospitals and nursing homes, and can handle quite a bit more than we give them credit for.

So how do you get your horse to relax and not spook? First of all, a good seat in IMPERATIVE. Even if you just trail ride, it is absolutely 100% important that you learn to ride well- at the walk, trot and canter. No way around this if you want to ride without relying on fear based control methods.

Get a strong core. See above, no way around this. If you don’t have an interest in this, might I suggest walking or a four wheeler?

Next, learn to communicate and direct your horse. Learn what bothers them, what tension and relaxation feel like under you, learn to read expression, and learn to get ahead of bother and help them come back to you mentally. You can’t just sit up there and hope for the best – you need to direct, watch, be a partner. The amount of people who say they want to be the horses boss or partner, but offer no support or direction is staggering. Direct, support, and help them.

And lastly, expose them to new things. Don’t expect the world around you to cater to your horses’ fear. Not everyone is going to call out “door” before they come into your groomed arena. Surprising things can happen when you ride – life is unpredictable. Give your horse new experiences, small pieces that they can handle, and keep doing it. When their (and your) comfort zone is not expanding, its shrinking.

After all this, ride with confidence, knowing you’ve prepared your horse, know how to sit, and can direct them through trouble if needed.

Developing Feel Means Tossing Assumptions

If you’re looking to develop feel and a really good seat, riding lots of different horses is important. It’s too easy to get complacent riding the same horse over and over, and making assumptions about how they behave and how they handle. It can get hard to strive for excellence – when you assume how much leg they are going to need based on the past, you always ride with that amount of leg, and they never have the chance to get lighter.

But when you ride a more advanced horse, or a greener horse, you can go back to your horse with fresh eyes and ride with feel, not assumptions.

Many of my students, when working with a new horse, express confusion about a particular problem, because their old horse “just did it.” So if you want to develop problem solving skills, excellent communication, and real feel, work with green horses, finished horses, and everything in between.

It’s About Balance

One of the biggest reasons I like to take horses in for training at my place as opposed to riding them where they live is control of their environment. I find with the young or troubled ones, changing their environment is half the battle. They just simply don’t do well when they are pent up in stalls, eating too much sugar, or being handled day to day in a way that doesn’t benefit them.

I find that half of their success at least is really just being set up well. A good forage and hay diet and a quiet buddy to keep stress to a minimum, plenty of space to move day and night, and frequent small sessions that don’t overwhelm. It really isn’t just about training, but about a new way of life- we interact at feeding time, and they’re learning there. They interact with a herd, and they’re learning there. We cross paths throughout my day and they’re learning – as opposed to being pulled out for one, big stressful session a day.

It’s not so much about “training” but about balancing these horses lives. The trick is for their owners to continue this balance once they go home, but if I can make that reset in their minds, they have a chance at a new and better life.

Learning In the Horse’s Time

When a horse is asked to do something, and they don’t immediately do it, we assume they are not complying. But it’s important to note horses don’t intuit our requests by nature. Pulling on a lead rope to lead forward doesn’t make sense to a horse automatically. Horses have to be taught that A leg aid means go forward. They aren’t born knowing pulling on the reins means stop. Anyone who’s worked with young horses or feral horses knows kicking and pulling leads to resistance immediately.

When I teach people, they get flustered if too much information is given too fast. “I don’t know how to do that!” They sometimes protest. Or they say they’re thinking about too much at once – doing what I ask, reading their environment, trying to figure out why it isn’t working all at once. And these are folks with big, frontal lobes made for reasoning.

Now imagine being a horse without the same reasoning capacity, and your brain is made up for fight or flight. If something doesn’t make sense, they are going to respond with what they know, or fight/flight.

If you need time to think and have exercises broken into small steps for you to understand, the same goes for a horse – you should at LEAST grant your horse the same time and simplicity you expect for learning. But more would be better.

Photo is of Mary Ann and Pollyanna, working on one thing at a time til each thing is clear.

The Truth of Your Foundation

“He doesn’t do this at home.”

This is a phrase I hear often at clinics and lessons when folks haul off the property.

The truth is that what you have off the property is just an amplified version of what you have at home. When things are quiet and the horse is in his comfort zone, you may not notice because his behavior is what you’re used to – the signs are more subtle, but they are there.

Put under stress, the horse shows the truth of his foundational work. Yes he may be scared, but a well trained horse doesn’t jump all over top of you. Yes he may be confused, but a well trained horse doesn’t run through your aids. Yes he may not be sure what’s expected of him, but a well trained horse looks to you for answers and comfort.

It’s tempting to go back to the safety of his comfort zone and blame it all on the new venue, or how the cows got out, or the loud music another boarder blasted, or the feed truck showing up during your ride, and so on and so forth. But these are the moments that show you what you’re working with.

It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s ok for the horse to have a hard time, but take note of what their habits are when they are not ok. There is the truth of your foundation.

The Top 5 Things All Riders Should Do, Regardless of Discipline

Top 5 things every rider should be able to do, regardless of discipline:

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1- Ride one handed: this comes in handy for countless situations, will refine your seat and leg aids, and is the mark of an educated horse. It’s important to be able to direct rein with one hand, which is different from neck reining.

2- Open a gate on horseback: obviously, getting on and off at every gate on a ride is exhausting; and totally unnecessary. Refine your horses understanding of moving his front and hind end and get him gentler and handier by working a gate! Don’t shy away from a little challenge!

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3- Move a cow: you may never realistically need this skill in your life, true, but there is no feeling like being able to move stock on horseback. Improve your communication with your horse and build his confidence! Show your horse there is a reason behind the movements we practice by putting them to work.

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4- Gallop: this is a tough one, seeing as so many riders are reluctant to even canter. But being able to gallop takes your relationship with your horse to the next level. Practicing dialing their energy back up and back down improves safety, control, and confidence. If you never allow them to gallop, what happens when you’re in a gallop you hadn’t intended to get into? Embrace the speed. Remember when it used to be really fun to go fast?

5- Ride on uneven terrain: get out of the comfort of groomed arenas and ride out on different footing. Lots of different kinds. Enjoy the scenery and improve your horses balance by schooling on hills, trails, fields, and whatever else you can get access to. Keep training fresh and interesting, build better strength and coordination and avoid mindless drilling in an arena. You’ll find your performance in the arena dramatically improved!

The Guru Syndrome

In the horse world, as in others, there is a desire for people to group in to “camps” and follow someone whose teaching they like. There is nothing wrong with this, until it becomes a blind type of following. People get excited about the ideas of some teacher, and start to believe that person holds the key to their success above all others.

The truth is, there isn’t much new training information out there. We have learned a ton about horses biomechanics, brains, and care and keeping, but the training ideas many of us use are centuries old. Nothing I use on a daily basis I can take credit for. Even if I stumble onto something that works, surely someone before me has thought of it and employed it. I don’t take credit for any methods I employ, or my philosophies. They aren’t unique to me. Of course every person makes them their own and their individual styles effect the results they get.

I think of myself as a teacher, and my job is to help other folks understand how to get along with horses to the best of my knowledge and ability. The thing is, both of those things change constantly. What I think of as good for the horse now might not be the same as next year. My interest is not for folks to “follow me” or take my word as gospel, because I may be wrong. My hope is to give people tools to get along better, observe more, and take it from there. Not to follow my “system,” because it isn’t mine.

The amount of ego in the horse training industry is baffling when you think about It this way, because the credit belongs to the horses we’ve learned from along the way, and the pioneers of horse training throughout the centuries who’s trial and error we stand on. Aside from the amount of personal work we have put in to learn, there is no credit to be had. And as far as skill goes, anyone can have it. The difference between me and the beginner is only hours of practice. They can have it too. I am not more special than anyone else, nor is any expert. Though some folks are more naturally inclined to have good feel, I believe anyone can have it.

So as you’re learning, learn from everyone you can. Take what you wouldn’t do, what you would do, and what you hope you can someday do, and sort through it. But don’t put your teachers on a pedestal, and walk away from anyone who looks down on your skill level. The difference between you and them is only a matter of practice.