Saturday, December 4, 2010

Radio for the Horse Lover

If you are trolling around the Internet, looking for entertaining ways to expand your equestrian horizons, make sure you check out the new--and free!!!!--radio show HORSES IN THE MORNING.

HORSES IN THE MORNING comes to you Monday - Friday, from 9 to 10:30 AM EST. Hosted by "America's Horse Husband," Glenn Hebert, along with his two lively co-hots, Helena and Jamie, the podcast comes to you courtesy of the great folks behind HORSE RADIO NETWORK.

At HORSES IN THE MORNING, there's a little bit of something for every horse lover, regardless of your discipline. Recent episodes have showcased Fairland Ferguson, one of the stars of "Cavalia," along with recommendations on the best Christmas gifts for the equestrian.

Other recent episodes have provided lively discussions on equine art (both painting and photography), training techniques, safety, and the eternal quest on how to properly train your horse husband.

The show's 2011 schedule is sure to be pumped full of more great equine info, delivered with lively debate and good humor.

You can even become a part of the HORSES IN THE MORNING crew by calling in with your questions or comments. The call- in number, also featured prominently on the HORSES IN THE MORNING player window, is 347-637-3238.

You can even listen to HORSES IN THE MORNING on your way to work, to the barn, or even while you're putting some elbow grease into your horse's winter coat by downloading them to your iPod or MP3 player. The link to do so is also conveniently located on their site.

Don't miss out on HORSES IN THE MORNING, your five-day-a-week link to what's new and exciting in your favorite world, that of the horse!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Alternative therapies for the horse's aching back

People use non-traditional alternatives to Western medicine all the time: there's massage, chiropractic work, acupressure, acupuncture, and, for the really adventurous, even magnets. As a devotee of acupuncture, who has used this ancient Eastern art to ease back pain as well as severe tendonitis in my knees, I know the benefits of thinking out side the box.

So when our new horse, Scarlett, started showing signs that her "cinchiness" was turning into full-blown attitude, along the lines of I'm-going-to-eat-you-if-you-put-that-saddle-on-my-back, I knew I was dealing with something more than a horse that didn't like the girth tightened.

But when I started thinking about alternative equine measures to help her, I had no idea in which direction I should head. Should I go for chiropractic? Or would massage be better? What was the general opinion about the effectiveness of equine acupuncture? And how do you know which practitioners truly produce results?

Add to all those questions the fact that, with kids in college, I didn't want to fork over an endless stream of cash to make my horse better.

So I did the smart thing: 1) I went to Bay Area Equestrian Network, the fabulous horse resource for Northern California, where I live. There I researched names under alternative therapies. 2) I called my vet to see if they had ever heard of someone I found right in my own backyard.

"Yes," said my vet. "April Battles is the real deal."

So, by God's good graces, I had found April Battles, an equine body worker who combines the best of all worlds--a little chiropractic theory, a little acupressure theory, a little qi (pronounced "chi") theory, a little massage theory, and a lot of intuivtive spirit.

Best of all, during my initial phone conversation with April, she didn't tell me it was going to cost an armload of money to make Scarlett feel better.

"I charge $80 for an hour," explained April, who has helped horses across the nation and in Canada. "And when I leave, you're going to know how to do what I do so you can continue the work and continue helping your horse heal."

Say what? She wasn't going to tell me that she was the only one who could work on Scarlett? It wasn't going to cost me my first-born's college tuition?

In the time between our phone call and our actual appointment, April asked me to go to her YouTube channel, Holistic Horse Works. There, she has a video showing her evaluating a horse. This allowed me to see how she works.

Even better, she has posted there--FOR FREE--a short video demonstrating moves you can do with your horse to improve mobility, flexibility, balance, and overall comfort.

This "Yoga for Horses" video is just a few minutes long. And it has truly changed Scarlett's outlook on life.

It has now been exactly one week since April Battles first brought her equine body work methods to my little mare. In one week, the changes in Scarlett have been numerous and, wuite frankly, amazing.

--Before April's visit, Scarlett could never stand with all four feet square (an indication, April says, that the horse is out of alignment and probably is in pain, or at least discomfort).

Now Scarlett stands square almost all the time, on her on and when I'm on her.

--Before, saddling meant a glaring contest in which Scarlett stared at me with ears laid flat, waiting for an opportunity to bite me. Her tail would switch back and forth, and the back leg would threaten to kick out. It was truly scary and made me seriously consider selling her for any price. Fifty cents anyone?

Now, I put the saddle on and it is 180 degrees from what I was dealing with before. No tail switching, no threat of biting, no threat of getting kicked. As far as cinching her up, she doesn't even notice. I will admit that she is still a little touchy about taking the saddle off, but this just tells me I have more work to do. but the progress is amazing.

--Before April (and this is the most telling sign that something physical was up with the little mare), Scarlett could not take the left lead. For anything.

Now, left lead is taken easily and cheerfully so! An added bonus is that her overall canter feels much smoother and more balanced.

--Before April, Scarlett's coat was dull and very thick, a fact I attributed to winter. Yesterday, I was astounded to notice that Scarlett's coat has a gleam to it, so much so that she looked like she was basking in the warmth of June, rather than the chilly winds of November. Obviously, what is happening with her in terms of the muculoskeletal aspects is affecting not just her insides, but also her outsides. It's just so evident.

I am now using daily yoga on all four of our horses. I am a firm convert. What I love most is that April (unlike the chiropractor who recently worked on me) did not tell me I had to have her back right away. She didn't tell me I had to have Scarlett seen four times in four days. Quite the opposite, she left me feeling like I could do all this for my horse on my own.

If you want to give a great Christmas gift to the horse person in your life (or the horse) I am recommending everyone buy April's one-hour DVD, "Your Horses are Talking--Are You Listening?"

This DVD shows you how to work on your horse yourself, using simple exercises and Myofascial releases. Click here to order the DVD now.

I am here to tell you, it works!

It's what will be in the stockings of all our Standardbreds this Christmas. And Quarter Horses. And Arabs. And Half-Arabs. And Thoroughbreds. And...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yoga for your horse

14-year-old Little Scarlett, who is a perfect candidate for alternative spinal therapies such as equine yoga, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, or chiropractic care.

We recently acquired a darling little 14-year-old mare with four, flashy white socks--and a bad attitude. Every time I even walk toward this horse with a saddle, her ears go back. Putting the saddle on, getting OFF her back, and then taking the saddle off are all exercises in risk.

After eliminating the possibility of poor saddle fit, I began probing deeper. In the interest of doing the best by my four-legged friends, I have finally decided to take the same approach I take with my own body. And that means alternative therpy options.

The good news for me is that I found a nationally known holistic horse therapist right in my own back yard. I will let you all know how that appointment goes (it's tomorrow!). But until that time, here is a great YouTube video, created by equine therapist April Battles.

This comes to you FREE courtesy of the YouTube Channel of Holistic Horse Works, located in Greenwood, CA.

If you have been considering equine chiropractic, equine acupuncture or acupressure, equine massage, or some other form of equine alternative therapy--or if you simply want your horse to be as comfortable as possible--please take the time to click here and catch this great little video, giving you a sage addition to your pre-riding program.

Also, check out more about holistic horse practitioner, April Battles, at her website, Holistic Horse Works. There you will find a lot more information about alternative equine therapies, as well as the latest info on how to keep your horse's spine healthy--and your horse happy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Standardbred leans on my hands: using the one-rein stop to soften

I love my readers! They ask really great questions, usually ones that every other Standardbred owner can relate to.

This week's letter comes from Shari in Spokane:

"I've seen your posts about flexing, and that has really helped my 8-year-old Standardbred gelding soften up a lot. However, when he starts trotting, he can really pull on my hands. It feels like he's leaning on my hands when I ask him to slow down or go from the trot to the walk. I don't want to put a stronger bit on him. I want him to listen to me in the snaffle. Can you give me any suggestions?"

Thanks, Shari, for the question. And the smartest thing you said is that you don't want to put a stronger bit on him. You are right. It will solve your problem to some extent. But at the bottom of it all is the fact that your horse is not soft to the bit. A stronger bit will not lighten him up. It will only strong-arm him into slowing down. We want to use a different strategy.

You also said, "it feels like he's leaning on my hands." He is--and you will never win. At least not if you are trying to stop him using both reins. Now, for the more advanced horse, there is something called the half-halt, which I've used in both dressage and in the hunter ring to lighten a horse, as well as help him collect and balance himself. This is a two-handed move, but it is exectued with the speed of a lightening strike. Not with the power, however. More on that in another post...

Shari rides Western and also has a green horse. She needs to focus on basics.

Why two reins create problems When a rider asks a horse to slow or transition down by pulling on both reins at the same time, the horse can often feel trapped, and old instincts will kick in. Your horse's neck and head were originally designed to be able to resist the weight of moutain lion or other predator. When you pull back with both reins, his natural reaction is to say, "Oh no, you don't." And he will stick his nose out, lean on you, and do whatever else he can to resist you.

It's a battle you will never win, simply by virture of the fact that his conformation makes him so very much stronger than you.

A quick fix is the one-rein stop. But first you should work on getting your horse to be light on the ground. To learn about flexing on the ground, please click here.

Once you have learned to flex your horse from the ground, you are ready to move on to flexing in the saddle. Using a plain snaffle that fits correctly, here is the basic idea: while your horse is standing still and you are mounted up, shorten the right rein and bring it to your right pocket (make sure the left rein is loose so your horse can easily turn his head to the right).

When your horse softens to the point where his nose is on your boot, release the rein and reward him by stroking his neck and offering verbal praise. Of course, his greatest reward is that you have let go of the rein. The pressure comes off (and the reward comes out) when he does what you asked.

Now do the same thing on the left. Shorten the left rein, draw you hand to your pcket. When your horse's nose is on your boot, release the rein.

When you are first teaching this, stay with one rein at a time, putting in three or four nose-to-boot efforts on the right before switching to the other rein. As you progress, you can ask your horse to flex from side to side, one nose-to-boot effort at a time.

I do this exercise over and over and over and over. And I do it every time I get on, no matter how schooled the horse is. It warms up the neck muscles, helps your horse maintain suppleness, AND it keeps him light to your hand.

HELPFUL HINT: If, when you start this exercise, you horse tries to get out of the work by turning in a small circle, just hold onto the rein until he stops moving his feet. He will, eventually, stop moving his feet. I promise.) As soon as he puts his nose to your boot while standing quietly, release the rein.

The One-Rein Stop
The one-rein stop is actually very easy to do and is similar to what you did in the flexing exercise. Let's imagine you ask your horse to trot or canter. Although you are looking for a nice, controled rhythm, your horse has decided what you really mean is, "Go as fast as you can."

The instant that you feel him starting to speed up and lean on your hands, immeidately shut him down by pulling back on the outside rein. If you are on the trail, use either rein, but NEVER both together. By pulling only on one rein, he has nothng to fight against. He will not want to continue moving forward and will quickly learn to stop and submit to your hand.

If you have a horse with a long-standing habit of running away with you or pulling against your reins, this may take a week or more of very consistent work, at least 30 minutes a day. But what will happen is that your horse will quickly learn: "Every time I start to go really fast, she stops me. Every time I stick my nose out and try to lean on the reins, she uses that one rein and stops me. And since she's doing it with one rein, I might end up with my nose looking at my tail. Boy, it's hard to run off when I'm in that position. So maybe I'll just stop. It seems easier to just go slow."

When you first start practicing this, you might find that your horse turns in the direction of the one rein you hve used to stop him. Don't get too upset about this, even if it means you end up facing the opposite direction. Keep your leg on the girth, on the same side as the rein you are using, to encourage your horse to move forward. But straightness can come later. If he turns, just quietly turn him back in the direction you want to go. After you've gotten your horse to lighten up, you can work on straightness. Stop first, straightness later.

My husband had a wonderful Quarter Horse mare he used for search and rescue. When she came to us, Lady's mouth was so locked up, riding her was like dealing with a ton of rocks. She could pull against her rider like nobody's business. You could never, ever take your hands off the reins or she was off like a rocket ship. The one-rein stop changed this mare's life (and ours, because our arms didn't ache anymore!). I hope it will help you, too.

Be patient, make lightness you only mission for the next couple weeks, and see if this helps.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Catching your horse in the act of "doing it right"

This darling, exhausted little fellow is Harley, the newest addition to my family of (now) two Golden Retrievers, four horses, three kids (all off at college), and Best Husband in the World.

Harley started his training the day he came to live with us, at eight weeks of age. He is now 13 weeks and knows how to come, sit, take food without leaping into the air in spins worthy of Superman, and to walk politely on a leash. "Stay" may take a little longer.

Much of my training program revolves around catching Harley in the act of doing a behavior on his own that I would like him to do on my command.

For example, as we morphed from "sit" to "down," I looked for times when Harley had decided, on his own, that it was time rest his, uh, er, "dogs," also known as legs.

If I saw Harley in the down position, I began to lavish crazy praise on him, saying, "down, good down," over and over while rubbing enthusiastically on his chest.

This has proven extremely effective in terms of chewing. If I see him chewing something that's a no-no, like, say, our dining room table, I promptly put an approved chew toy in his mouth. The minute he takes the toy, I praise him. If he's just hanging out, playing with one of his toys, I also praise him.

By catching Harley in the act, he has learned much faster and I have had absolutely no frustration.

As you are training your Standardbred to transition from harness racer to saddle horse, catching her in the act of behaviors you want her to learn is a very good way to help your four-legged friend learn faster.

I got an opportunity to put this into action yesterday. My wonderful mare, Cordealia, has been on stall rest for several months now. She has, at last, been given the green light to return to work. Yesterday, the first day I put her back into the round pen at liberty, all she wanted to do was canter.

And pace. Grrrr.

Cordealia (aka "Cori") has been off the track for almost four years now. She has had extensive saddle training and, before stall rest came along, was working very well in some upper level dressage moves. She rides both English and Western. She is light and responsive. She does not pace.

Yet, there she was, full of vinegar. And pacing. Did I already say "Grrrr?"

My reaction was to prohibit her from pacing by forcing her into the canter every time she paced. However, I couldn't just let her canter forever, because it was her first day out. I didn't need to re-injure herself. But neither did I want her to think that the pace was a good thing.

My plan of attack, then, was to ignore the pace. Every time she paced, I stood very quietly. I did not give her any reason to go faster. In fact, I kind of acted like I was trying to be invisible.

As I knew it would, there came a moment, about four minutes into a pacing episode, when she broke into a trot. At that moment, I applied the "Harley Rules." I lavished her with praise, singing out to her, "Trot, yes, good trot, good trot." Over and over and over.

This method of "catching her in the act" will help Cordealia get back into trotting mode very quickly.

If you are trying to teach your pacer to become a trotter, think about catching your horse in the act and then rewarding that behavior lavishly. The "Harley Rule" applies for anything you are trying to teach your horse. Catch her in the act, then reward, making sure to identify the behavior specifically with "good trot" or "canter, good canter."

Monday, April 12, 2010


The economy stinks, especially for horses. Case in point: A beautiful
Standardbred mare I started about a year ago and sold to a nice family has come back onto the market, due to the father losing his job.
Given the state of the horse market, this mare will go FREE to the right home.

Sammi is 7-years old, sound, bay with white on all four socks. She is very pretty and refined and has a very soft mouth. She neck reins, responds to voice commands, and has a ton of trail miles on her. She was started by the author of this blog and has been ridden by a 13-year-old girl for the last several months.
Her teeth were done the first week of April, 2010 and she is up to date of all worming and vaccines. Althought she has been ridden primarily under Western tack, she has been started in dressage.
Would make a very nice trail trial or pleasure horse. Needs finishing, although very nicely started.
For the entire history on this lovely mare, please contact Anastasia at Or call 530/889-9599.

She is located currently in Santa Ynez in Southern California, but could be brought to the Bay Area.

Where to Start: where to begin with your new Standardbred, Part II

Okay, way back in March, I said I was going to post Part II of the burning question: Where to start with your new Standardbred.

My apologies to those of you who were waiting for a post a lot sooner than the one you are getting today. But, at last, here I am.

To recap Part I, my advice on where to start with your new Standardbred is two-fold:

#1) Get educated. Ground work is a fundamental part of traning your Standardbred (or any horse). If you don't know how to properly work a horse in a round pen or on a longe line, educate yourself on the ins and outs by either working with a reputable trainer, by watching DVDs (I had several recommendations in my last post), or by doing both!

#2) Get yourself in shape. I'm a stickler on this one, folks. If you want your horse to work hard for you and give you his all, you should at least be willing to do the same by being healthy, fit, and weight appropriate. 'Nuff said there.

As for today, I'd like to talk about the basics of working in the round pen or on the longe line. Specicially, we're going to deal with correctly position ing your body relavtive to the horse.

A Common Mistake A few months ago, I got a call from Alyssa, who said that every time they worked on the longe line, the mare stopped and just would not go consistently in a circle.

I hear this a lot. And, as they say in the airlines, it's totally pilot error. In other words, it's not the horse's fault, but rather a problem created by the human on the ground.

The reason Alyssa's mare was stopping and refusing to go around in a circle was due to the fact that Alyssa was standing in front of the drive line. By poisiton her body in front of the horse's drive line, she was telling the mare to stop and turn in.

Drive line defined Simply put, the drive line is an imaginary line that extends from the horse to you and allows you to "push" your horse forward in a circle.
Imagine yourself in the round pen. Now imagine an upside-down triangle, with the tip touching you in the center of the ring. If you think back to your days in geometry class, you'll remember there are a variety of triangles. The one you seek for the purposes of longe line or round pen work is a right triange. In other words, one corner of the triange is at 90 degrees.
If you look at the diagram to the left, that little circle in the center is YOU. See how the drive line extends toward the horse's shoulder, yet you are positioned more toward the haunches?
This position allows you to "drive" the horse forward. Thus the magical phrase, the drive line.
When you step in front of your horse's shoulders, you are telling her to change her speed and possibly even her direction. A bit of coaching over the phone helped me determine that Alyssa was standing too far forward, at an angle closer to her mare's shoulder than to her haaunches. That is why Alyssa's horse kept stopping short. The way Alyssa positioned her body told her mare to do exactly that--stop.
This is a critical key to successful longing or round pen work. It is also one of the most common mistales. among people new to longing or round pen work.
Working on the ground will help give your new Standardbred discipline, and also encourage the trust between you. As explained at length in previous posts, this is where you Standardbred will develop confidence, learn to react to your vocal commands, and learn to use his body in a new way. It is the first step in his new life as a riding horse and wonderful companion, so it's critical that you make sure you are doing it right.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My new Standardbred: Where should I start? PART ONE

Standardbred mare, Sammi, just a few weeks after leaving the track, crosses the American River in the Sierra Foothills. Her bravery is directly related to the confidence she gained from working at liberty in the round pen.


I recently received a really nice email from Stacey Parkes, who lives in the UK. Her fiance and his family own and race Standardbreds (they own the record holding trotter Stas Hazelaar, and also race pacers). Lucky Stacey has just been given one of the Standardbreds, a mare, who has been retired from the track and is ready for a new life as a saddle horse.

Stacey had a lot of questions for me on a variety of issues, including:
~ how to deal with separation anxiety from other horses
~ how to get a horse into a canter
~how to get a horse to go over a fence as opposed to through it
~how to get a nervous horse to trust you
~ how to slow down the trot...and more.

I had to laugh. The list was endless, all the questions were good, and I was thrilled to hear someone admit she needs help. Asking for guidance (instead of thinking you know it all) is a great sign of wisdom, to say nothing of grace. After re-training many Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds off the track--and competing them to very high levels--I know one thing: I still don't know it all!

Because she had a pretty long list of questions, I asked Stacey to narrow it down. She wrote me back:

First I just want to start by saying thanks for providing a great website with easy to follow training info for standie owners etc etc..... I've looked at quite a few websites and some training techniques arent clearly stated and are somewhat confusing - but browsing through some of your posts, I was impressed by articles which clearly showed some of the 'terminology,' along with great phtos. I found your advice easier to follow than what I've found elsewhere.

(Thanks so much, Stacey! That's my goal--promote the breed through education!)

Stacey continues:

I have researched immensely on re-training a stb to be a riding mount. So as you can imagine at the moment , it's a million and 1 things swimming around in my brain. I just wanted to know what is the very very first initial thing I need to start off with, in regards to tack to put on them - ground work, trot etc etc? As I have never trained a stb before so it's a learning curve for me. I shall be checking your website frequently for further tips and advice - its great!!

Okay, so Stacey has a great question: what are the first steps you should take with your new, off-the-track Standardbred?

I want to get down to the bare bones on this question, so I really gave it some thought. The first thing that popped into my head was "round pen work to develop your horse's trust, help him grow his confidence, and learn to balance himself while bonding with you." As you can tell from my many posts, I am a huge proponent of round pen work, in which the horse is at liberty.

But Stacey's question made me think...what is really the first thing a new Standardbred owner should do?

And the answer for me is "Educate yourself."

What I mean by this is read, watch DVDs, take lessons, go to clinics, do whatever you can to make sure you are giving your horse clear messages, whether on the ground or in the saddle. A majority of the problems I see between Standardbreds and their owners is that the rider has no experience in gentling a horse and developing trust in the natural horsemanship tradition--or they have developed bad habits, both on the ground and in the saddle.

So where to start: I always like to start my Standardbreds in the round pen. If you don't have a round pen, then a longe line is the next best thing. I have posted many training articles on working with your horse in the round. However, where you place your body is a subtle and critical key to success.

If you don't know if you are "doing it right," your horse will let you know. You will find him turning into you when you don't want him to, not responding to your voice commands, no staying in a consistent direction, not putting his eyes on you--all signs that you are sending mixed messages and that you are using body language that is confusing your horse.

If your horse has clearly shown you that you are confusing him, take a private lesson or a clinic with a reputable pro. If you don't have enough money for some lessons, then watch DVDs. There are many equine outlets these days that rent good training DVDs. Here in the US, Stateline Tack has started renting DVDs. I'm sure there are similar businesses in your area. Renting is a great low-cost way to get yourself some good, solid training.

I have two favorite clinicians for round pen work, regardless of whether you are going to ride English or Western. They are Clinton Anderson and Stacy Westfall.

Further to education, all of us, regardless of how long you have ridden, can use a tune-up in the saddle. It is amazing how little things can creep up on you. The simple act of sliding your leg slightly forward can cause HUGE problems for your horse. I see this so much when people come to me saying their horse is hanging on their hands.

Let me say it this way: if your horse is having a problem, it is my experiene that there is a better than 90% chance it is the fault of the rider. So take a lesson or two to make sure your position is not the reason your horse is struggling.

If you cannot afford a lesson, it's back to the DVDs. Again, I will recommend Clinton Anderson and Stacy Westfall. They have many DVDs that can help you with your position.

For English riders, you will be in excellent hands with Jane Savoie's excellent series "The Happy Horse." It is expensive (upwards of $600) but Jane's lessons, astride her splendid Friesian, Moshi, are easy to understand, present riding foundations in a simple way, and heck, it's from an Olympic level rider with a superior reputation. I did not like the price, but have to confess I use these DVDs all the time, for myself, as well as for students who need reinforcement after a lesson.

Don't forget RFD TV! Last, if you have cable (online if you live outside of the USA) check out the great shows on RFD TV. Clinton Anderson, the very excellent Julie Goodnight, Chris Cox, and more. There are numerous clinicians here with invaluable advice...all included in your cable package. Check with your television provider to find out what station RFD TV is on--these people aren't just horse friendly. They're horse crazy--just like me.

My Touchy Subjectj-The Fat Horseback Rider Last, I'd like to suggest to readers that being ready to train your horse is not just a matter of getting your brain in gear. Your body plays an enormous part in your relationship--and your success--with your horse. If you know you need to get into better shape, then make a committment to start today. If you're in denial, then just think about how you would feel if you were on all fours and a person that weighed a lot put all her weight onto your spine. You wouldn't be happy. Neither does your horse enjoy carrying someone who weighs more than she should.

Every time I bring this up, I get a slew of emails from outraged readers who say they ride just fine weighing too much. And their horse doesn't mind either. Really? He told you that?

I speak on this subject from experience. Due to an illness and medication, I weighed 205 pounds about 11 years ago. By writing down every morsel of food I ate and every bit of exercise I expended, I lost 79 of those pounds. I have been able to keep it by a simple equation: burn more calories out of my body than I take in. Adn track it.

I can tell you that I am a far better rider at 129 than I was at 205. And that my wonderful horses, who give me so much, are much happier and have less stress on their spines.

Okay, off my soapbox I go. If you are interested in losing some weight and would like to get motivated, check out This is the site I use to keep on track with my eating and exercise. It's FREE!

This great website has nutrition trackers, exercise trackers, and great forums and message borads that support you in your quest to be healthy. Don't know how to put together an exercise program? They can help. And again, it's all FREE!

So get out there, train your brain and your body, and riding success with your new Standardbred is one step closer!

Next week: Part II on where to start with your new Standardbred. Check back on March 12!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Girls and Horses: Best photos ever

What is it?
What is it with girls and horses?

So sings country girl/horse lover Templeton Thompson in her hit song.

Those of us who love horses (not just Standardbreds, but horse of all shapes, sizes, colors and breeds)...we "get it."

But a few months ago, I got the question again, this time from the dad of two horse crazy girls who ride with me.

"I just don't, I don't know..." The dad paused, scratched his head. "I just don't get it. I mean, what's it doing for them?"

Ooo...don't get me started!
I said, "They are learning responsibility, compassion, perseverance, courage, and discipline. They are learning to overcome fears, to think of something other than themselves. They are learning how to use their bodies in an athletic manner. They are developing core strength, balance, and centeredness that is both physical and mental."

But these photos of 10-year-old Emma say it all. Emma is learning how to ride on board Max,. Max is older sister Olivia's horse. Oliva is now focusing on training her new, young Standardbred/Friesian cross. Which means Max is now helping Emma learn to ride.
Max. who is in his early 20's, was born in Washington State under the name Paragon. This big, buttery chestnut thoroughbred followed his short, unremarkable racing career with very remarkable forays into show jumping, three-day eventing, fox hunting and drssage. He and former owner Evie Holt took first place at Pony Club Nationals in Freestyle Dressage when Max was 16 years of age..

And now, he lives a quiet life with a loving family, who appreciates how this gentle giant takes care of "his girls. " He helped give Olivia the skills she is now using to train her new horse; now Emma is following the same path.
So, along with all my usual reasons for the girl-horses combination--and what we learn from them--here comes Emma to remind me of the ultimate reason we love horses and love riding them.
It's the joy! It's all about the joy!

I'm keeping this photo on my desk, where I can see it all the time. There is simply no way I can be in bad mood when I look at it!
Thanks, Emma, for lifting my heart!

Monday, January 4, 2010

My horse is too fast and doesn't accept the bit! Help!

In my last post, I talked about an email I had received from a Standardbred owner in Slovenia. Valerija wrote that her STB mare was pulling hard on her hands, not accepting the bit, and going too fast.

This is one of those situations where you must treat your horses like a totally green, untrained animal. In other words, you start over.

One of the first steps I take in working with any horse, regardless of its level of training, is flexing. I do this with a rope halter and then in the bridle. I do it with all my horses, every single time I ride. If there are days when I am too busy to ride, I will spend at least 20 minute sin the round pen doing ground work. This flexing exercise is a cornerstone of that work. (To read about how to flex your horse in the halter, click here to return to last week's post.)

Flexing your horse teaches her to be sensitive to the bit. It teaches her that when she releases to the pressure, the pressure will come off. Valerija's horse, Suzi, has learned to pull against the bit. Valerija's job, therefore, is to re-train Suzi--starting with flexing.

Let's assume that you have spent a week or so working with your horse on last week's flexing exercicse and now, she is very responsive to flexing in the halter. Now it's time for you to flex while your horse is in the bridle.

It is important that you have a gentle bit in your horse's mouth for this exercise. You will want to use a plain snaffle that is correctly fitted to your horse's mouth.

STEP ONE: As you did when flexing with the rope halter, you want to stand at your horse's side, slightly behind the withers. Start by taking hold of your closest rein and pulling it, gently but firmly toward your horse's back. If your horse starts pulling on you, you can gain leverage by firmly placing your hand on her back, behind the withers. If you horse tries to avoid the work by turning her haunches, just stick with her. Do not drop the rein. Just stay with it. She will eventually stop and then look for some other way to get away from the pressure. You will show her how to do that in the subsequent steps.


STEP TWO: Take a little more hold of your rein so that your horse must turn her head toward you.

Here, Cori is just about to touch her nose to her belly. The minute she does this, I will drop the rein completely to reward her. I will also stroke her face and neck to let her know that she did the right thing.
STEP FOUR: The Release! Notice here that my rein is soft. I am just now preparing to completely release the rein as Cori's reward for softening.
With young horses, or horses new to this exercise, I will perform the flex five or six times on both sides of the horse. I will usually then move on to another exercise to change the pace, after which I will again return to flexing. I can almost say that you can never do too much flexing.
The next step is to perform this same exercise in the saddle. While you are mounted, and before you do anything else, ask your horse to flex. To do this you will take a firm but gentle hold of one rein. The other rein should be very loose to allow your horse to fully flex. If you are, for example, working with the right rein, you want to bring that rein to your right pants pocket or hip. The instant your horse yields to you, release the rein. and reward your horse with your voice as well as your hand.
I like to do this once on the right rein, then the left, then the right, then the left.

Flexing teaches your horse to soften to the bit. Done correctly, flexing also teaches the horse that when he gives to you, you will give to him, in turn.
Next: teach your horse "whoa," "slow," and "go."