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Short post - two videos!

Posted on 16 September, 2014 at 13:45 Comments comments (48)
Quick post today - Just a few videos of two of my current students!

Katie riding Brandy
Katie started learning to jump as part of a school project! She is doing wonderful!

Stacey riding Albert
Stacey has been an excellent rider for Albert! He really loves her patience and compassion.

Raising the bar

Posted on 3 July, 2014 at 14:06 Comments comments (109)
It has been a while since I have written a blog entry. For up-to-date news and events, check out my Facebook page! 

I have been working with Epona on jumping. I believe that she enjoys it! Teaching a horse to jump is not as easy as you may think. First we build a foundation with trot poles, strengthening the horses back muscles. Then comes gymnastics work. Gymnastics are a very useful tool. Usually a gymnastic exercise (also referred to as a grid) includes a few different elements. When I set up a grid, I usually include trot poles at the beginning and at least two jumps. There are endless ways to vary a gymnastic exercise. 

Most beneficial is that you (at first) set the jumps so that they come naturally in the horse's comfortable stride. This lets the horse relax and not worry about *when* to takeoff. Also, generally speaking, this allows the rider to work on their position, or practice a better release... or even try riding with no hands! (please don't try this without a professional)

Well, because of the good "homework" I have done with Epona, she has a huge amount of confidence and has worked up to be able to jump consistently in the range of 3'3" jumps (including oxers)

Here is a little pic of us popping over a 3'3" oxer last night.  I had to improvise with equipment as we have surpassed the top hole on the front standards. 

Epona has come quite a long way from the ball of nerves who would flinch if you even looked at her in the paddock. She now trail rides, has been to schooling shows, trailers great, body clips, stands for the vet and farrier, and even has taken an amateur rider over jumps!

Stay tuned for more updates - our next schooling show is July 26th!

Epona Update

Posted on 4 November, 2013 at 18:27 Comments comments (63)
Well it has been a while since I wrote anything on here!!! I have 2 videos I have made of her progress, but even those are outdated! The first one is of the first two weeks, basically groundwork, some desensitizing to equipment and some exercising and free jumping.

At that point, I could tell she was sensitive, smart and curious. She was very wary of trusting humans. It took me several days to get her to let me catch her. She still does not come running to the gate to meet anyone, but at least she doesn't cringe when a human looks at her. She really enjoyed the free jumping sessions. It seemed to be a lesson that clicked quickly for her. 

The second video I made is a bit longer, because it includes some footage of the first few rides. She is still somewhat easily startled, but generally just green. She reacted to the velcro on my gloves the first few times, and various other strange things. Once she realizes she isn't going to get hurt, she really gets bold and confident. 

Since those videos, We have done a TON! I have jumped her in tiny gymnastics, gone over trot poles, worked on desensitization with different arena obstacles (see pic) and over an arena bridge as well. She has a lot of muscle and confidence to build but it is coming along wonderfully!!! I have ridden her down a small trail connected to our barn, and she was great! I only had to work with her on trailer loading once, and she has been fin ever since. Even her first bareback ride went well!!

Most recently, I took her out to a local trail park with about 10 miles of trails for horses. I was cautious and advised people that I may want to stick to a walk, since she can sometimes be more spooky than others. She wasn't though! She took off with a nice calm walk into the lead! Unfortunately, a horse we were with would get VERY nervous if not in the lead, so we had to forfeit that role. She was wonderful though, and we walked, and trotted, and cantered! She even was fine going into the water. She enjoyed that a lot, and stuck nearly her whole head in to splash around. 

Hopefully my next entry won't be so long overdue! Have a great week folks! 

New training horse!

Posted on 29 August, 2013 at 13:40 Comments comments (122)
Hi there!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of heading up north a little ways to pick up a lovely Grey Mare. She is a 4 year old Arabian, barely halter broke. She is still trying to help us figure out what her name is. :)

Right now she is probably out in her quarantine paddock, staring at her neighbor wondering what happened... A few days ago she was kept in a roundpen, possibly lonely, but the horse that got the short end of the stick due to lack of time to train. She is still very leery of humans and wonders if we are all out to trick her and scare her. She will be an absolute pleasure to work with, just have to get over the initial "TRUST ME" phase. 

Here she is at her old place, hanging out, just doin' horse stuff... :)

I would not consider her a "blank slate" per se, but a very nice project, right up my alley. She reminds me of a story I was told when I first started training horses. Imagine a horse's mind as a fishbowl, filled with marbles. Every time you work with a horse, the mindset you get is determined by reaching into the fishbowl and grabbing a marble. White marbles represent pure, trusting, happy thoughts, events and behaviors. Black marbles represent negative thoughts, events, and memories. While you work with the horse, no matter what you do, you have the opportunity to change the color of the marble for that day. When you put the horse away, you put that marble back and add a marble to the jar representing that days events, and it then affects the odds the next time you take a marble out. 

I believe this mare has mostly black marbles in her fishbowl, but not many marbles in total. I do not believe she has been worked with very much. So I am going to work on just putting in more white marbles. :)

Schooling Show

Posted on 24 June, 2013 at 19:03 Comments comments (32)
Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a lovely stable south of the Twin Cities near Rochester, MN. Turn Crest Stable is a wonderful lesson barn that hosts a few schooling shows each season. They have tidy facilities and the horses are all happy and healthy! 

Due to the weather, the show had been modified only slightly, holding the flat classes in the indoor arena and the Over Fences Classes in the outdoor arena. It was really nice that they had the flexibility to be able to accommodate the show even with all the rain we have gotten! 

It was a lovely show, I missed the morning classes but the afternoon classes were great to watch, several quality horses and ponies were competing. This particular show was part of the WWHSA, and included a medal prep class. All of the horses and riders had a wonderful time, in addition to all the family members and friends there for help and support. 

I will definitely return to this facility in the future, and recommend you do the same :)


Posted on 26 April, 2013 at 10:03 Comments comments (24)
Mud, mud, mud, and more mud!!!

I have learned first hand that mud is not a problem isolated to one area. Many people have to deal with springtime mud. And here in Minnesota it is no different. We really needed the extra moisture so that our grass can actually grow, but mother nature decided instead of giving it to us over the course of winter, she would just snow a little (a LOT) extra in the spring instead. We were in drought conditions going into spring, and now we are not. That is a lot of moisture. 

Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about care of the horse when it is muddy out. Some things can be overlooked if you cut corners. If you have any additional advice to share, feel free to leave a comment! :)

Small injuries can be hidden under a thick layer of dried mud. I am not suggesting you meticulously scrape every speck of mud off, but just use a brush to get the worst of it off, and run your hand down the horse's leg. In most cases he will show you is there is an injury. 

As most horse-owners know, injuries usually have heat and swelling. Mud can disguise this, and make it harder to notice. If your horse is at risk for injury in the pasture, or even just after a nice hard workout, make sure you are keeping a close eye on it. 

If your horse is kept outside, he will likely lose a good portion of tail during this time of year. I usually put mine up- Start with a clean, dry, conditioned tail- then get an old athletic sock, cut some tassels in the open end. Braid your horses tail tight starting a few inches below the dock, rubber band to secure, and then roll it up and put it in the sock. Now you can use the tassels to thread through the top of the braid and tie in a knot to secure. Make sure you are able to undo this wrap and inspect and possibly re-wash and re-braid once a week. Horse's tails can and will rot off. 

Thrush is a fungus that loves moisture. When you bring your horse in, make SURE you pick his hooves out well. If you see any white powder like flakes coming from his hoof, that is thrush. If left untreated, it will eat away at his foot, and can eventually cause bleeding and severe lameness. If the pasture is ONLY mud, consider having him stalled a portion of the day to let his feet dry out. 

MUD FEVER (scratches):
This is a bacterial and sometimes fungal infection of the skin on the horse's lower legs, generally speaking on the pastern area. This happens when the skin is made weak by being wet for a period of time and then small pieces of sand, grit, dirt, manure, or shavings actually get ground into the skin. Prevention is simple: don't make your horse stand in wet conditions for long periods of time. If possible, feed hay in varying areas so they aren't always standing in the same spot. Another idea is to have him inside to completely dry out for a portion of the day. 

Don't forget, you can be affected by mud also. Bring a pair of rubber mud boots to the barn so you don't ruin your leather boots, and make sure your feet stay dry, or you could be putting yourself at risk for athletes foot, which is similar to thrush in horses. 

What are your tips and tricks??

Ground manners part 2

Posted on 4 April, 2013 at 18:16 Comments comments (43)
So I touched on the basics of manners and respect in leading and grooming. These are the most important building blocks to training a horse. If they are overlooked, certain holes in the horse's later training will appear, and will be harder to deal with.

Lets talk a bit about respect. Respect is an understanding by the horse that you are in charge, and great things can come from you, but also that you have rules and boundaries that need to be obeyed before there can be affection and praise for a job well done. Every owner should decide what level of respect they want, but there are some basics I think everyone agrees on. The horse should respect your space and not: kick, bite or step on you, whether on purpose or accident. The horse should pay attention to you and your requests and he should generally look for reward and approval from you. 

There are some gray areas that vary person to person, and you should determine the level you are okay with and realize the horse will most likely test you every once in a while and take it a step further than you like. You must be willing to stick to your own rules and keep him within the boundaries you set. Some examples of the debatable behaviors: asking/begging for treats or attention when he could be patiently standing still, looking at other things rather than where he is going when you are riding or leading, pulling the lead rope/reins out of your hands, and moving after having been asked not to move. 

My personal guidelines are that he should remain doing whatever I have asked him to do until I ask him to do other wise. That is... If I say stand still, you should stand still until I ask you to go. If I ask you to go, you should go until I ask you to do something else. Very simple. I also hold the belief that since they can make mistakes, I allow one mistake before reprimand. That means on the horse's bad day he may make the same mistake twice, as a way of pushing the boundaries. I have accepted that and will correct it. The important part here is not that he is PUNISHED,  but that he is corrected and shown what is the right choice to make. 

If the horse can understand your body language and you can clearly communicate with him for leading -forward, turn, stop, back- and he can accept your touch all over for grooming and you can move his body away from you if needed, you are probably ready for lunging. If you have not done your "Homework" as described, lunging is going to be a very, very difficult and possibly damaging process. 

Ground manners, respect, and transferrence into under-saddle work

Posted on 27 March, 2013 at 18:13 Comments comments (105)
All too often we, as humans, underestimate the value of solid ground work with our horses. Most people will make sure a horse can lead properly, or will follow when led, and probably some work on standing still while grooming, making sure the horse understands not to step on the humans feet, those kinds of things. I want to talk about the things that get overlooked. These important "rules" or guidelines we set when working with horses on the ground have direct correlations to the work and respect we get from the animal under-saddle. 

First order of business: (as most people agree) is leading. [if this is a horse who needs a lot of work, leading will come second to lunging or round pen work- but how will you get the horse to the round-pen or lunging area?-- food for thought.] A well mannered horse should be willing to follow his human wherever they want to take him. He should pay attention to where he is walking so as not to invade the human's space, and pay attention to the speed at which they are traveling. This is done primarily with body language. When teaching a young or green horse these commands, it is usually exaggerated, but once a partnership has been formed, the cues become more subtle. My basic cues are to point with my hips and shoulders in the direction we are traveling, and if my feet are moving, the horse's should be too. If my feet stop, his feet should. to exaggerate this I make a noticeable, almost "stomp" with my feet together, with a voice command "ho". if the horse does not stop right away, I face him and make him back up. He should want to rest with me and stand still, if he doesn't, it creates more hassle.The moral of most of my training tactics is to make the right choice easy and the wrong choice difficult. If he does stop, lots of praise and affection, and on occasion, a treat or two. It is obvious that this simple command can easily transfer into the saddle, the voice command "ho" should be ever powerful and permanent in the horse's mind as "Break time, stand still".

Next we should climb the hill that is grooming. Most horses are capable of standing stock still while being groomed. Thin skinned or sensitive horses may have issues with this, and it is important that the human recognize the difference between honest discomfort and naughtiness. A well mannered horse will stand until he is asked to move, and accept the human's touch with objects like brushes, clippers, etc. it is important here to recognize fear of the object versus naughtiness and disrespect. If the animal is fearful, it should be fairly introduced to the object(s) to show him nothing to be afraid of. This process should take no more than a few sessions for normal horses under normal circumstances. If we have handled leading properly to this point, standing still for grooming should not be an issue. Sure, horses are animals and may have an off day here and there, and we are humans after all, we have our bad days too. 

Part 2 coming soon!!!

All in all we have to remember we are the horse's leader, he looks to us for boundaries, to tell him how to behave and also to give him praise and help him learn and grow. We can easily relate aspects of horse training to dog training, even human children learn in similar fashion as horses in some aspects. We cannot be too firm nor too lenient.

Jumping Gymnastics!

Posted on 4 March, 2013 at 16:18 Comments comments (19)
Well the weather prevented us from riding outside today. Again making me thankful for the wonderful indoor arena at CPH. So I turned on the radio and prepped for some intense flat work drills. Apparently I had set the bar too low for today, ha!

Luciano was wonderful and very willing and supple in everything I asked him to do. I challenged him more by taking each exercise to the next level, and I was met with more willingness and suppleness. So I figured, hey lets set up another gymnastic and raise the bar (pun intended). 

I started off with a basic gymnastic: 3 trot poles 9' to cross-rail 18' to a vertical. Simple, easy. Raised the cross-rail to a vertical, and the last vertical to an oxer. Wonderful! I have only schooled him over an oxer in one other gymnastic session, so I made sure to take small steps in upping the challenge. We went over it a few times in the fashion, then I changed it up a bit to about 26' in between jumps and asked for a tiny little two stride. I feel this was really beneficial for him in rocking back onto his haunches before the jump to balance and pick up the correct lead for the direction I asked after the jump. I then put it back to the trot poles 9' out to a 2' vertical, 18' to a 2'6" oxer with maybe 20" spread. Beautiful!

Luciano was very proud of his hard work, and felt like he was walking on clouds! I thanked him for a wonderful ride, and removed the saddle and cooled him out bareback. A wonderful end to a wonderful session. :)

Winter trail ride

Posted on 3 March, 2013 at 18:31 Comments comments (29)
Today I took my horse out for the first trail ride of the year!! Yesterday I prepped him a bit by hand walking him down the trails, checking them for footing quality, and making sure he was confident and sure-footed enough to have a  good time. Spent about 20 minutes out yesterday hand walking, and boy were my legs tired! My mind immediately thought "wow, this is gonna be a great workout for his back!"

So today I rode him in the arena, then hand walked him on the trail for about 5 minutes, and then got on. Since I was already out on the trail I had to find a suitable mounting point. I decided to walk out to the Cross Country course and use a jump as a mounting block! That worked okay... But then I realized I had made a mistake and set my horse up for too big of a challenge: 1. the only way to head was home and 2. it was uphill from there. Since he wasn't completely sure of himself yet, he wanted to rush up the hill, which made him slip a little here and there and that made him (and me) nervous. So I found a flat spot to get his brain back to me, and hopped off. Hand walked up to the barn and grabbed the mounting block. Let's try this again, shall we?

We walked on the trail for ... maybe 30 minutes. Long enough for him to feel the burn, but not long enough that he got bored. First obstacle we were met with was some cinder blocks. He pricked his ears at them, but didn't shy. Next was a bit of a tight squeeze through some thorn bushes. He was not nervous until some hit the side of my insulated winter boots with a scritchy scratchy noise. One nervous step and he was easily reassured "You're fine big boy, walk on."

We continued in this manner snaking around the flat trails, making lots of nice hoof prints in the snow. It was so nice to just walk around outside, listen to nature, really connect with my horse, hear his breath, feel his thoughts. It will get better also, when we don't have snowmobiles to occupy the back burner of my brain. :)

Next Step: hills.