Thursday, December 31, 2009

Well.....its New Years The Friday night blog Party

The Friday night blog party on Thursday night, the year is already messed up!

I always ask myself why do we have to get a New Year every 12 months, what the hell was wrong with the old one?

Then it hits me, this is our chance to start all over and unscrew what we screwed up, unfix what we fixed, you get the idea and create more shit for us to do in the New Year.

I guess that is what you call job security!

We have a lot job security around here, there is fence to fix, a new arena to build and get the lights up in the barn. But most importantly we have the horses that we have to get ready for the show year and start shopping for next Christmas. There are after all, only 359 shopping days left, better hit the malls now.

We have made a lot of new friends from this blog and others and I hope that we will continue that trend.

I would also like thank everyone who has joined us on the website- Crescent Moon Cutting Horses in the Training Chronicles. Please be sure to sign the guest book. (I know, shameless self promotion, but it is my blog )

Anyway, what are your plans for the New Year, horsey and non horsey?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bah Humbug! or Should I say Bah Horsebug?

Yes it is that time of year again!

Time for us to deal with all those family issues that seem to come up this time of year. You know the ones......Uncle Bill got tanked on eggnog and french kissed Santa's elf at the mall and then hurled in Santa's work shop and Grandma got run over by a reindeer etc.

By the time it is all over, I think we all need a drink.

Came upon us so fast.

This past year has flown by!

So what are your plans for this year?

We are going to ad a training blog to the Crescent Moon Cutting Horse website and chronicle the training of our youngsters as well as our oldsters and hope that you all will join us there. We are going to start raising Angus cattle and we are working on a few other little ventures as well.

We also plan to start showing more this year.

For the first time since CNJ and I met, we are not giving each other anything that has to do with horses. Actually, for the first time we are giving each other something. Nothing much!

But there is no way that CNJ's gift last year could ever be topped. Yes I am referring to those beautiful little girls. It is amazing how babies not only change your lives, but they change your very soul.

And I want to take a moment to thank you all for reading a little Ol' Rotten blog and sharing your experiences and knowledge with us. And for those of you that read but do not always post, please let us know that you are here and where you are from. We would love to hear from you.

I know that it is still a little early ( actually June would be early), but I want to wish you all Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sunday/Friday night blog party.........

You all know my story, I have been in the business professionally for over 30 years and have had a pretty good career. By the way, the horse in the picture above is my beloved mare Johnie at cutting practice. Sometimes I am not so sure she takes her job seriously, so because of that I made it look like a cartoon!

I have been showing horses the majority of my life from cutters to jumpers, and almost every discipline in between. And I have finally settled back into the cutters because they are my true passion.

I have shown horses all the way from the Cow Palace in the bay area to Atlanta.

Won some, lost some, made a lot of good friends along the way and have a lot of really good memories.

Though I have a lot of the memories winning classes and doing well at the shows, the best and the most fun memories are of the shows that I did not do so well. Those were the shows where I learned the most and had the most fun.

You always hear people say that they are having the most fun when they are winning, but to be honest with you, I do not know how that can be. It always seemed that when we were having a bad show, we totally cut loose and the pressure was off.
One year at the Astro Dome in Houston, nothing was going right. We forgot to pack a lot of our tack, and it seemed that no one including me nor my clients were into the show at all. We had enough tack to get by on and made it through the show mixing and matching bridles. Somehow I managed to win the junior western pleasure class, but we laughed the whole time. And yes we partied our asses off and none of the other horses placed above 4th. We just took nothing at that show seriously.

So what are your fondest memories of the shows where you may not have done well, but managed to laugh it off, have a great time and keep your sense of humor intact?

Friday, December 11, 2009

They call me 'Plum Puddin'...the story of the wannabe!

Oh yes, to the wannabe horse trainer that lurks out there, this post is for you!

They come and they go, those wannabe horse trainers. They live under the rocks and old dead logs, and wait for their next victim. They talk a good game, but there is something there that you know is not right. Many of them have embedded themselves well into the Natural Horsemanship industry, selling their training appliances to people that seem to fall for the crap!

You have to ask yourself, how much would you pay for common sense?

Do you need an orange whip to train your horse, or do you sometimes need to apply a little tough love?

I have recently had the pleasure of meeting one of these wonderful people. His claim to fame? "I can turn you and your horse into one. I can help your horse with your problems............But first, I need to talk to your horse and find out what he is thinking."

Oh for #%&@%@*!^*@($ Sake!

Get a grip!

In a career that has spanned 3 decades, I have seen so many of this type out there. They have strange mystical names that make you think that they know something about you and your horse, that no other trainer will ever be able to tell. They wear hats the size of their egos and 99% of them wear chaps and spurs. They market products of their own design and tell you that you have to buy them if you want to become a trainer like them. (In case you are wondering, a carrot stick is a vegetable, not an orange whip with a bat on the end of it.)

So am I going to just tear into the naturals?

Hell no!

For those people that call themselves trainers out there, just so you know, you really need to have some knowledge of the horses that you are training. One trainer that I have heard of, actually weighs his horses. Most of us can look at a horse and we are able to give a solid estimate of the weight of the animal. This guy has to be a mental midget, or actually he may be brilliant if he has convinced the owner that he should be allowed to stay at the facility where he currently works out of.

Horse shows are a great place to get a glimpse of some of these Wannabe Wonders!

Yes, I call it like a I see it, even at the horse shows. I have made lots of friends that way!

I am amazed that there are so many trainers out there. Hell, everyone is a trainer and they all know everything. These horse show trainers are easy to spot because they all wear spurs and carry crops in their back pockets.

There again, like I have stated many times, there is such an overuse of training aids out there, that I am surprised that the horses do not tip over from the shear weight of the devices that they are forced to wear.

When I was a kid and I worked with the trainer that taught me how to start colts the right way, there was no whispering done, he just simply took his time and read the horse. He told me that the best trainers have the ability to 'read' their horses so they can predict how to best proceed. He uses nothing more than a snaffle bit in the horses mouth. I learned that the best way to start a horse is to let them do the work and you need to learn to just be the passenger and have a little faith in the horse that you are starting. I was never allowed to wear spurs and chaps just got in the way, especially in the heat of the desert. We asked the horse to soften for us and allowed them to make decisions and mistakes before we corrected them.

We have a saying here in Rotten Land, that goes like this........

When you go to a trainers barn, be it a natural trainer or an old school trainer, what happens in the barn may impress you, but what happens behind the barn may depress you!

This is not to imply that all trainers are out there beating their horses, we certainly do not, but keep in mind, when fixing some of the horses problems, it's not always pretty.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why do horses react the way that they do when they spook?

Recently, I had an old client tell me that her horse has what she calls a violent reaction when he spooks. When I asked her what she meant, she said that her horse likes to take the bit and run and then he starts to buck. She then asked me what my advice would be to fix the problem.

While I hardly consider that to be a violent reaction, I do consider it a problem.

So I will address the spooking problem first.

To address the problem of spooking horses, we must first address the cause of what is making the horse spook. Most of the time, the answer to that question is rather a simple one, the horse was startled by something. For the most part, horses are very similar to us in the fact that when they are surprised they tend to be startled and jump. Not a big deal!

I am sure that a lot of you have heard of teaching a horse to spook in place. Well to be honest with you, there really is not a lot to teaching a horse to do that. The best example that I can come up with, being a relatively new dad, is that when one of my daughters falls down or bumps their heads, they always look at me to see what my reaction is going to be. If I make a big deal out of it, then they are going to let loose and start crying, if I look at them and smile and laugh, they look at me and smile, get up and move on.

The same goes for horses. How many times have you been sitting on your horse and something startled him, so he jumped? All you did was just sit there like nothing happened and all that happened was the horse only had that small little jump. It happens to me all of the time especially on the young horses. I just simply do not react to the situation so the horses reaction was minor. In in effect, I have just taught my horse to spook in place.

So what happened to my old client and her new horse?

I went to go watch her ride the horse. She would start out fine with him, but she was already afraid of him, and she would not let go of the horses face. The entire time that she was on him, she was hanging on his face, so the horse was already uncomfortable. (When a horse is uncomfortable,be it from a poorly fitting saddle or a rider hanging on them, the will look for any excuse to spook.) When the tractor went by the arena, the horse was startled and took off, because the rider clenched up. As soon as the rider clenched up, she became off balance, thus, causing the horse to buck.

Truth was, the horse was not reacting to whatever startled him, he was reacting to the rider!

At that point it became apparent, it was not the horses confidence that was the problem ,it was the riders confidence that was the problem for the horse.

Now, it is true that some horses will react in a big way to something, and there really is nothing you can do about it but ride it out. At that point you need to be a confident rider, but most of those reactions do not last long.

Just an FYI for you.........

I have lived in the desert my entire life and I have never had a horse spook from a rattle snake. Quite the opposite, horses are curious animals, most of the time they want to investigate where the sound on the rattle is coming from and are bitten on the nose.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rolkur, it's not just for dressage anymore!

Today, I am going to address Rolkur. I had never heard of it until a few years ago, and I am not sure what the moron who developed the idea was thinking or if they even were. I do know that trainers and breeders alike want to make their mark on the equine world, but this is the wrong way to go about it. I also know that the practice of Rolkur has trickled over into other disciplines like western pleasure, hunter etc, and that is where I want to take this topic.

Lets start with the practice of Rolkur in Dressage horses.
When I look at the above picture, the one thing that stands out immediately to me, is the fact that the horses hind end is in a totally different county that the front end. The horse exhibits absolutely no freedom of movement in the front end thus there is no extension because all of the horses weight it is on the front end. It also looks to me like the horse has no where when they are looking for the release. These are the obvious things that affect the not so obvious things like mechanics of movement and the horses attitude. What you see above, is not Dressage, but rather it is an abomination!

I always want my horses to have some where to go when they work, in other words, there has to be a release, be it in a dressage horse or a cow horse. I never want to hang on a horse in any way shape or form. To me, that shows that the rider in uncomfortable with what they are doing with the horse.

I have seen this practice in the western industry as well, primarily in the Arabian horse industry. At the Scottsdale Arabian show a few years ago, I saw several trainers riding with their horses trussed up like a Christmas turkey. The horses chins were being pulled to the horses chests and they were being forced forward, and when the trainers stopped their horses, they continued to bump their horses faces to keep their horses heads in that Gawd awful position. If the horse moved a step after he was bumped, they were bumped harder. And this was being done by the BNT's that were there. A lot of it was being caused by the over use and abuse of martingales, side reins and draw reins.

But, it was not just the western horses where I saw this, it was also in the hunter arenas as well.

The difference between a soft horse vs. Rolkur, is that with a soft horse, I can bring his chin to his chest when I need to, not because I have to or I am forcing the issue.

Now, lets talk about the horses attitude. This practice does have a lot of adverse effects on the horses attitude. Remember, you can only hang on a horse for so long before that horse decides that he has had enough. And when the horse has had enough and decides to react to what is going on, there may be no warning what so ever. The horse will do whatever it takes to make himself comfortable in what he is doing and there will be nothing you can do to stop it, and there is no telling what the horse reaction will be.

For those of you that believe in the practice of Rolkur, I recommend that you put a bit in your own mouth, have someone pull your chin to your chest while you try to move forward on your hands and knees. Not only will it be tough for you to move, but it will also be harder for you to breathe and your mouth will be incredibly sore.

You all know that I like my horses quiet and soft as I have mentioned that on many occasions, if a horses chin is being forced to his chest, you will get neither!

And just a note, I am not an Arabian horse trainer, and I do not want any Arab owners thinking that I am picking on them. But other than in the Dressage discipline, I have only seen this practice in the Arabian industry, so that is the example I am using.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What to expect from your trainer...... Part 2

So we have covered some of the basics of what you should expect from a trainer, now it is time to discuss what your trainer has to offer you and what you have to offer the trainer. And also what your trainer can expect from you.

1) Make sure that you have a contract with your trainer that outlines what your goals are and what you see yourself being able to do with your horse. That should always be in writing. I have in the past trained a few horses without the benefit of a contract, and the owners were and I were not totally on the same page. You can always amend a contract as the horse progresses.

2) All fees should be explained at the time that the contract is signed. The owner has the right to understand what all the fees are for and the trainer has the right to expect to be paid on time. Remember, when you are late the horse still gets fed and worked. I can not tell you how many times I have gone more than 2 months with out getting paid by an owner. Do not bargain with your trainer to try to get a better rate, we do not make enough money as it is!

3)If your horse has a bad habit that he has picked up at home tell your trainer, it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Hell, our horses have bad habits, after all they are horses and it is to be expected. I hate when a client sends me a horse that has a habit such as bucking or rearing and when it happens here, they always say the same thing....."He never did that at home".

4) Trainers are not miracle workers, that is to say, do not expect too much to soon. If you are shopping around for a trainer, do not let him/her give you time lines. In this business there are no guarantees. We simply can not guarantee how long your horse will be with us and we simply can not guarantee that your horse will win in the horse show ring. Never tell your trainer that he/she better win because his job depends on it. I had that happen at a show one time and I told the client that they better find a way to get the horse home from the show because I would not tolerate that kind of attitude. Needless to say the horse won all 2 of his classes and places 2nd in the third class and won the championship

5) Let your trainer chose the shows that he/she feels would be best for you and your horse should you chose that you want to show.

6) If your trainer offers lessons as part of your contract, then take them, personally I prefer that a client take a pro-active part in the training of their horses. I want them to be involved, that way when we are at a show or the horse goes home, then the owner can continue to work the horse with some success.

7) Communicate with your trainer if there is something that you do not like, we are not mind readers just like we are not miracle workers.

8) Have realistic ideas of what your horse is capable of......let him show you what his talents are and take it from there. There is nothing that is worse than a horse that develops bad habits because he is miserable in his job.

9) If you are looking to purchase a horse with the help of your trainer, then listen to what they have to say. Do not waste the trainers time by telling your him/her that you want one type of horse and then you go off in a completely different direction and purchase something else. We prefer that you let us help you so we can find a horse that fits you!

Trainers are here to help you, so let them.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What can and should you really expect from your trainer?

I get a lot of inquiries regarding training, and many of the potential clients want to know how long it will take me to train a horse for them, be it for trail or the horse show ring. This will be a series that will be done in a few parts.

When told that I am not sure how long it will take, then some of these clients look else where for a trainer that will tell them what they want to hear. While I realize that some of them want to budget for training, there are others that want me to be train a horse that is going to win for them in a designated amount of time that they seem to think is realistic.

There are several factors that I take into consideration before I take a horse into the barn.

1) The general conditioning of the horse when they arrive. I always tell a client that I can start to train the horse if he is conditioned properly before he shows up. I do understand that some owners do not have a facility that they can work out of so I always offer them a lower conditioning rate for the first month. Also I have to mention here that what I may consider proper conditioning, may not be what the owner considers to be proper. So before the horse is brought into the barn, I will provide the owner with a conditioning schedule, that is providing they have the facilities to work the horse.

2) What kind of behavior does the horse exhibit when he arrives. I personally like to give them a week of light work so that they can start to settle into a general routine. There have been many horses that have come my way that took longer to settle in and exhibited some bad habits that had to be dealt with before we consider putting that horse to serious work.

3) Is the horse a mare, stallion or gelding. We have a saying here, when a stallion comes into the barn on Thursday, his brain will arrive on Monday.(Sometimes his mind just gets lost in the mail!)

4) Am I starting this horse under saddle, if so there again conditioning is important. If the horse is here to be started and is in good condition, then I will be on that horse at the end of the first week after he settles in. If the horse is not conditioned, them there will be a 30 day conditioning period.

5) If the horse is here to be trained to go into the show ring, then a lot depends on the horses mentality when they get here. If they are not mature enough to handle the training required to go into the show ring, then we will take it a lot slower.

I have always been a firm believer in moving at the horses pace and not the owners, and I make this very clear from the beginning. If the horse is not happy then no one is going to be happy.

I have had owners in the past offer to pay me more to achieve their goals, but it is not really up to me how fast we proceed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On the question of balance...

I was giving a lesson to a student the other day and we happened upon the topic of balance as it pertains to the horse rather than the rider. I must mention at this time that my student is a very balanced rider, yet her horse is lacking the balance that she needs to do well in the performance aspect of her training.

The question that she asked was simple enough, how do we get the horse to be more balanced?

The student that I am referring to does show hunters and jumpers,( I know, JR, you are a cow horse trainer), but the basics are the same.

The answer is really a two part answer.........

1) Balance is achieved fairly early in training, and that training starts as soon as we start to ask the horse to turn on his hind end and turn on the forehand. Remember when we ask the horse to turn on the hind end, or pivot, or ask the horse to turn on the fore hand, the horse is not balanced. We are only asking the horse to move one end of his body. Balance comes when we ask the horse to move laterally, such as side passing or two tracking. At that point in the horses training, both ends are moving in sync. That is when we end up with a balanced horse that can use his hind end and front end equally.

It is important that we do not allow the horse to be heavy on the fore hand, which will occur if we spend to much time turning the horse on the fore hand. The same goes for the hind end, we do not want the horse to become too light in the front end, because we are turning the horse on the hind end too much. Remember.....balance!

2) Balance is also visual as well as physical. While we do not want the horse to side pass or move laterally down the rail, we do want there to be some roundness in his movement. If we allow the horse to just move straight down the rail with out the use of our legs, especially our inside leg, then the horse will just start to become heavy on his front end and 'strung out' behind. However, when we apply light leg pressure with the inside leg and light contact with the inside rein the horse will become rounded giving us a more balanced appearance.

Another visual clue as to whether the horse is truly balanced is, if one end of the horse is more developed than the other. If the front end of the horse is more developed that the hind end, then the horse is heavy on the fore hand etc.

Like I always say, a head does not necessarily mean that the horse is balanced, and if you have a horse that is more balanced physically then you will not have a horse that jigs every where you go.

On a separate note.......Phillies 1...Yankees none! The final score in yesterdays World Series game Phillies 6 Yankees 1. Yeah Phillies!

Friday, October 23, 2009

In keeping with tradition...

Since it is Friday and keeping with the old Friday blog, block party theme, and trying to keep things light and fun, how about we go with a topic that brings us each a bit of pride.

Let's talk about those moments where it all comes together and the light goes on. You and your horse NAIL it. You have been working on something, lead changes, canter departs, transitions, picking up the correct diagonal as you start into a trot, stops, spins, jumps... whatever. You try again and again to get it right. Then one day it happens. It all just clicks. Everything falls into place and taadaa! It is perfect. You and your horse are one and nothing seems to take any effort for it to just happen.

Or you are looking for a horse. A horse you can show, breed, give lessons on or just provide a happy home for. The horse may be for a client, friend, spouse or relative. You search high and low for a specific breed, color, height, build, performance record, level of training... and then you spot one. A picture you may have normally otherwise passed up, but there it is. Sometimes a horse that matches NONE of your criteria, but it just jumps out at you and you just KNOW they are going to be in your barn.

We have all been there. We have all had at least one moment like that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So it's true....

Yep it's me....

I am back if you dare to care! ;)

And yes the forum will continue as usual, though I have had to take some much needed time off from blogging, clogging and logging as well as every other ogging that there is.

Tonight however, I just have to ask only one question.......are there any Yankees fans out there?

Sunday we can post a training blog....

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mr Rottens Neighborhood is moving....

We are moving the Hood to:

Please join us for training tips and other horse related topics.

Thank You

Johnie Rotten

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Does this happen to everyone?


Great blog!

I have been training my own horse for over 3 years now. I show him as a reined cow horse and I have had some success at this in the AQHA breed shows. But there are days that we are working on something be it spinning, stopping or whatever, and we will end up fixing one problem that may come up only to have another problem pop up that is totally different from the problem that we just fixed.

I am not a trainer and have no desire to become a pro trainer. I learned how to train my horse my own by watching other trainers and asking them a lot of questions. And I did take some riding lessons when I was younger.

My question to you and your readers is....... when you are working a horse and you fix one problem, is it normal for another problem to arise from fixing the other problem?

Thanks for your time




Learning to train a horse on your own is a good thing. It is always nice to hear that people take that much of an interest in their own horses. Not to mention that you have accomplished a lot training a reined cow horse.

To answer your question, yes it is normal to have one problem arise out of fixing another problem. Whether it is with the rider or the horse, so do not worry when this happens. We see it all of the time!

When I used to work with behavior problems, this was one of the biggest things that happened because no one realized that a this type of thing could happen. So learning to recognize when it happens is very important and you are lucky that you can.

That is why we always tell our clients that even when we send your horse home, you are going to still have to train him there. Horses get bored very easily, the average attention span for a horse is about 10 minutes. So we get done working on one thing after about 15 minutes, and them find something else to work on or take them on the trail.

You have to remember, horses are creatures of habit, when a problem arises, it means that there is a change in that normal behavior/habit and then when we go fix the problem we are asking the horse/rider to change there behavior/habit yet again. That being said, sometimes you are better off just riding through the problem, depending on what it is, and the problem will work itself out as the horse exercises his own inner demons.

If the problem is sever enough, and you have to deal with it,then do so and move on to your normal training session.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Crossfire correction

Hi JR,

I love your blog!

The reason for this email is to ask you a question about my gelding who crossfires badly. When I ask for the lope he starts off cross firing, but after I bring him down to a trot and ask for the lope again from the trot then he picks it up fine. But after a while he will drop the lead behind while he is loping and it just aggravates me. It is only when we ask for the lope from the stop. We have had the vet out to check him out to see if he is having any problems with his back since this is a new problem that we have been having with him. His saddle does fit him properly and that is not an issue either and the vet has found nothing wrong with him.

We have tried everything, bitting up, long lining, asking him to start in small circles and none of that works. He is my western riding horse and my western pleasure horse and this has cost me a few ribbons. All this does is frustrate my trainer and I both.

Do you have any suggestions?




Yes Julie, there are a few things that you can do.

First of all for those of you that do not know what cross firing means, it is when a horse picks up the correct lead in the front and the wrong lead in the rear. It can be the most Gawd awful thing to ride. But it is fixable!

I want to talk about the mechanics of picking up the lead first.

First of all stay out of your horses face when you work on this.

When I am going to ask a horse to lope, I usually like to ask them to lope from the stop, until they learn how to position themselves for the lead. So normally I do a lot of walking and stopping and asking the horse to keep his shoulders straight and I like to leave his head alone. Then when I feel the horse is ready, I will ask him to lope, normally they pick up the correct lead without any help from me. (I know we have gone over this before, but there are a few differences in fixing this problem.) It is important that we remember that the leads start on the outside hind leg. If the outside hind is underneath the horse the next step for the horse to take is to lift his inside shoulder and drive off of his inside hind allowing him to lope.

Horses that crossfire from the departure, usually are just out of position and need to learn to reposition the hind legs. Horse that crossfire while they are loping have usually fallen out behind.

When I have a horse that crossfires, instead of asking him to pick up the lope from the stop, what I will ask him to do, is stop, push his shoulders to the outside of the circle, that will make his outside hind take step back. After, he takes a step back with the outside hind, I will ask him to take one step forward before asking him to lope. By taking that first step forward at the walk, that teaches the horse to put his outside underneath himself before the departure. I could actually just ask the horse to rock back on his hind end, however, I am more interested in having the horse fix the basic mechanics so it becomes a habit. Besides, you are better off taking the few extra steps and a little extra time to fix this.

When he is loping and you feel him start to slow down, when you feel that he is going to drop the lead, just put your inside leg on him and speed him up. A little bit of speed can be corrected later on. What the focus is on at the moment is getting the hind end under them and getting the horse to use it correctly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'll take mine to go, thanks.

With the turn that has been taken on a few of the blogs recently, I figured Why not talk about coffee for tonights block party post?

So do you like the dark roast, medium roast or light roast?

Premium blend, breakfast blend or french roast? Hazelnut, french vanilla, mocha, or just plain old coffee?

Creamer or black? Flavored, low fat, no fat or plain?

Sugar or none?

Decaff? Does anyone actually drink that?

What is the best coffee you have ever had?

The worst?

And what do you do with all those empty cans?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Todays discussion, those pesky round thingies!

“Daddy, what are circles?”

“Circles are round”.

“Why are circles round?”

“Because they are not squares”

“Why aren’t squares round?”

“Because they are not circles”

“Daddy….what are squares?”

I was asked via email recently to talk about circles. I would have posted the email, however the great computer genius that I am, I deleted it.

But I will continue on with today’s topic on circles anyway.

The big question that was asked in the email was….when I am loping circles at home, my horse usually will either drift to the outside or cut to the inside. And to top it off he will not stay at a consistent speed. What can I do to fix the problem?

To answer that, I am going to break down how I like to approach a circle, and what I expect from my students as well as from my horses.

The reason that doing a nice clean circle is important is that it shows that that the horse and rider are balanced. And by working horses in circles we are able soften and supple our horses.

1) Starting to work horses in the circle.

When I start to work a horse in a circle there are a two factors that are important, and those factors are quite simply, the horse and the rider. Let’s start with the rider, the rider should be balanced and centered on the horse. If the horses shoulders are facing forward, then so should the riders.

The horse should be in line with the rider, and the horse’s shoulders should be upright and s/he should be perpendicular to the ground. (Obviously a horizontal horse would not be able to do a nice circle or any circle for that matter). The horse also, like the rider needs to be balanced. That means that all four feet need to be on the ground.

2) When we start the circle, it is important to remember that there are two ends to the horse. I find that too many people seem to focus on the horse’s front end and forget that though the hind end follows the front end it also works opposite. What I mean by that is, when we do circles the horses outside front leg crosses over the inside front leg. And the horse’s inside hind crosses over and in front of the horses outside hind leg. The more the horses outside front crosses over the inside, the more the hind end will slow down and the horse will start to drop his shoulder and cut the turns. The more the horse’s inside hind crosses over, the slower the front end will work. In other words the horse becomes heavy on the forehand.

3) The fix.

What is important to remember, is that we want the horse to be able to give laterally. The softer the horse becomes the easier it is to create that balance that we are looking for when we start to do our circles or teach the horse new things. Of course, teaching a horse to give laterally means that our horse is learning to do circles.

Once I feel that the horse is soft and supple enough then I will start to work on the circles. I am not going to worry about the horses head position, but I am going to ask the horse to tip his nose ever so slightly to the inside of the circle so that he follows his nose.

I am going to start at the trot and with my inside leg. I will turn my toe towards the inside of the circle to apply light leg pressure with my calf so the horse has to stay upright and engage his hind end.

My outside leg will stay at the cinch so I can get the horse to move his shoulders away from my leg pressure. I apply equal pressure on the outside leg as I do on the inside leg when I start out.

*Remember I want both ends to be crossing over equally.

If the horse starts to speed up, then I apply a little more pressure with my inside leg so that the horse has to cross over on the inside with the hind end thus slowing him down.

If the horse slows down, then I apply a little more pressure with my outside leg so that the horse has to cross over a little more in the front end.

When the horse starts to drift to the center, or cut his corners, then I lift my inside rein slightly and apply light pressure with my inside leg. If the horse drifts to the outside, I lift my outside rein slightly and apply light leg pressure with the outside leg.

When the horse is comfortable doing the circles at the trot, then I move onto the lope and repeat the process.

As far as taking hold of the horses and doing half halts to try to slow a horse down, that can have the opposite effect of what I am trying to accomplish. If I let the horse lope on a looser rein, and apply light pressure as needed there is less confusion and the horse will be easier for me to work with. I want the horse to always stay relaxed and comfortable. If I am always pulling in his face that will never happen and it will take a lot longer for the horse to catch on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

If your horse were a car!

If your horse were a car what would find of car would they be?

My red mare Johnie would be a Camaro. But not just any Camaro, a Bitchin' Camaro. Of course there are days when she is more like a train wreck.

My palomino mare Chica would be a Dodge Charger.

Solis, our bay Colonel Freckles mare would be a Bradley Fighting vehicle

Yes I do like the muscle cars. If I could I would have a few of those to drive around town instead of the truck. I would keep the truck only for horse stuff.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is the best way to supple a horse?


I have been reading your blog since you started it and I do love your blog.

I have a question for you.

I sent my 5 year old mare out for training last year, she is my reining horse, and even though I have had her for a few years, I am relatively new to this.

The problem that I am having, is that when she stops, she dives on the bit and damn near yanks the reins out of my hands. She is being shown in a shanked snaffle this year and my trainer says she will probably stay in that bit for a while..

We have had the vet out and have checked the mare's teeth and everything else that the vet could think of that may cause this problem.

My trainer has bitted my mare up in the shanked snaffle to try to get her to give a little more but that has not helped. And since my trainer has been bitting my horse up in the shanked bit, she has also started to brace on the bit when we go through our transitions.

I have read your blog where you say that you like your horse to be supple and soft when you get on them. Do you do that on the ground or do you do that on their backs?

Is id a good idea to bit a horse up in a shanked bit?

And one other question, I have heard some of these cow horse people use the terms cow leg and herd leg, what does that mean?



Let me start with your last question about cow leg versus herd leg.

When we ride pleasure horses we refer to the outside leg which is the leg that is the closest to the rail, and the inside leg which is the leg that is on the inside of the circle. The same goes for the cow leg, when we cut a cow out of the herd, the leg that is the closest to the cow is the cow leg and the herd leg is the leg that is closest to the herd.

Diving on the bit can be indicative of other problems such as lameness, soreness in the mouth or back etc. So it was a good thing that you had the vet check your mare for any health problems that may have caused this problem.

But as a training problem, we usually see this when the horse is continuously pulled into the stop instead of the rider letting the horses face go when he stops. The reason that the horses dive on the bit when we pull them into the stop, is that they are simply looking for a release so they are more comfortable in the stop. Another thing that will cause this, is if the horse is stopping on the front end first.

There are a few things that you can do to fix the problem.......

1) Work on softening the horse laterally. I know that I repeat myself a lot when I say this, but it definitely helps. Get the horse to relax and lift the shoulders by lateral flexion, do plenty of that as well as counter flexing. In other words get the horse to bend to the inside of the circle and to the outside of the circle. Lots of circles doing this. Once again, do not pull on the horse, but rather, gentle tugs, just enough to get the horse to bend.

2) After you have softened your horse. then start working on the stops, asking the horse to shut his hind end down first. If he stops on the front end, then back him a step or two and ask for the stop again. Do this at the trot first and then, ask for the lope and work on the stop.

3) When you stop, sit down and ask for the stop without pulling on him, if he does not want to stop, then you can pull on him a little until he does stop. If you have to pull him into the stop, then keep the pressure on him until he backs a step or two rocking him back onto his hind end.

All of these exercises can be done in a regular snaffle so there really is no need to work your mare in a shanked bit at this time until the problem is fixed.

As far as suppling my horses, I do none of it in the ground. Though we may say a horse looks soft and supple, that really refers more to a feel than a look. So keeping that in mind, I would rather feel whether or not the horse is soft and supple while I am on his back rather than see it while I am watching him run around me in circles.

One other thing that I need to mention because I am asked this all of the time, and that is,"Do you back your horses to soften them"

The rule out here is that you back a soft horse but do not back a horse to make him soft.

Bitting a horse up in a shanked bit is a no no! I do not care how loose the reins are, this can lead to the horse tossing his head and then on to other problems. Especially if you have snaps on you reins. The horses hear those snaps and start to try to figure out what is going on, next thing you know, the horse is trying to flip over. We never use snaps!

I have seen several bad accidents when the horses are bitted up in shanked bits, primarily because the person working the horse did not know what they were doing. Unlike when you are on the horse, you are unable to feel what the horse is doing or how he is reacting to the bit so you are unable to help him through any problems he may be having. And if the horses is having issues, then you can let him go rather than there being no release.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Music and Horses

Many of us have a favorite song, that when it comes on the radio we can't help but crank it up and maybe sing along to it. Sometimes we play it over and over to the point where anyone else within range, is quickly sick of hearing it, let alone at full volume.

Then there comes a song which carries with it an image in our mind of our horse.

What? How did they know about my horse? How did they know what was going on that day? Who told the songwriters about my horse? I want to know NOW!

We all know they don't usually write songs about horses. Those probably wouldn't sell and money drives the market. Songs are usually about people. Jilted ex-lovers plotting revenge, the one perfect love, cars, personal heroes, gunfighters, bar brawls, drinking and all sorts of stuff. Just not horses, let alone any particular horse, and not likely mine.

For the red mare Johnie, that song is K.D. Lang's "Big Boned Gal" off the cd/album Ultimate Torch & Twang. It just fits her. The tune and melody would be perfectly suitable for cutting too.

So what song do you associate with your horse and why?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Please help me........

Ok, Here is the thing.. I received this email a few weeks ago and some how deleted it, then I was able to retrieve it, and then, well lets just say I am not a computer genius. The reader that had sent me the email is looking for any help that we may all be able to give her.

Okay, here is a question for you and your readers: what can I do about a totally buddy sour jerk? I did not realize just how bad the situation was until the other day we had to put the four horses in the ring because a boundary fence was being redone.
We took the two mares out first and came back for the two geldings. the fjord was just standing in his stall waiting his turn. The QH was going absolutely bonzo! My daughter put him in the freestanding heavy-duty stall where he could not go over the gate, etc. It was rodeo time at the ok corral, I can tell you!! Since we mess with the horses in the ring or outside the barn; this has never been an issue before. Quite frankly, his idiocy scared me--more that he would hurt himself and we would have to bury him(not an easy job since he is 15.1 and about 1,000 lbs). I am so open to any ideas to deal with him. On the down side, financially sending him out to a trainer is not an option or believe me, he would so be there!!!! We simply left him there in the stall with hay and water and walked away. Not too much else we could do. We kept an eye on him(which was not hard as he spent so much time screaming--Funny, none of the others even bothered to answer him. All day, like they knew he was being an idiiiiot. Have not had this go on with any of the others at all. HELP!!!! Thank you in advance. . A


Well reader A

Usually we try to wean them away from the herd, and sometimes we are successful and sometimes we are not so successful in doing so. I have had horses in the past that we were never able to get them over the problem, they would just attach themselves to any horse that they were next to in the barn and they remained herd bound.

When I say that we wean them away from the herd we usually turn them out alone, in the biggest pen we have and feed them out there. When we want to work them and they act like a herd sour beast, then we make them work a little harder. I have always found that work is the best thing for a horse.

To prevent them from becoming herd bound, we try to rotate the horses throughout the barn so they are next to different horses and are not able to become attached to any one horse. I do at times like to turn my horses out with others horses as long as there is sufficient room in the pasture for them. But I also like to turn them out alone for the most part so we do not have these problems.

As far as sending him out to a trainer to have the trainer fix the problem, that may not be the answer either. Remember what he does at the trainers is different than what he will do at home, so it would be my concern that you would be wasting money sending him out. You really need to address the problem at home.

But I have found over the years that this does not always work. Sometimes they get over it and sometimes they do not. Hopefully the readers of this blog will also be able to help offer you suggestions that may help as well.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh What a Wonderful Feeling!

In 1999 I bought a 2 year old red mare named Johnie, she was the first horse I had owned since 1976 because I had never needed to own a horse because I had other peoples horses to ride for so long. But I felt that it was time that I owned a horse.

Like many people say, never own a red mare.

I started Johnie under saddle in March of 2000 as a 3 year old and have never looked back. After I had her under saddle for 60 days and I had a good stop and turn on her, it was time to start her on cattle.

Now I bought Johnie so I could train her to be a cutter and so I could have the pleasure of showing my own horse. She is a very well bred mare that is bred to be a cattle horse, so I figured starting her on cattle would be a breeze. Quite the opposite, you see I forgot one very important factor about horses, just because they are bred to do something, that does not mean they will do it well or even do the job that they were bred for. That being said, the first time that I put Johnie on cattle that damn red headed mare tried to run the other way at the first sight of a cow.

Needless to say, I was a little disappointed at Johnie's first performance as a cow horse.

I was bound and determined to get this mare trained so I could show her. The next night I took Johnie to a local arena for a cutting practice, I started to turn back for a friend of mine and let Johnie have a good look at the cattle all night. She threw in an occasional crow hop, but she never tried to run away.

The next night I took Johnie to the same arena to work with my friends, we put a cow in the round pen and I rode Johnie in the pen alone with the cow. Johnie and I worked the cow on the fence, a little tug here a little leg there, a few small corrections and the next thin I knew, Johnie cut that cow on her own. She gave me 3 of the best turns I have ever had in my life.

All that I remember from that night, was feeling Johnie take over and work that cow, and my face hurting from that permanent grin that was on my face.

I did show Johnie a few months later, on my first cut, the moment that I dropped my hand that mare went to work. She won her first class!

Have a good weekend!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Teaching the Young Horse to Back

Teaching a young horse to back is something that I feel has to be done absolutely right from the very beginning. If done wrong, the problems that can arise when done wrong can affect the way that a horse responds to the bit for the rest of his career.

One thing that I need to mention here is that I never use backing to soften a horse. The horse has to be soft and supple in the snaffle before I even ask the horse to back. He has to be supple in his shoulders and move away form my leg laterally in both directions. I also prefer at the time that I am teaching the horse to back, that he is nice and quite and he has to know how to whoa. I will not teach a horse to side pass before I teach him to back because it can be very easy for the horse to become confused.

When I start teaching a horse to back, I never want him to gap at the mouth, he has to be comfortable with giving to both sides of his mouth in a snaffle.

Lets start with the importance of 'Whoa'. When I teach a horse to stop, like I have said in many of my posts, when I teach a horse to stop, I like to 'quit riding' and teach the horse to shut his hind end down first before he shuts down his front end. By doing this, the horse already has his hind end underneath him making it easier for him to go forward or back, and it will allow the horse to push off with his front end when I ask him to back. If they stop on the front end then they have to gather themselves up to move forward and they will hollow out their backs if I ask them to back. I want the horse to stay as rounded as possible.

Now that I have the horse stopping the way that I want him to and I have him nice and soft laterally, I will start to set my hands when I ask for the stop and allow there to be a little bit of contact on the horses mouth when he stops. Just enough contact, a little more on the inside rein to get the horse to back a step and then I release him and sit for a few seconds.

The next time I stop the horse , I will ask for two steps and increasingly asking for a little more as we continue.

If the horse decides that he wants to stop on his front end, then, after the horse stops,I will push his shoulders to the outside of the circle so he can not. That way he has to rock back on his hind end to get his shoulders to move over.

I never want to get into a pulling match with a horse, I do not want him to learn to resist in any way shape or form. If the horse starts to pull on me, then I will go do something else with him for a little while and then I will finish the day by asking for the back one last time.

Always remember to keep the horse soft so that this is a pleasant experience for both horse and rider. By doing so, I have never had a horse try to rear or pull back on me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Moving Forward

After putting the two ponies down that have been a big part of our lives for so long, I thought a post about moving forward would be good. We all encounter things in our lives that require we find a way to move forward and push past. How do you get past the unpleasant things in life?

How this relates to horse training is not really much different. There will be things that come up that also require us to push past and keep moving forward.

The first ride or two, you may need to gently tug the reins one direction or the other to get them to move. One or two steps, whatever you get, be sure to praise them for their efforts. Let them know that’s what you want. Ask again for a few steps or whatever the horse is comfortable with giving you. You may get a few steps or a few circles, but you are moving forward. Sit still, ask for a stop and praise them some more.

This time when you ask them to go forward gently squeeze with your legs. When they respond and move off, relax your leg, but don’t take it completely off their side. You don’t want the horse to only associate any touch from your leg with flying off in a different direction. As long as they are moving forward, any contact from the reins and bit should be soft and following.

When you ask them to stop sit down, quit riding and say whoa. Don’t shout it at them; don’t whisper it in their ear, just a firm gentle ‘whoa’. If they don’t stop right away, ask again a little more firmly. If you have to pull on the reins a little to reinforce the command of ‘whoa’ then do so, but release when the horse stops.

A young horse needs to learn to go forward comfortably and relaxed. It might be a bit awkward for them at first, but your job is to help them find balance. That may come from just sitting still and not interfering with their momentum. The horse might go a little fast, but they will slow down, just give them a minute or two. Don’t pull on the reins, just let them go forward. If you have asked for the increase in speed or the upward transition, you got what you asked for. Take it and move on. You can work on the speed later.

An older horse may have become an opportunist. Stopping to look at something is a chance to spook, dump the rider and get out of work. When you find them focusing on something else, a circle or asking for a slight bend are ways of shifting their focus back to you. When you have regained their attention, then you can confidently push them forward and likely right on past the big scary object with little to no fuss.

So although we are moving forward, we will remember the past and think to the future.

We will make plans and carry on.

Personally, I am going to now concentrate on my youngsters and get them ready for the futurities, and I am going to get CNJ's jumpers ready for her. Maybe I will do a clinic as many have asked me to do...

One step at a time!

What are your plans?

On a separate note, we still need story comments so that I can get this thing finished and hopefully help a good cause!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Final Farewell

Tonight we said our final farewells to Pi and Dooley.

They will always be remembered.

I was asked a few years ago if I thought that animals have a soul and does their spirit remain with us always. Well, I do believe that animals have a soul, anything that is capable of giving us so much unconditional love has to have a soul.

In 2001 I put down my dog and good friend Rounder ( so named because when he was a puppy he was rounder than he was tall). I had him cremated and I could not afford to get his ashes form the pet mortuary. That was also the year that I met CNJ and for Christmas she brought the Rounders ashes to me. All I knew was that he was home with me and that was the best Christmas present that I have ever had.

A few months later as I lay awake in bed in the early morning, I felt a dog jump on the bed and lay across my legs. Sassie Jean my other dog, was laying on the floor beside the bed. It was at the moment that I knew that Rounder was there with me.

So yes, they do have a soul and remain with us as long as we need them.

Tonight, in your comments please only leave the name or names of the animals that you want to remember.

Thank You all for your support.

Pi 1991-2009

Dooley 1984-2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When is the right time?

When I was young, I knew that I wanted to be a horse trainer. Of course, being a young lad, there were other things that I thought I wanted to do, but there, always in the back of my mind was the real desire to have a career in the horse industry. I am known to be anal about the way that the horses are trained because, like us, I want them to enjoy what they are doing.

The real reason that I wanted to be a horse trainer was so that I could have a career with animals that I truly love. And I always focused on learning as much as I can so I can be the best trainer possible.

But, there is a side to this job that I truly hate. And that is losing our beloved animals that have given us so much more than we can ever return to them.

Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day in the Rotten Household, as we have to say good bye to two very dear friends that have been a part of our family. Pi and Dooley, our two ponies are going to be put down.

Pi is losing the a battle with age related soundness issues and Dooley is starting to have serious age related issues as well. The hot AZ summer is also taking its toll on those two.

This brings up the question that has been asked over and over.....When is the right time to let go?

I feel that the reality is, there is never a good time or a right time to let go!

I always tell my clients that have had to put a horse of pet down, that what is right for the animal is not always right for us. It is always hard to say goodbye.

I would have written this tomorrow but there will be no way to get through it.

As the Mayor of the Rotten Neighborhood, I declare this day July 21st 2009 and this date for all of the years following a day of International Animal Remembrance Day!

So tonight we will take pause and raise our glass to remember those beloved animals that have passed through our doors and pay tribute to those that are still with us. We have are graced by your friendship and are forever in your debt!

Waggie- the 1st Mix 1966-1967

Lil Dan- Blk/Tan Coon hound 1974-unknown

Waggie- the 2ND Terrier Mix 1968-1979

Tuborg Gold- Retriever Mix 1978-1992

Cinder- Buckskin Mare 1968-1995

Suzie- German Short hair 1989-2002

Rounder- Border Collie/Sheltie 1986-2001

Sassie Jean- Siberian Husky 1992-2006

Punkin- Boxer 1987-1997

Kodiak Siberian Husky 2000-2006

Mo Arabian Mare 1977-2006

Pi Palomino Pony 1991-

Dooley Palomino Mini 1984-

Those still with us....

LP Johnie- QH Mare

Paladinn MA- Arab Stallion

Mad About Me- TB Mare

Tess- TB Mare

Lightly Frosted- Pony Stallion

Docs Chica King- QH Palomino Mare

Chicas Little Pepper- QH Mare

Mondo- QH Stallion

Solis Doc Bar- QH Mare

BB Tucker- QH Mare

Abby- Collie Shepard/ Am Bull dog mix

Timber- Siberian Husky

Howie- Siberian Husky

Kimba- Siberian Husky

And to all of those yet to come...

Friday, July 17, 2009

What???? Pictures of me on the net? You don't say.

With all of the shit that is circulating on FHOTD.

Tonight is an all you can muster rant night. Whatever that rant may be.

So tonight it is your night to share anything that may be out there on the net that may embarass you.

So have a few drinks and spill the beans!

You tell us yours, we'll tell you ours. If you acknowledge and admit to it, it's tough for anyone to bring it up as ammo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First he's to fast, then he's to slow.......

I received an email today from Janette that I want to address.

Her question was this....

JR my horse always wants to speed up when we jog and lope. I have tried half-halts, stops and roll backs to try to get my horse to slow down. When we do the half-halts, that only works for a little while, when we do the roll backs that never works and I have tried doing smaller circles and he only speeds up. I have shown him in western pleasure and we are fine for few strides, and then he is back to going to fast, and the same goes for hunter under saddle. Is this a hopeless case for me and my horse or is there something else I can try to do that will help?

Should I stick to just one discipline with him?

On my trainers advice, I have had the vet out to thoroughly check him over, and there are no pain issues. I also had the tack fitted to make sure that is not the problem. And I have been showing him successfully for several years now. This is all seems to be a new bad habit.


Well Janette, I really doubt that your horse is a hopeless case, maybe a little confused, but not hopeless.

When I say that your horse is a little confused, I do not mean that showing him hunter and western is confusing him. What I mean, is that you may be the issue and not the horse or the tack. I commend you for looking at pain and tack issues first, as many riders can easily overlook these things.

I do not use roll backs as a method to try to slow the horse down, rather, I use roll backs to get the horse to give me a little more impulsion as that is really what they are good for when not working a cow. Half-halts I try to avoid because I want the horse to maintain forward impulsion and not anticipate stopping every time he speeds up. If it is indeed the horse is speeding up on his own, which it rarely is, then I like to stop, wait a few moments and start again until he learns that he has to slow down. Kind of like re-booting the computer.

It is always important that we teach a horse to rate, be it off of us or cattle or when we are leading them. I personally prefer my horse to slow down when I slow down or stop when I stop.

The reason that horses speed up the majority of the time, is because the rider is out of balance and out of sync with the horse. If you are riding a western horse, then you need to slow yourself down and stay in one steady rhythm when you jog your horse, if you are riding English and your horse speeds up while trotting then, there again you need to post in one steady rhythm and not get ahead of your horse. Stay centered on your horse.

I always tell my students that our horses are always compensating for something. They have to balance themselves when we are riding them, if we are off balance then generally the horse will speed up to compensate.

While this may seem an easy feat because they have 4 feet, I bet if you ask the horse, they will tell you it is not so easy. Just watch a horse that is being ridden by a rider that is out of balance and you will see how obvious this all is. The horse may still be able to carry on and perform what is being asked, but it won't be as easy for the horse or as pleasing to the eye of the spectator or judge.

As far as sticking to just one discipline with him, I have shown many horses in multiple disciplines and have never had a problem with that. I think they are happier overall because they do not get bored as easily. Unless there are obvious signs that he his unhappy, then keep on showing him in both.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Rotten Neighborhood Blog Party.. Here is your story!!!!

Here is the story that you helped write. My original intention was to set it up as a PDF file and do a link. But with my Pea sized computer brain it is not going to happen that way.

I did change a few things for flow, but this is what we have so far.

Remember this is for a good cause and we will hopefully be able to do something with this.

We do have a little way to go until it is completed, but you all have done a great job so far.


Katie and Firefly!

The Story…..

The Bay mare grazed quietly in the pasture. She was heavy with foal and was staying in one place occasionally grunting as her foal kicked. It would soon be time and her foal would be here. Though she was surrounded by a band of mares she stood alone, the rest of the mares keeping a watchful eye on her…

Including her young owner, a girl of 16 who was a contesting rider. The sire of the foal was an all around champion. From barrels to calf roping, an all around performance horse. He was a Palomino, with 4 socks and a bald face.

The mare resumed her grazing, taking in a mouthful of sweet grass and she tried to nip at a fly on her left flank. Unable to reach it, she then lifted her hind hoof and removed it with a light scrape of her toe. Her shoes had been removed recently, and she felt the soft earth under her as she walked towards one of her pasture mates, a gentle eight year old gray mare. As friends do, they sniffed one another in greeting, the bay mare sighed, and they soon settled into mutual grooming. The mare closed her eyes and she nearly dozed, only to be awakened by her unborn foal as he stretched his legs within her. The young rider smiled as she watched her mare and in her heart hoped for a healthy foal.

The bay mare's owner smiled as her mare looked up and gave a welcoming whicker and left her horse friends to come visit.

The mare knew her young owner well and her favorite person knew just what the mare's favorite treats were. A sliced sweet apple and fingers that knew just exactly where to scratch the itchy spots. They were friends who respected each other and knew each other's ways.
"Hiya Firefly," murmured the young girl in a voice that is reserved for conversation between children and horses...

Firefly knew she was alucky horse indeed to have an owner as caring and committed to her wellbeing as Katie. Firefly had already experienced what can happen when an owner loses interest.

Five years ago, Katie had spotted Firefly from a distance at a local competition. Her owner, a large abrasive woman with a gruff voice had tied her to the trailer after a particularly hard run. Katie had seen them a few times before and often noticed this woman’s disregard for horses in her care.Katie rode by for a closer look and noticed the mare was still breathing hard from having just completed a run. "She should be walking." Katie told the woman. With a scowl the woman spun around and said "Then you do it" tossing the mares reins her direction.
Katie caught the mare’s reins and gently encouraged her to lead off and the mare reluctantly followed.Katie was stunned that the woman did not seem to care who had her horse and after a half hour or so it became clear that she really didn't.As long as, she did not have to be bothered Katie thought to herself. She had not loosened the cinch, or even taken the bridle off let alone, bothered to bring a bucket for water as Katie found out when she had asked.

The mare's owner was off in the clubhouse talking to her society friends and Katie could hear the laughter float down to where she stood with Firefly as she slurped noisily at the cool, clean water that Katie had lugged over. When the mare finished drinking, she rested her fine head on Katie's shoulder and Katie laughed softly as the water dripped off the mare's lips, running down her sweat dampened skin like cool relief. The mare let out a soft sigh and wuffled Katie's hair. "Knock that off silly mare or I'll have to rebraid this mess before my next class" Katie said, laughing as she did. Katie wondered what she should do with the mare.

It wasn't long before the mare’s owner reappeared, startling Katie. She was so entranced with the small star on the horse’s forehead only slightly visible under her knotted forelock. Katie had been untangling it with her fingers when the woman abruptly said, "Don’t bother with that. It doesn't make her run any faster."Katie’s face grew hot as her fist clenched in anger. Her hands gripped the mare’s reins. Her mind raced as she thought of so many things she wanted to say to the woman. Before she could stop herself she blurted out, "You don't deserve a horse like this."
Katie quickly clasped her hands to her mouth as she couldn't believe she'd just said that out loud. The owner couldn't either, she turned to the mare and ripped off all of Firefly's tack, bridle included and said. "Here then! Take her she's as useless to me as you are!!!" So there Katie stood with Firefly, thankfully one of the other competitors had seen what just transpired and quickly lent Katie a lead rope and halter. Firefly gently dropped her head into the halter and waited patiently for what was to come.

She stood there holding the lead rope, totally stunned by what had just occurred. Then a slow smile spread across her face. This lovely, sweet mare was hers. She had only dreamed of having a horse of this caliber.She made her way back to her parent's trailer, Firefly in tow. Now, she just had to convince her parents how wonderful this twist of fate was.
As Katie approached the trailer, she saw her dad. He was busy offering water to his gelding and her mom's mare.Her dad looked from Katie to Firefly and then back to Katie. Katie swallowed hard and said "Dad, you will never guess what just happened in a million years."
"No, I don't think I could ever guess!" he said.

Katie told her father the story, and after hearing what happened, Katie's dad told her "Go get your mom and tell her about this, then we can decided together what we are going to do" Katie walked off to find her mother, smiling hugely because her dad hadn't said she couldn't keep the mare.

Katie's father looked at his daughter and then at Firefly and smiled, he knew where the outcome would be, and he was glad he had brought the four horse trailer.

Katie quickly found her mother at the concession stand where she was trying to pick from the variety of nasty horse show food.Katie grabbed her by the hand and pulled her all of the way back to the trailer. All that she would say to her mother was "You aren't going to believe this!"
Katie's mom stood with her hands on her hips, looking from the mare, to Katie, to Katie's dad, then back again as she listened to the story. She looked to her husband, who grinned sheepishly and shrugged ever so slightly.Katie's mom sighed and said, "Well, we will need to find out if she has papers and get them or at least a bill of sale. Let's go find this 'lovely' woman."Katie and her mom started off in the direction of the woman's trailer. Katie had replaced the borrowed halter with one of her parents', and intended to return it to its owner after she had the mare's papers.
On the way over, Katie spotted the girl who had witnessed the whole thing. The girl came over and introduced herself, "Hi, my name is Brittney."She told Katie and her mother how horrible she always felt for "that woman's horses, the only thing she cares about is winning."Brittney then volunteered to accompany them over to the trailer and stand as a witness.

Katie's mother told them she'd catch up in a minute, and headed back to the truck to grab her purse. When Brittany and Katie arrived at the parking spot, the woman and her trailer were nowhere to be seen. The only evidence she'd ever been there was a crumpled up wad of paper covered in the dust from what must have been a speedy exit, judging by the deep tire tracks in the dirt."Oh, bother," Katie said. "I don't care if she's registered or not. She's mine, and that's that." Kicking the wadded up paper and tugging at Firefly's lead, Katie turned back towards her parents, even more secure in her knowledge that this horse was now hers. What were her parents going to do? Leave the mare standing in the empty parking lot at the end of the day? Lost in her thoughts, Katie didn't realize she'd left Brittany behind, until..."Wait!" Brittany called. Katie stopped. When Brittany caught up, she breathlessly said, "Check...this...out!" and handed Katie the now un-crumpled sheet of paper.

Katie read the paper and realized it was the registration papers for Firefly and the woman had signed the back allowing the mare to be transferred into her nameShe and Brittney proceeded to do the ‘Happy Dance ‘ with some high fives and whoops added in.Meanwhile, Firefly stood gazing at Katie with a soft eye and then she made a gentle wuffle of happiness.Her new life was just beginning.

She presented no problems; it was like she knew she was going home. The ride home was uneventful and when she stepped off of the trailer, Firefly knew this was it. The mental and physical abuse she had suffered at the hands of her previous owner seemed far away, even though it had only been a few hours.

Fortunately, Firefly had not been privy to the conversation, aka "war," going on in the truck's cab, during the drive home. Katie's parents were not thrilled with the addition of a new horse, but they admired their daughter's gumption and desire to do right by this mare. "Honey, what exactly did you say to the woman?" her mom asked, once they'd merged onto the freeway towards home.

"Um, I told her that she didn't deserve the horse." Katie sank into the back seat of the king-cab, hoping her parents would focus on each other instead of her.

Her father had stifled a laugh; Katie was becoming just like her parents, never afraid to say what was on her mind. But still she needed to learn there was time not to say anything.

"Katie! You really need to think before you speak," her dad admonished. Then he turned to his wife. "Do you think there could be any legal issues with this?"

Katie's mom, keeping her eyes on the road, replied, "My guess is the woman was pretty ticked about being called out by a kid. She won't be making any more waves that might bring attention to herself. "

"Okay. Well, I wonder if we should try to contact the owner, see what we need to do." Katie's dad replied, watching the rearview mirror as they turned into their driveway.
Katie piped up, "So, does that mean I can keep her?"

“We will see” replied Katie’s father.

Firefly backed out of the trailer without incident, and it was clear that she was used to hopping down without a ramp. She immediately raised her head and her nostrils filled with scents new and exciting. She let out a loud whinny as if to say, "I'm home", and then lowered her head to Katie to nudge her pocket. Katie smiled in relief when she found a wrapped peppermint that she had intended to give to Pumpkin, but was secretly glad that she'd forgotten. The kind-hearted sorrel Pumpkin would have understood. Firefly crunched the treat and nuzzled Katie for more. The family's cattle dog ran to greet them, suddenly stopping in front of Firefly. There was a hesitant stance, and then he carefully walked over to sniff her heels. Satisfied, he wagged his tail and stretched his body downward and yawned. Katie burst out laughing.

Katie decided to ride her new treasure, Firefly, the next morning. She had seen the mare's papers. Firefly was born to run and had the conformation to prove it.

Katie saddled Firefly, decided to try a sweet iron snaffle bit, and climbed on with no idea of what to expect. Firefly shuffled slowly around the arena with her head low. When Katie asked for a canter Firefly delicately loped at the speed of a sleepy snail. Katie growled at Firefly "What are you doing?!" Katie wanted to impress the new reining people so badly, but Firefly was a joke! She had no speed!Firefly was crushed. She wanted to impress Katie. She thought to herself as she ground her teeth "you idiot child, I have ribbons for doing this. How dare you not love me."
Just then, Katie's dad showed up. "Hey hon’, how's Firefly?"

Katie closed her seat and stopped riding. Firefly "stopped on a dime and gave change." "Dad! Did you see that?" Katie squealed.

"I sure did. Looks like she has some training. My guess is her old owner was riding her too hard. This mare's sensitive. Less is more." He turned back up to the house, chuckling under his breath. This mare was going to teach his daughter how to ride.

"Okay, Firefly, let's try that again." Katie thought "walk" and stretched tall in the saddle
Everything went along quite well for a time Katie rode Firefly all over the property that summer often with Pumpkin in tow. The threesome would disappear into the woods and surrounding pasture lands for hours on end, Katie often taking lunch along in the saddlebags. Their favorite place to stop was under the old sycamore tree down by the stream at the bottom of the hill. Firefly and Katie went together like peas and carrots.

The two mares got along great, even though Firefly towered over Pumpkin. Katie had guessed her height came from the Thoroughbred in her breeding. She was an appendix Quarter Horse as Katie had discovered by her papers the woman had left behind on the ground in the parking lot that fateful day. That was 5 years ago and yet, it seemed like yesterday thought Katie as she stared at the mare’s side and thought about the foal she carried.And then the new folks moved into the neighboring ranch, bringing with them, a lot of big money and high powered reining horses with them.

It was an unfortunate design flaw in an otherwise perfect farm that put Katie's arena directly next to the neighboring ranch's arena. And so the day that Katie took out Firefly for an idle jog around was the same day that Maxie arrived home from boarding school, complete with the latest "former World Champion" schoolmaster that her parents had delightedly paid Maxie's riding coach six figures for.

Katie decided to trust Firefly and her skill level. She knew it was there and she knew she had to ride it in order to get it.

As Katie watched Maxie and her newly paid for already made gelding Simba do their thing, she mounted Firefly and began to practice.

Maxie was a connoisseur of tack. She had rhinestone studded brow bands, gilded saddles; argyle ribbon pads, sheepskin wither relievers, brass-studded nosebands, and jeweled spurs. Today, on the first day home, she whipped out all the bling for the inaugural ride. She had already spotted that dowdy little bay with the kid in jeans next door. It was important to make good first impressions, after all. She fingered her latest purchase, a sparkly, leather-feathered racing whip. She hadn't the slightest idea what to do with it. But it would look fabulous.

Maxie decided to make a maximum impression on the dowdy neighbors, and as she mounted Simba she gleefully decided to do a fast thunder run down the rail between the two arenas.Her bright new whip tapped Simba in a particularly sensitive spot as she put her foot in the stirrup. Maxie was distracted by the picture she had in her mind and wasn't paying enough attention. Simba flinched, jumped up in the air and promptly ran away with Maxie clinging for dear life, half on and half off her horse.

"Here, now!" called a gravelly voice.

Katie looked toward the end of the neighboring arena, where Maxie (who was actually holding on quite well) and Simba were heading at mach speed. A wiry old man with a cigarette somehow adhering to his drooping lower lip stepped forward - he'd been weeding the day lilies planted around the outside of the ring.

Simba slid to a surprised stop, and Maxie fell to the ground with an unceremonious thud. Her new whip had caught on something and broken in two.The old fellow quietly caught up a snorting Simba while Maxie, cheeks burning, brushed shredded tire arena footing from her pants. As he calmly led the horse to his young owner, Katie overheard him snort, spit and deliver a few pithy remarks to her fashionable neighbor.

Maxie looked over at Katie with an embarrassed grin. "Hi, I'm Maxie" she said, leading Simba over to the fence. Firefly stood quietly as Katie introduced herself. Katie couldn't help but smile at Maxie's humbler attitude and sense of fun.

Maxie took another look at Firefly and said "that looks like a horse I've seen before!"
"Really? Are you sure? There are lot of plain bay mares on the circuit," Katie was skeptical, but hopeful."I'm almost positive I've seen her before," Maxie replied, "I recognize the white spot on her left haunch, the one that looks like a little firefly bug." Katie was truly surprised at this; no one else had noticed the small collection of Bird catcher spots. Maybe she did know her!"Do you remember where you saw her before? Any information you have would be great," she smiled.
"Was her owner a very snooty woman?""Well, she wasn't exactly NICE," she replied, pulling a face.Maxie giggled, and stopped, blushing, when the old man walked by with a handful of weeds. The girls watched him stalk toward the manure pile."Who is he?" whispered Katie."Some cowboy type guy, Dad just hired him for cleaning stalls, grooming, feeding, and maintenance... that kind of thing.""Huh. Well, anyway, I call her Firefly. She's registered Appendix, very fast from what I can tell... Hey, where'd you get that headstall? It's.... sparkly. And I think that our horses could use a drink!"Maxie looked back at her sweaty gelding. "OK, I get the point.... I was just really excited to get him, and ride him, you know? But I think your mare might be almost as good, if she's the one I'm thinking of..." "What do you mean, ALMOST?"Just then, the two horses touched noses, squealed and farted. The girls dissolved into giggles while the old cowboy, unnoticed, squinted intently at Firefly.The "Old Man" as some referred to him, had forgotten more about horses than, a lot of so called experts ever knew. The work he had hired on to do was his own choice. Not caused by any type of hard luck story.He knew that people have short memories and most often see what they want to see and this served him very well in what he had chosen to do with his golden years.

The girls led their horses off for a drink, giggling. They disappeared behind the barn and the cowboy tilted his hat back and chewed intently on a sweet stem of alfalfa. That little bay mare seemed awful familiar. Looked just like the filly out of his old favorite mare, Lady. A thoroughbred mare he had picked up for a song at the local track and turned out to be one of his best roping mares. She was smart, competitive with huge burst of speed and well-known by the local rodeo crowd for her habit of biting him in the boot if he happened to miss the calf.
A wry smile lit his face.

He had bred her to his old red quarter horse stallion. He had called his stud simply "King," out of Wimpy, one of the famous King Ranch studs. The old guy had pretty bad arthritis toward the end, but he was a well-behaved fellow, and on the warm summer afternoons when he would nicker at the gate and toss his head in anticipation, the cowboy would saddle him up and take a leisurely ride to the local diner for a cup of coffee. King seemed to enjoy the outing and the cowboy, well he always enjoyed showing him off.It did him good to see the mare. The last time he had seen her had been at the auction, along with the other 30 head of horses he bred, raised and trained himself and lost to the gavel in one painful afternoon. A few years of depressed meat prices combined with the death of his ranch partner brother, and the bank had come calling. He lost them all, his horses, his land and his pride.

That night, Katie remembered, was the first night she dreamt about Firefly. In her dream, the mare was prancing into an arena, and then she burst brilliantly through the start gate, and turned a blistering time in on the barrels.

The old man had a restless night as well. They years after he lost the ranch had been tough and he spent more time than he cared to remember - and thankfully he didn't remember much - getting tossed out of bars and thrown into jail. The worst part was thinking of his horses and how he let them down. Especially the young ones like the little mare the girl was calling "Firefly." She would have had her whole life ahead of her when he sent her to auction and he had figured she would have made him a fine working cow horse, not to mention a hell of a competitor just like her dam.

In the morning, dream still tucked safely in her pocket, Katie walked out to the barn to feed. As she turned into the hay room, she nearly ran into the old man from next door.
"Excuse me," he said.

"What are you doing here? Are the horses okay?"

He had gone out to the barn early that morning just to see to make sure the mare was real. He stood in the rising morning light and saw again the familiar muscled lines of his old stud, and the deep girth and kind eye of her dam. It kind of felt like finding a lost-long child, seeing one of the last of his line of horses.

Katie had startled him from his reverie with her abrupt appearance.

"They're up," he grumbled, as Katie rushed by him into the barn. He never was much for chit-chat.

The old man took one last glance around the barn. Nice place, he thought. Not fancy like his workplace next door, but everything was orderly and the horses had the unmistakable bloom of good health and grooming. He turned to leave... and ran into Katie's father."Do I know you?" he asked, calmly, with a very firm edge, but a little quizzically, as if he did indeed recognize the dried up cowboy.

Sam looked at The Old Man, and realized he did recognize him from that auction years ago. He had himself sold a horse that same day and watched from a distance with a great deal of sympathy as the Old Man sold horse after horse to the crowd.

After chatting about the weather for a few minutes, Sam asked, "Well, I could be needing a bit of help around here, keeping things maintained and the horses fed and such. You interested?" as he thought the Old Man looked more than capable. The Old Man replied simply "Sure. When do I start, and what’s the pay?"They agreed on $400 a week, and shook hands. The Old Man was outwardly non-emotional, but inwardly he was happy to be around his Lady's daughter again. He thought that the mare had found a fellow kindred soul in Sam's daughter, but Katie didn't really have any idea what she had in that mare. He'd have to show her what the mare was bred to do without offending her dad or her. He thought then of the foal in Firefly's belly. He thought he knew a bit of the stud, the palomino located some miles up the road. He'd seen the stud in some of the rodeos, and while not exactly impressed with the horse, knew the horse was decent enough. He'd have to make sure he was with the mare when she foaled. As he was walking down the barn out to the pasture, he happened to look up at Firefly, who was standing at the fence watching him as if she knew he was thinking about her. He gently rubbed her between her eyes, and really started to look at her then. He noticed the subtle signs that her time was closer than he'd realized. Much closer. Well, she's ready to foal tonight, he realized with the same familiar joy and anticipation that was always mixed with a healthy dose of worry. No matter how many mares' he'd watched have their foals, there was always that chance of something going wrong. As he stood there musing and rubbing the mare's forehead, the sun was dropping down below the horizon, casting shades of gold, red, orange, and a multitude of colors never named over the ranch. Night was coming quickly with the promises of what was to come.

As the Old Man wandered off towards the neighboring ranch he called home, the sun shone warm upon his face. He had just secured himself a steady supplement to his income for his honest work. Things were starting to look up in his world again. As he neared the fence and property line, his old dog ran up to greet him. He smiled broadly as he said to his dog, "Well, maybe now things will finally start to come back around."

As he stood there musing and rubbing the mare's forehead, Katie walked up and softly said, "Isn't she beautiful?" The Old man looked at Katie with tears in his eyes and told her how lucky Firefly was to have her. Katie told The Old Man how Firefly came into her life and how Katie was the lucky one.

They stood there in thoughtful silence watching her graze and swishing at flies.
Sam's mind wandered back to when Firefly was born. Lady had an uneventful pregnancy but her delivery was anything but uneventful, it became a very touch and go situation. There had been a very real possibility that both Lady and her foal wouldn’t make it.Lady had started her labor out normally, and progressed very quickly. As her contractions got closer and closer together, she started to push the foal out of her body... but something was very wrong. The foals legs were bent backwards at the knees, and no matter how hard she pushed, she would never be able to get the baby out on her own.The Old Man had been forced to manually move both forelegs into the correct position for the filly to be born, a very tricky and difficult maneuver. He had almost lost both the mare and the foal, but his quick actions had allowed the foal to be put into the correct birthing position. It wasn't very soon after that Lady had a brand new filly lying by her side. He had named the little filly Duchess, but the little girl's name of Firefly fit the bay mare as well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Working on the Lope/Canter Departure

Today I got an email asking me how I get a horse to depart into the lope from a walk or stop and how I get him to pick up the correct lead.

I think that before we get started there are some things that need to be understood about the mechanics of the departure and the lead, that will help in teaching a horse how to move into those transitions and how to pick up the correct lead. And we need to go over the positioning of the riders legs as well.

1) The departure and the lead start on the outside hind leg. When the horse pushes off of his outside hind, that allows him to pick up the inside hind and the inside shoulder. At this point in the horses training, he should know how to use his hind end.

2) It will work better if the horse is straight and parallel to the rail, that way he will not be able to drop his inside shoulder. If the horse drops his inside shoulder, then he will not be able to pick up the correct lead.

3) The position of the rider is very important. If the rider drops his inside shoulder, then the horse will do the same. The rider needs to be centered on the horse.

4) The riders inside leg should be back behind the cinch/girth and the outside leg should be at the same place as the inside leg. When a rider moves his outside leg further back than the inside leg, the horses hip will move to the inside and that horses shoulder will move towards the rail. Remember, the departure should be as straight as possible.

5) The horse must be moving off both of my legs laterally before we move into teaching departures.

Now that we have established mechanics and position, then we are ready to ask for the departure.

What I like to do is teach the horse to relax before we do anything new, so I like to walk to horse down the rail on a loose rein dong small circle to make sure that they are going to follow their face and that they will bend around my leg.

When I feel that they are ready, I will ask them to stop and stand, then I like to squeeze with my legs and ask them to take a few steps forward before stopping again. After doing that a few times, I will stop again and ask for then ask for the lope by clucking and then kissing and cuing with my outside leg. If the horse does not pick up the lope, then I will stop and ask again. I do not want the horse top pick up the trot first because I do not want to teach him that habit and I do not want them to speed up.

If the horse does not pick up the correct lead, I do not like to do smaller circles as that makes the horse drop his shoulder an speed up. I want the departure to be slow and correct so the horse will stay quiet and slow while he lopes. I also like to leave the horses face alone so he is comfortable while leaning his departures, so I like to work on a loose rein.

I have found that this is the best way to teach horse his departures, it is simple and it makes it easy for the horse without any confusion, and by eliminating the confusion this does not take long teach your horse his departures at all.

When I am asked to fix a lead problem, I do the same thing, in other words, I go back to basics with the horse.