Here is a list of articles written for the local Horse Previews magazine, giving principles and detailed descriptions of the Sensible Horsemanship training methods.
|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:50 PM||comments (1)|
What a great season thus far! I do pray you have had a good summer also. As I sit down to write, I am looking for a subject that is key to almost every horse person I know. One of the sessions I did at Ride the West, was a lecture on Lost Confidence; how it happens and how to regain it. The lecture area was packed. It was clear to me that this is a topic of interest to many horse people. I, myself, have felt the grip of fear following a fall or accident. This loss of confidence is crippling in my line of work. So this month, I will share some things that have helped me to regain my confidence while working with horses.
I have been training horses for 35 plus years. I was practically born on a horse and have never been without one. When I was 6 years old, a horse spooked and ran. I fell off, he step on me and broke my arm. Was I scared of getting back on? No way! I was riding again before the cast came off. I rode bareback and raced all over the mountains with my sisters. We rode blindfolded, backwards, bridleless, (and our horses weren’t taught controls without a bridle), and standing up. It really didn’t matter if I fell off. I just picked myself up, rubbed the sore spots and jumped right back on. There wasn’t a horse anywhere that really intimidated me and the bruises gave me bragging rights. I was invincible.
But, as I got older and the horses got “quicker”, and the ground got harder, and the injuries hurt longer, it became much tougher to make myself “just get back on”. That’s when it became important to find a safer way to train. I began to follow the John Lyon’s methods and this solved a huge amount of issues. It was my first real introduction to ground work lessons that focused on emotional training for the horse. Well, I thought I had found the Golden Rule for horse training and I would never get hurt again.
But, that was not so. Too often, I would skip steps or get too frustrated and cause the horse to revert. Or I would just misjudge the horse’s reaction to a stimulus and I would be nursing more bumps and bruises as I tried to figure out what went wrong and if I could prevent it next time. And, every so often, the cause of injury would be some “freak” incident that defied preparation. These are, by far, the most unsettling for how can you fix what you didn’t know could happen.
One example was a young Tennessee Walker gelding I had in training. He had started nice and I had been riding him on the trails for a couple weeks when our neighbors hauled in cattle for pasture. Back then, I would let a horse approach to the distance it felt comfortable and let it stop when it wanted, then proceed slowly until past the perceived threat. We were riding on a road with a field to the left and the cow pasture to the right. This colt was bold and approached fairly close before stopping to look.
When he realized that they didn’t smell right, I knew that he was going to whirl which didn’t really concern me. But what I didn’t take into account (and neither did he) was the 2 foot rise into the field to the left so when he spun, the bank swept his feet out from under him and we went down hard. As I rolled up onto my knees, I saw 2 colts running off through the field. I was sure that wasn’t good. Luckily his round pen training took hold and he came back to me. I mounted up, rode him home, untacked him and took the rest of the day off (and a couple more). Now that was something I could have prevented but it still was so unexpected, I would never have thought to prepare for it differently.
There are many examples, some as recent as a couple years ago when I had a filly fall with me in an arena because she bolted when the sprinkler system came on unexpectedly and I over reacted. I sustained a concussion and a cracked rib. Or 2 ½ weeks later when a yearling unexpectedly exploded as I began to cinch a saddle on and kicked me in the ribs resulting in 4 broken ribs and the end to my work for the year. Suffice it to say, I have had my share of incidents that can and have led to a loss of confidence and the quest to regain it or be paralyzed in my ability to continue doing what I love.
So, how do you regain confidence once something has happened? Confidence has to do with trust; trust in yourself and your abilities and trust in the methods you use for training your horse. If you purchase a horse or if you already own one, one of the first things you doubt is if the horse has enough of the right training to be safe for you to handle and ride. It looked okay when you purchased it but it is acting differently now that it’s at your house. You are not very confident that you will be able to control the horse if something scares it once you're on. So now what?
DON’T JUST CLIMB ABOARD AND HOPE FOR THE BEST!!! There are certain “tests” that your horse must pass before you should get astride. You do not have to take the horse at its current level of training and just hope to survive it. You can teach your horse to respond the way you want it to so you can have “confidence” in what it knows. You must teach it what you want it to know. So few people have a non-negotiable set of exercises their horse must know before they climb aboard. But you must have a plan. Don’t count on just doing damage control all the time. Be prepared to teach and guide your horse so you are the leader and he is the follower.
When you know what lessons to work on and have practiced them enough to be confident that your horse will respond safely and you will know how to control him, it takes away a lot of the apprehension of working with your horse. When the fears and doubts start to rise up, you will know where to focus your mind and how to focus your horse’s mind as well. And I’m not talking about super hard lessons that require youth and athletic abilities to perform. Almost anyone can do bridle work from the ground, directional control exercises, round pen work, etc. Far too many horses that people are riding are not really broke and when the control is needed, it's just not there. It's like being in a car, pushing on the brakes and they don't slow or stop the car. It doesn't give you much confidence. You must be an active rider if you are going to be truly safe with your horse.
This is just the tip of the iceberg concerning this issue of confidence. I would be happy to answer questions in more detail if you would write to me at [email protected] Working with horses is great but it can be scary. But, like my Dad always said, the only way not to face the possibility of being hurt by a horse is to not have a horse. But then you might be hurt by your dog! So if you are willing to take the time it takes, contact me and I can give you more info. Also, I will be doing an Autumn Colors Riding Clinic, September 20-22 for those of you who want to learn more confident ways of dealing with your horses. This will include lessons from Basic to Advanced; for young horses and old. Until later, God bless you and keep you safe…….Ann
|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
Last article I spoke of why it is good to teach your horse to deal calmly and confidently with obstacles he might encounter on the trail. This time I will share with you my way of teaching him this lesson. By setting up objects that represent obstacles in a safe place, I can give my horse the time he needs to learn the correct way to address and negotiate whatever may block our path.
When I teach obstacles, I like to think of them as tests to see if I have the connection with my horse that I think I have. When you send your child to school to learn to read, he must first learn the alphabet, then put the letters together to make words and eventually put the words together to make sentences and stories. The only way to see if the child has learned the lessons successfully is to test him regularly. Doing well on the test will confirm knowledge of the alphabet and their use.
So the alphabet would be connecting the left rein to the hip and to the shoulder and to the feet so you can move your horse right, left, forward and backwards on cue. They would include a great head-down cue, a go-forward cue and a send cue, etc. And when taught from the right rein, they are a whole new set of letters. When you start combining the moves, they become like words and these basics should be in place before you start working on specific obstacles. So, before we start on an object, be sure to review your controls. Then pick an easy obstacle and let's get started.
For this article, I am going to use a tarp. Now, I would not suggest you start with a tarp if your horse is afraid of it. Start by having your horse cross a log, a piece of board or something else less frightening. Set the obstacle in a safe, preferably enclosed location so if the horse pulls away it does not get away. If you are setting up a tarp, lay it out flat and put something heavy on the corners or edges to keep it in place. Put a snaffle bit on your horse and take a lead, whip and gloves with you to the training area.
When I teach a lesson, I am always thinking of how I want it to be when I am in the saddle. So, I know I cannot lead my horse over the obstacle while on the ground and have him do as well when I am riding him. I must have a go-forward cue I can use to drive him over, under, or into the obstacle from the ground because I will be 'driving' him when I am on his back. I move away from the obstacle to teach this cue so my “student” can learn the new “letter” without the pressure of the test.
I secure my reins in such a way that the horse can put his head down to smell the obstacle without pulling on the bit or stepping into his reins. I will then hook a lead into the left side of his bit, place my whip on my shoulder and start the lesson. I use a “kissing” sound to cue my horse for movement so I start by 'kissing' to my horse with a slow steady rhythm. If he has not moved by the 2nd kiss, I start moving the whip towards his hip. By the 6th kiss, I start tapping his hip with an increasing pressure until he takes a step forward. I immediately stop kissing and return the whip to my shoulder. I repeat the steps again and again until he moves forward every time he hears the kiss and I don't have to move the whip.
You will teach this lesson from both sides. Switch the lead to the right side of the bit. Be sure the horse steps forward, not to the side before releasing the pressure. Don't stop kissing even when you have to add the whip or your horse will cue from the whip and not the kiss. You don't have to use a kiss; any verbal cue is effective if you are consistent. This go-forward cue will help you the rest of the time you own this horse once it is taught correctly.
Now, pick a side, (I usually start from the left), take hold of the lead fairly close to the bit to control the horse's direction and cue your horse towards the tarp. Keep his nose pointed towards a specific spot and cue him forward. Let him stop when he gets as close as he is comfortable, praise him for his response and then cue him forward again. If he is fairly calm, he will stop close to the edge of the tarp. If he is scared, he may stop 10 ft away. Let him stop as this is where the obstacle starts for him. It may not just be the tarp but the space around it that this horse needs to get confident in dealing with. Don't get in a hurry or you will just add more anxiety to an already fearful setting. The lesson is the same and the emotional training has long lasting results.
Starting from where the horse stops, kiss and ask him for another step forward. Release when he takes a forward step and praise him. In the beginning, let him step back again as it helps the emotion come back down. When you think you can, ask for another step. If he gets in the habit of a step forward and then back, still release when he goes forward but cue again as soon as he starts to step back. Repeat this dance until he stays at the forward step spot. Let him relax and then go through all the steps to advance him to the tarp. If you cue him forward and he starts backing, just follow him back, continuing to kiss and tap until he takes a forward step. Release the pressure and cue him back to his starting point.
When his next step is onto the tarp, he may get nervous again. Be patient and remember why you are doing this lesson; to condition a confident response and to test your bit control. When you cue him forward, remember to keep a short hold on his lead or rein so you can guide the nose and to keep him from running over you as an escape route. He will want to smell the tarp and probably paw it to see if it is solid so you will have to adjust your hold but don't let him have too much slack or he can knock you down before you can stop him.
The best is if he will let you baby step him onto and across the tarp. Depending on his fear level and on previous “tarp” sessions, he may step on and then back of rapidly or he may get his front feet on quietly but then bolt across with his back ones. Horses are more fearful of strange stuff under their back feet than around the front. They can't see it as well and are therefore more guarded. So don't try to make them walk perfectly over the tarp in the beginning. I hold my lead in such a way that when he finally goes over, I can give him slack and let him cross without running into the bit.
I will put him back and forth several times before getting more specific with speed control and foot placement. Then, by using the bit, I will start asking him to go slower and let me control his speed with the reins until I can stop him anywhere on the tarp, back him or step him forward as many steps as I want and he is relaxed and in control of his emotions during the process.
I have had to do this lesson against a fence and use both reins as if I were riding to get control of some horses that have learned to bolt through anything when they are scared but it totally changed them from then on. Again, don't start with the scariest thing you can find; pick easy stuff and get them giving you the correct answer every time. Then the harder stuff like loading in a trailer or jumping over a log won't be that big of a deal. Crossing water can be another tough one but this lesson is the ultimate way to teach your horse to walk through water with ease. Until next time....ride safe and God Bless.........
|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
Our snow is nearly gone and I am back in the saddle, working horses several hours per day. As the trails open up and the warmer weather arrives, I will begin riding my training loops with mini saw in hand to remove any 'obstacles' that have encroached during the winter. My horses have encountered water, dead-fall, mud and brush so often that I hardly even think about them refusing to let me guide them safely through whatever we come across on the trail. But it is not so with many horses that arrive at my ranch for training or tune-ups.
Trail riding and obstacles go hand-in-hand. Crossing water or bridges or negotiating a scattering of dead-fall are often an expected part of every ride. Less thought of obstacles might be pushing through thick brush, going up or down very steep terrain, dealing with muddy ground or having to jump a log that is too high to step over and too low to go under. Therefore, teaching your horse what to expect when you encounter obstacles is an important part of having a safer horse to ride.
Have you ever wondered why your horse reacts so strongly to things that seem to be so minor? When we riders approach an obstacle, we analyze it, determine its purpose and usually judge its safety fairly quickly. Things such as a puddle on the road or a boggy spot in the field don't raise red flags to us. But a horse does not reason like we do. They do not think in terms of how badly they might get hurt when encountering an obstacle. With a prey animal, it is life and death. They are always thinking of living and not dying.
So, when we come upon something they are afraid of and we pressure them to just do it, we can do some serious damage to their trust and it makes them very anxious about obstacles in general. They may resort to extreme behaviors to avoid being forced over something they perceive as being deadly. Some people think that if they force the horse through once, then the horse will be okay with it the next time. But, adding fear to an already uncertain horse will only make them worse the next time. Soon, you will have to know your trails and avoid any rides that might have obstacles your horse won't deal with. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Teaching your horse to calmly negotiate obstacles is a great lesson for any horse, not just the ones that are going to be shown in trail classes or going to compete in trail challenges. When done right, your horse will approach new things with an understanding of what you are going to ask him to do. He will trust that he will be guided, not pressured, through the correct steps. The horse learns to trust your request to approach new things. He gets this respect and trust from having been taught in a safe situation to go over things he is not familiar with and by learning that he did not get hurt while doing so.
The lessons are for the rider as much or more than the horse. The rider learns how to approach an unfamiliar setting in a manner that allows the horse time to negotiate it calmly and safely. The horse, in turn learns to approach the next object in a calmer, more confident manner. It will soon become apparent that it is really not about the particular obstacle you are working with but about teaching your horse a pattern for dealing with whatever obstacle or environmental setting you might come in contact with in your daily travels. Building trust is priceless and develops confidence for the future.
There are 2 types of obstacle work I like to do with all my horses. The first is working from the ground with the bridle. Teaching my horse to respond correctly to the bit letting me guide it over, under and through obstacles gives me a much closer connection and a better trained horse. I sometimes use a small board or soft flexible rubber tub and teach my horse to place its foot right on the board or into the tub. I especially like introducing water from the ground first as it reduces the trauma for the horse, is much easier on my body and I can be very specific about teaching the horse to step into the water and not jump over it.
Then I will work the obstacles from the saddle. By starting with simple things and working up to the scarier objects, I can build the correct response every time. Then, no matter what I might come across on my ride, I will know that I can trust my horse to deal with it confidently and safely. Also, it is a great way to get your horse softer and more supple as you improve body control with the bridle to keep him going where you want him to go.
Next article, we will work on teaching obstacles from the ground. So gather some objects, set them up in a safe working environment and get ready to improve your riding times. Use your imagination as to what you will use. Poles, large rubber mats or thick sheet of plywood, trail class bridge, logs of different lengths and sizes and a large tarp. Also, gather some cardboard boxes and make a maze, make a pile of empty milk jugs or get an old mattress without springs. The options are endless.
I will be teaching obstacle lessons at my Sensible Horsemanship Spring Tune-up Clinic, April 19-21. You can register on my website and come join the fun. Until next time, God Bless and be safe....
|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:45 PM||comments (0)|
The new year is here. There is snow on the ground and cold in the air so it's hard to think about summer riding but the days will fly by and spring will arrive before you know it. So I want to share some tips for selecting a trainer or instructor to work with you and your horse when the time comes.
Because there are no mandatory classes to take or licenses to earn, nearly anyone can put an ad in the paper, hang up a shingle and call themselves a horse trainer. With so much information available on video or TV, a person with a little knowledge and a lot of determination can come across as knowing more than they do.
But learning some techniques and having the experience to apply them to each horse specifically are two different things. You may end up paying a chunk of money without getting the results you're hoping for or your horse may end up worse than when you started. The stories are endless that I have heard to that effect.
Now, with that being said, I would rather send my horse to a trainer with good methods and little experience than to one who has been training for many years but uses techniques that are hard for me to follow or reinforce with my horse when I get it back. Many trainers are good at training the horse to their ability level but cannot break it down for the less experienced rider. Because they can ride the horse well, they are satisfied and expect that you should be able to do the same.
You have already invested time and money into your horse. Before you invest more, you owe it to yourself to take the time to get the training you are expecting. This is a good time to start looking as you have a few months before the weather opens up for spring so you don't have to be in a hurry to make a decision. So let me give you a few tips to get you started so you can get the results you are looking for in this new year.
The first thing you need is to know what you are looking for. Whether you have a horse that needs started under saddle or one with a particular problem, what you expect needs to be very clearly defined. Sit down and write out a detailed description of what the perfect horse looks like to you. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to know if the person you are evaluating can produce those qualities in your horse.
Next, be clear about your goals with your horse. Whether you plan on showing, gaming or trail riding, your young horse will take to the discipline easier if it is given time to become comfortable with just being ridden first. You may need to hire one trainer to get your horse solid in the basics and another that specializes in the discipline you acquired your horse to participate in.
There are some trainers that are good at both. But there are others that start out focusing on the discipline while skipping the foundation needed for the horse to properly adjust. Then, when the horse rebels out of fear and uncertainty, he is blamed for being a tough horse and you are advised to get a different one. While this is sometimes necessary due to physical confirmation or such, often it is from rushing or eliminating the processes necessary for the horse to learn.
Another step is to decide how involved you want to be in your horse's training. I have had owners who drop the horse off and only return when the horse is ready to go home. I have also had a few who are here almost every day. I find the second are far more successful with their horses. But know what you want or can do. Some trainers will not let you come watch for the first 2-4 weeks they have your horse so you'll need to decide ahead of time. And lessons with your horse are always a good idea so evaluate the trainer's people skills and teaching abilities when deciding. Does he or she make you feel confident and able when you work with your horse? Or do you come away feeling like you should just bag the whole idea?
Now for the cost. When you are asking about cost, you must take into consideration the amount of actual time your horse is being worked with. Some trainers sound like they are very reasonably priced but when you find out the amount of time they are actually working with your horse, the hourly rate may be very high. On the same note, it works the other way also. A trainer that seems to be very expensive may be working more time per day and the hourly rate works out to be less than the the first trainer. So know what amount of time you are paying for when you hire a trainer.
When you find someone you are interested in, set up a time or a day to go watch him work. It is best to watch him work several different horses at different levels in their progress. Ask him questions if he will allow it when he does something that you do not understand. File the answers and ask yourself if it makes sense or if you want him treating your horse the same way. Go and watch him several times and get references. If you do not have much experience with horses, go watch several different trainers to get an idea of different training styles so you can make an informed decision.
Bottom line, it is your choice and your responsibility to do the best you can for your horse by finding a good trainer. When you send him to a trainer, be sure you have done your homework so you can give him the best opportunity possible for becoming a faithful riding horse. The right trainer for you is out there so take the time to find him or her and enjoy the results in your well adjusted horse. Until next time.....God Bless
|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:45 PM||comments (0)|
It is September already and the Fall colors are just around the corner. Some of the best riding weather of the year is ahead as it usually is not very rainy and the temperatures are cooling down to comfortable. That also makes it more enjoyable to concentrate on training during rides. It can be fun to problem solve and using the Replacement Concept gives it the feel of a game instead of a chore.
For those of you who missed the last article, let me briefly explain the use of the Replacement Concept. Basically, it is focusing on what you do want your horse to do instead of what you don't. It is attaching a particular exercise and response to a negative behavior so as to keep a positive attitude when riding. And it causes you to practice responses that are not repeated enough on an average trail ride.
It is common for us to focus on the negative behavior and then get frustrated with the horse because he won't stop this behavior. But what if you decided to use that behavior as a signal to practice an exercise that you wanted better anyway? This will totally change your attitude towards that 'unwanted' behavior and will give you a better trained horse by the end of your ride. The Replacement Concept can be used for all kinds of trail riding areas such as eating on the trail, jigging, buddy sour reactions, constantly trying to turn back, crossing obstacles....the list is endless.
So let me give you more examples of using the Replacement Concept. Let's start with a horse that 'jigs' or trots on the trail when you don't want to trot. Most of the time, the solution is to hold back on the reins with constant pressure to slow the horse down but that “dumb” horse still trots even though he is trotting slower than he could walk. Mostly, this is due to you holding him back. When a horse walks, he nods his head; when he trots, he doesn't. So if you hold constant pressure on the reins, he cannot walk.
If you let him out and only check him back to a walk before giving him slack again, he is still gaining ground every time he trots. But if you back him up and then give him slack, even if you have to do it every other stride for a while, he will figure out that if he walks, you let him go. And just think of how great your back-up will be in a very short time. Backing teaches your horse to soften and give you better speed control whenever you ask.
Other exercises to replace trotting are working on diagonal work with his shoulders, picking up one rein to guide him into a circle and releasing as soon as he walks, teaching a 1-rein back-up and disengaging the hips. Be sure, if you are riding with others, that you have someone who will go just a little ways and then wait for you. If your horse finds himself getting farther behind when you back him, he will have a hard time learning due to the emotions from feeling abandoned.
Another behavior to replace is eating on the trail. If you have a horse that thinks you are taking him out for lunch when you ride and grabs for food every chance he gets, he can be retrained in a couple short sessions. Disengaging the hip works great for the Replacement Concept approach. Start by taking your horse to a tempting location and give him some slack. Every time he reaches for a bite, pick up the rein and ask him to disengage his hip 1-3 times on that side. Release and give him some slack while you switch your hands for the other side. Just stay patient and relaxed while you let him figure out the connection between his attempts to eat and your request for him to move his hip. It won't take that long and you won't be able to convince him to reach for a bite. When he is good in an open spot, take him on the trails and practice it there. If the trail is too narrow to move the hip, backing also makes a good replacement exercise.
After you have taught this, you need to be consistent and correct him on every bite. Soon, he will not eat while being ridden. But if you let him eat sometimes and don't want him to eat other times, it will be harder to stop. I make it a rule to never let my horse eat while I am riding or leading him. If I want to hand graze them, I use the head down cue to put his head down to eat.
There are lots of different areas to apply the Replacement Concept and get a better trained horse in the process. I find that I only use a handful of exercises but get great results. I use serpentines for calming a horse. I use backing and disengaging the hip for slowing them down. I use giving to the bit, to focus the horse on the trail ahead instead of looking to the side. But use your imagination and you can enjoy every ride just by using what the horse does to get him better trained and to take more responsibility for his speed and responses.
I have covered only a few areas but am interested in hearing from you and helping you think through ways to improve your riding experiences. Send me an email and let's learn together. I have a couple clinics coming up before the end of the year so check out the schedule and come ride with me. Until next time, God Bless and stay safe........