Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horse Training for Free or Cheap: Three Methods

Free and cheap are both excellent words that make me sit up and listen in this economy, especially when those words relate to horse training. I'm not the best horse trainer in the world, but I do love to school my own horses and learn more about horse training if I can.

So, it being a totally cruddy economy, I've been stretching my brain as to how to get more horse training for less money. Here are three ideas I've come up with.

#1: Auditing Lessons and Clinics

I can't claim credit for this one because my friend Karen started it, but this one is great. When I'd drive up for lessons with a local reining trainer (about 50 miles away), my buddy Karen would come along and watch the lesson. Since I went up every couple of weeks or so, Karen got to watch lessons every couple of weeks or so. And since my horse was definitely a beginner reiner, Karen learned a lot of the basic techniques "from the ground up," so to speak, that she could use on her own horse.

Now the reining trainer could have gotten testy if he wanted to, but Karen had two things going for her that kept her in his good graces. First, Karen attended a couple of his weekend clinics, which were not very expensive but did give her a "feel" for the techniques she was learning by watching.

Second, by saying she wanted to come watch me in my lesson she was able to justify her continued presence at my lessons. It works great for her, and I've since started doing that here and there with a few of my buddies. I ask permission from the trainer, and have never been told "no." I also try to give back to the trainer by recommending him or her to people I meet who are interested in their discipline.

#2: For Kids 4-H Works Great
Now you definitely can't do 4-H if you are an adult because it's for kids only, but if you have a kid interested in horse training or riding, 4-H is definitely one inexpensive and useful way to go. My neighbor just started taking her son to the local 4-H club and, because she sits with him the whole time, is learning a lot about horsemanship and horses, in general. Her son is learning tons, too.

So far the club is only doing bookwork, since it is winter, but come spring her son will get riding lessons as well. 4-H is a great part of any horse community, and if you have a local club and a kid interested in riding, I'd definitely suggest participating in this group!

#3: Have a Trainer Sit on Your Horse
This doesn't always work, but sometimes it can be an inexpensive horse training technique. I had my reining trainer sit on my jumper mare, just once, and it did wonder for her. The mare, Valentine, is a well-broke mustang but she was stiff to the left. I couldn't work out that "kink" by myself, so I had the reining trainer sit on her. In just one session, he was able to loosen up her left side and put some new gears on her.

As I said, this won't work for every horse, but sometimes having a horse trainer sit on your horse once every 6 months can advance you and your horse by leaps and bounds. In this case, it was worth spending the $45. Not every horse trainer will sit on a horse just once, but if you have a relationship with that trainer, chances are good that he or she will be willing to do so. Might be something to think about!

Do you have any ideas for free or cheap horse training? Care to share?

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Horse Health Care: Treating Horse COPD or Heaves

If you have ever seen a horse suffering from symptoms of COPD, also called heaves, then you know that the picture is not pretty. The horse can't breathe properly, respiration is high, nostrils are flared, and then there's the heave line, a sure sign of respiratory distress.

Although this used to be a horse health care condition that affected mostly older horses, today it has become common in younger performance horses or horses under stress. While it has always been assumed that COPD or horse heaves is caused by an allergy to hay, dust, mold, or other allergens, I recently discovered that this condition can also be simply a sign of stress.

Reyacita: A Case Study
Reyacita (above) is a four-year-old mustang mare I adopted about 8 months ago. She had a rattle in her chest when I brought her home, and the rattle always sounded louder when she was under stress (such as when I started her under saddle).

A few months after she came home, the rattle in her chest developed into a full-blown case of heaves, or COPD. She had difficulty breathing, and coughed deeply and constantly. She was clearly suffering.

Since this happened in late winter, I could not put her on pasture. Instead, I took her off hay and began feeding her soaked beet pulp and a senior pelleted feed. I also offered her grass hay cubes that had been soaked.

I supplemented this diet with antioxidant fruit juice, blue-green algae, enzymes, and probiotics to help heal her lungs. Within two weeks, the coughing had stopped but the rattle in her chest always reappeared when Reyacita was stressed. A prime example is when I rode her through our small town for the first time. Although she showed no other signs of stress, when we reached an intersection that had traffic, she put her head down and rattled with each breath. As soon as we turned around and headed for home, the rattle disappeared.

The Veterinarian's Diagnosis
When I consulted veterinarian Dr. Madalyn Ward about Reyacita's case, she told me that I was on the right track with the mare's diet and supplements. She asked me to find out Reyacita's horse personality type by taking the online test at Horse Harmony. Reyacita turned out to be a Metal personality type, whose typical physical weakness is the lungs, so her bout with COPD or heaves was not surprising.

Recent Changes
Once spring arrived I was able to turn Reyacita out on pasture, although I continued to syringe the mix of mangosteen juice and other supplements into her mouth daily. Her health improved to such a point that the rattle in her chest disappeared, even when she was under stress. Everything went well until she started eating hay again this fall.

I wanted to try feeding her hay again to see whether she had truly conquered her COPD or whether she was truly allergic to hay. For the first 4-5 days, she ate the hay and showed no signs of coughing. Then one day I began training all the horses for cowboy mounted shooting. This involved firing a small revolver at a pretty good distance (about 500 yards) from the horses so they could become accustomed to the noise.

None of the horses showed much alarm, they just all moved to the far end of the pen. However, Reyacita immediately developed a cough. The noise from the revolver stressed her enough that her physical weakness, her lungs, immediately showed the effects. When I discussed her situation with Dr. Ward, she pointed out that when Reyacita heard the sound of the pistol, she probably immediately flipped from the parasympathetic nervous system (the one we use in normal life conditions) to the sympathetic nervous system (used when horses are in fight-or-flight mode). Once the sympathetic nervous system kicked in, Reyacita's immune system became compromised and she started to have heaves again.

Not convinced that Reyacita's COPD symptoms were due to a hay allergy, Dr. Ward suggested I supplement the mare with Eleviv, an herbal product that supports the adrenal system and helps restore the parasympathetic nervous system. I fed Reyacita 2 capsules of Eleviv the first day but gave her no hay. The Eleviv calmed the COPD symptoms within a few minutes, and she improved more during the course of the day. On the second day, I fed her 2 more capsules of Elviv and offered her a few flakes of hay. Reyacita was able to eat the hay without any COPD symptoms. The third day was the same.

This indicates that Reyacita's COPD is the result of stress rather than a hay allergy. While many horses with COPD or heaves are assumed to have hay or dust allergies, this may or may not be the case. As with Reyacita, these horses may simply be under too much stress, and their weakest physical link may be their lungs, hence the COPD.

It would not surprise me to discover that many performance horses operate primarily off their sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, which depresses the immune system and prevents healing. Bringing this horse back around to the parasympathetic nervous system, as I did by giving Reyacita the adrenal-supporting Eleviv, may allow these horses to not only heal but also to feel a great deal more comfortable.

If you have some experience with helping horses with COPD or heaves, please do share. You may also want to check out this informative article on heaves on Dr. Ward's website here.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Horse Feed: Trivial but Useful Feeding Tips

Depending on how picky you are about feeding your horses, and if you have any "special needs" horses, doing chores can take up a lot of time. I've picked up a few tips along the way on speeding up the horse feeding process, and I'll pass them along here, just in case they are of use to any other horse folks out there.

Soaking Beet Pulp

If you feed beet pulp then you know it has to be soaked before being fed to prevent choking and other horse health hazards. It can also take a long time, especially in the winter in a cold climate. I've found that beet pulp shreds soak a lot faster then pellets, and give horses a lot more "crunch factor." They also tend to satisfy a horse's need for long-stem forage better than the pellets. For faster soaking, bring the bucket of beet pulp into the house and add hot water instead of cold. Alternatively, soak the beet pulp the night before with cold water, then top it up with warm water in the morning. A meal of warm beet pulp will help warm a shivering horse on a chilly morning.

Hauling Water
This one is silly, but true. Recently I had to put Walker, my hothouse flower gelding, in a separate pen so he could eat in peace and gain weight. The pen was miles away from water, so I had to haul water in buckets (in a little red wagon) to his pen. Water sloshed everywhere! I ended up putting a flat board or a smaller bucket on the surface of the water, which greatly reduced the sloshing. I ended up at the pen with several almost-full buckets of water instead of half-full buckets.

Supplements in a Free-Choice Environment
If you have to supplement a group of horses that eat free-choice in an open pasture or pen, one good way to offer unique supplements to each horse is to syringe it in their mouths, if possible. All of my horses are trained to accept this method. I often mix up separate syringes for each horse and feed those first before placing the buckets and hay in the pasture. Once the buckets and hay are put down, it's a merry-go-round of chase and be chased. However, by giving each horse his or her syringe-full of unique supplements, I know that they each got what they needed.

For instance, two horses get the standard horse "goo" I mix of antioxidant juice and Simplexity Health Essentials. My mare with heaves gets two capsules of Eleviv herbal supplement with the goo, which keeps symptoms of heaves at bay. Finally, my gelding gets even more supplements than that mixed with the goo. But all of it fits neatly into a syringe, and then the free-for-all feeding frenzy can begin after that!

Anyway, don't know if these tips will help, but they do help me ensure that each horse gets what they need, and chores don't take forever and a day!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Which is Cheaper and Better: A Shrink or a Roping Clinic?

Actually, I can't tell you from personal experience whether a shrink is better than attending a roping clinic, but I can tell that in the whole time that I have owned horses I have never needed the services of a shrink. Plus, I know what they charge, and it ain't cheap.

The reason I bring up this question is because, as all Colorado horse people know, we are heading into the deep dark tunnel that happens this time of year. It's called winter. Unless you live the life of Riley and have an indoor arena, winter basically sucks for horse people in our neck of the woods. The snow, wind, and icy footing (normal conditions for deep winter here) are a formula for disaster and injury. So unless we want to haul to an indoor arena to ride every day, it ain't happening.

But a day without riding is like a day without sunshine, as they say (at least horse addicts like me say that). So what's a zen cowgirl horse addict to do?

Did You Say Cheap Horse Activity? Invent a Roping Clinic
Well, zen cowgirls who don't want to go crazy will invent new cheap horse activities that have never existed before. My whole goal, on this blog and during this winter, is to come up with as many fun, cheap, mostly safe horse activities as I can so that as many horse people can have fun as possible.

So here's one I've come up with recently: a series of roping clinics. I know a pro roper who, aside from having won a ton of money and stuff, also has a fabulous indoor arena and lives about 10 miles from my house. I also know a bunch of crazy cowgirls like me who are pinching pennies and trying not to go stir crazy. So I call them all and ask them if they could like to participate in a series of inexpensive beginner roper clinics taught by this pro roper. I call the pro roper dude and I ask if he's interested in making a few bucks teaching a bunch of crazy cowgirls how to rope (we only know how to do penning, jumping, reining, and trail riding). He says, "Sure!"

So we're scheduling a series of beginner roping clinics in his indoor arena this winter. The curriculum will go something like this:

Session 1: Meet your rope.
Learn how to hold, swing, and throw your rope while standing on the ground. Learn to avoid hitting yourself in the head with your rope. Bonus: you don't need to haul your horse to this event because there's plenty to learn standing on your own two feet.

Session 2: Learn to rope a dummy.
After practicing throwing the rope for a while, it's time to learn to rope the Robo Steer, still from the ground, of course. Still avoiding hitting your head, of course. Again, no horse needed.

Session 3: Learn to rope on horseback.
Learn to throw the rope off a calm, gentle, caring school horse. Learn to avoid hitting yourself in the head in this new position. Learn to avoid hitting the poor horse in the head. Learn to rope the Robo Steer in this new position. Again, no horse needed, school horse provided.

Session 4: Learn to rope off your horse.
Hah! This should be fun! Starting with twirling a mere lead rope around and over top of your own horse, teach your horse to be comfortable with the lariat, with you on the ground or on his back. Yee-haw!

Session 5: Learn to swing the rope while your horse is moving.
Again, yee-haw! Learn to juggle reins and the rope, and swing the rope, while your horse is moving at various gaits. Learn to avoid runaways and whacking your head, your horse's head, or other objects in your vicinity.

Session 6: Learn to rope the Robo Steer from your horse.
Need we say it again? Yee-haw! Some horses will need help even getting near the Robo Steer, never mind following it. Then there's you--with the rope, reins, and black eye!

Get the picture yet? These clinics are fun, fabulous, and could generate reams of blackmail tape to be published on YouTube. I love it. In total, I'm quite sure that this activity will keep me from going stir crazy this winter, plus I'm sure I'll love it more than I would love seeing a shrink.

Do you agree? What similar crazy events could you come up with for your horse and your area?

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horse Feed: Feed a Thin Horse This Winter without Going Broke

Do you have a skinny horse? If so, then the approaching cold weather probably has you fretting over the most economical kind of horse feed to offer your horse this winter. Thin horses, often called "hard keepers" are always a challenge to feed, even in good weather, but when the weather turns cold, feeding a thin horse can rack up the feed bills fast. Here are some options you can consider to put and keep weight on your horse this winter.

Factors That Affect a Horse's Weight
There are multiple physical and emotional factors that affect a horse's weight, and this is especially true of the thin horse. Most horse owners probably already know about many of these factors, but I'll cover them quickly anyway.

Teeth: If you horse has not had a float within the last year, it may be time to take him to the veterinarian or equine dentist for a checkup and float. While this will cost you a bit up front, having your horse's teeth in good working order (without sharp points or hooks or ramps) ensures that you get the most out of every bit of feed this winter.

Calorie Needs: Be sure that your horse's basic calorie needs are met. We'll get into the details of what the feed later in this article, but double check that your horse is getting enough calories in his diet. A horse not in work who lives in a stall and wears a blanket during the winter obviously needs fewer calories than a horse in heavy training who lives outdoors in a run or pasture. Your horse also uses more calories in cold than in balmy weather (shivering eats up a lot of calories!).

Parasites: Check your horse's parasite load with a fecal test. If your horse comes up negative for parasites, you may still want to consider giving a double dose of Strongid-type wormer to eliminate tapeworms, which do not appear on fecal analysis.

Stress: Stress can easily cause a horse to lose weight, and horses feel stress in a number of ways. Physical stress can appear in the form of an injury, hard training, or extreme weather conditions (such as extreme cold). Horses can feel emotional stress if their living conditions don't match their personality. For instance, if your horse is low in the pecking order and is constantly being terrorized by his herd mates, he is bound to feel stressed. Also, if your horse is one who needs lots of room to move, keeping him in a stall or run will cause physical and emotional stress, and can even lead to nasty vices like cribbing or weaving. Horses not suited to their occupations will also feel stressed.

Horse Feed for the Thin Horse
If you have checked all of the factors above and your horse passes with flying colors, then it's time to take a deeper look at what you are feeding him. Thin horses come in two categories: low-energy and high energy.

Horse Feed for the Low-Energy Thin Horse
If your horse is thin and has low energy, then adding calories to his diet and improving his ability to digest food will help him gain weight. You can increase his grain content by up to one pound per 100 pounds of body weight per day. Corn and barley provide more energy than oats. Pelleted senior feeds also tend to work well for thin horses. You can also add up to a cup of corn oil per day to his feed, along with alfalfa to provide extra energy and calories. If you horse is picky about eating grain but likes to eat hay, he may have ulcers that need to be addressed.

To improve your horse's ability to digest his food, consider adding high-quality acidophilus and bifudus to his food, along with high-powered enzymes. Blue-green algae also provides a wide-spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals to cover any nutritional gaps that may be present in his diet. I find that a packet or two of Simplexity Health's Essentials is a good "all in one" source for acidophilus, bifidus, enzymes, and blue-green algae.

Horse Feed for the High-Energy Thin Horse
If your horse is thin and has high energy, then chances are that he loses weight through sheer nervous tension and continuous movement. To help this kind horse retain weight, the goal is to keep him calm and relaxed. This kind of horse gains weight more quickly with increased grass hay and some alfalfa. Increased grain does not seem to work as well. In addition to feeding him more calories, adding higher doses of probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus can help a lot. A healthy population of probiotics in the gut helps your horse produce B-vitamins, which results in a calmer and more relaxed horse. Simplexity Health's Omega Sun Algae also helps many high-strung horses calm down because it positively affects the horse's nervous system and brainwaves.

Horse Feed and the Thin Horse
Obviously no "cookie cutter" recipe of horse feed is going to work perfectly on every thin horse, but hopefully this gets you started on thinking about economical ways to feed your thin horse this winter. I have one thin horse (the low-energy kind) to feed this winter and he is already gaining weight from increased hay, alfalfa, senior feed, plus probiotics, algae, enzymes, and mangosteen juice (get the recipe for this "horse goo" HERE). He's living high on the hog ... and loving every minute of it!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Horse Health Care: Time for a Gut Check

Horse health care really begins in the gut, so if you're not sure how strong your horse health care program is, it's time for a gut check.

While I was doling out feed to my horses this morning, I was reflecting on the number of horse health issues related to the gut.

For instance, did you know that:

- the beneficial bacteria in your horse's gut are responsible for producing the biotin necessary for healthy hooves, mane, and tail?

- the beneficial bacteria in your horse's gut are his first line of immune defense?

- poor functioning of your horse's stomach, small intestine, or large intestine can lead to ulcers, colic, weight loss, leaky gut, food allergies, skin conditions, and more?

In other words, a healthy gut equals a healthy horse. An unhealthy gut equals an unhealthy horse. Pretty simple, right?

Taking Care of Your Horse's Gut
The basics of horse health care when it comes to your horse's gut boil down to keeping the populations of friendly bacteria that live in your horse's gut alive and healthy. There's a lot of science behind it and you can learn more by visiting the Holistic Horsekeeping website (look under Resources and go to the Articles section). But for a basic no-frills approach that works well for a zen cowgirl like me, I think about feeding:

- plenty of hay or beet pulp (keeps stomach acid from causing ulcers)
- daily acidophilus and bifidus to keep the friendly bacteria population high
- enzymes to horses who have difficulty with digestion and assimilation
- vitamins, minerals, trace minerals from blue-green algae and antioxidants from this special antioxidant juice to heal any ulceration in the gut

And whoa! Before you go screaming off into the night thinking this is too complicated, consider my simple formula for "horse goo" that takes care of all of these requirements (aside from hay, of course). Get the recipe here.

Keep it simple and always ride your horse in the direction it's going, as they say!

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Horse Training: How Horses Learn in Pasture

Horses train themselves while hanging around in the pasture. No really, I'm not kidding. I've seen it happen over and over again. A while back I rode one of my mustang mares in a beginner reining clinic. During the clinic, the instructor asked:

"How does an untrained horse reverse direction when at liberty?"

After we all volunteered various wrong answers, the instructor told us that the untrained horse will reverse direction by walking in a half-circle. Specifically, he pointed out if that if your throw a flake of hay behind the untrained horse, he will circle back to reach he hay. He will not pivot on his hind end.

Fascinated, I went home and watched the horses in my herd, and sure enough, all of them walked in half-circles to change direction.

Horse Training and How Horses Learn By Themselves
Having verified that the instructor's words were true, I returned to the next session of the reining clinic with the same mare (pictured above). In this session of the clinic, we taught our horses the basics of the turnaround or spin. My mare did not perform this maneuver well at all, despite a great deal of effort on her part. I was a bit disappointed, but the instructor pointed out that my mare did not have the correct conformation for the sport and that I should not expect much from her in terms of spinning.

After the clinic, I was not able to ride for several weeks because of rainy weather. However, I was fascinated to see that my mare began to pivot on her hind end in the pasture when she wanted to change direction. Instead of walking in a circle to reverse direction, she began planting her hind legs and moving her front legs around. Granted, it wasn't a totally correct half spin, but she doing the pivot maneuver, which she had never done before. Having learned a new movement at the clinic, she immediately incorporated it into her daily movements at liberty.

Weeks later, when I was able to get back to riding, I was surprised that this same mare was able to perform the spin better than she did at the clinic, despite the fact that I had not been able to ride her. She had, in fact, been practicing on her own in the pasture. She was engaged in horse training ... without me!

Why Is This So Important?
Of course, all of this begs the question, "Who cares?" Who cares, indeed? Well, the horse owner who does not have all the time in the world to spend riding might care. The person who gets easily frustrated when their horse doesn't seem able to learn a new maneuver quickly might care. The person who can only afford to have a trainer sit on their horse once every few months might care.

This phenomenon of horses being able to learn by themselves and integrate new moves into their physical vocabulary with ease is important for a number of reasons:

1. It lets us off the hook.
If the horse can learn by herself, we can just show her the moves and see how far she takes it. Then when she hits the end of her learning curve, we step in and do more work together.

2. It keeps us from pushing our horses too hard.
When performance horses start needing hock injections at age 4, we are training our horses too hard. But if we can simply bring our horses to a certain level of training and then let them wrap their minds and bodies around that knowledge by themselves, we won't push them as hard. Plus, we'll end up with healthier and happier horses.

3. It gives colts time to catch up with their knowledge.
Around here, most trainers bring 2-year-old colts to the point that they can walk, trot, and lope in both directions quietly. Then they turn them out for the winter and give them time off. This practice works well because it allows the colts to process what they have learned and integrate what they have learned into their knowledge base. It lets colts grow up a bit between periods of horse training, and they usually emerge in the spring of their 3-year-old year with clear minds and the ability to handle more knowledge.

Horse Training Does Happen in Pasture

If you don't believe that horse training does happen by itself in the pasture, teach your horse a new maneuver, and then observe carefully how he behaves in pasture over the next few weeks. I've seen it happen over and over, whether I teach a colt to trot with his neck stretched long and low, or I teach a colt to back. Within a day or so, I see these new moves being integrated into the horse's movements in pasture. The colts practice their newly learned physical movements so that I don't have to keep drilling on it. Way cool!

Is this your experience as well? Yes, no, maybe?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Horse Training: You Can Do a Lot with a Pistol and a Lariat

So the horse market is so soft that it makes a marshmallow look stiff, and most horse addicts are tightening their belts. That means young colts in training don't get hauled to shows "just for the experience" because we're cutting back on gas expenses. Trained horses are also going to fewer shows.

Horses are getting dumped at sale yards or sold for pennies on the dollar. One guy came back from a horses, having sent his horses through the sale, only to discover that someone (who didn't want to pay the sale barn) had dumped 2 unwanted horses in his trailer while he wasn't looking. Yikes!

So where does this leave you if you still have horses, still want to have fun, and still want to do some serious horse training? Well, it leaves you with the art of improvisation.

Improvisation in Horse Training
I've got plenty of hay stored up for the winter, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking at ways to save money while still training my horses. So I'm improvising ... I'm doing the most I can with what I have. Aside from jumping the same jump over and over in hopes of becoming Colorado's first one-jump wonder, I'm reviewing what other assets I might have at my disposal for horse training. So what do I have?

A pistol and a lariat.

Well, actually, it's my hubby's pistol, but what's mine is his and what's his is mine.

You Can Do a Lot of Horse Training with a Pistol and a Lariat

It's true. When it comes to horses you can do a lot with a pistol and a lariat. Am I going to rope my horse and then shoot him? Nope. But I am going to increase his value by using these tools as part of my regular horse training routine. Specifically, I am going to use the pistol and lariat to teach my horses to be safe mounts for shooting and roping. The roping part is obvious: any horse you can rope off of is worth more and is more broke.

The shooting part makes sense if you live in my neck of the woods. In Western Colorado, hunters tend to hunt off their horses, so a horse you can shoot off of immediately is worth its weight in gold, not to mention sound proof, which often equals bomb proof. Also, around here we have a lot of cowboy mounted shooting events, so if I later want to either participate in this event or sell my colts to a cowboy mounted shooter, having a bomb proof horse is going to help.

Horse Training with Pistols and Lariats is Not for Beginners

Don't get the wrong idea here. I'm a good hand with horses, and I can manage to throw a lariat without hitting myself in the head, but that's about all. I know that safely handling pistols (even pistols shooting blanks) and lariats around horses is a whole new ball of wax.

So I'm getting professional help with these two activities. Am I going to pay a lot of money for these activities? Nope. I'm going to, as usual, barter for these services with professionals who rope and do cowboy mounted shooting. And I'm going to have a hell of a lot of fun!

What do you like to do with a horse, a pistol, and a lariat (or do I really want to know)? Or, barring that, what ideas have you got for cheap and fun horse training? Please share!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Horse Training: Don't Be Boxed in By Old Ideas

Do you think your horse is broke? Think again. The majority of people who think their horses are well-trained, or broke, are correct until they take their horse into a new environment. Then all the fun starts: the bucking, rearing, shying, and general mayhem. Then they know that their horses aren't really broke.

My Horse Ain't Broke!
I used to think my veteran jumper gelding, Marcus, was broke. After all, I had successfully campaigned him at all kinds of shows, he had won Championships up to the 4'9" Preliminary Jumper Division, and he was in full training all the time.

Then I moved out the country, met some cowboys, and went riding with them. Ouch! The illusion that my horse was broke fell apart immediately. He couldn't side pass to open a gate; he was afraid of cows, goats, and llamas; and he couldn't figure out where to put his feet when climbing a steep hill. He basically freaked out. Nope, Marcus wasn't broke.

How to Avoid Being Boxed In By Your Routine
Riding with the cowboys, team penners, and ropers, I quickly learned that a well-broke horse is one who pays attention to you, understands your signals, and attempts to do what you ask -- all without freaking out. I know (some) team penners who can have their horse cut a cow out of the herd, and then turn around and take that same horse over a jumper course. In between, they can also navigate a trail course at an open show and score pretty well. They have well-broke horses.

Now how do they do that? By watching closely I've figured out that they do their horse training mostly in the form of "on the job" training. For instance, try to teach a horse to side pass as an isolated exercise and you might get a lot of objections, but teach a horse to side pass while opening and shutting a gate, and you'll get a lot more cooperation. The same goes for working the obstacles on a trail course. The reason the cowboy horses have no problem negotiating a trail course is that they are used to navigating around and over fallen logs on a mountain trail, crossing fast-moving streams, and dragging reluctant steers, all while pushing a herd of cows in front of them. When a horse has a job he likes, he's willing to learn almost anything to do that job well, and that's why cowboy horses are so well-broke.

Some Horse Training Exercises to Get You Out of the Box
If you don't have cows at your disposal, don't fret. You can still do a lot of exercises that will result in a well-broke horse. Here are some simple exercises to help you break up your horse-training routine and to teach your horse some new moves:

1. Working a Gate
Opening, walking through, and shutting a gate teaches your horse to move laterally to snug up next to the gate. It also teaches him not to be afraid of gates touching him, especially on his hindquarters (many horses are spooky about this). He will also learn to take one step at a time, in whichever direction you ask, and to stand still while you unlatch and latch the gate. There's a world of training in working a gate.

2. Drag a Log
Tie a log to a long rope or lariat, and drag the log behind you. This teaches your horse to not spook at people or objects coming up behind him, and teaches him to pull objects at your command. Many horses find this exercise frightening at first, so you may need to lead your horse from the ground the first few times so you maintain control. Teach your horse to drag the log while walking forward and backward.

3. Maintain the Same Gait on Trail
This exercise has to be done with two riders. Proceed along the trail at a walk. Then, keeping your horse at a walk, have the other person move forward at a trot or lope, leaving you and your horse behind. Your focus is to keep your horse calm and collected at the walk. Many horses will want to catch up to the other horse, or will rear, bolt, spook, or buck if not allowed to run with the other horse. To keep your horse calm and in control, you may need to turn him in small circles (called a curl), which prevents him from doing any of these naughty behaviors. You can also try walking him in the opposite direction until he is calm. This teaches your horse that no amount of naughty activity will get him closer to the other horse, so he will eventually learn to just walk.

There are tons more of these simple exercises to help you break out of your horse training routine, but these should get you started, The beauty of these kinds of exercises is that you don't need a lot of equipment or special training. You just have to have the willingness to play around with some new exercises, and most of all, enjoy the process. Don't get mad doing any of these exercises because that won't help. Stay patient and slow, so your horse can learn without stress. This will be totally new and different for many horses, so remember to take it slow.

What about you? Got any great "out of the box" horse training exercises to share?

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