Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Horse Training: Do You Know Where Your Horse's Feet Are?

Do you want to teach your horse basic maneuvers such as picking up the correct lead, side passing, or rolling the hind? Would you like to know what diagonal or lead you are on without having to look down? Or do you want to do more complicated moves with your horse like spins, haunches-in, or sliding stops?

To teach your horse all of these moves requires one basic thing: knowing where your horse's feet are at any given time. To know where your horse's feet are without actually looking down all the time, you need to develop "feel," meaning that you need to be able to feel the placement of your horse's feet and body.

Developing "Feel" in Horse Training
If you have ever tried to develop the ability to know how your horse is positioned without looking, then you might know that the process can be frustrating, if not downright annoying. After all, how are you supposed to be able to "feel" your horse's feet, which are very far away from you?

Luckily you can start with baby steps and work your way up. There are two exercises that I found to be very useful when I first started trying to sense the placement of my horse's feet. Both are done at the trot, which seems to be the easiest gait for me to sense what is happening.

1. Sitting Trot
At the sitting trot you can develop feel by noticing how your hips and seat bones shift from side to side and up-and-down as the horse stretches forward with one diagonal pair of legs, and then with the other pair. You will notice that on any given stride one of your hips will move down and back while the other hip moves forward and up. Begin to correlate the movement of your horse's front feet with a certain position of your hips. For instance, you might say, "Ah, when my hips are positioned like this, my horse's right front leg is forward and the left front leg is back." Making this connection between your visual sensing and your body's position is the first step in developing 'feel.'

You can also do a more advanced version of this execise. As you are sitting the trot, sense which front hoof is moving forward and which one is back without looking down. You'll find, in time, that you will be able to 'see' the movement and position of your horse's front legs in your mind's eye. Look down from time to time to check whether your senses are correct. Don't worry if you find that you are often wrong. Stay with the exercise until you develop the right feel. Trotting down a long straight trail is perfect for practicing this exercise. It took me many rides down the ditch bank before I developed an accurate feel, but the time spent was well worth it.

2. Posting Trot
You can also practice developing feel at the posting trot, and this is an especially useful option if you find the sitting trot difficult. The posting trot is where you rise up out of the saddle and put your weight in the stirrups every other stride. As you trot down a long trail, pick up a random diagonal (or rise up out of the saddle on a random stride). Notice the sensations in your hips and seat bones as you post in this random diagonal. Then look down and check your diagonal (if you don't know about diagonals, just notice which front leg is forward as you rise up out of the saddle). Make the association between the way your body feels and the diagonal. Next, stay up out of the saddle for a random number of strides, and then pick up the posting trot again. Sense whether the sensations are the same or different than last time. As with the sitting trot you will feel one hip sitting lower and farther back in the saddle each time you sit. Keep working with the random diagonals until you develop a better feel.

To do a more advanced form of this exercise, stand up in your stirrups (a position called two point) as you trot. Sense the forward and backward movement of your horse's front legs. Try to 'see' them in your mind's eye. Look down periodically to check if you are correct. Don't be discouraged when you are incorrect, just keep practicing. Once you master these exercises, you will have a solid foundation from which to further develop your feel for more advanced manuevers.

What About You?
Do you have any great exercises for developing 'feel' from the saddle? If so, please write a comment so that we can all benefit! Thanks for stopping by!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Get Rid of Fleas Naturally

Cat fleas, dog fleas, and just plain bitin’ fleas are a nasty business, and getting rid of fleas can be a trick endeavor depending on where you live. When I first contemplated moving from the high deserts of Colorado (where fleas normally don’t flourish) to the much wetter and warmer climate of northern California, one of the first concerns was fleas!

If you have ever had a dog or cat infested with fleas then you know what a hassle it is. Flea bites can be numerous and extremely itchy, and can drive your animal crazy! And since our two Chihuahuas and one cat sleep with us, I was naturally concerned with flea bites not only on the animals, but on me as well!

I consulted with a few friends who lived on farms and ranches in similar climates to find out how to prevent fleas from infesting the house, and how to get rid of them should they end up on the animals. In particular, I was interested in getting rid of fleas naturally rather than using harsh chemicals.

Getting Rid of Fleas Naturally
My friends were able to give me all kinds of natural flea preventatives, including essential oils and Old World Chrysanthemums. But the best advice focused on two natural solutions to get rid of fleas.

1. Prevent Fleas with Good Nutrition
Apparently dogs and cats with clean blood are less “tasty” to fleas than animals fed on a poorer diet, therefore good nutrition plays a big role in preventing fleas. Since I already top dress the dog and cat food with APA Blend blue-green algae from Simplexity Health, this wasn’t a big change. Before we moved, I simply added more blue-green algae to the food, and have kept up this higher dosage here in California. The results have been excellent. Although our animals do sometimes encounter feral cats and dogs, which carry fleas, I have only once seen a flea on one of our Chihuahuas. Other than that, we have never had an infestation or other flea sightings.

2. Diatomaceous Earth
This chalky substance, which is a type of fossilized algae, was my Plan B. If the animals did become infested with fleas, I was told that I could sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the animals and their bedding to get rid of fleas. Apparently this chalky substance has sharp edges that literally cut open a flea’s exoskeleton, which causes the parasite to dehydrate. We are not fully into summer yet, but I have a feeling that I won’t need to use this plan to get rid of fleas. So far, all the animals are flea-free.

What About You?
Do you have a particular flea remedy that works well for you? If so, I’d love to hear it! Please share in the comment section below!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Horse Healing Takes Time ... Lots of It

My horse ain't jumping right now ... that would be Fezzywig I'm referring to, the giant roach-backed horse who recently sprouted wings and was jumping great. Alas, as the title of the post suggests, horse healing takes time and Fezzy is currently taking his sweet time in his horse healing process. Fezzywig's major complaint has been his roached back, and he has made pretty good progress toward a normal-looking back for a long time. With a lot of bodywork (some of it by holistic veterinarian and osteopath Madalyn Ward), excellent equine nutrition, and a job he enjoys (jumping), Fezzy's horse healing has been continuous.

But one day recently Fezzy simply refused to jump. Although he is fairly opinionated he wasn't refusing out of stubborness. He definitely felt 'off' ' and would not jump because his body was uncomfortable. I couldn't understand what had interrupted Fezzy's healing process. After doing some diagnostic bodywork and consulting with Dr. Ward, we decided that his stifles were bothering him. Apparently this isn't unusual as roach-backed horses develop straighter backs, since the angles on their joints keep changing. In addition, Fezzy has been in heavier training, and also jumping higher jumps.

To keep Fezzy on track with his horse healing process, we decided to stop his jumping program and instead build up his hindquarters. To that end I am doing the following with Fezzy -

1. Focusing on long trotting and loping to build up muscles and wind
2. Adding much more lateral work to increase flexibility and build strength
3. Doubling his dose of horse goo to provide more antioxidants plus joint and muscle support
To get the Horse Goo recipe, send a blank email to

The Good News and the Bad News
The bad news is that we don't get to jump and that makes both of us rather restless. Fezzy, being a Wood type temperament, expresses his displeasure by knocking over his jumps and chasing his pasture mate, Samantha. Oh well ... that's a Wood horse for you.

The good news is that Fezzy is doing extremely well with his current program, and his body continues to look better as we are allowing his stifles to become stable. He has only held up traffic once when we have been long trotting, and only laid down in the driveway once because he was itchy and wanted a roll. On the whole he has been an entertaining companion on this horse healing journey and he makes me giggle every day. No zen cowgirl could really ask for more!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Adopt a Mustang: 5 Things to Think About

Another BLM online mustang adoption is happening now, which is always an exciting event for zen cowgirls like me. You can check out the online adoption here.

Having adopted, trained, and placed multiple mustangs (the picture is of Samantha, my current mustang) I highly recommend mustang adoption to anyone who is a capable hand with horses and is looking for a new adventure. Anyone who has been through the process of gentling and training a mustang knows exactly what I mean! Even those who have adopted previously trained mustangs can probably tell stories of how mustangs are just, well, different.

5 Things to Think About Before Adopting a Mustang
If you are thinking of adopting a mustang, three cheers for you! Not only are there over 30,000 mustangs in captivity who need good homes, but you will find some of the most unique horses in the mustang breed ... not to mention part of the American West.

At the same time here are 5 things to consider before you adopt:

1. BLM Adoption Requirements
Before you adopt you will need to meet BLM's requirements for housing and transport of your mustang. In short, you need to have a 20' x 20 corral at least 6' tall (5' tall if you are adopting a mustang under 18 months of age or a gentled mustang). The fencing needs to meet BLM approval, and you also need a shelter of some sort. Finally, you need a stock trailer or a trailer in which the dividers can be folded back to bring your mustang home. Get the specific requirements here along with the terms of adoption.

2. Wild Means Wild
When you adopt a mustang you are adopting a wild horse, and wild means wild. Even a mustang who has spent significant time at a holding facility is still wild. What does that really mean? In my experience that means that a mustang's main goal is to survive while a domestic horse generally tries to get along. Be prepared to take more time in the beginning to help your horse transition from wild freedom to a life of domesticity. When gentling or training your mustang, think through each action and take your time. Mustangs have lightning-fast reflexes. When they feel trapped, they tend to kick and whirl first, and ask questions later. Survival tops the list of their priorities so it is important not to allow your mustang to feel cornered.

3. Opinions x 10
Mustangs are sort of like mules when it comes to opinions. Having worked with horses, mules, and mustangs, I have to say that mules and mustangs run neck and neck in holding strong opinions. That means that if you are adopting a mustang for a specific job, you will need to allow for a mustang's strong personality and choose carefully. For instance, my mustang mare, Samantha, is a Shao Yang temperament type (see Dr. Madalyn Ward's Horse Harmony typing system for more info). That means she doesn't like to be touched and has two speeds: fast and faster. No amount of sacking out and ground work changes her opinions, and working a trail course at a versatility horse show is usually a disaster. She does them at top speed and puts all her attention on steering clear of objects like gates ... which makes it difficult to score points! On the other hand, she is an excellent jumper because she never touches a single rail. It's never a matter of changing Samantha's mind but more a matter of finding a job that matches her particular temperament.

4. Room to Roam
Each mustang is an individual but one thing almost all mustangs share in common is the need for plenty of room. Mustangs are accustomed to traveling up to 25 miles per day and find confinement difficult. While it is necessary to confine ungentled mustangs in the beginning, it is important to offer gentle horses generous space to romp. The need for space is one of the main requests mustangs have for their humans, as transmitted through animal communication (check out Leta Worthington's excellent animal communication website). If you don't have access to pasture, plan to spend plenty of effort keeping your mustang well exercised!

5. Horse Health Care of a Different Kind
Any new horse can present unanticipated health challenges, but mustangs need a special level of horse health care. The stresses of being gathered, transported, kept in holding facilities, vaccinated, wormed, and eventually adopted can throw a wild mustang into a health care crisis. Prepare to really support your new mustang's digestive, nutritional, and emotional needs. I have found that my special Horse Goo is cost effective way to bring stressed mustangs back to full health during the transition to domesticity. To get the Horse Goo recipe, send a blank email to

Well that's it. That's my plug for adopting a mustang along with some possibly helpful tips that adopters can use to ease their mustang's transition into their new home.

Again, check out the BLM online adoption here and enjoy!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!