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!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Horse Training: Sometimes Slower is Faster

With my slow horse, Fezzywig, going faster is better because he needs to have enough "oomph" to get going. On the other hand, with my speedy Shao Yang temperament mare, Samantha, slower is better.

Samantha (picture to the left) is apt to hit Mach-1 with a light tap of my leg on her side. I fact, if I just wiggle my leg accidentally against her side she tends to take off. Everything is fast with her-her feet, her mind, her soul.

Getting Samantha Low and Slow
Jumping is no big deal for Samantha. Even though she is technically a large pony (around 14 hh) jumping 3'3" is nothing for her. She can do it without a second thought. It's the loping in between the jumps that is sometimes troublesome. She wants to GO!

Asking Samantha to slow down by pulling on her face is ridiculous because she just goes faster. About the only thing that works is to sit down deep in the saddle and sort of wiggle your booty. That slows her down but takes a lot of effort and isn't always possible in complicated in-and-out jumper lines.

Instead, I want low-and-slow to be something that comes more naturally to Samantha so we don't spend much time jumping. We spend a lot more time walking and trotting, with me encouraging her to stretch out her neck and body long and low. We also do lateral work with the focus also being long and low.

The funny thing is that Samantha always tries sixteen ways to get out of slow work at first, but after a while she settles down into it. She drops her head down low, licks and chews, sighs, and breathes deep. Her stride gets longer and slower. And then we quit.

In between, when we do a jumping session, Samantha is a lot less spooky and tends to bolt a lot less. She remembers to breathe between jumps, and it all works out a lot better.

Two Supplements for Getting Low and Slow
For horses like Samantha, who tend to be like speedy Gonzalez, there are two supplements that tend to get them slow and relaxed. One is Eleviv (see the link at the end of this post), an herbal supplement that keeps horses and humans out of their "fight or flight" nervous system. The other one is Relax Blend, which also keeps horses relaxed, especially if they are high-strung and have to be kept on stall rest or otherwise confined.

Samantha is a picky eater and turns her nose up at anything that isn't "good for her" in her opinion. She eats both the Eleviv and the Relax Blend easily, and I trust her to know what is good for her. I give Samantha a couple of Eleviv capsules when we have a jumping session, and before hauling out to a show. It seems to work well. Samantha, a short little pony mustang, has been known to beat six to eight fancy warmbloods in the hunter ring, even in a hack class!

I like it ... and so does she!

The stuff I use and recommend in this blog works for me. Want to learn more? Go HERE!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When a Moose has Wings!

The usual expression of disbelief is, "When pigs fly!" but I have to say that it is just as amazing to watch a Moose fly ... in this case, Fezzywig (named Moose by his former mother). Yup, that's right, he can fly.

If you have been following my blog then you know that Fezzywig is my roach-backed warmblood gelding. He suffered an injury when he was quite young (he is now a coming 5 year old) and developed a roach back as a result. Although is very well-bred for dressage or jumping, his injury has limited his athletic ability during the time he has been with me.

Now he has wings!

From Stuck to Soaring
How did Fezzywig learn to fly? Literally via "trial by fire." Although I had done a lot of bodywork on him, and equine veterinarian extraordinaire Dr. Madalyn Ward had done a deep bodywork session on him last September, he was still stuck.

When I rode Fezzy he was stuck in his feet and could not move out well. He walked and trotted slowly, and getting him into the lope was a challenge. Internal adhesions and his funny roach-backed posture seemed to be hindering him.

I decided to try jumping him over some significant jumps to see whether stretching his body over jumps would break loose some adhesions and free up his gait. It turns out that jumping Fezzy is no easy task. He knocks over every movable jump and delights in taking them apart and dragging them into the ditch at night.

The solution? Jumps made of concrete blocks, barrels, heavy poles, and other similar immovable objects. Aha! Now here are some jumps that Fezzy has to really try to get over since they don't come down so easily!

The result? He has learned to soar, and his gaits are getting much freer with each jumping session. Being a pretty big galoot, it took some good-sized jumps to get his attention. We started at 2'3" and moved up to about 3' because he didn't bother picking up his front legs over the 2' jumps.

What's Next for Fezzywig?
Now that jumping has freed up his body, I am going back to doing a lot of the lateral work that I could not get him to do previously. He simply didn't have enough "steam" to do side-passes, leg yields, or haunches in. Now, after having jumped quite a bit, he does.
The ability to move freely forward at the walk has made those lateral flexing exercises so much more possible!

In addition, Fezzywig continues to be on his program of Horse Goo (made up of blue-green algae products and this healthy juice) to keep him limber. I've been giving him double doses on the days I jump him so his muscles and joints don't tighten up. It seems to be working well for him, as he moves better after every jumping session.

Stay tuned for more on the Flying Moose!

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!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Don't You Want to Kick Some Pro Horse Trainer's Butt?

How many times have you seen this scenario:

There is a show pen full of professional horse trainers plus a single little girl riding her pony. The pony doesn't have a lot going for it. Sure, he's shiny and groomed within an inch of his life, but he's not fancy, not a great mover, and he does not have anything close to perfect conformation. And yet, when the class is over and the show results are announced, big surprise! The little girl and her pony kick butt and win over all the pros in the show pen.


Well, it may be a shocker, but I've seen it happen over and over again, especially if the class is judged according to the actual rules, which focus on the horse's behavior and appropriateness for the class.

How Does the Little Girl Kick Butt?
So how doesthis shocker happen? Actually, it's not that difficult to figure it out. The girl and the horse have a secret weapon: a real relationship. Yeah, a relationship. On any given day, the little girl is "messing around" with her pony. She's grooming him, hugging and kissing him, climbing all over his back, standing up on his back, and sliding off his butt. They have this "deal," this understanding of each other ... they trust each other and they love each other. The "get" each other. The little girl would probably walk through fire to save her pony, and her pony would probably walk on coals to save the little girl.

The same probably can't be said of the professional trainer and most of the horses that he trains. On any given day, the trainer rides eight or ten horses, and usually focuses on "training" specific maneuvers. You probably won't see the pro sliding off his horse's butt unless he's a pretty strange trainer. He probably doesn't feed his horses about five pounds of carrots or hand out hugs and kisses by the bushel. He gets the job done for sure ... but does his build love, trust, and that "I'll work through a burning building for you" kind of relationship with his horses? Does he know every single one of his horse's loves, hates, needs, wishes, and desires?

Probably not.

He's not paid to do that, and he usually gets the job done in the show pen or he won't stay a trainer for long. He develops a records with more wins than losses, and that keeps him in business.

But every now and then a little girl shows up on the circuit with her pony and kicks his butt. And then she keeps kicking his butt. She kicks the butt of just about every pro in the show pen because she knows her horse. She loves her horse. She knows his every quirk and she loves him the way he wants to be loved. That's how she kicks the butt of every pro in the show pen.

Now About Me, The Zen Cowgirl ...
So why have I spent almost a whole page telling you about the little girl and her pony who shows up and kicks the heinies of all these pros?

'Cause I want to be that little girl. I'm not so little anymore (I'm a few decades past that) but I do like to do stuff unconventionally. I love mustang pony jumpers who can clear the moon. I love potentially unfixable roach-backed warmbloods who become show champions. I love chronic runaway horses who learn to love standing still. I love all of that.

Now that I'm in California, I'm glad that I love unconventional ways of working for horses. Here in Redwood Valley, Northern California, I am experiencing some very challenging situations if I want to show my two horses, Samantha and Fezzywig, in the spring in Santa Rosa, CA. For instance:
- Monsoon-like rains every single day
- Rivers running through my pasture
- No convenient indoor arena
- A single (yes – one) jump
- A horse (Fezzywig) who puts every piece of the jump in the ditch every day
- No buddies with whom to ride
- Squishy hooves and slippery footing, so no fast work

Can you see my dilemma here? But not to worry. I LOVE challenges like this, especially when it comes to horse training and horse health care under adverse conditions. I'm one of those people who do exactly what people tell me can't be done. So, if you think that it won't be possible to successfully show my two horses in the jumper division in the spring in Santa Rosa, then prepare to be surprised!

In upcoming blog posts I'm going to be sharing some of the innovative ways that I'll be conditioning, training, and relating with my horses under these adverse conditions so that we'll actually be ready for the show season when it stops being monsoon season!

More to come ... stay tuned!

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!