Cherry Picking Optimizes My Riding Experience

Editor’s Note: We hear this week from Nancy Lowery of Calgary, Alberta. Lowery has been blogging about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for more than a decade. A recent interview series began as “One Foot in the Arena” to explore what Calgary leaders have learned through their relationships with horses.

Lowery writes:

I love horses, riding, and the comfort of my Western saddle. For winter riding, shotgun chaps are perfect. But that’s about where my love affair with the Old West ends. I guess you could say I’m a ‘metro cowboy’ as my wardrobe is outdoor technical and I choose ball caps over brims.

I don’t listen to country music, cowboy poetry, or go to the rodeo. It just seems to rob me of time I’d rather spend riding. I don’t compete. For me, riding has no end game; it’s all process.

With all that cherry-picking, how do I fit into a culture that seems to attract a certain religiosity, a certain uniformity?

Go to any Western horse event and you’ll see spectators dressed like they stepped out of a fashionable 1880’s scene. If the guys walked downtown in any big city dressed like that, it wouldn’t be girls hitting on them. The strangest sight to me: straw cowboy hats worn in the middle of winter. (In the summer, I find that chaps are too hot.)

I have been to events where the emphasis on wardrobe seems to take precedence over horsemanship. My first run-in with the perfectly attired was at a Ray Hunt clinic. Ray said ‘Stop your horses,’ so, I did. This well-dressed rider plowed into the back end of my mare. Needless to say, my mare wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t impressed to learn that the rider and her husband spent the rest of the clinic warning everyone to stay away from us.

On Day Three, when the gentleman asked Ray to talk about soft feel, Ray replied “If you haven’t been listening these past three days, there is no point me repeating it now.” Ah, Karma.

My goal is to develop a bridle horse and I will consider myself lucky if end up with a pretty good snaffle bit horse. I have shelves full of books on lightness, dressage, bridle horses, and traditional Vaquero style riding. I attend clinics when I can and I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the connections between what I offer and what the horse understands. I now see the accuracy of the statement: “The first horse you start will be the worst job you ever do.”

I admit there was a time I wished to be included. At one clinic, I was invited to the ‘circle’ at the end of the day. It was not what I’d expected; when people ran out of shared clinic experiences there was an uncomfortable silence. It seems the only topics allowed are ones in common and agreed on. Politics, religion, the environment – all topics of importance to me – were out. When I brought up a recent event, I was told “this is not the place to talk about that.”

I’ve reached a point in my life where I brace against compliance simply for the sake of it. I care less about what others think and more about what my horses tell me. If we are brave enough to get away from mindless compliance, horses can bring out our creativity. I am endlessly curious about what will engage a horse. The more curious I am, the more creative I become.

I’ve gained some wisdom over the years along with quite a few bruises and trips to the emergency room. It isn’t about fitting in to a crowd as much as being comfortable in what I know and how my horses respond to me. How I do something might not comply with someone else’s approach, but my priority is being consistent with the horse.

So, yes, nowadays I cherry pick my moments, my engagements, and with whom I hang out with. I gravitate to people who inspire me, challenge me, and are willing to engage in meaningful conversations and ask great questions.

My life and my business focus on those connections. I’ve come along way since I started and I’ve had some amazing teachers along the way, horse and human.

Horsemanship and leadership are journeys that require endless curiosity, care, and concern. That same curiosity and concern apply to everything and everyone in my life. I believe I’ll continue to cherry pick.

10 Minutes Well Spent

This week, we hear from Julie Kenney, an incoming member of the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee. She lives and rides in Harpswell, Maine.

Read her Focus on Fitness articles here. 

By Julie Kenney

Recently, I read an Eclectic Horseman article titled “The Ten-Minute Horseman.” It certainly seemed appropriate given the shorter days we are all now experiencing. My horses are on outside turnout all the time, except when they are brought in the barn during nasty storms. Lately, ten minutes may be all I can spend with them beyond feeding hay, tending to water, and removing manure.

In the evenings, I like to start early enough to get chores done before it is completely dark out. Sometimes, though, I’m running late or we have cloudy, drizzly, snowy skies which brings on the dark earlier.

Ten minutes:

  • To talk quietly with my horses.
  • To look them over or rub them where they aren’t covered in mud.

I ask myself:

  • Are the horses looking relaxed and content?
  • Are they moving around without indication of pain or soreness?
  • How are their winter coats coming in?
  • Are they maintaining, or even adding, weight for the winter?
  • Is the herd hierarchy the same? Changes in hierarchy are a sure sign one of them isn’t feeling well, especially in the Northeast where Lyme Disease is so prevalent.

Ten minutes is enough time to get a handle on herd health. It’s certainly nice to spend more time, but when daylight wanes and the cold wind is blowing, ten minutes is enough. Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot be out there longer. Just make your minutes count.

  • Ask yourself if you are leaving your horse better or worse off at the end of that short time.
  • Are you talking softly or hollering at your horse?
  • Are they moving out of your space or impolitely crowding you?
  • Do they stay soft and relaxed in your presence or are they uptight and on-guard?

If you find that the time spent is stressful, then set aside some time during the brighter, warmer part of the day for some groundwork:

  • With a halter on, ask them to move their feet in all directions.
  • Ask them to release any tension in their head and neck by giving to light pressure.
  • See if you can have them respond to the lightest pressure possible to get a correct response to your question.

Eli

My main riding horse, Eli, was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease. He started taking almost imperceptibly shorter strides with his front end. Now that he’s been on medication for a week, I wanted to check if his shoulders and front legs were indicating continued pain. I put him in a halter with an eight-foot lead and asked him for a balanced walk and then a trot. I was pleased to see he was moving nicely with an even cadence front and back. Because it was 15 degrees with a wind chill, I kept the session short.

After I took off his halter, he stood there hanging out with me. I gave him a rub, then asked him to soften his head left and right with his feet still. I asked him to move his front end away from me, crossing his outside front foot in front of his inside front foot.

After he moved correctly, I asked him to back up with my fingertips gently touching his chest. I rewarded his correct answers with an immediate release of pressure and a soft rub on the neck. Next, I asked him to follow me and to then stop his feet and back up a step, so there was no crowding. He accomplished all of this calmly, quietly, gently, and correctly in about five minutes, with no halter.

If you have worked with your horse and he knows the correct answers to your clear questions, ten minutes is enough time to connect. If you encounter resistance, be sure you are allowing enough time for him to find a correct answer. You are training your horse every second you are in his presence. Be aware and conscious of his answers.

Then again, some of my favorite horse times are when it gets so far past sunset that the sky turns black. I love to sit and listen to my herd.

Jeanette’s Journey Part III: Death Valley Home Stretch

Editor’s Note:  In the third installment of a multi-part series, we hear from Jeanette Hayhurst, a long-time and avid horsewoman from Barstow, California. Like many of us, she has continued to connect with horses, even when her age and physical limitations kept her from doing a lot of riding. Kudos, Jeanette!

She writes of her transition from riding to driving and owning a miniature horse. This month, she will participate in her second Death Valley drive with two miniature horses.

Enjoy this multi-part series.

Read Part I

Read Part II

By Jeanette Hayhurst

That night I joined the corral group for their meeting and pot luck dinner. They opened the sign-ups for the Death Valley drive. After seeing how well Danny did that day, I was confident he could handle it.

Haflingers in a 3-up.

Corral 14 had permission from the Park Service to bring up to 13 wagons as well as outriders. In order to secure my place I signed up and paid my money that night. Since Danny and I drove at the back of the wagon train I didn’t get to talk to the people in the other wagons during the day. At the meeting, I learned Danny and I were a topic of conversation since there were a few that had doubts about how a mini horse would do on the drive.   But Danny impressed them and that day they nick-named him the “Chihuahua.” Later, I found out that Corral 14 was originally a Shetland Pony Club and it was Shetland Ponies that were used on the Club’s first Death Valley wagon drive back in the 1960’s.

We were committed. I continued to drive and condition Danny for Death Valley which was less than two months away. By this time I had decided that eventually I wanted to drive a pair and I had bought a second mini. (This new one wasn’t trained to drive, but that’s another story.)

I knew I would need a four-wheeled cart if I was going to drive a pair, so I went ahead and ordered one. I did my research and ended up buying an “entry level” wagonette. It arrived a few weeks before Death Valley.   The new wagon was only about 75 pounds heavier than my cart. Because it had four wheels it wouldn’t put weight on Danny’s back and it certainly would be more comfortable for me, so I thought maybe I would take it instead. I hooked Danny up to the wagonette and we started practicing with it. It had brakes which slows the vehicle when going down hill but they were pretty easy to figure out. After a few test runs I decided to take the wagonette to Death Valley.

Unpacking the new wagonette

The home stretch.

Since you can’t take hay into Death Valley I needed to make sure Danny would eat pellets. Everyone suggested soaking them to help keep him hydrated and avoid colic. I discovered that the “certified weed free pellets” that you are required to use quickly turn to mush when you add water, but Danny didn’t seem to mind and slurped them right up.

It was time to pack for trip. We would be gone a total of eight days. I had lists for everything. All my feed and personal stuff would be placed in the support truck so I had to limit what I took. The wagons all hauled their own bedding, clothes, and food. The outriders and I couldn’t haul our own stuff so it all went in the support truck.

They did encourage me to bring my guitar so that was my bonus item. The weather was pretty warm, but I heard that the year before it was so cold that the horses’ water buckets froze at night. I brought layers of clothes and a heavy jacket, just in case. Danny was starting to get his winter coat but I decided against shaving him in case it got cold.

Practicing with her new four-wheel wagonette

There were four of us ladies going from Barstow including me, two outriders and one support truck driver. Between us we also brought a camp stove, cooking utensils, cases of drinking water, and food for the week.   And just in case one of the horses got sick, we also had about every horse drug and remedy we could possibly need.

The time had come.

I was about to find out if I had prepared myself and my little horse for a five-day, 60-mile wagon train trip through Death Valley!

Read Part I

Read Part II

Welcome Joy Rides!

Trish Lemke

Editor’s Note: Trish Lemke is the owner-operator of Joy Rides, a Durango, Colorado company offering adventure horse travel and retreats. (If you attended the Best Horse Practices Summit, you may have met Trish. She was one of our warm, vibrant, and helpful volunteers.)

In the coming months, Joy Rides is offering horse-filled and culture-imbued excursions in Costa Rica, Spain, and Tuscany. Check out her adventure travel offerings here. 

Lemke is a certified Equine Interactional Professional in Education and a certified Martha Beck Life Coach.

Welcome to the Cayuse Communications family, Trish and Joy Rides!

Trish Lemke writes:

For so many years I subscribed to catalogs and horse publications that promoted weeklong travel trips on horseback to beautiful and exotic locations. I always wanted to be part of those trips:

  • Walking through ancient villages on horseback
  • Hearing their hooves echo along the stone walls and cobblestone streets
  • Feeling the spray of water as I galloped along the Mediterranean coast
  • Giving my horse a break near a local pub while I relished in local foods and drinks
  • Sharing stories and adventures with new friends and learning about the horse culture in other countries.

It all sounded so magical.

But I never did sign up. I’d led horse trips and trail rides for years and I had learned from a couple of the best horsewoman around. I knew how tours should be done. When I went on a couple of less-than-ideal day rides in other countries, it put some big questions in my mind about international horse travel. I felt uncomfortable going out for a whole week with a tour company that I didn’t know. And I didn’t know how they treated their horses.

  • Were the horses well cared for?
  • Were they safe?
  • Was the tack safe?
  • Were the guides experienced?

I didn’t know about putting myself in a situation with a large group of people who I didn’t know and with whom I’d be spending so much time. I wasn’t interested in nose-to-tail riding for a week.

So, I started my own horse travel business and created exactly the trips that I’ve always wanted to go on.

Joy Rides include small groups of people who understand the importance of the horse-human relationship. They are people who have a deep love of nature and animals and who are interested in self-discovery, travel, and having rich cultural experiences. They are people that want to immerse themselves in the land through slow travel, slow food and deep conversations.

And, the most amazing part of all of these trips, of course, is the horses. I’ve had such deep connections with all of my travel companions and have learned that horses speak the same language no matter the country.

I have found places in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Costa Rica, and Durango, Colorado, that all treat their horses as partners and give them incredible care, training, and respect.

A Joy Rides trip is about so much more than riding horses in an amazing location. It’s about finding balance, rediscovering lasting joy, renewing spirits, and having transformative revelations.

During every trip, it is my mission to help all of my guests find those things through eye-opening and awe-inspiring experiences. And I’m there, every step of the way, sharing in the adventure.

It is truly my desire to help people live their best lives with the help of horse wisdom.  Joy Rides trips are not about escaping your life for a week, they are about enhancing it for a lifetime.  And, best of all, they are a complete BLAST!

“There is something about being around horse people, no matter what country, that allows for immediate ease and connection. It breaks down barriers of language and culture unlike any other travel experience that I’ve ever had”

~ Susan – Joy Rider in Tuscany

Check out her adventure travel offerings here. 

Contact Trish directly:

(970) 946-7835

joyrides.dgo at gmail dot com

Amy Skinner Review

Debbie Hight, a Best Horse Practices Summit board member, longtime Mainer, and frequent NickerNews guest columnist, reports from a recent Amy Skinner horsemanship weekend in Norridgewock, Maine.

Photos generously provided by Julie Kenney.

By Debbie Hight

Amy Skinner has written: If what the horse truly has to offer speaks to you, then listen closely, consciously, and intently, for the voice of this gentle spirit is a quiet one.

I say: But the average rider will realize that it’s often not easy to “listen closely and consciously” without help.

Skinner also asks: Are you willing to dedicate yourself to a life of learning without becoming set in what you know?

And I might ask: But where to seek the necessary learning and trust the help?

Amy Skinner is a gift to horses and riders. After reading several of her articles in NickerNews, I – along with Rob Rowbottom – invited her to Maine last April to provide lessons during a two-day clinic. Few of the riders had heard of Amy, but the horses listened quickly. Then, the riders responded. What learning, what fun!

Several of us reconnected at the Best Horse Practices Summit in Durango, Colorado last month, where we were surrounded by folks helping us to listen to the gentle spirit, not through games and voodoo, but through science. It was a time for new learning and for making new friends, a truly remarkable and memorable event.

Two weeks after the conference, Amy returned for another riding clinic in Maine. The lessons had filled immediately, mostly with returning riders, but who all had new questions. And some of our new friends from the Summit joined in. Julie Kenney is not only a thoughtful rider and NickerNews fitness writer, she is an ace photographer!

Riders finished their lessons with new learning, encouragement, and a peek into their souls as well as into their equines’ souls. The lessons, whether private or semi-private, were thoughtful and geared to each rider and horse. Rarely were any of the exercises repeated and anxieties for both horse and rider melted away within the first few minutes.

Amy can see what the horse needs and helps the rider feel and answer those needs. It was another remarkable weekend for horses, riders, and auditors. We will host another clinic in the early summer and hope that the population of thoughtful riders who listen to the horses’ gentle spirits will continue to resonate and grow.

Comments from riders:

“Best lesson ever! Unlike some clinicians, Amy individualizes each lesson to the needs of the specific horse and rider. I finally understand what I need to do to help my horse lengthen and become more relaxed and supple. It works! Thank you, Amy!” Jane

Amy made me more aware of where the horse is mentally on any given day and to adjust. Thanks, Amy.

Rob

The Amy Skinner Clinic was non-cynical and very informative in an absolutely fun way.  A weekend full of improving riding skills. Everyone showed up to learn, and students gained more knowledge from other riders’ lessons as well as their own. I learned just how important the ground work with your horse is versus just hopping on and riding. Everyone was open arms and encouraging to every other rider.  Because of such encouragement, I would not hesitate to return to Amy’s next session here. She was very perceptive to each riders needs and had just the right personality, fun yet humble.

Kristin

Amy’s clinic was amazing, I learned a whole new approach of interacting and working with my horse. The difference is astonishing!!

Erika

Jeanette’s Journey Part II, test drive for Danny

Editor’s Note:  In the second installment of a multi-part series, we hear from Jeanette Hayhurst, a long-time and avid horsewoman from Barstow, California. Like many of us, she has continued to connect with horses, even when her age and physical limitations kept her from doing a lot of riding. Kudos, Jeanette!

She writes of her transition from riding to driving and owning a miniature horse. This month, she will participate in her second Death Valley drive with two miniature horses.

Enjoy this multi-part series.

Read Part I

By Jeanette Hayhurst

Now I started to get serious. Not only did Danny need conditioning, he’d also need to learn to stake out since there wouldn’t be corrals or anything to tie to overnight while in Death Valley.   I bought a tie-out system that includes a metal stake that you drive into the ground with a swivel ring on top. To the ring, you attach an eight-foot line (that is more like thick tubing and doesn’t tangle) and then clip the other end to a web halter.

Check out picketing options here. 

I took a few weeks to get him prepared. First, I got him used to the tubing by using it for his lead. I led him around and lunged him in it several times.

I practiced driving the stake into the ground with a sledge hammer.   I attached him to the stake and moved him around in a circle so he knew where the boundary was. Pretty quickly, he figured out how to step over and around the tube. We did this enough times that I felt confident he wasn’t going to hit the end of the line and break his neck.

Another thing I had to get Danny used to was wearing hoof boots. Everyone told me that the wagon trails in Death Valley were extremely rocky in places and that he would need boots. I have used hoof boots on my saddle horses for years so I am familiar with the different styles and features, but finding boots for minis is a challenge. Since Danny is a large mini I finally settled on some small pony-sized boots for his front feet and bought the largest mini size available for his back feet. I practiced with the front boots first and at first he did a little high-stepping and pawing with his front feet. Later, we added the back boots. He got so he didn’t even notice them.

Without a wagon big enough to sleep in, I’d have to bring a tent and all my camping supplies. This meant I’d have to set up my own tent. I will admit that I usually leave things like this to my husband, but since he wasn’t going I need to learn how to do it.  He conducted practice drills with me for setting up the tent and blowing up the air mattress.   Oh, and then I had to figure out how to take everything down and shove it back into the bag it came in.

My new motto: It’s a lot of work to have fun!

Corral 14 was hosting an overnight Fall Wagon drive in September so I set my sights on going to see if Danny and I were on track for Death Valley. I continued to drive Danny regularly with his two-wheeled cart to work on his conditioning. My goal was to drive twice a week and make sure we practiced going up and down hills, on and off the roads, as well as stopping and standing still. As I’ve said before, Danny is very forward so we did lots of trotting and cantering. The standing still part was the most difficult for him.

Time flies and soon I was I packing up all my camping supplies and driving equipment for the fall drive.   I hoped I had remembered everything but since we were camping out at someone’s house in their horse arena I figured it was a good place to learn. When we got there I staked Danny out and made sure he couldn’t reach any of the other horses or mules. He was interested in everything but wasn’t hyper. I was pleased. My tent set-up drills paid off and I got my ground tarp and tent staked down without too much difficulty. I used the pump to blow up the air mattress, laid out my sleeping bag, and was ready to camp.

The next morning I woke up and fed Danny.   Most of the animals had done this before and all of them were pretty calm.   My friend brought her camp stove, so I got my morning cup of coffee. All was right with the world. After breakfast I tied Danny to the trailer and put on his harness. I didn’t want him standing too long, but I knew I had to be ready when the wagons pulled out at nine.

The view from the back of the pack, behind Danny

As the others started to hitch up their wagons I hooked up Danny’s cart. I got in, went around to the starting point, and moved off to the side. I didn’t want to be in anybody’s way. Soon the wagons came out and we were off!

The day was a blur, but Danny and I both felt good. We brought up the rear and kept up with the group. The lead wagon set a fairly slow pace so although Danny trotted some he could actually walk and keep up. We went on the dirt roads and then traveled along side a two-lane highway. Then all of us in the wagon train crossed the highway and continued on. A few hours later we stopped for lunch. The wagons can’t be left unattended but I was able to tie Danny with the outriders’ horses. I offered him water. He drank a lot. Soon, we were back on the trail and before I knew it, the drive was over.

I was proud of Danny; he’d spent six hours on the trail and was still raring to go. I knew he had plenty of energy left for the next day.

Silva’s Three Sacred Cows of Horsemanship

Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years.

Silva has competed successfully through fourth level dressage on quarter horses, Morgans, Arabians, Hanoverians, and many other breeds. Based in New Mexico, she enjoys improving horse-rider partnerships of all sorts and firmly believes that good riding is always good riding, no matter which type of tack a horse is wearing. Check out her blog here. 

Katrin Silva writes: 

I’ve done some things I’m not proud of early in my career as a horse trainer. I made mistakes because I wanted quicker results and because I was too young to know better. Two decades on, I’m still human and not immune to making mistakes, but I keep a couple of sacred cows in my training philosophy.

Of my limited understanding of Hinduism, I know that sacred cows are strictly off-limits. A sacred cow can lie down in the middle of a city street and take a nap. Traffic goes around or stops altogether. Disturbing the cow is not an option because that would lead to bad karma.

I know horses a lot better than Hinduism, but I navigate around these Three Sacred Cows:

  1. Three Clear Gaits

There’s a reason why “rhythm and regularity” form the base of the training scale. Without these qualities, the more advanced movements of any riding discipline become just a collection of circus tricks. Unless your horse is gaited, a walk has four beats, a trot two, a canter three. Always.

Disciplines like Western Pleasure are notorious for sacrificing this sacred cow at the altar of Slow.

A four-beat canter, even if it’s almost in place, never deserves to be called “collected.” A jog is still a trot, not a trot with the front legs while the back legs are walking. Most of the time, the remedy for horses who have learned to muddle their clarity of the gaits is simple: ride forward. Don’t worry too much about contact, lateral movements, or collection until your sacred cow is nursed back to health.

Remember that correct training improves the quality of the gaits. A well-trained horse moves with more expression, more elasticity, more cadence. If the horse’s gaits become more rushed, more mechanical, more tense, or more sluggish instead, it’s time to take a look at your program and to figure out what isn’t working.

  1. Calm and Forward

These two, paired sacred cows are inseparable. One can never be without the other. A calm horse without forward energy may be pleasant to be around, but won’t develop into an athlete mentally or physically.

On the other end of the spectrum, a tense, rushing horse won’t develop mentally or physically either. In some cases, it can be dangerous to ride in some cases.

Neither just forward or just calm is what we want, but together, they create magic.

The direction of good riding is always back to front, in a relaxed frame of mind and body. A hurried, scurrying, or fear-based kind of forward is counterproductive. So is a sluggish, lazy kind of calm. Only the combination of both makes horses into happy athletes.

I focus on whichever element is less developed.

  • Larger circles and riding in a larger space like an open field instead of a small arena will improve forward energy; so will many quick transitions between gaits.
  • Smaller circles, lots of leg yielding, work in a smaller arena, and fewer transitions tend to improve relaxation.

Trail rides can work like a miracle drug for both.

A good test: give the reins at the canter. If your horse starts to rush, there wasn’t enough calm. If your horse breaks to the trot, there wasn’t enough forward.

3. The Horse’s Head

When I was eight years old and learning to put a bridle on a huge warmblood who was not too convinced of my authority, I became frustrated and started tapping the horse’s forehead with my hand in a futile attempt to lower his head. My strict German riding instructor’s normally booming voice became slow and quiet. She then said something I have never forgotten: “Treat the horse’s head like a raw egg.”

It’s good advice that has held up well for all those years. Insist on personal space from your horse, by all means. Insist on good ground manners. But don’t try to get it by waving your hand, or worse, a whip, or a lead rope, or a flag, into the horse’s face.

A raw egg is fragile. Once it breaks, it’s almost impossible to put back together. Making a horse head-shy takes can take only seconds. Getting a head-shy horse to tr

ust the human hand again takes a lot longer. Sometimes, the damage is permanent.

Instead, target the horse’s chin or chest to make him back off. Those places can handle an elbow whack, or a tap. But anytime you touch the horse’s head, especially around the eyes and ears, do it slowly and gently.

There are very few absolutes in working with horses. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I agree with the Never Say Never philosophy – there’s an exception to almost every rule. The sacred cows take up the other 1 percent. Ride back to front. Stay calm, especially around the horse’s head. Don’t mess with the clarity of the gaits. No exceptions.

Spoiler Alert: Amy Skinner on pitfalls for horse enablers

The horses we get in training at Bar T Horsemanship undergo considerable changes in their lives while they’re with us.  They leave their normal routine to stay in a strange place with new horses and people.  Not only is their environment different, but their treatment is usually a lot different.

  • Scared horses learn to face and accept the things they’ve run from.
  • Spoiled horses learn to become part of a team and put in effort toward a common goal.

Most horses adjust well to a structured learning environment, but the horses I feel the most sorry for are the spoiled ones.

Photo by Julie Kenney

We don’t always know what a horse has experienced. People can give you an account of what ‘horrendous’ episodes it has suffered through, or how much groundwork it’s already learned. But the horse gives us the truest picture.

Some of these horses are a lot like a spoiled teenagers, laying around on their parents couch:

  • They don’t work jobs.
  • They don’t take out the trash.
  • They sleep in and wake up at noon expecting to be fed.

Their well-meaning parents tip toe around them and cater to their needs, yet feel frustrated. When they need their rude teen to help out around the house, they run into a fight. Maybe the parent wins the fight and manages to get the kid to get up and doing the dishes. But both build up resentment and there is no “money put in the bank” of this relationship to draw on later when it’s really important.

Photo by Julie Kenney

Spoiled horses similarly have owners tip toe around them and cater to them:

  • They won’t move over in their stall, so people go around them.
  • They don’t lower their heads to be haltered.
  • They turn their hind ends toward their owner.

The well-meaning person moves around the horse and reaches up high to secure a halter.

Some additional Spoiled Horse Symptoms & Consequences:

  • The horse bangs on his stall to be fed, so the owner comes running to quiet him down.
  • It paces or gets squirrel-y in the trailer when they arrive to a barn, so it gets immediately let out.
  • It’s restless with hoof trimming, so the owner feed treats in hopes this will keep it quiet.

This horse is not intentionally being bad. It has learned what works and what gets results. When it arrives here, suddenly none of those behaviors work anymore.

Imagine the confusion and frustration this poor horse feels. Sometimes I think they feel everything they do is wrong.

If they’ve been using these behaviors for a long time, it can take a while for them to try something new.

They don’t have a lot of try, because they have not had to try.

They also have very little confidence, because their owners’ tip-toeing has robbed them of new experiences and skill-building. When put in challenging situations, these horses have no foundation to draw on except the one they know: Refuse or Resist.

I know without a doubt that when these horses find a leader, partner, and friend waiting for them, then they are more than willing to drop their old habits.  They feel more secure and confident when things are consistent and expectations are reinforced.  They can become eager to ride, instead of resentful and resistant.  They can find meaning in jobs and confidence in their abilities.

These owners love their horses. They may feel frustrated with some of their behaviors, but they bring them to training because they care about them.  My advice to them is to set their horses ahead in life.

  • Provide good, consistent direction.
  • Teach them to move around you, instead of the other way around.
  • Teach them what’s going to be expected of down the road.
  • Don’t spoil them now and hope for cooperation later.
  • Give them experiences of going different places and doing different things.
  • Create a healthy, mentally balanced horse.

When these horses come for training, they won’t feel beat up by the world. They can transition into their education smoothly and happily.

Jeanette’s Journey Part I – from Riding to Mini Driving

Editor’s Note: In the first installment of a multi-part series, we hear from Jeanette Hayhurst, a long-time and avid horsewoman from Barstow, California. Like many of us, she has continued to connect with horses, even when her age and physical limitations kept her from doing a lot of riding. Kudos, Jeanette!

She writes of her transition from riding to driving and owning a miniature horse. This month, she will participate in her second Death Valley drive with two miniature horses.

Enjoy this multi-part series.

By Jeanette Hayhurst

I live in Barstow, California and have had horses for close to 40 years. I still enjoy taking my mare on horse camping trips with my girlfriends who are all members of ETI (Equestrian Trails, Inc.) Corral 66. But a few years ago when my hips started “complaining” about my long hours in the saddle, I started to look into driving. I asked for advice from a friend of mine who drives both Haflingers and mules. She said if she had it to do all over again that she would have started with a miniature horse that was already broke to drive.

I wasn’t all that attracted to minis because somehow I thought they weren’t “real” horses but boy was I was wrong. They are real horses, just in a small package. Throughout the years I have generally started my own horses but as I have gotten older the idea of buying something already broke sounded good to me.   So I made up my mind that I was going to check out driving a mini horse.

Taking some driving lessons was my first step. I recruited a friend of mine who drives and trains minis to help me out. First she started me out ground driving and learning the harness parts. (Of course, I had already watched lots of videos and read several good beginning driving books.) Then I moved onto driving her slower mini and then onto driving her high-energy gelding.   I realized I really did enjoy driving and decided it was time to buy myself a mini.

I used my trainer friend to help me sort through the internet ads that interested me. She knew I didn’t just want an arena horse and that I wanted to drive out on the trail for several hours at a time. Knowing this she made sure they were strong enough and that they had trail experience not just arena experience. Trust me, there were lots of unbroke little horses that appealed to me but she kept me on track. I finally found one that we both agreed on and she told me she’d go with me and evaluate him. So in August of 2015 I came home with Danny, a 10 year old class B mini (38 inches high and 350 pounds), a two-wheeled easy entry cart and two harnesses.

I took a few more lessons with Danny and started driving him all around my neighborhood and out on the power line roads by my house. I quickly found out he was a very “forward” horse. His favorite gait is canter! He is pretty brave but he can spook. I have a dressage background and realized that I needed to keep contact if I wanted to keep control. I made all the rookie mistakes but I was so grateful to have a trained driving horse to learn from.

Jeanette and Danny

By November, I was ready to take Danny on his first group drive. The group included several carts, a couple of wagons and some outriders. Danny took everything in stride. The drive was only about 6 miles and we did fine. Two of the mules pulling one of the wagons were afraid of him because he’s a mini so we had to let them get used to us.   A few of the outriders’ mounts gave us a suspicious look too but they accepted us pretty quickly.

I learned that there was another wagon drive with ETI Corral 14 coming up in April so we signed up for that one too. Although it was an overnight we just went on Sunday for the short drive.   At this drive most of the wagons were pulled by full sized mules or horses.   I decided that Danny and I should stay in the back of the wagon train. I figured out that if any of the teams decided “run away” they would run right over the top of Danny and me with my little cart. This turned out to be good idea since there was a mammoth jack in training pulling a cart. Early during the drive he decided he was going to run off and leave the group but since we were behind him it wasn’t a problem.

After our successes I started thinking that Danny could do longer drives. I learned that Corral 14 holds an annual drive through Death Valley every November in conjunction with Death Valley 49ers. Some of my friends had done this wagon drive before and said the people were super nice and it was a great experience.   I asked myself, “Could we be ready in 6 months for a week long, 50 plus mile drive through Death Valley?” I decided to go for it. It would be a worthy goal and a great learning experience even if we didn’t make it this time.

Read Part II

Wool: The Cool Summer Option

Editor’s Note: We hear from guest columnist Amy Skinner who reviews a top by Ramblers Way Farm.

Ramblers Way, founded by Tom Chappell (of Tom’s of Maine), and run by family members, creates and sells clothing designed and made in America and sourced responsibly through the Global Organic Textile Standard. RW clothes are made of super fine merino wool as well as pima cotton.

Skinner writes:

I live in North Carolina, which means it’s hot. I ride outside all day in the sun, heat and humidity, and sometimes my clothes don’t last through the day before I have to change into less sweaty ones.

Finding the perfect shirt to ride in is hard, as a shirt has many requirements to fill:

  • It needs to help keep me cool.
  • It needs to be comfortable.
  • It needs to be durable.
  • It needs to move with me while I ride.
  • And while it doesn’t need to be fancy, it should be cute and presentable.

I ride in tank tops a lot, but many of them slide around and have straps that slip when I’m riding, a negative feature that drives me crazy.

Lots of tops also don’t last due to poor quality material. All it takes is one snag on a vine when I ride through the brush and that shirt is toast.

I get frustrated with companies that seem to make more inferior clothing for women than for men. As if we all sit around posing for pictures and shopping indoors! I need clothes that stand up to real life and can take a beating.

I wore my Rambler’s Way wool camisole on a trail ride with my boyfriend. It looked cute enough for a date ride, and it was super-comfortable too. It withstood trotting and loping in a field with no slippage. The straps stayed in place, and despite being a black shirt, the wool was breathable and kept me cooler than a cotton tank top. It wicked away the sweat brought on by 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.

You’d think that wool would be hot to wear, but it breathes better and stays drier than cotton. I stay cooler and don’t end up wearing a wet, sweaty shirt.

Ramblers Way top comes in multiple colors

This wool shirt wasn’t the least bit itchy. Rather, it was super comfortable and soft. The material is really durable, and didn’t snag or tear on trees or vines as I rode through eye-level brush.

The top also looks great under nice blouses or long sleeve shirts. It covers everything it needs to cover, but flatters the form. It looks great with jeans or dressed up with clothes for going out. It’s packable, too.

Rambler’s Way prides itself in making quality clothing in a sustainable way. In fact, some of their manufacturing is right here in North Carolina. The sheep are also raised in America.

This camisole has made it into my regular circulation of riding wear, and washes easily along with my other shirts. I just line dry it instead of putting it in the dryer. Super easy.

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