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.


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.

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.


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.


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


New Horse Professionals Expo in Maine

Well-known horse trainer Chris Lombard is working with the non-profit Healing Through Horses to direct the inaugural Horse Professional Demonstration Expo at their facility in New Gloucester, Maine. It will take place all day, September 30.

Visit their facebook page here. 

Visit their website here. 

Healing Through Horses is a non-profit counseling service that offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) in a private indoor horse facility in New Gloucester, Maine. Horses are known for their unique blend of gentle disposition and compassionate power. EAP is animal assisted therapy that incorporates human interaction with horses as guides. Used for decades, it is a proven form of therapy that effectively employs a horses’s innate ability to connect and bond with people in a non-judgmental manner. Horses are sensitive, compassionate and gentle animals. They are able to perceive the needs of humans and act on those needs with unconditional love which makes them a perfect partner in a therapeutic setting.

Admission is just $20 for the day and children under 8 get in for free. There will also be a food booth and The Village Store is close by for lunch.

There will be three different venues holding demonstrations simultaneously. “Think of it like a mini, one-day Equine Affaire. There will be equine professionals from all types of specialties – dressage, jumping, centered riding, natural horsemanship, driving, farrier/hoof care, dental, veterinarian, holistic medicine, energy work, performances, body work, saddle fit, animal communication and more,” said the Healing Through Horses site.

Chris Lombard

Presenters include:

KRISTENE AUBIN (Equine Dentistry)
SANDRA BEAULIEU (Performance/Trick Training)
SAYRE ENGLISH (General Training and Horsemanship)
MICHAEL FRALICH (Equine Assisted Therapy)
ASHLEY HUTCHINSON (Saddle Fit/Massage/General Training and Horsemanship)
NIKALINE IACONO (General Training and Horsemanship)
DR. DAVID JEFFERSON (Equine Veterinarian/Chiropractics)
ADRIEANNE JOHNSON (Holistic/Herbal Horse Care)
RON JOHNSON (General Training and Horsemanship)
DR. TOM JUDD (Equine Veterinarian/Chiropractics)
DEBBIE LITTLE (Youth Horsemanship/General Training and Horsemanship)

Judy Cross-Strehlke

CHRIS LOMBARD (General Training and Horsemanship)
LOUISE POPPEMA (Animal Communication)
STACEY SCOTIA (Holistic Horse Care/General Training and Horsemanship)

Maine Rider Impressed with Tuff Rider Boots from Adams

Editor’s Note: We welcome guest reviewer Debbie Hight! Hight is on the Best Horse Practices Summit Steering Committee and recently hosted horsewoman Amy Skinner for a weekend of learning. In this post, Hight offers her review of Tuff Rider boots from Adams Horse & Pet Supplies.

She writes:

I stopped at Adams Horse & Pet Supplies in Winthrop, Maine (just outside of Augusta), really wanting a new pair of summer riding boots.  I had tried desperately for years, in fact, to break in my pair of dressage boots. Everything fit. But the leather was just too hard.  Maybe if I had run over them a few times with my truck, they would have gotten softer. After five years and multiple applications of leather conditioner, I’, waving the white flag and setting them aside. I’ll donate them to the local Pony Club.

So, I was trying to prepare myself to pay  $300-400 for a pair and refused to even try on something that cost $600 or more.  I have only a certain tolerance for checkbook pain.

In fact, I’m not easy to fit. I have relatively tall calves, biggish feet (size 8.5-9), but thin, scrawny calves (despite obvious muscling!).

I tried on the Tuff Rider Belmont Dress Boot. Oh, wow. It was like they were made for me. The leather felt like the best Italian leather.

At $180, they were pretty much a bargain compared to the considerably more painful options. Less expensive boots were more literally painful and the more expensive ones hurt my wallet.

I wish that it didn’t have the elastic insert, but frankly, I cannot see it So, I just forgot about it.

I finally rode in them yesterday, in 93-degree heat. They were just wonderful.  Too bad that the magic of the boots didn’t transcend to my riding, but I guess that remains Operator Error.  Oh, well, there’s always room to improve.

Tuff Rider appear to be ethical in the quality and price of their products.  I am so sick to death of anything horse-related being ramped up in price just because we’re horse owners.  I have found Tuff Rider to be relatively reasonable and a breath of fresh air.

These Tuff Riders may not be firm enough for the diehard dressage crazies, but I love them.

Summer Horse Work Calls for Long Sleeves

Why review long-sleeved shirts in mid-June?

Even when it’s hot, there are myriad occasions when long sleeve shirts are best for horse work:

  • Working with hay (your daily tosses or putting up 200 bales of first cut)
  • Riding through brush (what fun, adventurous trail ride doesn’t have its share of bushwhacking?)
  • Buggy days and nights at the barn (skeeters and midgies should not impede your precious Barn Time)

LL Bean’s Double Cloth Performance Woven Shirt is breathable and utilitarian. The hem is cut and shaped perfectly to look nice tucked in or worn out.

I tried the Bright Sapphire, a pretty plaid of purple, light blue, black, and khaki green and loved rolling up the sleeves to show off the inside black and purple checked pattern.

Don’t let the ‘Double Cloth’ term deceive you; the shirt is light in weight and feel. It’s made of nylon and is UPF 40+ for sun protection. If it weren’t so rugged, it would have been called a blouse.

Double Cloth Performance Woven Shirt by LL Bean

In horsemanship, we often talk about the cons of comfort. In order to help horses appreciate comfort, they need to know discomfort. That’s the gist of pressure and release and what academics call negative reinforcement.

But when it comes to gear, we hold comfort dear. Discomfort is most unwelcome. Along with function, durability, and attractiveness, comfort forms the basis of whether or not an item is purchased and appreciated. This Bean’s shirt satisfies these requirements in spades.

Want something warmer and equally pretty?

The Quilted Woven Shirt Jacket, also from Beans is the classy, upscaled version of those plaid thermal shirt jackets worn by New England clammers and carpenters for decades. This Shirt Jacket is warmer (lined with Primaloft Active Gold insulation), more attractive, and more feminine. No boring Scotch plaid here! The shirt features a lovely blend of magenta, soft orange, light blue, and olive green.

I do wish the shirt featured snaps in lieu of buttons, but that’s my only complaint.

A word about fit: LL Bean sizes its tops more generously than companies like Patagonia. I’m 5’7”, 135 pounds and enjoyed the Double Cloth shirt in a small. I have the Shirt Jacket in a medium and it’s a bit boxy, but it allows one layer or more underneath.

For those of us living out West, LL Bean has a store near Denver and next year will open its westernmost store and its first in Utah. This one will be on Main Street in Park City, a good fit as LL Bean is an official supplier of the US Ski Team, which is based in the Utah mountain town.

LL Bean Quilted Woven Shirt Jacket

Maine Reader’s Critique and Review

One of the most rewarding elements of publishing NickerNews and BestHorsePractices is getting to know our readers.

I’m extremely fortunate to know reader Debbie Hight, a Mainer who has developed into a dear friend. Hight often emails her comments on articles, letting us know what works and doesn’t work for her and her horses.

This year, Hight became a member of the BestHorsePractices Summit steering committee. On the non-horse level, she is a busy board member of the Maine Grain Alliance, a Skowhegan nonprofit that runs the popular Kneading Conference each summer.

Amber Lambke, President of Maine Grains, Inc., described Hight:

“She is a graceful swan above water, while she paddles like mad underwater. She can routinely pack 36 hours of work and play into a 24-hour day.”

Said Tristan Noyes, the executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, “Debbie is passionate and pours herself into goals with dogged determination, positivity, and a terrific sense of humor… You want Debbie on your team, but more importantly, you want her in your life because just being around her makes you happy and inspired. “

Around the farm, Hight is equally energetic, despite her trim, petite frame. According to friend, Rob Rowbottom (who with Hight has been featured in several NickerNews guest columns.):

“Debbie studies hard and her energy is off the chart…We share duties for taking care of six or seven horses. With friendships, you don’t think alike all the time. But we get along well.”

Here, Hight provides feedback for several recent articles:

On Warwick Schiller’s comments of so-called “Freak Accidents:”

I really enjoyed the Schiller rant.  When I walk into the barn or out to the pasture, my mantra is always “what stupid thing will they do today?” I guess that it might be better stated as “what stupid thing will I do today,” after all, they are just being horses.  I have avoided a couple of mishaps lately just by keeping tuned to this mantra.

Rob has been busy lately and that has given me time to be more mindful of my riding and to find solutions to questions, other than yelling and swearing at my horse.  I’ve made good progress at very small things, happily.

On our recent Stabil gear promotion and baling twine recycling:

This year’s weather has meant colder than cold and then a thaw and rain, which really means ICE.  The area around my barn has poor runoff, so I get a lot of ice.  When it is really awful, I generally scoot down and slide into the barn.  Of course, one recent morning, I decided to carry two buckets of water out to the heated buckets.

Yup, I slipped and wore the two buckets.  At 40 degrees, I was ok, not to mention the personal steam.   That was when I decided to look for my shoe grippers, but of course, they fit only with certain boots.  I had to modify them.  So, that is what I do with my baling twine!

I had actually saved balls of it for years, thinking that I would crochet them (and I have NO idea how to crochet) into some kind of bag. In the end, I tossed out the big balls that littered my floor with twine and hay.

Of course, the ice extends into my paddock and the bully, Postcard Jack, likes to chase around Mr. Arthritic Sweetheart, Elliot.  I had someone come out and move snow onto the paddock once last week, but it was warm and sunny and the paddock turned to ice again.

So, yesterday, I shoveled snow by hand onto the ice and packed it down for 5 hours, impressed that I could get a glass of wine to my lips last night. (Guess I need to break down and learn how to use the tractor.)  Then I let them out one at a time.  If Elliot goes down, that might be ballgame. So I do like to take care.

On Confessions of a Sugar-holic:

Hope your healthy eating is going along well.  I thought that it would be a good idea to eat better as well, though I like to think that my habits are pretty good, other than the must-have dessert at night.  But the holidays call for more butter, sugar, alcohol, etc.  Big deal.  Guess I’ll go back to my normal eating pattern and not think so much about it.  As for veganism, I cannot understand what the problem is with eggs, pretty much the perfect food. Thank heavens for eggs! Even the cholesterol people are coming back to it.

Thanks for your email, Debbie!

Stay in touch, dear readers! Contact us here.

Welcome Ramblers Way and Introducing Trails to Town contest

ramblers way  Trail to TownWe’re thrilled to announce our new partnership with Ramblers Way Farm, the clothing company founded by Maine’s Tom Chappell and featuring wonderful, American-made, wool garments.

Beginning next month, NickerNews & BestHorsePractices will be giving away one lightweight, luxuriously soft top each month. It’s the Trails to Town contest! Read a review of Ramblers Way tops.

Can your daily outfit take you from horseback to the grocery store, or do you need a Cinderella-like transformation before you can be seen in public?

The right clothes for us horsemen and women move seamlessly from one daily activity to the other. Even dinner afterwards!

That’s what Rambler’s Way wear does for us. It feels great, looks great, and you can feel great, knowing it’s American-made by a company with strong sustainability mission.

In August, we will begin giving away your choice of women’s long-sleeve, scoop or jewel neck top. Or, for men, a long-sleeve Henley. All retail for $90. Visit Ramblers Way website.

Jewel neck

Jewel neck

Ramblers Way garments are made with the moisture-wicking, high-quality wool that doesn’t hold odors and keeps its shape. That means you can tackle barn chores, hit the trail, then head straight to town. Read a review of Ramblers Way tops.

Want to win? Show us how badly you need a versatile piece to take you from one walk of life to the next. Send us a photo or write a few words to illustrate your point. Contact us here. Or, to attach a photo, send email to info@nickernews.net. Or, send us a message on the NickerNews and BestHorsePractices facebook pages.

Entries accepted until August 13. All entries will be posted on NickerNews where readers can vote for their favorites until August 21. Winner announced August 28.


Scoop neck, available in multiple colors

A Feel Good, Feel Better Workshop

When you around Nina Fuller, you can’t help but smile, laugh, think, and share. The renowned photographer from Hollis, Maine, is warm, welcoming, and just a bit wacky. Her home, Lily Brook Farm, in Hollis, Maine, is an extension of Fuller, full of flowers, ninanimals, and good will.

That’s where Fuller and two fellow therapists will host “Horses & Healing,” August 1-2. It’s a retreat-style workshop that will incorporate photography, horses, and therapeutic work. Read more about it here.

Fuller has traveled the world, photographed four U.S. presidents, and written and taken photos for numerous publications, including NickerNews. But she says some of her most rewarding work is working with people and horses.

The workshop would be perfect for any number of participants, she told me.

“It’d be great for therapists interested in working with experiential work and interested in horses. Or, for someone feeling stuck in their life. Or, for someone who’s been in therapy before without ninnfinding success. Or, for someone interested in how therapy works with horses,” said Fuller.

Since receiving her Masters in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Equine-Assisted Mental Health and Photography Therapy from Prescott College, Fuller has witnessed positive shifts in her clients while working with horses as well as photography. Sometimes, what they discover wasn’t at all what they expected. There are breakthroughs and changes of heart. It’s been incredible, she noted, to facilitate these sessions.

“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t need something,” Fuller said.

Check out details for the event and register soon!

Incorrigibles beware: We Care

During 2010 and 2011, many of us worked long hours to help serve up some justice to the many animals killed and mistreated by Brett and Alexis Ingraham. Read more about the Ingrahams here.

Brett Ingraham was convicted of animal cruelty, 2011

Brett Ingraham was convicted of animal cruelty, 2011

The Ingrahams were found guilty of animal cruelty. But did they learn? Some say not.

“Incorrigible” means unable to be corrected or reformed. That’s what Dr. Janell Tirrell, of Third Coast Equine, called folks like the Ingrahams when she met with fellow advocates to help develop what would eventually be known as the Maine Equine Welfare Alliance.

Janet Tuttle, owner of Rockin’ T Equine Rescue, used her usual blue-collar bluntness to say the same thing of horse owners who fail to embrace the real meaning of ownership: Of folks like these, “you cannot learn stupid,” she told me.

Meanwhile, a group in Houlton nowadays has been trying to effect change at Jessica York’s farm. Check out this report by WGME.

Since I moved to Utah from Maine, I’ve bore sad witness to a few horse neglect incidents, big and small. The most recent concerned a neighbor who took off for four days of vacation without bothering to have anyone tend to his equines. Sure, he piled hay in their racks and filled the tub with water. But after 36 hours, they had eaten all the hay. What water they had was slimy and warm (since it sat in an uncleaned, algae-filled tub).

Maine Equine Welfare Alliance

Maine Equine Welfare Allianchours, they had eaten all the hay and the water had grown slimy (since he had not been cleaning the tub, apparently).

Did I mention temperatures were consistently in the 90s?

By Day Three, a group of concerned neighbors called animal welfare.

By Day Four, the horses finally had hay and fresh water. Did the owner learn anything when he had to chat with the animal welfare officer? I wonder.

That same week, I parked next to a big, red Cadillac with two dogs in it. The windows were rolled down about an inch and a half. The temperature was 95 degrees.

I called the sheriff. He called an animal control officer who measured the temperature in the car at 115 degrees. They broke into the car, saved the dogs, and gave a citation to the owner. Did that owner learn anything? I wonder, sometimes, if the world is not full of incorrigibles.

So, this week and every week, my hat is off to all those working to educate folks about this great privilege and responsibility we have: Ownership. My Thank You list includes vets like Tirrell, Dr. Rachel Flaherty and South Mountain Equine, groups like the MSSPA. And all those quiet workers, neighbors, friends, and family who help nurture good horsemanship and husbandry with those who might not know better.

And for all those out there fearlessly advocating for animals: keep up the good work!

Carlisle clients from next door and around the world

“If you want to make a million bucks working with horses, start with five million.” That’s what cynics say to neophytes maxresdefaulthoping to make a living with horses.

But it is possible if you work hard, stay relevant, and find a niche.

That’s what Sarah Armentrout is doing at Carlisle Academy, a business she runs with her husband, Nick Armentrout, in Lyman, Maine.

Sarah, daughter of Kate and Tom Chappell of Tom’s of Maine, has built Carlisle (formerly

Pittman09 051

Sarah Armentrout

called Equest Therapeutic Riding Center) into a facility visited by over a hundred students each week. It’s a three-tiered venture including sports and education, therapy and adaptive programs, as well as training and leadership elements.

Check out this recent feature on MPBN.

Sarah grew up riding and continued at Trinity College, where she competed in hunter/jumper events on the Intercollege Horse Show Association circuit. She captained the team during her junior and senior years. Read about an IHSA competitor from West Bath.

After graduating, Armentrout headed west. She volunteered at the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy, in Woodside, California, and worked with equestrian Peggy Cummings in Sun Valley, Idaho.four

How to blend her love of horses with making a living? That’s what she contemplated.

“I did want to do human services, but I wanted to put it together with my passion for horses,” said the 44-year old, who majored in religion at Trinity.

The couple landed back in Maine and founded Equest, a non-profit facility, in 1998. A decade later, however, “my life had become writing grants,” said Armentrout. “I didn’t want to be a slave to fund raising.”

With help from outside consultation, Equest was reshaped as Carlisle Academy, LLC (limited liability company), where true costs and full tuition are in place. Sixty-five percent of the therapy students qualify for financial support, she said.

It’s a busy place.

Last month, they hosted a para-dressage and training camp for seven riders, seven drivers, and four coaches from as far away as Guatemala.

threeIn coming months, there are horsemanship camps, clinics, and another para-training event in August.

Click here for more information.

Para dressage is a relatively new event for international competition. It’s the only equestrian sport in the Paralympics, where riders are classified by physical disability.

Serving an incredibly broad spectrum of clients, from a 2-year old girls with cerebral palsy, to women inmates on prerelease programs, to jumping and driving competitors, the Armentrouts manage by dividing their duties, “like the separation of church and state,” laughed Sarah, who is responsible for programs and staff. Nick acts as barn manager, taking care of the facilities (which include two indoor arenas and two outdoor arenas) and horses.

By all accounts, they’re working hard, staying relevant, and, as more and more people recognize the benefits of horse time, they’ve certainly found a niche.


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