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Maybe dogs and horses aren’t so different

I’m not a big fan of tricks for treats. I was steadfast in my resistance to this with horses through all the “new and improved” training techniques over the decades that heralded food as a “positive training” motivator. That’s good for creating muggers and distracting the horse from what you’re trying to communicate, but not very good at creating lasting understanding with your equine pal.

I’ve never really been a big fan of food bribes with my dogs either. Due to a couple of recent events, I’m digging my heels in deeper here too.

Maybe horse and dog training isn't all that different
Morrie, the puppy monster, giving Remi a roar as he celebrates his conquest.

Curiously, when I tell trainers that Morrie (my seven-month-old pup whose smarts can make him a tough one), is fixated on treats, they say “Yea!”. I say neigh. I’ve learned in working with both horses and dogs, using food as a motivator isn’t very good in the building rapport and a thinking animal department. It’s hard to get the full array of communications working when attention is singularly focused on the treat location.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not against giving quick and ample rewards for the responses you seek. A scratch in a favorite place, “good boy,” a break with something your horse (or dog) finds great fun or a release are all great ways to offer gratitude for understanding. It’s the food lure that bothers me.

Sure, I get clicker training became the rage and redirection vs. correction is a great sign of the times, but you won’t convince me that treats represent the best way to build a communications bridge.

With horses, you lose that critical aspect of training that creates a team of two minds working together to solve problems. There are many times I’ve welcomed an equine cohort ready, able and willing to get me out of a sticky situation I’ve gotten us into.

With dogs, I’ve found you might gain a happy and groveling companion, but you don’t get a partner that enjoys having a job. Sure, domesticated dogs became so because they learned to please for food as a survival instinct, but like horses, I don’t think most people give them enough credit for having independent minds.

Gatsby was the best assistant horse trainer I ever had (and I still miss him terribly). Of course, he had spent enough time on the city streets before the dog catchers wrangled him that his skin had grown around the collar on his neck. So, he had a pretty strong independent streak and knack for finding (killing) his favorite “treats”. I realized almost immediately with him (he was always the dog obedience class “don’t do” example), the standard obedience school technique of bribing with treats was a bad idea.

Morrie’s now learned to leap for treats (not the plan) and ignore simple commands like “sit” without a visible reward. When I stopped using treats for the pre-agility training class we’re in (I pretend for the teachers he’s getting them always, as I did with Gatsby), his understanding and performance improved dramatically. He loves to train. Getting rid of the treat reward made him more excited about the activity understanding and “good boy” accomplishments.

Remi (my 11-year-old mutt), quickly transformed from the most trusted and obedient dog I had ever known to an unresponsive and aloof brat after spending time with a couple and their Vizsla playing the in park. The Vizsla would only respond to treats. Remi delighted in the daily hour of gorging herself on cheese then decided she wasn’t coming when I called without a bribe in hand. This was a dog I trusted enough to let her off leash in public places with no concern she’d return to my side immediately on request. No more.

I’ve made the argument before that horses aren’t dogs and what works for canine compliance isn’t a good standard for young horse training. I’ve since decided tricks for treats isn’t a good teaching method for any species. Just look at what’s become of the generation of kids who have grown up on the “everyone wins” philosophy.

All that said, I was delighted to watch this video Colleen Kelly shared about a clever dog who set records for understanding and performance – without food bribes.


If you have trouble viewing this video here, the direct link is:

Horse bill of sales aren’t just for big operations

I must admit, my horse bill of sales paperwork has been shabby. As the daughter of an attorney, I should know better. I’ve spent decades in the business world operating mostly on the ill-advised handshake, so tend to be a lot more casual than I should with transactions. While I do provide a bill of sale for each horse, the brevity of this document could be problematic. I suppose I’ve been fortunate in identifying the right kind of people. You never know, though, and operating without smart documentation could have all kinds of ramifications.

Recently, Equestrian Professional published a thought-provoking article that made me realize how lucky I’ve been. There are a lot of points in this piece that I hadn’t considered in the past, but will heed for the future.

I’ve given away some horses. Granted, I tend to spend a lot of time vetting the recipient to ensure it’s a good fit even in these cases, but frankly, never considered the legal consequences of doing so without a bill of sale. These Equestrian Professional gals offer cogent comment (particularly in today’s lawsuit lottery mentality reality), about safeguarding yourself from future fallout on a gift given.

Horses are prime picking for the lottery crowd

When I was a kid, I was shocked to hear that neighbors who had kindly let the daughter of friends hop aboard a gentle horse she begged to ride were being sued by these (formerly close) buddies. She fell off and broke her arm. I wondered what ethical person would do such a thing.

What I’ve learned since is, no matter what an individual might request, insurance companies can force lawsuits. Usually you think of the shyster looking for a free ride, which can be a big issue too, but often, the one you were kind to may not have any say in how others decide to enforce a claim.

I recently sold my Upstate New York farm, which included rehoming 14 horses. Most were sold (with a bare bones bill of sale), a couple were gifted (with no documentation of the exchange). After reading this Equestrian Professional article, I’m realizing my process was dumb.

Horse bill of sales included the horse name & age, date of purchase, amount, two signatures (theirs and mine), and not much else. Most buyers were out-of-state and buying horses sight-unseen. That could have led to disaster in so many ways.

I tend to have a knack for knowing a horse well enough to determine if a home is a good fit and reading between the lines when talking to prospects, but sometimes you miss a crazy (I had one that sadly didn’t reveal her true colors until after she picked up two horses). How fortunate I was to not have blowback from the way I handled these transactions.

The freebies are the riskiest. I seldom do this because I’ve found most looking for a horse to “save” (it’s curious how most who get a horse for nothing immediately proclaim to the world they have a “rescue”) are blind to the cost of keeping a horse and ill-equipped to keep them comfortably. The few I gifted were great horses given to referrals from respected individuals (vets, trainers and friends)  – I was just running out of time and needed to find homes before the property changed hands. Yet, I didn’t know these folks. They could have cost me dearly if they didn’t operate with integrity (my friends and vendors do – it’s a requisite – but trusting that to extend to all others they know is a big leap of faith).

Issues thoughtful horse bill of sales help you avoid

Herd requiring horse bill of salesSome of the things I didn’t consider as risks in how I crafted my horse bill of sales (or neglected to provide them for freebies) included:

  • Liability – Without a bill of sale document on a freebie, you can be sued for any injury or accident the horse causes well into the future. In court, even if the sale amount is $0, a bill of sale is what judges look for to determine who owns the horse.
  • Injury – Many of the horses shipping out of Halcyon Acres were trucking long distances. A timid yearling went to Oklahoma. A 2-year-old climbed into a trailer for the first time headed to Minnesota. Both left the property without being seen by the new owners. The buyers arranged the truckers. Nothing in my bill of sale indicated who would be responsible if the horse was injured in transit. Fortunately they weren’t, but can you imagine the quagmire if they were?
  • Confusion – People remember what they want to in conversation. Until you put it to paper, a verbal agreement can be misconstrued or remembered differently depending on who was doing the talking. Although I was upfront about any known issues, provided complete vet records, and made it clear all sales were “as is,” without a bill of sale indicating this, any buyer could have retaliated if they perceived an issue they didn’t recall or anticipate.
  • Clarity – A detailed bill of sale offers both parties an agreement to reference before and after the exchange. It’s smart to ask for a signature on something that’s clear and meaningful. While the horse bill of sales I provided indicated a legal exchange, they were useless if anyone felt they didn’t get what they expected (or changed their minds).

In the future, these documents will include more detail. The fact I didn’t include any with the give-aways was an oversight I will not repeat. That free horse you gift could cost you dearly in the wrong hands. The profitable sale could too without a clear written understanding of the terms of the exchange. There’s no need to learn a lesson the hard way on this one. Resources abound to help you protect yourself.

Do you have stories to tell on horse transaction greats or gaffes? Please share in the comments below.

Do you know your Western boots?

Geoff Hineman, Marketing Manager for Lone Star Western Décor, approached me about a month ago asking me to post a western boot infographic on the Horse Sense and Cents blog. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of experience in the Western world (a bit of team penning – now that’s fun! – and a Wyoming client roundup ride – but that’s about it), so found what I learned from this visual interesting. Hopefully some of you will too.

To boot ;-), I hadn’t heard of Lonestar Western Décor, so figured I’d check them out. They have some fun stuff on their website. If you like turquoise and decorative or furniture items that have a distinctive western flair, you might have some fun getting lost in their store. It looks like a warehouse operation akin to Wayfair or Overstock, but smaller and more niche oriented, but I don’t know. Could be a good place for holiday gift shopping for some of you. I haven’t ordered anything from them yet (but am eyeing an item or two), so can’t speak to the customer service or quality experience.

I’d do a call out to y’all in Texas to ask about your experience with them, but, curiously, the mailing address on the website is in Oklahoma. There is no about page, so I can’t give you much on their history or culture.

Still, I think you’ll have some fun with this infographic – even if it’s just for bragging rights on footwear know how.

Western boot infographic to help you know the differences


How horses teach us what therapists can’t

Thanks to Ash Stevens for providing this guest post. Find out more about her at the bottom of this article. Enjoy.

Young horse training is not about dominance - find great tips at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comWinston Churchill said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” And don’t we know it. Much of the world has forgotten about the power of the horse with the craziness of modern life, but there have always been families holding tightly onto the legacy of the horse. This has also made them more necessary than ever. A few wise horse lovers have promoted horse riding as alternative therapy, and it’s doing what fancy therapists and expensive pills just can’t. People of all needs and ages are discovering the magic of these majestic creatures, and this is how…


Horses may not speak, but they’ve been giving lessons in communication for years. Horses are hypersensitive to sound and movement, so interacting with them requires deliberate action and intentional and controlled moving around. This, plus their uncanny ability to sense human emotion, makes them the perfect mirror. As Ray Hunt said, “The horse knows. He knows if you know. He also knows, if you don’t know.”

If you’re being loud, acting without focus or intention, or feeling upset, then your horse companion will respond accordingly. This is HUGE when it comes to developing social skills. Autism spectrum disorders are one realm where communication and social interaction can get a lot of help. According to one study published in 2014, children with ASD showed improvements after just 6 weeks of equine-assisted activities. No nagging; no yelling; no chaos. Just kids and horses coming together in fun and understanding.

Emotional Management

Horses pick up on our emotional state in a heartbeat. They also reflect the same state of mind. Anger and frustration can spark a horse with obstinance, while sadness can provoke disinterest or moodiness. Riding and handling isn’t going to happen unless their companion has their feelings under control. Many kids and adults struggle with their emotional behavior. Much of it is because they’re unaware of how they’re acting. Horses make it clear that murky thoughts and emotions are swirling around, and that makes it possible for kids and adults to tune in to how they’re feeling and how they’re dealing with it. Because of this, horse therapy has become a powerful aid for ADHD.


Thanks to the lessons these beautiful beasts offer in communicating and managing emotions, horses are excellent teachers of self-awareness. A horse reacts to behavior with like behavior, so that forces their handler to give immediate attention to how they’re feeling and acting. This snappy cause-and-effect interaction naturally gets people to notice how they behave and why. This is so important, because once they can actually see how they act in everyday life, they can take steps to change it. And everyone from kids with ADHD to veterans with PTSD are making those changes happen through equine therapy. Equine therapy may even ease alzheimer’s!

Physical Strength

Tell anyone on the street that riding a horse is exercise, and they’ll probably look at you like you’re crazy. But any horse rider knows that calling horse riding exercise in an understatement. That’s because riding a horse takes balance, engaged leg muscles, and an active core. Horse riding is being used as a gentle form of exercise for kids with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, and it’s proven to be both beneficial and, most importantly, fun. Kids get to work important muscle groups without the dread of a special workout or the pressure and stress of supervision. The time spent outside smiling in the fresh air and sunshine just makes it even better for their health and well-being.

Equine assisted therapy for addiction

Find kind young horse training tips at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comFancy scientific instruments can show that equine therapy brings down blood pressure and heart rate, but there’s nothing that can measure the acceptance, freedom, and peace of mind that horses give us. This aspect of equine therapy makes it a powerful aid in moving past anxiety, stress and depression. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers recognized this and tried using it with their patients. Today, equine-assisted therapy is used in addiction treatment all across the nation.

Addiction-specific EAT (equine assisted therapy) caters to the deep psychological and emotional wounds carried by addicts by helping them to recognize their behaviors, process their troubles and build new skills that take them beyond old patterns. Equine-assisted therapists like Dede Beasley help addicts learn to identify and process emotions and develop trust, boundaries and communication skills. Better yet, there’s no talking necessary. It’s all done by working with a horse who casts no judgement and lives in the moment. As it turns out, that’s an approach to life that everyone would be all the better for.

Ash StevensAsh is a mother, gardener, writer, and a fan of all things green. Her love for health and simplicity began with her journey into motherhood, and it’s grown exponentially ever since. She’s passionate about living it up with gardening, cooking, an active lifestyle, and being outdoors as much as possible. If she isn’t writing or reading up on exciting green trends, she’s probably playing Connect Four or swimming in the river with the kids.

Don’t want to say goodbye to your horse? 9 horse care cost reduction tips

Sometimes, a little creativity can reduce your horse costs dramatically. We all face unexpected challenges that cause us to start considering the worst when money problems surface, but there are some easy ways to keep your horse happy and healthy without breaking the bank. Consider these nine horse care cost reduction tips before you decide to say goodbye.

Horse care cost reduction tipsst saving tips.
Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

If he’s still an important part of your life and you have the time to spend with him to prove that’s so, ponder how you might reduce your expense while providing a good home with the following strategies:

  1. Consider a living arrangement with feed options that include quality pasture forage. Of course, if it’s rich pastures, you need be careful with sugar sensitive horses and also acclimate healthy horses slowly, but grazing is how horses eat most naturally. Turnout board (proper shelter is essential – as during the hot, buggy summer months as in the cold, windy winter) can save you money and make your horse a happier critter. Ensure ample fresh water is provided always and necessary supplemental feed is provided when grass is scarce.
  2. Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing. While some horses need shoes, most can adapt to a barefoot life. If hoofs can stay healthy and your horse remains sound without shoes, you can save a good sum opting for trimming over metal plates. It takes a few weeks for a shod horse to adjust to barefoot. Monitor hoofs daily initially for signs of stone bruises, which work up the hoof to become painful abscesses if not treated quickly. Drawing agents are inexpensive and needed as quick treatment. I prefer Epson salts, which are also available as a gel product these days, but some swear by ichthammol. Soaking takes time and should be done a couple of times a day for at least 20 minutes. Epson salt gels and ichthammol can be applied to the sole, packed with cotton, secured by Vetrap and protected from bandage tearing with duct tape.
  3. Do bi-annual fecals (more regularly if counts worm warrant) instead of a regimented regular paste wormer approach. It’s less expensive, healthier for the horse and helps to reduce a big problem we’re now facing with parasite resistance while being kinder to the environment.
  4. If you board, see if there are jobs you can do (stalls, ,turn out, fence repair, tack cleaning, etc.) to help trade some sweat equity for horse housing costs.
  5. Have the horse around the house? Adding more fencing with bigger grazing areas outdoor shelter can reduce feed and bedding costs.
  6. Offer a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs or consider a shared arrangement with a leasing agreement (make sure this is vetted by an attorney and addresses liability and also plan on watching what they do around your horse for a while if you don’t know them well).
  7. Sell or gift your horse to someone you trust who is willing to let you continue the relationship.
  8. Create a bank account where you put all money usually spent on coffee, fast food, lottery tickets, prepared meals, entertainment and other items that are impulse buys. Substitute bought with homemade. You’ll be amazed how quickly this account can grow once you get conscious of unnecessary spending.
  9. Get savvy about seeing and treating issues early. There’s a lot you can do without a vet to doctor little things and prevent them from becoming bigger problems. Giving your horse a good look over daily is a big step toward avoiding costly remedy bills. Cuts, hoof bruises and rubs are little things until neglected. Seeing colic early can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a twisted gut. Learn how to handle basic injuries so you can help prevent them from becoming big problems.
horse care cost reduction tips
Horses aren’t just tools – they’re friends. Photo courtesy of Gesina Smith via Flickr

It’s not that hard to find ways to reduce the cost of keeping a horse. Time is required, though, if you want to get educated about smart solutions. A bad living situation with poor pasture or hazards around the facility can get costly very quickly. Taking the time to understand what makes a good horse environment can save you money and headaches.

Over the years, I learned to doctor most things another would call a vet out to handle. Developing a good relationship with your vet helps. I’d often call to explain what was going on and ask for input – what should I do or is this something you think you need to see? The majority of the time, the vet would say, do what you’re doing (or try this) and call me if it comes to that.

If you really want to keep your horse, there are a lot of ways you can implement these horse care cost reduction tips. As with most things, the question is, do you want to throw time or money at the challenge?

Sometimes saying goodbye to your horse is the right thing to do

When I was a kid, I had a pony. She was my second. The first was banned from Pony Club games and ultimately riding where he was boarded. We donated him to an elite private school (would have enjoyed seeing the first day they threw one of the little darlings aboard).

Bittersweet was incredible. She took care of me as we spent hours doing dumb things in the woods and streams and sand dunes (our moniker – this was actually a privately owned, heavily posted quarry) and on busy streets. We enjoyed shenanigans on the trails including swimming, jumping, riding (sliding) down the immense sand hills, traversing roads with dangerous traffic, buying ice cream cones with our ponies in tow.

It was a different time. Parents trusted we’d stay safe (OK, maybe they trusted our ponies to be smarter than we were). There weren’t abduction concerns or landowner litigation threats that have most privately owned property posted “no trespassing” today. We asked permission of the farmers to cross, who gladly allowed us to relish long rides through thousands of acres unsupervised.

Sadly, the day came when I outgrew Bittersweet. For years, I kept her (for my younger sister – not interested in riding). My parents had bought a small parcel of land, so there weren’t the concerns and costs associated with boarding two.

Ultimately, I realized it wasn’t fair to Bittersweet or the local kid population to hold onto her as a pet. Accepting she needed a new home was a hard lesson and an even harder decision, but it was the right thing to do.

Many years later while teaching at a riding stable after graduating from college, I learned she was still foxhunting. She had to be pushing 30. It was gratifying to know she was still loving life as part of a human/horse pair.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is let go.

Rehoming a horse

If you’ve outgrown your steed, have less time to spend with him or face other life circumstances changing your ability to lavish attention or provide a good home, consider alternatives. Finding another to cherish your friend with hour each day may be the kindest sacrifice you make.

It’s not always possible to place your horse with someone you know. There are options and concerns when dealing with strangers, but there are ways you can influence a great fit.

When I recently sold my New York farm, I had buyers as far away as Oklahoma and Minnesota. It takes time and an understanding of your horse’s tendencies, but a good assessment process works. Admittedly, I did make one horrible decision with two horses that went to New England. It’s one of those things I regretted terribly, but the horses were gone before I realized the mistake and ultimately had to let it go.

Twelve others found ideal homes with people who fell in love with horses able to be what they envisioned. We stay in touch. Most feel comfortable contacting me if challenges arise or their life circumstances change. In fact, Midge needs a new home, so if you’re looking for a handy, little, smart and gusty mare, contact me.

It’s critical to understand your horse’s nature and talents. This can be tough with young stock (we had a number of babies), but not as hard as you may think. You can tell a lot about what will and won’t work for a horse by watching him. Is he brave in the pasture or heartless? Is she out of a strong alpha mare with demonstrated “convince me” behaviors? Does he learn quickly and enjoy training or seem more timid and concerned? Breeding counts too. Your Welsh pony probably isn’t going to be a good fit as a preliminary eventing prospect.

Finding the right human for your horse

rehoming a horse Once you decide it’s time to say goodbye to your horse, there are some easy ways to spread the word.

Work your network: Horse people know horse people. Talk to your vet, blacksmith, trainer, trail riding companions, fellow competitors, trucker, tack shop owner, hay guy, grain supplier and friends. They may know someone who’s an ideal fit.

Social Media: It’s easier than ever to reach people out of your immediate circle. Be careful here – people don’t always present honestly. A “friend” doesn’t mean someone’s vouching for them.

Advertise: Surprisingly, Horse Clicks was the most effective for our stock. You’re not going to sell a Grand Prix competitor here, but I was surprised at the quality and knowledge of buyers surfing this site. There are many similar (some free, some not) options, but we didn’t get buyers from elsewhere.

Breed Associations: If you’re horse is papered, reaching out to group members who enjoy the breed qualities your horse has is smart. Small breed associations may have more sellers than buyers, but you only need one perfect fit. These organization often have newsletters or correspondences that permit advertising or free member news.

Have smart conversations before you finalize a sale (or gift). Most Halcyon Acres horses were bought sight unseen. New owners felt connected with the horse before the trailer arrived because we spent a lot of time discussing needs and expectations to ensure the right horse went to the right home. It wasn’t just buyers assessing me – I made the decision not to proceed in a number of cases. It’s important that both horse and human are a good fit for anticipated riding demands and living conditions.

As for Bittersweet – she went to a fellow Pony Clubber. She changed member hands many times, but was happiest with a constant rider companion. As a perfect kid-safe horse for riders at any level, her life was better after each hard decision to let her get back to kid caretaker role she wanted.

If the cost of keeping the horse you love is an issue for you, come back to the blog next week for easy ideas on how to reduce expenses.

Horse humor – add jokes for us all to enjoy

Pro Equine Grooms did a fun feature (apparently four years ago, but I just saw the repost recently) with a starter question “What’s your best bad joke about horses?” Liv Gude offered her horse  humor – “A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says ‘why the long face’?”. What resulted were some hilarious replies to the challenge. Below are two of my favorites.

Provided by Vickie Bullock Cozzens

Champion Jockey on a New Horse

A champion jockey is about to enter an important race on a new horse. The horse’s trainer meets him before the race and says, “All you have to remember with this horse is that every time you approach a jump, you have to shout, ‘ALLLLEEE OOOP!’ really loudly in the horse’s ear. Providing you do that, you’ll be fine.”

The jockey thinks the trainer is mad but promises to shout the command. The race begins and they approach the first hurdle. The jockey ignores the trainer’s ridiculous advice and the horse crashes straight through the center of the jump.

They carry on and approach the second hurdle. The jockey, somewhat embarrassed, whispers “Aleeee ooop” in the horse’s ear. The same thing happens–the horse crashes straight through the center of the jump.

At the third hurdle, the jockey thinks, “It’s no good, I’ll have to do it,” and yells, “ALLLEEE OOOP!” really loudly. Sure enough, the horse sails over the jump with no problems. This continues for the rest of the race, but due to the earlier problems the horse only finishes third.

The trainer is fuming and asks the jockey what went wrong. The jockey replies, “Nothing is wrong with me–it’s this bloody horse. What is he–deaf or something?”

The trainer replies, “Deaf?? DEAF?? He’s not deaf–he’s BLIND!”

Horse Jumping Joke

QUESTION: Why can horses jump so high?

Find horse humor, young horse training tips and more at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comANSWER: They have frogs in their feet.

I’ll jump in the ring

I suppose, although Liv did say “bad horse jokes”, since the one she provided didn’t do much for me, I should offer the lamest one I could find for you all to complain about.

QUESTION: What did the horse say when it fell?

ANSWER: “I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyup!” Source

BUT – if you really want to smile, revisit this oldie but goodie (still haven’t found a source for this hilarious in its truths translation list for horse seller terms) Horse Sense and Cents Humor post.

Will you join the horse humor herd?

How about you? Have any horse jokes you’d like to share? Please help get the laughter galloping along in the comments below. Let’s have some fun with this. I’ll find another horse humor tidbit to share to for each one provided in the comments. Also, please consider sharing this blog post (easy clickable icons to the left) to get your friends playing along too (tag them if you’re feeling Alpha ;-)).

What is ground work with horse training?

From the way some present it, you’d think good horse training ground work requires a deep knowledge of trick training, horse whispering (a misnomer for sure), professional stature or hundreds of hours in planned activity.

Nope. All you really need is common sense mixed with a bit of horse sense. That’s something that can be applied by novices and, sadly, isn’t always by those calling themselves professionals.

Effective ground work – particularly when you’re focused on young horse training – requires mindfulness. If you’re not paying attention to how you’re interacting with your horse at all times, you’ll miss what he’s trying to tell you. Plus, he’ll get confused when you suddenly change your language.

Simply put, ground work is every you do with your horse when you’re not riding him.

This includes:

  • Grooming
  • Leading to the pasture
  • Preparing for vet visit demands
  • Holding for the vet
  • Preparing for the first blacksmith visit
  • Handling during blacksmith sessions (you have taught him to pick up his feet already, right?)
  • Quiet time you spend together in the barn or pasture
  • Introductions to tack, long lines, lunging, an area specified for training work and the trailer
  • Any time you spend together learning from each other when you’re not in the saddle

Sure you can get into fancy stuff to keep your horse (or more often you) entertained, but the lasting lessons will come from the daily, more mundane tasks.

Here’s the thing about ground work – it all counts. Most fail to recognize this.

Do you blame your horse for being disrespectful after you taught him to bolt from you at the gate because you’ve been in a hurry the last few dozen times so release the halter halfway through?

Do you get annoyed when you decide you want him to walk his shoulder to yours after you spent the last month leading three horses at a time or chatting with your friends not noting where your horse is while you trek to pastures together?

Do you rush through grooming with a “buck up” attitude when she tries to tell you something’s uncomfortable?

Do you make time together stressful, frightening or painful then wonder why your horse doesn’t gallop to you when you call?

It’s not so much about what you do, but much more about what you don’t do.

Smart strategies for successful ground work training

First, don’t think you need to be a seasoned equine professional to be good at ground work. Just use your head. What’s important is that you notice things, are consistent and work to ensure your horse understands what you want.

This doesn’t require a “teach them respect” tactic (this is particularly counter-productive with Alphas – you must earn this). Nor is it effective to take a “let’s all be friends” approach. Like kids, horses won’t understand what you want unless you’re clear about it. Sometimes this entails setting some boundaries. Other times, there’s a need to listen.

If you pay attention, you’ll be able to pick up a whole lot from your horse to help you get where you want to go (no horse whispering certification necessary).

Using ground work to address horse issues and personalities

Learn what ground work is and how easy it is to apply to any horse training goal at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comI’ve found it easiest to get the best read on a horse’s personality by watching him with a herd. Don’t assume the bully is an Alpha. More frequently, this is a scared horse pretending bravado. Instead, watch which horses they buddy up with. See how the herd responds to them (your Alphas are generally followed and not feared – that bully at the water trough or round bale is usually avoided, not revered).

Sometimes there’s history that needs to be worked through. A horse’s past is going to affect how she responds to you in the present. Know this and adjust your approach appropriately.

Are you dealing with an Alpha (be sure) that’s intimidated or bossed a former owner? This requires a stand your ground approach (NOT aggressive or inciting) where you calmly ride through the tantrum as you continue to ask for cooperation. So, let’s say you’re dealing with a bolter at the gate. Secure the horse (if this means putting a chain over the nose so she doesn’t burn your hands as she rips the lead rope through them, do this – just know how to use it right first) so you have enough control to get through the gate and shut it behind you. DON’T pull on the lead. Let her pull against it if she wishes. Slacken your hold as you can. Turn her to face you and the gate. Wait to release her until she stands quietly.

Do you suspect (or know) your horse has been abused or neglected? Trust issues are going to surface here, requiring a very different approach. This horse will initially assume you’re not going to keep him safe and comfortable. Short, easy, patient lessons are best here. Can you find a favorite place to scratch? Go there any time he gets brave. Did he let you brush his belly (for a few seconds) without jumping away for a change? Spend a few minutes rubbing his “oh, that feels so good” spot. Having trouble leading? Work on short distances, quit early and give lavish praise. Make your requests of him short and your time helping him feel comfortable long.

Getting to know your horse

Perhaps the biggest value of ground work – particularly with young horse training or work with horses that have issues borne from prior history – is, done right, it helps you get to know your horse.

If something isn’t working, try a different approach. Yes, with certain horses, you need to finish the lesson, but that doesn’t mean you must insist she work off the cues you choose.

Watching how your horse reacts to the little things you do daily will teach you a lot about him too.

Everything you do is teaching him. Don’t forget that and you’ll learn to master ground work training in ways you never imagined. The added bonus is, with a bigger focus on what happens on the ground vs. in the saddle (hopefully those aren’t happening at the same time), you’ll be able to create an incredible bond with your horse. That mutual understanding will morph so it seems all you have to do is think a thought and your horse responds with your wishes.

Have fun with this. Then, your horse will too.

Triple Crown Trivia

Sure, this year’s Triple Crown is old news for most, but I’m not quite ready to let go of a victory that was 37 years in the making. So, if you’re in the mood to let this high continue, you’ll enjoy the bit of fun history below.

Honestly, after so many disappointments, I didn’t see American Pharoah as a contender. With stud rights sold to ensure his racing career will end at the tender age of 3, the finish line fades before time might test what he’s really made of. Still, Affirmed was the last in 1978 that compared. That’s impressive enough.

The Wall Street Journal posted a great video comparison of American Pharoah and Secretariat (admittedly a freak) traversing the Belmont 1 ½ mile course (spoiler alert – Secretariat beat him by more than two seconds – about 31 lengths – the distance between Secretariat and the trailing rest of the field in 1973).

American Pharoah and Triple Crown Trivia at Horse Sense and Cents
Remember the thunderstorm downpour that caused questions about whether this race would run?

But a time comparison isn’t entirely fair.

If you’ve been around race horses long enough, you realize some only try as hard as they must for victory. Frankly, those that win by a nose or a neck or a length are usually better over time. They save themselves from undo strain and associated injury that seems to plague most of the leave the pack in the dust crew. They’re smart and cagey – and know where the finish line is.

A lot has changed since the 70s in US Thoroughbred racing – most notably, conformation. We’ll never see another Secretariat – at least not one bred in this country. Today’s Thoroughbred industry places little regard on what makes a horse sturdy and sane. Borne from bloodlines as a singular focus for most breeders (and the Jockey Club), racing has developed as a sport now dominated by deep pockets with few owners handling or riding the horses they buy. Witnessing a feat most came to believe was unlikely again is truly remarkable when fighting against such added odds.

It’s wonderful to have a Triple Crown winner this year that not only held up to the grueling demands, but also boasts such a playful and kind personality that it was possible to include him in the TV network interviews the following morning.

Upset earned a place in racing history vernacular vs. Man o’ War

Scott Pitoniak scribed a history-rich column in the Rochester Business Journal on June 5th, written from one with little connection to racing (well done) who seemed to have a lot of fun learning from research for the article content. He notes “Speaking of upset, the word wasn’t part of the sports lexicon until a horse named Upset scored a stunning victory versus Man o’ War in 1919, also in Saratoga. Before that time, the definition of the word meant angry or aggravated. But thanks to Upset, the definition of upset expanded, and is now ubiquitous in the sports world.”

Scott also references Zippy Chippy in this article (it’s a fun read), a horse owned by a sly trainer I used to gallop for who was better at marketing than producing winners. Felix made Zippy Chippy famous for losing.

Triple Crown Winners revisited

If you’re looking for a great video synopsis of Triple Crown winners (thanks Anita Lequoia for the find), enjoy about 3 minutes of history in film.

Triple Crown Winners – the list

Honed your memory yet to recall the twelve that conquered the Triple Crown field? Here’s an easy reference list in case you haven’t and still want to make it so:

1919 Sir Barton John Loftus H. G. Bedwell J. K. L. Ross
1930 Gallant Fox Earl Sande James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud
1935 Omaha William Saunders James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud
1937 War Admiral Charley Kurtsinger George Conway Samuel D. Riddle
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm
1943 Count Fleet John Longden Don Cameron Mrs. J. D. Hertz
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens Max Hirsch King Ranch
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stable
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet William Turner, Jr. Karen L. Taylor
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen Lazaro S. Barrera Harbor View Farm
2015 American Pharoah Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert Zayat Stable

Find any fun moments traveling down memory lane with this Triple Crown review? I sure did. Please share in the comments below if this touched you, or if you have another great find others will appreciate.

Young Horse Training Tip #4: Pasture time is training strategy

It’s not fair to expect a young horse to be focused on your requests if he’s not allowed time to kick up his heels. A tiny paddock available through the back stall door isn’t enough.

If your horse is at your home, there are many ways you can design space with what you have. Sometimes you can do this at a boarding facility too. Any good young horse training strategy must include time for your baby to kick up his heels.

A horse around the house

Your spouse might get a little cranky about this one, but it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to put temporary electric fencing on a lawn. Just make sure you spend time working with your horse to ensure he’ll honor the boundary first. Also, it’s best not to do this during the muddy season.

Be prepared to rotate frequently or your lawn will get gone.

If you have some land, consider fencing it in (bigger is better in this case – you can always subdivide a perimeter with cheaper and mobile materials).

Mowing actually improves pasture condition. Don’t hesitate to cut back the weeds once in a while so tenderer, more nutritious (and palatable) plants can grow.

While there are a slew of cautions out there about poisonous plants you must scour your property to remove (do this if you have the time for a safer approach), horses are generally pretty good about knowing what’s bad for them (or what they need to supplement what they’re not getting from you) if ample, nutritious feed is provided.

Don’t forget the importance of salt (and know horses have different needs than what’s provided in the typical 50 pound blocks designed for cows).

Always make water available. This means ensuring no ice crusted water. Colic is a big issue with horses that are dehydrated.

What are good options for fencing in a pasture? It depends. With over 20 years spent fencing acres at Halcyon Acres®, we’ve tried it all. Some solutions worked better than others. What’s necessary for training facility with hot bloods and transients shipping in frequently, though, may not be essential for your particular situation. Even so, sometimes it’s surprising what works best.

We’ll cover what worked and what didn’t including some creative approaches for fencing on a budget in the next blog post.

Getting creative at boarding facilities

Young Horse Training Tips from
If you think you can keep young horse training a happy time for your horse without time to buck and play, you’re in for a big challenge.

If you don’t have access to a barn that offers enough pasture space for your horse to run (with equine companions for him to frolic with), you might be able to use land available but not yet fenced. See the section above for some ideas on things you should consider as you envision a plan borne from sweat equity and an open-minded facility owner.

Get an agreement in writing before you invest heavily. It’s fair for you to incur the cost of time and materials to construct a pasture where your horse gets first dibs, but you don’t want to pony up without assurances you’ll be able to use the space after your project is completed.

If you don’t put pen to paper before you begin, the property owner can enjoy your work product without your horse ever doing the same. They can ask you to leave any time. It’s also important that you both understand what the other expects in terms of materials used, access, responsibilities for care relative to turnout and other concerns.

If you’re boarding at a place that has no possibility of pasture turnout, consider a move.

Land available means opportunity. It’s relatively inexpensive (although can be labor intensive) to pound in T-posts (cap them to be safe) and string an electric fence. There’s tape, rope, wire and other options available.

People tend to put a huge emphasis on stalls (mostly for their convenience). Most horses are happy turned out 24/7 if there’s ample water, food and shelter. Run in sheds work fine for most situations. Horses tend to seek shelter more in the summer (for protection from bugs, sun and heat) than winter, so make sure during any time of the year shelter is provided if a pasture is your horse’s home.

Of course, the most important factor for the majority of horses is your company and attention.

Pasture living

You could save a lot of money housing your horse if you’re willing to consider turn-out board. Just ensure this provider is attentive to keeping water filled and cleaned, closely checking each horse at least daily, supplementing for nutritional needs throughout the year (hay, grain, salt, supplements as necessary), able to at least handle minor injuries and knows when an issue needs a vet, has safe fencing & pastures and enough shelter to accommodate all horses in the herd. On the latter point, there’s usually at least one bully in the mix, so you should look for multiple sheds or an L-shaped shelter so lesser ranking equines can escape from the elements.

Freedom without turnout?

If there are no options where you live besides stall residence and/or tiny paddocks (we have a lot of UK readers where this is the case), let your horse loose in the indoor or outdoor arena daily. Teach him to lunge (take it easy here – if it’s his only release let him play without reprimanding him too hard for doing so or chasing him around to get him tired). Figure a way you two can play together (safely) while you’re off his back with whatever you can find for space.

You can also talk to neighbors who may have existing pastures and compatible companions and negotiate visiting rights. If you’re in the country, chances are you’ll find a generous soul who welcomes you and your horse into their home without an eye toward reciprocity (although you should consider what you can do to help make their life easier).

If you’re in the suburbs or a wealthy area, people are likely going to want to be paid even if you only walk or truck in for short day trips. Still, that’s not a bad idea if you’re only boarding option(s) have no pasture space. You might be able to negotiate a trade with stall cleaning, turn-out help, holding for the blacksmith or other duties you can perform to save them time.

Make turn-out part of the young horse training process. A horse locked in a stall all day will get bored, fresh and frustrated. That makes it a lot harder for him to pay attention to what you’re trying to teach him.