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Young Horse Training Tip #3: Ride every other day

Trial and error is always a big teacher when it comes to young horse training. Sometimes, what you discover will surprise you.

For many years at Halcyon Acres®, young horses were lucky to get a day off each week once training started. Probably a big part of this thinking came from the racetrack, where young horses ship in, get pumped up with grain & supplements and are denied turnout time to release the energy their youth and diets are struggling to contain. Many owners are afraid to pasture Thoroughbreds even on the farm, concerned about injuries.

Imagine how much fun it is trying ride out the exuberance that explodes after a day or two off with this combination of high energy feed and confinement. It’s more fun to watch than do – at least once you get out of your 20s, learn you break where you used to bend and lose that thrill for the challenge no one else can master.

On the trial and error front, fortunately, when you’re working with your own horse, you can experiment with him in ways that might be difficult to justify with a paid assignment.

Buster provided one of these learning moments, more due to neglect than intent.

Better young horse training approach discovered by accident

Young Horse Training Tip #3
Good young horse training requires you remember he’s still a baby.

About the time we were ready to start Buster under saddle, a large number of client horses shipped in. So, when time ran out in the day, Buster was the one who lost his turn.

Curiously, he progressed much faster when not ridden daily. With Buster, three days off to one day on proved to be the best approach for his pleasing personality and somewhat simple mind.

Given the chance to process lessons longer, Buster was able retain everything from prior days (instead of getting frustrated with poor progress). When we switched to two training days a week, he eagerly tackled each next training session ready to understand and enjoy a new challenge.

That experience held the key to new thinking contrary to precepts held by a majority of young horse trainers.

We started trying a day off for every day of training with dozens of young client horses. As we tested daily and less frequent under saddle training, we found most learned faster and enjoyed training time more with an every-other-day approach. Of course, these horses had ample time to frolic in the pastures between riding sessions.

While each horse is different (yes, this is an important consideration with everything you do to bring a youngster along), it’s worth experimenting to see if daily or a less frequent training schedule works best for your horse.

Remember, he’s still a baby

Young horses don’t have the attention span, nor the mental and physical capacity to train like an older equine. They can only process a little bit at a time. If you are able to teach your horse one new lesson with each training session, great! Quit and congratulate both of you for the achievement. You won’t get lasting success, nor a happy horse, if you try to cover too many things in too long a time period. Your horse will start to push back or shut down and resent training time.

In most cases horses are started long before their bones are done growing. Giving them a day or more in between riding trips gives their young bodies time to recover. Going slow keeps them comfortable enough to get excited about the next ride.

Are you wondering how you can you achieve that bonding experience promised from chasing a foal around the perimeter of a round pen and not risk soundness (of mind and body)?

You can’t.

Young horse’s soft tissue in particular, but bones too, are at risk anyway. This circular, prolonged pounding speed is not natural. There’s a better way to encourage your horse to do what you want – by helping him discover it’s what he wants.

Protect your horse’s mind and body with restraint

Spending daily hours in the saddle will undermine proper physical development of the young horse as well. Bones are still soft, the horse is still struggling to balance himself while carrying your weight and soft tissue is fragile. Keep lessons short and give his young body and mind time to recover and process his experiences between rides.

There’s no reason you should need to spend more than 20-30 minutes at a time riding in the first couple or few months of training, even if you’ve adopted an every-other-day or less frequent approach that suits your horse’s learning style.

Unless, of course, you’re dealing with a true alpha (most are mislabeled and misunderstood) where it’s critical to finish what you start. It’s best to choose your battles carefully with these types.

On those days where you wind up in an unexpected battle of wills, do plan to schedule time the following day for a (hopefully) short ride. If you can get past the prior day’s challenge without incident, quit quickly and give her a couple of days off to reward her “understanding.”

If you’re starting a horse under saddle that’s less than 5 years old, realize his mind is going to take longer to absorb what you’re trying to teach him than a more mature horse. Also know, his body is still growing (some breeds mature more quickly, others, like the Irish Draught, take longer). That means you can do a lot of damage to his long-term soundness if you push too hard. An every-other-day approach with short rides can help his body heal and mind catch up.

Be happy and he will too

Test your horse to see if he learns best with daily training time, every other day, or more days off before you tack up again.

You can still do training on the ground in between. This doesn’t have to be formal training time. You should be thinking about helping your horse understand how you’d like him to behave with everything you do. He’ll retain learning from leading to grooming to how you respond to his behavior at feeding time with your next lesson under saddle.

Give your young horse short lessons, time to process between training sessions, praise the moment he does what you want and a chance to be included in the training conversation and you’ll find him nickering when he sees you, running to the gate and excited to tackle new challenges come riding time.

Young Horse Training Tip #2: Keep Lessons Short

Try it. Give it a few weeks, or even better, a couple of months. You’ll be shocked at how quickly your young horse surpasses the neighbor’s project being drilled for hours a day. It may not make sense to you, nor be the norm at the training facility down the road, but it works.

Young horses can’t process much more than 15 minutes of new stuff in any given session. Your goal shouldn’t be to load a month’s worth of training into the first few days. You’ll brag about your horse’s first-week’s progress then wonder why he sours to training before you hit the 30 day mark.

Think long-term as you try to justify drill-sessions that leave you and your horse frustrated about ending on a bad note (or exhausted after fighting for the win – you’ll pay for that tomorrow).

Training should be fun for both of you.

If you don’t make it easy for your horse to understand what you want, he’ll stop trying.

Young Horse Training quick tip#2. Find one  every day on the Horse Sense and Cents Pinterest board or expanded bi-weekly at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comMore importantly, give him a chance to do it right (one thing is enough for young minds – then quit).

Young horses tend to get very excited when they learn something new that pleases you. It’s important to offer praise immediately (what this is will depend on your horse – food treats are not a good reward for young horses – see Young Horse Training Tip Seven for more on this).

If you adopt a totally disciplinary approach to training, your horse will come to resent training or, worse, shut down his mind to docilely follow your commands. That’s not a good horse to trust to get you out of trouble. Consider, instead, offering acknowledgement for the tries for faster and long-lasting results than what punishment for bad acts will bring.

Stern horse handling has its place

That’s not to say there aren’t times when it’s appropriate to be swift and firm with a correction. You’ll see this done in the herd all the time. It’s rarely necessary during training time, though, with a horse that’s been handled properly prior to saddling up. If you’re dealing with aggressive behavior, consider going back to ground work (your horse needs a better foundation).

Even ground work should be brief, but there are times when it can’t be. As an example, we had a two-year-old filly ship into the farm that unloaded from the trailer, proceed to mow down the person leading her to barn then happily ran loose, celebrating her triumph.

The owners laughed, noting she did that all the time at home. While there are few, some rules are firm at Halcyon Acres®. Basic manners are among them. That was the last time she went outside before learning to lead politely.

It took two hours in sweltering heat and stifling humidity the following day before she decided to accept what she already knew as proper behavior. This gal was a very strong alpha and had become extremely dangerous having learned her size (she was big) permitted her to be a belligerent bully.

All that was asked (we did add some equipment to get control but the only time pressure occurred was when she created it) was for her to wait to exit the barn until invited to do so. She threw tantrums rivaling the most determined terrible two-year-old child.

Backing at break-neck speed, rearing, striking, charging and attacking were in her arsenal. She wound through the barn isles, up and down steps backwards, into the shavings bin (we had a large area inside downstairs to deposit sawdust from upstairs), around stalls, into the rafters (those low barn ceilings provide a wonderful deterrent for manipulative flippers) and through obstacles not strong enough to withstand her force. The entire process involved quiet and calm insistence, but no aggression (from the human – the horse was quite another story).

Eventually (she was literally dripping wet), she understood. We never had a problem leading this mare again.

Of course, that’s an unusual situation and one a novice should never try to undertake. The point is, sometimes, finishing a lesson requires longer than ideal. It’s a rarity, though, if you’re working with a horse that hasn’t been taught by some other human to act out in dangerous ways.

If your project starts as a foal, make sure you set some fair limits early. It’s a lot tougher when they get big (in this mare’s case, she was over 16hh already, agile, strong and unruly). It’s not funny to have more than 1000 lbs. trampling over the top of you because someone else found this cute when they were littler.

Why drill young horse?

You’re probably wondering why you should adopt a short lesson approach to training your young horse when so many training stables start young horses under saddle with hour-long sessions from day one.

Understand, people paying for the service wouldn’t likely feel the fee is justified if riding time was limited to fifteen minutes – or five. This is a lucrative aspect of most equine establishments. Keeping the owners happy often supersedes horse sense. Sadly, this approach tends to produce quick short-term results with lingering long-term problems.

When owners can come out and watch their young horses doing an hour’s worth of work, they see the investment justified. Most aren’t knowledgeable horsemen (otherwise they’d be doing the work themselves). They don’t realize a juvenile equine mind can’t absorb as much as their older kin. Nor do they recognize conditioning growing bodies with long drills will do more harm than good.

With a little bit of knowledge (some say this can be a dangerous thing), owners put demands on facility owners based on what they think should be right. Facility owners put pressure on trainers to ensure the revenue keeps coming in from repeat clients. This means incorporating expectations into training regimens. Or, they don’t think much and simply do what most others are doing.

What’s a good young horse training alternative?

For both engaging young equine minds with short rides and conditioning in a safe way, hills and trails are fantastic. You can spend five or ten minutes for the first week or two (you’ll spend additional time on the ground prior to heading out) traversing a trail head with a clear boarder. Even if you just go 100 yards, that’s fine. Keep it simple and feel safe so both of you come back home feeling accomplished.

Once you put a bit of a mouth on a horse (stop, turn – this can be done on the ground first with long lines) and you get enough response to the leg so your horse understands move forward and how yield as a backup for steering, it’s likely the trails will be a much better place to keep you both happy than an arena or worse, a round pen.

Trails are great for engaging a young horse’s mind. They also offer a challenge he can feel proud about accomplishing. Add hills and you can put a great bottom on a horse doing only walk and trot.

The other great thing about working a young horse on the trails is you can let the horse decide when he’s comfortable trotting or cantering while carrying your weight. Forcing this in an arena makes it much tougher. On the trails, a horse will naturally ask to progress into a faster gait the moment he feels ready. If you’re not, pull them back after you let them enjoy a few strides, but let them try and don’t punish them for the growing confidence they’re feeling by slamming them in the mouth.

Spend five to fifteen minutes a day (every other day) as you start your young horse under saddle. Focus on a single, easy new task and you’ll be amazed how quickly your mount gets eager to learn something new to please you. Reward him for the tries so he understands what you want. Keep things interesting so he doesn’t get bored (or sore or sour) doing circles in an arena.

That horse you spent a total of 4-8 hours training under saddle last month compared to your neighbors 30-60+ will make you look brilliant by month two and three with how much faster he progresses.

Teach your horse to get excited about training time and he’ll surprise you with how smart, brave and eager he is to figure out what you want. That’s a much better horse to have than the one that hates training, distrusts humans and complies with servitude or launches initial resistance. The foundation you build with your young horse will last a lifetime. Make it short to make a lasting happy partnership.

Young Horse Training Tip #1: Listen to what your horse is trying to tell you

So much is lost when we focus more on telling a horse what to do than what he’s trying to convey. The joy that comes from making a connection can’t be fully expressed in words. There’s that ah-ha moment in young horse training when human and horse understand.

It’s surreal and often sudden. You’ll never find this place if you don’t learn to listen. Often the simplest things can mean the difference between an amazing rapport and grudging compliance – or dangerous resistance.

Young horses usually misbehave because they don’t understand what you want. If you give them a chance to be a part of the conversation, most will get excited about figuring out how to please you. When you’re both in synch – able to predict the others’ needs or thoughts before they are spoken or shown, it’s an incredible feeling that will change the way you approach every young horse you meet in the future.

young horse training tip #1That doesn’t mean blindly following a horse’s lead or caving the moment they push back. True rapport comes from a partnership where you are willing to listen to what your horse is trying to tell you, but are also able (and courageous enough) to know when it’s right to stand your ground.

There’s been an interesting development in recent decades masquerading under the moniker “natural horsemanship” encouraging people (especially novices – very sad) to establish themselves as the “alpha” by aggressively asserting demands on a horse. This often backfires (particularly with true alphas but also timid horses) with either violent responses or lost trust.

Most horses enjoy the opportunity to relax with a leader they believe will keep them safe. You can’t earn that kind of respect and trust by being a dictator. Wild horse watching convictions aside, if you carefully observe the interactions of a domesticated herd, most embrace an alpha that’s kind, confident and often only aggressive when they see another herd member being treated unfairly, or getting cocky and demanding in ways that undermine herd harmony.

Frankly, in my experience, most don’t want (nor ask for) the leader designation – they’re appointed.

I had a farm herd of 10 – 20 horses running on about 30 acres for a number of years. The lead mare (it was almost always a gal) changed almost as much (sometimes more) than the seasons. I even had a yearling filly assume this position. Each former delegate seemed to enjoy the break, although took their turn periodically.

This whole idea of equine domination by intimidation seems wrong-minded, particularly given how most lead mares assume the position in a farm herd.

Sure, there are the violent, domineering, selfish horses that demand they drink first, eat first, have a single shelter area to themselves (until a true alpha says no with non-aggressive confidence) and be first, but most of the time, this behavior is fear-based. They’re not leaders. These horses are masking huge insecurities with bravado.

I’ve found the same holds true with people who subscribe to a philosophy that that best way to reach a horse’s mind is to forcefully control his body.

These people have considerable monetary successes to brag about (and huge marketing machines to promote their status claims). They are adept and artful at getting horses to do what they want.

The problem is what they don’t tell you: even with a domineering approach (not my preference), they’re adjusting what they do based on what they’re reading from the horse in real time. There’s also the issue of the horse checking out.

It’s very sad to see so many novices and even experienced horsemen get blindly focused on formula to the point of spoiling the horse (or getting hurt as the horse acts out to be heard amidst rigid and rote demands).

The systems created around these trainers’ experiences and the associated products have worked well for a good number of people (not so sure what the horses would say). Not too many, though, are dealing with Thoroughbreds – nor alphas.

Working with hot breeds (Arabians are even more challenging with their sensitivity and smarts) gives you a very different perspective on how to really reach a horse in a way that convinces them to want to help you get where you’re trying to go.

That said, keeping your young horse in the conversation, no matter what breed or mix he may be, will give you a much richer experience and a more able partner willing to give you more than you imagined. If you’re lucky enough to be working with a horse that doesn’t have issues associated with prior handling, you’ll be building the foundation for all future reactions to the challenges this equine encounters.

Done right, your ability to listen and customize your approach will create a horse that loves training, a bond beyond what you could have envisioned and an equine ready and able to protect you from your stupid mistakes in ways you never would have considered to ask for (or demand).

Listen to what your horse is trying to say. If you think young horse training is all about telling a horse what to do, you’re missing the joy of making a connection. Your equine will teach you amazing things if you’re willing to pay attention. The bond you build will give you tales to tell that last a lifetime.

Horse and human help for making your first off-property ride a success

It can be nerve-wracking for anyone (professionals included) to venture off the property with a horse for the first time. This becomes more challenging for novices who don’t have the benefit of drawing from decades of experience. Know you’re not alone – everyone has some doubts, anxiety and excitement associated with that first public appearance. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do at home to make this premiere event comfortable and fun for you and your horse.

Horse help you can read or, or now, listen to

We’re thrilled to have the Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride e-booklet now available as an audio title. It’s exciting to welcome Susan Kayne to our stable of professional narrators with this one. She’s a horse lover and respected equine television personality with a warm, welcoming way about her that listeners are likely to enjoy. This short, non-fiction book is designed to help you have tons of fun the first time you venture off your land or boarding facility location with a young horse – or a more seasoned one.
Free book excerpt about horses

Working with the younger horse – an excerpt from Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride

“While the ground work you apply to building a relationship with an older horse can be similar to activities with a green steed, once you start under saddle time, the approach needs to be different. Young horses tend to look to you for confidence, safety assurances and direction. A seasoned mount with good prior training often automatically assumes the role of caretaker. With a young horse, unless he’s an ‘old soul’, you’ll need to be ready with clear, careful and understanding responses to his concerns so he learns to trust that what you ask will be fair and focused on keeping him safe. What you do in early under saddle lessons will pay huge dividends – or create lasting problems – when you face your first ride away from home.

Many advocate long lessons and human agendas with young horse training. You can create a subordinate with such a strategy that mostly does what you demand if you manage to shut down the horse’s brain, but you won’t get a thinking horse that delights in training.

Few young horses have the attention span or necessary foundation to process what you’re asking for much more than fifteen minute periods.
Sure, if you’re dealing with a strong-willed horse (know the difference between one that is acting out violently in frustration, confusion or fear and one testing your mettle) you need to finish what you start, but if you pick the right lessons for the given day, even with strong contesters, these battles are usually short-lived and, done right, resolved in a way that fosters mutual respect and an associated joy in training.

young horse training tips for the trail at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comDon’t expect your young horse to learn ten new things in a day. Pick one issue to focus on that accommodates your horse’s proclivities and mood so you both can walk away happy with the accomplishment. Even it’s just walking thirty yards down a trail head the horse hasn’t seen before, that’s enough. Give him early time being lavished with praise for his bravery and willingness to try and you’ll be amazed at how quickly future lessons progress. Ending the session sooner than expected is usually a better strategy than pushing for more when you’re having a good day.

As you set your sights on moving off the property for competitions or pleasure rides, everything you do through the starting process will influence how your horse reacts to new places. If you work to instill trust, understanding and expectations in a way that encourages cooperation (not compliance), builds on rapport and makes the horse feel safe and honored in a way that includes his input on decisions, you’ll likely be proud about how easily he handles your first ride away from home. Don’t be in a hurry. Surprisingly, you’ll find those early two minute rides put your horse months ahead of those who have been drilled for hours in a matter of weeks. It’s not so much about miles or hours logged – the relationship you forge will be the biggest influencer on how your horse responds to new requests in strange places.”

Reduce your horse’s stress – and yours – with smart ideas you can apply at home to get ready for an initial show, community ride, trip to an instructor’s facility or hopeful fun time with friends. This title can help. Buy it on the Horse Sense and Cents® website or as a Kindle, Amazon, Audible or iTunes edition. It’s under $4 and worth checking out.

If you’ve been a long-time subscriber of this blog, or even if this is your first stop here but you like what you read, I could really use your help. For more than six years, we’ve been providing tons of free, useful and easy to understand information to help make your horse encounters more rewarding. With the addition of audio books, we have the opportunity to earn rewards if our audio books are a first purchase. So, if you’ve been on the fence about signing up for Audible (it starts at $7.49-$14.95 which includes a ‘free’ book each month – our Turning title is very popular here at $19.95, by the way), please consider doing so and making one of the Horse Sense and Cents® titles your FIRST selection. I’d be very grateful. Send me an e-mail letting me know you did and I’ll send you a surprise.

Keeping your horse cool during the summer

Periodically we offer horse care tips on the Horse Sense and Cents® blog. Paisley presented some good tips to get thinking about now it seems like winter might actually leave this year and summer may appear. Chin up – no more chopping ice, climbing through drifts and skating to the barn – get ready for heat, flies and stagnant air but also warmth, good footing and beautiful sunshine. below Paisley offers her suggestions for keeping your horse comfortable and healthy as we move toward summer.

This article is a guest post by Paisley Hansen.

Anyone who has spent time around horses in the summer knows they get just as uncomfortable and miserable in the heat as their human counterparts do. More seriously, though, are the health risks associated with extreme heat. Dehydration and stress-induced diarrhea can lead to colic, perhaps one of the most serious health conditions in a horse. There are steps horse owners can take to alleviate the misery that comes along with the heat of summer.

Alter turn out times

horse care during summer months at http://HorseSenseAndCents.com
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Turn your horse out during the cooler hours of the day. Overnight is the most ideal as the temperatures are either much cooler or more tolerable. It also provides sufficient grazing time, allowing horses to maintain proper digestive health and also providing them with water in a time they may not be taking enough water in.

Provide shade

If your horse is permanently pastured, it’s essential to ensure she has proper access to shade. A run-in shed is the most ideal as it provides shade that doesn’t shift throughout the day, like shade thrown from a tree. If you have older, weaker, or less dominant herd members, make sure they aren’t being pushed away from the shade and being forced to stand in the hot sun.

Avoid using water buckets

Unless you can refresh the water in a bucket throughout the day, avoid using them. Bucket water easily becomes warm and stagnant, making it unappealing to a horse no matter how hot and thirsty they are. Investing in a fresh water system that circulates the water regularly or only fills when the horse triggers it is a wise investment if you live in especially hot climates.

Good horse care includes providing clean water. Find out more at http://HorseSenseAndCents.com
Photo Credit: gravity_grave via Compfight cc

Circulation

If it’s unavoidable to keep your horse in a stall than it’s incredibly important to provide him with circulating air. Stable fans are large enough to circulate enough air to keep the barn from becoming stagnant. Keep doors/windows open if possible to keep a breeze flowing through. Install barn door hardware to keep windows and doors open and prevent them from slamming shut with gusts of wind. If you can, install misting fans near each stall; a combination of moving air and moisture offers a quick cool off.

Always have feed available

Grass is the best feed of choice during hot weather as it has a higher water content than hay or grain. Horses’ bodies are designed to eat constantly and it’s this constant eating that provides their body with the energy to properly regulate their body temperature and help to naturally cool them off.

Proper grooming

Summer coats are relatively thin, but like humans, some horses have thicker hair than others. If your horse gets worked regularly, then clipping their coat can help cool them off more quickly after a ride and help keep them cool when they’re turned out. Keep their mane and tail trimmed to reduce heat build up (every woman knows how miserable it is to have a heavy head of hair when it’s 90 degrees!). If your horse has pink skin, there are shampoos on the market with added sunscreen to help protect against sunburn. Apply sunscreen to the delicate skin on the nose, ears, and around the eyes if your horse is pink or light skinned.

Fly control

Don't let your horse be bothered by flies
Photo Credit: Tatinauk via Compfight cc

If a horse is constantly fighting the battle of the flies, they can waste precious energy they should otherwise be using to stay cool. Keep paddocks, stalls and run ins free of manure and install fly traps around the stable and around paddocks. Fly masks go a long ways towards protecting against flies while fly sheets are dual purposed in that they protect the body from insects and from the sun. Rotate fly sprays to be the most effective at warding off gnats, mosquitoes, and flies.

It may seem like a lot of work to keep your horse cool but most of these horse care tips are already in place in a proper care routine of your equine. Regular vet care, high quality feed, electrolytes, and proper grooming go a long way towards ensuring your horse stays cool and comfortable and most importantly, healthy.

Paisley Hansen is a freelance writer and expert in health, wellness, and animal care. When she isn’t writing she can usually be found reading a good book or playing with her Australian Shepard.

 

Building a horse business around a custom tack idea

This is the second part of an interview with Natasha Raina of Two Horse Tack. If you missed Sunday’s post, find out what fun she’s having with horse business success here. Read this prior horse blog post if you want to know why Natasha started her business, what beta biothane is or how she can provide custom tack at such affordable prices.

We continue the story today with honest revelations of the challenges and success that Natasha experienced to ultimately make winging it work in building a successful horse business. If you’re dreaming of Inventing Your Horse Career, we have tons of free stuff (including videos, articles and content snippets) as well as affordable Kindle Editions and a more elaborate entire CD package (great gift for the horse lover in your life) available. If you’re looking for single titles of the Inventing Your Horse Career series as MP3s available via iTunes, Audible and Amazon, these will be offered soon. Sign up for our newsletter if you want to know the moment these are available. We’ll include clickable links to your favorite online retailer.

You’re in the process of moving sales from e-bay to your website. Can you talk a bit about your success selling through e-bay?

Inventing your horse career with custom tack by Two Horse Tack “We launched on e-bay March 2011. Obviously you have to have an image to list on e-bay. It was a big leap from knowing how to make stuff to how to market stuff. Traditionally tack is featured in a light box instead of on a horse. I put a white sheet up in the basement – starting out with English and Western bridles – and used hot lamps that they use for poultry instead of expensive photography lights. People didn’t realize the bridle came with  reins, so I draped the reins separately on top and around the headstall. The only problem with this fix is when viewed as a thumbnail the whole setup looked like and was a perfect rendering of a penis.

“The biggest hurdles we’ve had is people don’t know anything about the material and may be hesitant to try it. One of the ways to overcome this is to make the product visually appealing and provide quality photos with lots of detail. Try to help people understand what they’re getting.We have found that people don’t necessarily read descriptions, they base their buying decisions on the picture.

“I took a cheap point and shoot camera and put the product on a horse. That actually was a huge step in the right direction. Everything went better when it was pictured on a horse. I spent all of 2011 putting tack on my horses and took over 100,000 pictures that year using just my 2 horses as models. If a horse is not in the picture people don’t understand. They can’t visualize it. It just looks like a bunch of straps.

“A lady from Norway bought one of our items and she sent me some really nice pictures on her horse with a professional camera. We sold way more of this product than anything else. This is where everyone comes together and helps you. A friend let me borrow his $2,000 camera to see if it made a difference. It did. The continuous shooting mode on  cameras make a huge difference when trying to capture the right shot. There are very few books out there on how to take pictures of horses – certainly not how to take pictures of tack on horses and make money off that. The more visually appealing it is the better it sells.”

What’s your background?

Horse Sense and Cents talks with Two Horse Tack founder about Inventing Your Horse Career“I’ve had a horse since I was 10 years old and  lessons when I was 6. My first horse, Magic was a saint, a sorrel QH gelding, who you can see on our site modeling at the ripe old age of 30.  I would always joke that he was one quarter horse and three quarter guardian angel. Thanks to him I was able to do a little bit of everything. My riding horse now is Sue, a 12 year old QH gray mare who is directly related to him. Her nickname is Long, Suffering Sue.

“As verification of my varied interests just take a look at our site, Facebook and the blog. Most of the pictures of a gray horse are of her. I’ll do a couple of endurance rides each year, lots of trails and camping. I’m a speed demon so I like anything with speed, like barrel racing. I even dressed her up in one of our medieval bridles and was the headless horsemen in the local Halloween parade. I also love driving and have found it is the perfect way to let non-horsey people experience how wonderful horses are. My goal this year is try a sanctioned three-day event. I also recently tried Mounted Games for the first time this year and absolutely loved it! Basically if it involves a horse I’ll try it!

“With our Tack giveaways I started asking out of curiosity ‘What type of riding do you do’ I’ve found our audience is the same kind of people. We like to do a bit everything. We’re not professionals and the ribbons don’t matter.”

What did you do to get ready to launch Two Horse Tack?

“I started the company’s online presence in 2011. Getting ready to launch implies it was this well organized, well thought-out plan. It was more of a, let’s just give this a shot and see how it goes kind of thing. It’s good to have ignorance. It would have been off-putting if I had told myself two years ago how much work it was going to be. Everything is a struggle. From tack designs, product descriptions . to managing the back-end of our website.

“The pictures are a job in itself. I usually work with 2-3 helpers or posers. With the camera’s continuous shooting mode a normal 2-3 hour shoot will result in over 2,000 photos. I will then have to pick through and edit. Each photo visible on the website requires about 10-20 minutes worth of editing. Flies, weird backgrounds have to be removed and then the image has to be colored corrected with a properly calibrated monitor so the colors depicted are as accurate as possible. Learning the editing program (Adobe Photoshop) was a huge learning curve.

“When you put it down on paper what’s involved, I could see why someone would go ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ You have to learn a whole lot on the business side. How to add traffic; there’s a lot to learn to use Google Analytics, a wonderful product, effectively.”

If you’re looking for tack you can stick in a washing machine or dishwasher – you’ve found it.

In case you missed the video in the first blog post of this interview, here it is again (it’s only two minutes – well done and worth the watch):

 

Have a horse business idea? Share your dream in the comments below to get some help getting there. Please also click the sharebar to let others know how much you enjoy this free blog. Thanks!

Fun horse tack find

When Natasha Raina of Two Horse Tack approached me, I was intrigued by her claims about her custom tack. What I discovered was a wonderful story and products that have applications for just about any discipline, breed or even one’s imagination.

affordable horse tackWhat first intrigued me were the applications for the Registered Irish Draught horse community. Every week I see owners sending out queries asking where to find tack to fit these odd-sized horses. I realized how useful her company could be to equestrians with mounts that didn’t fit standard sizing norms while standing up to horse shenanigans (RIDs are a mouthy bunch). When she indicated every order was custom-made to given measurements, I had to see what she produced. My driving reins arrived this week. The quality and feel of the product was beyond my expectations.

Natasha has done some incredible things with Two Horse Tack. Her product – and lessons she has learned – should not only have big appeal for the frugal horse owner seeking quality products (her strategy to offer wholesale prices direct to public makes this stuff affordable for anyone) – but also those who are drawn to our Inventing Your Horse Career initiative.

I learned a whole lot about what she’s doing in a recent Skype interview.

Why did you start your business?
custom halter for mule“I like what I do. I’m working two to three times harder than I would at a regular job but I enjoy it. I’ve always tried to work with horses. Working with tack gives me a creative outlet that you don’t normally find with horses. We would like to see people use their horses more.

“We were recently featured on a blog called Snarky Rider. The owner, Robin, and I brainstormed that the best way to do this was to offer as many different things or ways to enjoy your horse as possible. The winter months are especially hard. I’ve always been interested in a sport called Skijorring, where you ski behind your horse. Robin (the owner of the Snarky Rider site) had done it as a kid growing up with a makeshift harness she used. We are working with her to design a safer, more efficient harness. I feel like it’s kind of my duty to do things like this. Your traditional tack companies can’t do it because the market is so small. The market or sport can’t expand because folks can’t find the equipment to give it try. It’s a vicious cycle but one I am determined to break.”

Can you explain what beta biothane is?

(Editor’s note: this is the primary material Natasha uses for most tack orders, but she fills custom leather orders too)

custom harness“It’s a web-coated nylon. It sounds a bit like a miracle product. It’s easy care – you wash it off with soap and water; extremely tough and durable – basically the strongest material available in the equine marketplace and also has a following in mountain climbing, so you know it’s strong. You don’t really sacrifice anything – it has a better feel than leather. It’s an American product, invented and manufactured in the U.S.; no Indian or cheap Chinese knock-off. Biothane has been around for about 20 years. Beta is fairly new. It came out in 2005 and is a wonderful product. When people hear the word biothane they’re thinking of the first biothane – super thin, glossy kind of plastic looking. This is a whole new product but the benefits are the same.”
How do you provide custom tack with your price points?

“We just stock the raw material. There are 70,000 variations at this moment with $7 million worth of inventory. Twelve colors of beta biothane and 13 overlay colors. You can also add rhinestones or bling. We have also recently starting carrying reflective and camouflage biothane. All of these can be made with stainless steel or solid brass hardware.”
How long can buyers expect to wait for their order?

“People hear the word ‘custom’ and automatically assume it will take weeks to receive their purchase. We have fine-tuned and organized our shop so that we are able to get items shipped out amazingly quickly. Most orders are ready to ship in just 1-3 days. The only exceptions are harnesses, which take about 3-7 days. Most folks will receive their order within 3-5 business days, even with our standard shipping option.”

Want to see her recent promotional video (it’s only two minutes – well done and worth the watch):

Check back on Tuesday for the continuation of this interview where we’ll discuss business lessons learned including launch challenges, huge e-bay success, transitioning to a website platform, Natasha’s background and some other fun stuff that came out in our conversation.

Have you always dreamed of a career that kept horses in the mix? Share your dream in the comments below. You might be surprised who chimes in to help you get there.

Horses can have many careers

Roman was a Thoroughbred yearling bought at auction. I can’t recall his registered name as the nickname stuck. People used to ask me if I chose the name as a regal designation. He was a big boy (17.1hh), nice-moving and a striking chestnut color. The truth is, he was Roman-nosed and pig-eyed. The former seemed like a kinder choice for a moniker.

Roman was bought as an intended racer with decent bloodlines and good conformation. What I didn’t know until much later (lesson learned – spend more time researching progeny that didn’t run) is that his stallion had track record of producing bowed tendons.

Would Roman be a superstar?

horse careers can be numerous
This is Gumby – Roman’s former pasture buddy. Gumby went on to become a stalwart event horse for advanced and beginner riders alike – until he hit the Preliminary Level (didn’t have the talent to clear the expanses nor the brains to realize he couldn’t). His next career was as a prized hunter/jumper.

I’m not a proponent of starting horses early. It was dumb to bring Roman to the racetrack in the fall of his three-year-old year. I figured I’d just give him a month or two getting acclimated to the place with light training. The trainer had a different plan. He bowed during his first breeze.

So, I took him back to the farm, did the doctoring, stall rest and reconditioning thing and grew excited as he morphed into a sound and much more substantial four year old.

His workouts from the pole and the gate were inspiring. He easily held his ground from stride one with seasoned company, including sprinters. This is not a common feat for such a big boy, particularly a maiden.

As it came time to enter him in his first race, there was something about the way he was going that bothered me. It was nothing anyone could see, but he just didn’t feel right. One last two-minute-lick (that’s galloping a mile at 30 mph) seemed the right thing to do to verify his soundness prior to entering him with a field of horses where he’d be traveling at a much quicker clip. He bowed both front tendons just past the 7/8th mile mark. I was aboard. Remarkably, he stayed on his feet.

Although others pushed to bring him back to the track (he showed remarkable talent), I decided it was time to find another career for this amiable guy.

Dressage, anyone?

It was amazing to witness his natural balance, cadence and beautiful movement the following year with dressage requests. This big critter easily handled a 20-meter circle at all gates, while staying round without prompting. His new ideal career path became obvious.

A hunter/jumper trainer came out to take a look. Sometimes, the more you discourage people, the more determined they get. I cited the bows, voiced concerns about him holding for a jumping career, reiterated my belief the dressage arena was his calling and required several visits before I’d consider a sale. He wanted this horse for one of his students in the worst way.

Roman spent a good number of years handling a tight indoor sand arena for training lessons over fences and shows that brought him to many different places. The gal who bought him loved him dearly, pampered him and enjoyed their time together immensely. Roman was thrilled to do anything he could to make her happy.

She called me many years later, after he bowed again. She wanted help finding a great home for this horse that had touched her so deeply. She deserved credit for recognizing he enjoyed training too much to spend the remainder of his life in the pasture.

Back to the trails

It’s a small world. Roman’s now three miles from the Halcyon Acres® farm where he lived from age 1-5. The current owner knew him from those days and was very fond of this gelding. He was ready to consider a trail companion replacement for his beloved older horse lost the prior winter.

Roman was a steady, quiet and unflappable mount on the trails during his early training. Bugs drove him nuts, but only for about one month each year when they were bad enough to get his head tossing. That and his annoying penchant for using his water bucket as a manure target were issues I mentioned before the exchange.

Roman still shits in his bucket (and has moved it up a notch to include the pasture water trough). He’s kept off the trails when the bugs are swarming. But, he’s proven to be an awesome trail horse for his gentleman owner and his daughters, with a personality that keeps everyone laughing. This will be his home for the rest of his life. He’s happy.

Just because a horse is no longer able to compete (or maybe never was) in the career you envisioned for him, doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy a different path. Most horses thrive on engagement with humans. Shipping a horse to a rescue, turning him out to pasture or dumping him with the highest bidder isn’t fair to a horse that’s served you well. Holding onto him when you no longer have time isn’t right either (I’ve done it too). You’ll both sleep better if you spend some time thinking about – and exploring – what kind of work (and person) might keep him happy for the next chapter in his life.

Do you have a story to tell about a horse you re-homed? Please tell your story in the comments below. Don’t forget to click on the share buttons to the left of this post if you enjoyed the read. Thanks for taking the time to come visit.

What’s in it for you at Horse Sense and Cents®?

We’re all about keeping the horse in the conversation.

Whether this involves customized young horse training ideas designed to help you understand what your horse is trying to tell you (you can read tons of free blog posts to get you started) or finding new career ideas for you with horses in the mix (through our Inventing Your Horse Career initiative), we offer a variety of free and low-cost resources that are unusual and tons of fun.  

great horse Kindle and audio book for reaching alphas at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comHorse Sense and Cents® offers creative and seasoned perspectives, resources and products designed to help you discover smart and affordable solutions for your equine challenges (get it – sense and cents?). Too much focus lately has been put on making the horse do what you want (and charging a hefty sum for the DVDs and other products created to elevate you to boss). Can you imagine how much richer your partnerships could become if you could learn how to listen to what your horse is trying to tell you?  

Our material is presented in a way easy enough for a novice to understand with insight professionals appreciate.

If you want to dig a little deeper (or save time by grabbing exactly what you’re looking for) you’ll enjoy our print (signed by author here – but also available at your favorite retailer), PDFs/Kindle/Nook e-booklets (about 5000 words or 21 pages each) and audio titles (available on iTunes, Audible, Amazon, etc.) designed to help you discover a better way to tackle horse care, young horse training and the relationship you seek with your horse. If you dream of a job that includes horses, you’ll find new ways to make this so with our Inventing Your Horse Career series that can be purchased as a CD set, individual Kindle Editions or (coming soon) MP3 singles available at all the major online audio providers.

Inventing Your Horse Career can be so much fun at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comGive yourself the gift of a different, more effect and more rewarding relationship with the horses in your life this holiday season by checking out some of the knowledge products we offer (starting at $2.99). If there’s a special family member, friend, associate or client in your life that has the horse bug, consider making your gift to them memorable and lasting this year with new perspectives and approaches that make their heart sing.

We’re happy to consider new titles or products at blog readers’ request. If there’s something you don’t see but would like to know more about, leave a comment below or feel free to e-mail me (Nanette) directly. I promise I’ll provide a personal response to your query. Plus, if we do choose to create title you ask for, we’ll give you credit in the front matter (with your permission, of course).

Inspiration from a challenged world equestrian competitor

It can be easy to get discouraged when dealing with personal challenges. We tend to make all kinds of excuses for not going to the barn, rushing through chores, abdicating horse care to another or depriving ourselves of other moments to enjoy our horse.

Our daily grind can get in the way of what fuels our soul.

What would you do with your horse passion if you found yourself suddenly paralyzed? Diane Kastama decided to add wheels so she could continue. She competes world-wide at FEI events with combined driving (modeled after 3-day eventing).

As a former dressage rider, she tried going back to riding first, but kept falling off.

Now, she’s internationally recognized for her skills at a sport where she’s competing against able bodied riders. She’s won world championship medals, including individual silver and team bronze as well as a gold medal and more. Can you imagine being so determined and resilient to start a new discipline you’d never tried while confined to a wheel chair?

She drove her first horse in 1995 – after a paralyzing car accident. Then, began combined driving competition in 1999. By 2002 she was on the world stage competing at top levels.

Susan Ashbrook with Equine VIP did a recent interview with this remarkable woman. This video (just under 9 minutes) is so worth the watch. If you’re thinking your challenges are tough, imagine dealing with hers and maintaining such a positive attitude, then achieving world-wide competitor status.

Oh, and if you’re looking for some creative ideas on how you can design a job that keeps horses in the mix, we have a lot of free material in addition to some products you may like in our Inventing Your Horse Career section of this website.