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Alpha sneak peak excerpt from Chapter Five

Overwhelmed and cagey

Rosie spent two days at the racetrack after being “broke” at a

distant farm. She wheeled about thirty times in a single trip

jogging around a half-mile training track, terrified of oncoming

traffic and the scene that presented itself to this unprepared,

frenzied baby. At Thoroughbred racetracks, generally jogging

(or trotting) horses travel on the outside rail moving to the

left; galloping horses and those moving at a faster pace track

right toward the inside rail. On day two, in a half-mile gallop

(we tried a different approach to the oncoming traffic concern

and started tracking right), she slammed into the rail at least a

dozen times and ran at full speed in a panic — sans steering or

brakes — not seeing, hearing, or feeling anything in her path of

sheer, all-out, running terror.

She was trucked to Halcyon Acres that week for some reprogramming

authorized by a trainer in a huge hurry to get her

back. He failed to recognize the increased challenges associated

with retooling a horse that had been poorly started. Still,

we were determined to help this filly cope with what would be

ahead of her. Of course, the idea of the imminent broken human

body parts that would result if she wasn’t removed from

the track for a more controlled turning process was a factor.

Since time was of the essence, we started her in the round pen

the day she was trucked in. It’s preferable to give young horses

time to settle into a routine prior to tackling performance challenges,

but, sometimes, you make less than ideal choices with

the horse’s ultimate welfare in mind. We began with a brief lesson

in responding to body language and voice commands that

set the tone for future success with a quick reward for responding

to easy requests. She understood.

Day two was a lengthy session, as was the case for the term

of her stay, struggling to encourage a filly who had apparently

no good ground-handling experience to perform simple tasks

like picking up her feet and accepting basic grooming. First, we

spent more than an hour each day in the stall, tackling activities

that most yearlings are prepared to easily tolerate. This was

a filly that was expected to perform on cue with a rider atop at

the track! No wonder she was unresponsive, as terror set in, to

requests she was woefully unprepared for.

We proceeded to the round pen and then the trails for under saddle

activities with Gatsby (our canine assistant trainer) as a

constant companion and teacher. Generally, it’s best to implement

short sessions, quitting as soon as a win is achieved, but

we had twelve days to get this filly ready to go back to a track

with a trainer who wasn’t likely to permit patient daily regimens.

Plus, Rosie wasn’t very cooperative and it often took more

than an hour to achieve a proper response to a single request.

The trails were tough at first as Rosie had little confidence in

her mount and seemed to have no confidence in herself. Gatsby

helped lead the way through troubling areas and trotted at her

heels the rest of the time, getting her accustomed to traffic and

noise behind her . . .

Athlete baby of the decade returns as bronc champ re-break

Jay merits mention in both our Turning Challenging Horses and

Don’t Get Thrown Starting Horses Under Saddle books because

she was a dual challenge that came to Halcyon Acres for initial

starting (which wasn’t completed) and then back to fix her

subsequent, learned talent for unloading riders at another farm

that tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to take her on.

We were making good headway with this difficult Thoroughbred

filly during her first stay at the farm, having gotten to the

point where she was accepting a rider on her back and handling

some basic leg, seat, and hand commands at the walk indoors,

but were far from finished when the owner made a decision to

stop for reasons that were not related to training efforts. Jay left,

but the owners were given a dire warning concerning future

handling and an advisory to keep others off her back until she

returned for finishing.

She came back all right, but it wasn’t until after another tried

to “start” where we left off and managed, in the process, to reinforce

her penchant for winning — effectively launching and

terrorizing anyone who dared hop on her back. Taking her back

was a tough call. One of the things we had avoided in early

training was giving this filly any reason or opportunity to use

her athleticism to unload a rider. She didn’t during the time she

spent at the farm, but it required very careful and observant

handling. We knew, if she learned how to use her extraordinary

ability and determination to unseat her mount, that even an extremely

able rider would have a tough time sticking with her.

Yet, we also saw the tremendous, albeit latent, talent she possessed

and were convinced if it could be channeled, she would

become an impressive performer. The owner contacted us with

a query on what to do — just about convinced she wasn’t worth

the trouble and ready to log her as a lost cause. With no guarantees,

we persuaded him to try one more time to see if the filly

could be reprogrammed and properly prepared for a racing


When she arrived, we spent some time working with her off

her back in the stall and round pen to try to reestablish some

ground rules. These she accepted pretty readily and easily, having

recalled earlier lessons (a typical trait of Alphas is that they

retain information seemingly forever — good or bad — and it’s

rarely necessary to revisit a successful session).

Once we introduced a rider into the mix, the big problems

began. Reprogramming can go both ways — and in her case,

what she had learned during her absence was extremely detrimental

to the forward progress initially established under saddle.

We decided to start in the stall to limit her movement and

reduce the likelihood of her getting up enough room or speed

to launch her passenger. Yet, she was now accustomed to a routine

that included a triumphant lesson with a swift dump in the

dirt for anyone who straddled her back. She was quickly aggravated

with the new approach that made it tougher to unseat the

rider and immediately began to integrate new tricks. It took her

less than two days, after exhausting her developed arsenal unsuccessfully

and throwing a whole lot of new ideas at the problem,

to learn to rear and flip over backwards. With this development,

it was too dangerous to continue in the stall, and we

moved to the round pen.

Often, with Alphas, it’s best to work with them one-on-one.

We found this an effective early strategy with this filly, so decided

to forgo a handler at her head for the move to outdoor riding.

For about a week, we bellied over her first, watching her eye

closely and dismounting prior to the blow, and then, as she accepted

a rider across her back quietly and willingly, put a leg

over her other side and sat up. During the first few days (these

lessons were anywhere from one to two hours in length), simply

standing and accepting a rider was a sufficient note to end

on. As the week progressed (although the time involved for the

lessons remained lengthy), we added walking and stopping on

cue to the mix. The mere addition of movement added some

athletic explosions to the sessions and, ultimately, we decided

it would be best to try to proceed with a lead pony as a companion

before she learned again that her gyrations and gymnastics

could dislodge her passenger. She had been exposed to

our lead pony, Porky, during her prior stay (albeit without a rider)

and appeared to enjoy the activity, and so it seemed a smart

and safe idea to put to the challenge.

Alphas provide the biggest challenge and greatest joy

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners, due for official publication in winter, 2010

Chapter Five: An A for effort comes with Alphas

Some of the toughest fought battles are the most rewarding. Interestingly, it seems the most determined cases, able and willing to wear you out to the point of giving up, acquiesce right about the time you’re ready to walk away. These are almost always Alphas and will make you earn their respect — with the bruises to prove it.

Alphas are idiosyncratic horses to deal with and are fairly easy to recognize. They are also your most likely — albeit toughest — cases to turn. Most rule the pasture, and the strong ones have yet to encounter a horse or person who has stood their ground with them long enough to persuade them to “listen.” Once they find an animal or a person that has the staying power to earn their respect, they often soften and relish the opportunity to have a leader. These horses usually turn instantly and dramatically when they acknowledge you are a worthy guide. They also tend to be extremely willing, predictable, dependable, and outstanding performers who aim to please those they esteem — to extremes. Of course, getting there is no easy task.

Usually, discipline and hostility toward an Alpha is a mistake. Never back down; instead, demonstrate your power by holding your ground and remaining calm, fearless, and insistent as they launch a bevy of scare or avoidance tactics at you. Typical young Alphas will throw tantrums anytime they are asked to comply with a request that doesn’t suit them. They can be kind, smart, and compliant foals for early handling and lessons they find interesting, engaging, or fun. Once they are asked to respond to a request that isn’t on their agenda, however, they can turn into monsters. Those that are effective at intimidating a novice or tentative early handler into compliance tend to be difficult horses to start under saddle. If the attitude isn’t rectified in early under-saddle activities, it escalates, and these animals become problem children who need reprogramming if they are to be safe and honest mounts.

Turning mean to green

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners, due for official publication in winter, 2010

Chapter Four

Turning Mean to Green

Most mean horses are smart. They’ve learned, through ongoing

provocation, to terrorize human counterparts who have

taught them to resent training. Granted, some are born mean

with bloodlines being the cause, but most are conditioned to

behave badly through a trial–and-error process where they find

viciousness their sole recourse to alleviate agony.


Bertha came to us as a transition project, having served as a

former hard-knocking racehorse, and more recently, an intended

broodmare. After a two-year period of nothing but pasture

time, we got the call for the career change. A cyst was discovered

on her ovary that would require an operation for any

possible success in breeding attempts. The owner had recently

died, and the widow decided not to invest in the operation.

She shipped Bertha to Halcyon Acres to be retooled as a riding

horse. The cyst also affected her behavior — in bigger ways

than we had initially imagined. This growth ultimately presented

considerable issues on the ground, although we were able to

correct problems under saddle.

The agent handling the mare warned us she was nasty, aggressive,

and destructive, but her lovely gaits, large-boned

frame, and size made her a good prospect for competitive arenas,

particularly as a dressage performer. We also wanted to

start her over fences to determine her proclivity for jumping

and to explore other possibilities for this mare.

The first month was a nightmare. While we were able to deal

with some of the socialization issues by pasturing her with our

clever lead pony Porky, handling and under-saddle challenges

were immense. She was vicious in the stall, leaving a bruise

on a handler’s arm the size of a grapefruit, after a bite with no cause.

She shattered boards in the stall as she lambasted the

walls because feeding wasn’t quick enough, or the turnout routine

didn’t suit her, or simply because she felt a need to intimidate

the horse next to her. She charged a naive photographer,

teeth bared, as he entered the pasture, uninvited and unaccompanied,

thinking he could slip in to capture images of this

mare. She couldn’t even walk a twenty-meter circle sans rider,

without falling toward center, because she was so unbalanced.

Bertha’s meanness was evident on the ground, but we were

curious to see if this would also be an issue with under-saddle

training. This wasn’t a mare that would be fixed by groundwork

as her behavior was induced by the cyst, and the owner and

agent were in a hurry to find her a new home. . . .

The initial concern, namely eliminating the meanness, was a

relatively easy task under saddle, once she understood that rewards

came when requests were met. Bertha wasn’t a typical

mean horse, in that her attitude stemmed from a physical issue

(the cyst) that made her hormones go haywire. Over time,

we found there was little we could do about her destructive behavior

during nonriding hours. Fortunately, she learned to enjoy

training and the activity gave her (and us) a respite from the

chemical issues that made her difficult during the rest of the

day. . . .

Sometimes, simply being able to recognize what allows a

horse to shine and accepting the things you’ll never be able

to change is enough to enjoy what a horse can offer. In Bertha’s

case, we’ll be glad to see her leave our farm, where fitting

in with the crowd and embracing the routine is a requisite for

long-term tenants. Still, we imagine her new owner will find

her a delightful performer and a welcome companion — particularly

if she’s stabled at someone else’s facility. It is amazing

with this mare how easily and adeptly she embraced undersaddle

work and came to eagerly enjoy the lessons. Daily riding

definitely improved her demeanor in the stable, so it’s likely an

owner focused exclusively on this mare will be able to reach her

in ways not possible at this farm.

Scared horses understood

Chapter Three

Working with scared horses

Horses who have learned to view human contact with terror are relatively easy to reach with a patient, consistent, and confident approach. It takes time, but teaching these over-reactive mounts to calm down and gain courage is certainly doable if the handler offers assurance through kind, safe, and steady guidance. The biggest issue with these horses is not the initial concern, but the escalated craziness that occurs as they anticipate the punishment for their fear. The best course of action when they blow, and then really blow, is to do nothing. Merely wait out the ordeal with a steady, patient, but insistent attitude that makes it clear you are not going to attack them for their fear but will not proceed until the tantrum ends. Generally, a willing attitude to proceed calmly and quietly ensues. Initial work off their backs is key for these characters, as you won’t gain their trust while mounted until after you have been able to convince them that they need not explode when handled from the ground. Be careful and watchful, though, because you can easily be caught in a bad and dangerous position if you aren’t ready for, and mindful of, their likely next move. Once you learn to read your horse, predicting his or her blow becomes relatively easy, albeit not foolproof.

Instilling soundness of mind and body

Nette needed some reprogramming. She had been broke, but arrived at the track as a nervous, erratic filly that had no self-confidence and little trust in riders or handlers. Her reactive behavior was likely a large contributor to some subsequent soundness issues that had her on respite by the summer of her two-year-old year. Bloodlines were considered a huge contributing factor, as the stud was known for producing crazies. She arrived at Halcyon Acres that winter.

Groundwork was critical in the beginning to reshape this filly’s thinking and reaction to stressful situations. We spent a lot of time during her stay at the farm working on simple tasks in the stall with ample grooming and quiet contact that helped her learn to trust her human handlers. It was important to reassure this wary filly with calm and pleasant interactions with people. Making attention a welcomed treat versus a frightening experience was an easy initial and ongoing exercise for us and critical to Nette’s continued progress. Each day, a good half hour of time was devoted to currying, brushing, combing her mane and tail, picking feet, and getting Nette used to being tied to the wall (a black rubber tie with double-ended snaps is generally best for this as it stretches quite a bit and will break when the situation gets dangerous) for happy handling in the stall. Seemingly simple tasks such as grooming, leading to and from the paddocks, and merely getting her into the routine of the facility were not so easy for Nette. She overreacted to everything and expected harm with each new experience. It was important to address Nette’s anxiety with quiet and nonreactive time to prepare her for effective under-saddle work.

The second day Nette was at the farm, she spent a full twenty minutes rearing, nonstop, while being led home from the pasture. This was five feet from the barn entry door after calmly handling the trek from the paddock. We don’t know what set her off, but it doesn’t really matter. Ghosts, or imagined horrors only the horse can see from his mind’s eye, are as prevalent in panic attacks as reasonable issues with these scared characters. Nette must have gotten perpendicular to the ground at least thirty times during this tantrum. Initially, she tried bolting toward the door each time her front feet touched the ground. She was eager to join the other horses, but quickly became consumed with terror over what would beset her after her instinctive move.

We stood our ground, but otherwise did nothing. Finally, she calmed down and willingly and quietly walked into the barn. That was the last time this leading issue surfaced. It was amazing to see this filly begin to transform after this single incident. Once Nette realized her reflexive, excited move wasn’t going to prompt a beating, her fear subsided, she settled down, and she was willing to ponder a new paradigm.

Several factors were critical in making this incident so landmark for Nette. It was important that her fear was not reinforced with the aggressive reaction to rearing she was expecting. Doing so would have confirmed her expectations and reinforced the reactive, escalated behavior. Equally significant was the handler’s ability to weather this tantrum with a quiet, fearless, patient, and steady response. Scared horses have a keen sense for when the people working with them are afraid and respond in kind with intensified reactions. In addition, it was critical to keep a hold of this filly without injury to either horse or handler. We always work with long lead ropes that are either leather or cotton to give ample room to deal with explosive situations and reduce the likelihood of a tendon injury or burn if the horse gets tangled in the line. When dealing with scared horses in particular, it is imperative to stay with them – whether on the ground or their backs. These equines rarely want to go it alone and tend to get more anxious when they’re solo. They often run blind when released and can easily get hurt crashing through obstacles or running onto unsafe ground. Ensuring you maintain your contact with them (in a kind way) helps them calm down and gain confidence. With other types of horses, such as alphas or mean horses, a release would indicate a reward for their bad behavior. This is rarely the case, though, with scared horses, even though most have endured cruel or ignorant human handling.

Nette’s behavior and demeanor as she walked off the trailer led us to suspect she was taught to be reactive, but this incident underscored the fact that her fear was, at least in part, learned, as she became more explosive after her initial outburst. This type of heightened response to a misstep is a key clue in determining when you are working with a scared horse.

We didn’t even hop on Nette’s back for two full weeks, instead opting for early handling and grooming lessons supplemented by training activities in the round pen. While we try to get out of the round pen as quickly as possible with a horse, we do find this space a great tool for horses that have had a communication breakdown with the people they’ve encountered. Nette was no exception. The circular nature of the space and required close proximity of the handler to the horse provides a useful environment to establish a connection. Body language is the first step to drive, encourage, or stop the horse. Putting yourself behind the horse’s center drives them forward. Moving your body toward their shoulder or in front of their head (while in the center of the arena) should slow, stop, or turn them around. If you want them to accept your approach as nonthreatening, turn your back to them (this helps with persuading them to stop, too). . . .

Excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners

Most of the prior book excerpts featured on this blog were culled from Section Three, Tips from the Trenches. These snipets spotlighted perspectives, tips and stories from a variety of trainers from a diverse array of disciplines. In the coming weeks, we’ll feature the stories of real horses and how challenges were met and resolved (or not). Below is the introduction to this section.     

Section Two

Developing a work plan

Stories can help make learning easier. This is especially true when dealing with riding horses, a discipline that uses most of our senses, particularly when trying to turn a challenging mount. Therefore, the following chapters include instructional guidance with ample anecdotal information to illustrate some of the cases we’ve dealt with at Halcyon Acres. Working with equines that have learned to misbehave is always a trial-and-error process. We hope you’ll discover a winning plan for your particular problem child with ideas from the many success stories, while also learning to exploit and avoid some of the mistakes we’ve learned from along the way.

Often, young horses are misunderstood during the “breaking” period and forced into situations that overwhelm, frighten, or annoy them due to the trainer’s failure to communicate. This can last a lifetime, if these animals aren’t reprogrammed — by restarting training from where things first went wrong. Caught early enough, these problems can be redirected for amazing performance results, but this process requires a lot of patience, staying power, and intuitive responses. There are few lost causes with horses, but a lot of lost opportunities due to misunderstandings. Problem mounts are more often the result of problem handlers and riders early in life, rather than inborn reactions. Get to know what your horse is trying to tell you, and you may be amazed at how much progress you can make with just a little bit of listening.

What you’ll find in Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners

Excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for release winter, 2010

Table of Contents


Section I: Starting from a position of knowledge

Chapter 1: The Challenge

Chapter 2: Identifying the root of the challenge

Section II: Developing a work plan

Chapter 3: Working with scared horses

Chapter 4: Turning mean to green

Chapter 5: An A for effort comes with Alphas

Chapter 6: Encouraging a timid equine

Chapter 7: Turning a sour mount

Chapter 8: Sometimes they’re just plain crazy

Chapter 9: Correcting coordination and other issues

Section III: Tips from the professional trenches

Chapter 10: Kels Bonham; Junior rider

Chapter 11: Denny Emerson; Olympic eventer

Chapter 12: Jutta Heinsohn; Bereiter, F.N., FEI dressage trainer and competitor

Chapter 13: Dennis Auslam; Western riding and training professional

Chapter 14: Claire Hunter; Hunter/jumper trainer

Chapter 15: John Newborough; Classic horse trainer and judge

Chapter 16: Kathy O’Neal; Lesson and training stable owner

Chapter 17: Mike Bonham; Grand Prix Jumper trainer

Chapter 18: Robert Fera; Professional stallion handler

Chapter 19: Fleur Bryan; British Horse Society certified instructor

Section IV: Getting Practical

Chapter 20: Sense

Chapter 21: Cents

Chapter 22: The rewards


Preface to first Horse Sense and Cents book title

This is a sneak peak excerpt from the first title of the Horse Sense and Cents series title, Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners, due for public release in February, 2010.


There’s something to be said for learning from the wisdom — and mistakes — forged by others before you. The Horse Sense and Cents™ series is intended to help the novice identify problems and potential solutions, including solutions that may require professional assistance.

The books are also designed to benefit the professional through lessons learned, case studies, and chapters that include insights of other equine authorities from around the world. The anecdotal approach of the series makes the reading fun and the material easy to implement.

While throwing money at a problem can be effective, it’s more rewarding if you can understand what it takes to address or resolve an equine issue. Even if you choose to delegate training, raising, breeding, or any other activity that involves your horse (if you insist on spending the money, we at Halcyon Acres® welcome your business — visit us at, eventually you’ll want to understand how your actions affect your horse’s behavior.

For those who are living on a budget, but oh-so-determined to have a horse around the house or at a neighboring stable, we’ve been there and offer tips and tricks that can save you money and frustration as you dig your heels in to stay the course or gallop off into the sunset.

If you’re looking for a down-to-earth, easy-to-follow, and imaginative guide to the equine challenges you face, this series provides an excellent tool for creative and effective solutions to what ails you or your steed.

We’ve chosen to feature our “turning” treatise as the first book because this is a concern almost every seasoned equestrian has faced, along with a good number of unfortunate novices to boot, yet it is a topic rarely covered in detail by the pros or the industry media. We use the term turning to explain the process of transforming a mount that has been taught to be uncooperative, scared, or mean into a willing companion. Usually, this is an equine that has been started badly and has major resulting issues that are the fodder for nightmares. Obviously, it’s best to start right; but this doesn’t always happen, and the ensuing quirks and behavioral challenges range from annoying to downright dangerous.

Our approach is different from the norm — we don’t prescribe formula solutions but, instead, believe that each horse is distinctive in the way he or she responds and reacts to handler and rider cues. The signals and stories illustrated in this guide should help you identify problems that you may be facing with your steed while enabling you to type your horse a bit by recognizing tendencies. Identifying such behaviors may help you pinpoint how your horse may have been previously conditioned to distrust, disrespect, or hate his or her handlers and riders. The successful solutions can be guides as you strive to create an understanding between you and your particular problem child. Of course, we also offer mistakes as fodder for thought and cautionary notes on when it may be time to simply call it quits.

The time and effort necessary to turn a horse that’s been conditioned to behave badly can be considerable, but the rewards associated with that moment of connection and rapport are immeasurable. Usually, the turn is sud-den and dramatic. Additionally, if you are truly successful with your turning efforts, you will likely join with a mount that offers you a willingness to exceed your requests while sharing a bond that’s more invigorating than any equestrian activity involving a made horse. I hope you are able to experience the joy of this amazing experience with your equine project.

Nanette Levin

Fleur Bryan offers colorful Irish perspective

Excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for release winter, 2010

Handling the crazies

“I spend a lot of time bonding with any horse, but especially one that has been started badly. I’ve had some that are so messed up you can’t even catch them in the stall. I’ll stand in the corner of their stall holding their feed bucket and won’t move until they come and eat. Some won’t come near me for hours, but eventually they’ll approach. I’ll do that for days. Then I’ll rub on them until I can get a halter on them. As soon as I can get a halter on them, I’ll take them out on the road for a walk with just the lead line for an hour. The next day, the breaking roll goes on in the stall. Then, I’ll teach them things like how to cross tie. I do get them to join up with me, but not in the round pen. When I am finished playing with a horse, they will follow me around without a lead on. This is what happens when you build a horse’s trust.

“I had one Thoroughbred horse come through my hands going back about ten years ago. She was trained to race and had run. When she came to us, she was virtually unridable. She was a head case. She had no brain. I decided, along with my dad, that we would start her with the usual bonding and long lining. This mare was such a freak show that she actually jumped over a hedgerow in the long lines to get away from me. I could never get her to settle down. There was no reasoning with this horse. My feeling, and I know where she came from and it would surprise me if I was right, but my gut told me she was badly beaten and abused. She didn’t trust anybody. It didn’t matter if it was male or female. She had no work ethic. You know how some horses are always willing to please, even if they have been spoiled? You can always find a common ground if you use reverse psychology. You could almost make them think it was their idea to go over that jump. She had none of it. She was the kind of horse that wouldn’t even take a treat out of your hand. She was the first one that I could actually say got the better of me and I had to give up. I will say, I did spend close to fifteen weeks working with her before I said this is going nowhere. She was only four. It was very sad. What was even sadder was that her dad was a European Triple Crown winner. It’s funny, because a lot of his stock finished up being nasty pieces of work. I didn’t find that out until later when I was following the sales in Europe.

“Sometimes, it is in the bloodlines. I knew another Thoroughbred stallion like that. All his foals had a favorite trick. You’d be coming down to a fence with them, and two strides out the sucker would drop the left shoulder and duck. They all did the exact same thing, duck out to the left side, and dump your ass on the floor.

“I will say, though, I learned more off that Thoroughbred mare than I learned off a lot of the good horses. I learn from my mistakes. I’ve have had very few failures, but you remember them.”

About Fleur Bryan

Fleur has over twenty years experience breaking young horses and retraining problem mounts. While in Ireland, Fleur spent fifteen years breeding, training, and competing show jumping horses. Now based in Kentucky, Fleur breeds top-quality Irish Sport Horses and focuses riding time on turning retired racehorses into hunter/jumpers. She is currently available across the US for clinics with a specialty in working with problem horses and nervous riders as well as mature riders.,, (502) 649-2037 cell

Finding and making Grand Prix jumpers

Excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for release winter, 2010

Hunter Challenge

“Some show hunters are better if they never see the ring. Others won’t jump the third fence if they don’t get in and hack around. Both can be winners. The one that’s the innate jumper, the one that likes to go out and jump the new jumps, is going to be more successful. A horse that must be longed and hacked prior to going into the show ring is likely going to have much worse x-rays at the age of ten. That’s why those horses are the much more expensive horses.

“We had a gray mare that was the type that you needed to get tired to not blow up in the ring, but it wasn’t necessary to take her in the ring. She always jumped her best the first time at a new fence.  Sometimes, when you were riding her to the show ring from the barn area, out of the blue, she’d go straight up, whirl and try to run back to the barn. When you get those, you just need to know where that line in the sand is and you try not to cross it. It didn’t matter what you did in the extreme either way (through praise or punishment). She would not move unless it was going back to the barn. If you forced the issue, the only answer was going straight up in the air. With those types you need to be very careful. You can still win a lot with them, but knowing the horse over time with experience and knowing what to do and what not to do is important with the particular horse. She was a very honest mount. In the show ring, over the year we had her, she finished top ten in the nation in the Older Small Junior Working Hunter Division.

About Mike Bonham

Mike Bonham has been actively training and showing in the horse business for 30 years. Bonham Stables has turned out hundreds of AA Hunter Champions and multiple Grand Prix Champions under Mike’s training. Kels Bonham (his daughter) won the Medals in 2008, and at age fourteen was an individual Bronze Medalist at Prix de States at Harrisburg (that is the Junior Jumper National Championship). Kels is now attending Savahana School of Art and Design, where she is riding on the school team. Mike admits he found his niche when his kids came along. Kels is a talented rider who has spent many years showcasing horses in training and in competitions. “When she was ten or eleven-years-old, she was getting catch rides because she was very serious about what she did and put in the work,” Mike explains. “She got a lot of breaks that way and she deserved them. She was a unique student for me and we reached heights in the sport that we thought we would never reach,” he admits. Chester (his son) is now riding and showing with Mike.

Bohnam Stables

(918) 521-4323