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Young Horse Training

Young horse training assistants can be fuzzy

Some of my best assistant trainers haven’t been people. When you’re trying to reach confused, concerned or belligerent horses, often animals can be better teachers when it comes to addressing young horse training issues.

Who says dogs and horses don’t mix?

Young horse training ideas with Horse Sense and Cents
Even maiden moms knew their newborns were safe with Gatsby.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows Gatsby served as one of the best equine assistant trainers I’ve ever encountered. I was lucky to have his help for fifteen years. He was a mutt I picked up from the Rochester City Pound who had an uncanny ability to read, comfort and guide horses in a way that made them feel brighter, bolder and safer in all that was requested.

Even new client horses coming to Halcyon Acres® seemed to recognize with him around, they’d stay safe. I felt a lot safer too (on and off horses – he had a lethal jaw and, as amiable as he was, I always knew he’d use it to protect me). He calmed horses through painful doctoring, helped with young horse training on the trails, assuring and then desensitizing, comforted horses that were concerned and even welcomed each new foal. I’ve never seen anything like it – even maiden mares would allow Gatsby to get close to their newborns.

There was an energy about him that every horse picked up on and appreciated. In fact, when he died and was buried on the property this summer, the farm horses went nuts. They couldn’t see him but somehow they knew. I miss him so much, but will remember all he taught me about horse sense for the rest of my life.

The little filly that could

Leah has always been an interesting character. As a yearling, she challenged the bully in the pasture (not the leader) who commanded a large run in shed for herself. Leah didn’t get violent, she simply wouldn’t be intimidated by this mare’s posturing. When the rest of the herd witnessed her bravado, they began to follow her lead on many other things.

If I’m not hasty with fresh water in winter, the entire herd waits for Leah to land a crushing hoof through the ice surface. She never claims first dibs.

Irish Draught Sport Horses at Halcyon Acres
Sweet Leah.

She’s always been one of these fillies that lets you know she’s choosing to cooperate. For each request there’s a moment where she pauses to make sure you know she knows she doesn’t have to. It’s quite comical, actually.

I laughed out loud watching my novice employee start Leah under saddle. After six months of riding lessons and helping start young client horses, this gal wanted a project she could learn from alone. Ordinarily, this would have been an impossible request. I recognized, though, I had a very special filly born at the farm. Her smarts, kindness and confidence proved green hands with a green horse could work.

As I watched the scenes unfold from my office window above, Leah proved to be the old soul with a sense of humor I knew. It was hysterical to witness Leah enforcing lessons when words were forgotten. Lowing an iron before climbing aboard was one of them. Leah walk off just fast enough so this gal would be hopping on one foot with her other in the stirrup. This usually went on for a half hour before the light bulb moment. As soon as the rider dropped her iron, Leah stood. Through every step, Leah gently pushed back until the student got it right. Irony can be fun when you see it coming.

Leah’s also my go-to gal for providing client horse companionship for singles (which always includes some schooling). Usually, customers who send only one horse have gotten stuck trying to go it alone. So, there are issues to be undone before tackling new activities.

At the tender age of three, Leah’s totally cool being removed from the herd (some of her tight peers aren’t so comfortable). This usually involves her spending half the time in a stall and the rest turned out with a newbie and his behavioral issues. She helps me by eliminating most of the attitude problems non-violently, while I treat her to extra goodies and attention. Still, it’s incredible to witness the adaptability and smarts of this young gal. Most horses of any age would stress out and act out with such a dramatic change. She joyfully rolls with the punches, delighted to find new ways to keep that busy mind engaged.

It’s wonderful to have such willing helpers. There are other horses that get culled for particular issues, but Leah usually gets first call for the most challenging tasks. Wise beyond her years is an understatement. Of course, she’s been teaching me along the way too. Each horse gives you new learning opportunities. This one has taught me more than most about how to be clever and kind with equine communications – whether directed at humans or horses. She’s a hoot.

Do you have animal companions around the farm you use to help you with horse challenges? I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and imagine blog readers here would too. Also, if you enjoyed this blog post, please share using the easily clickable options to the left of the content column. Thanks :-; .



Age isn’t a good guide for young horse training decisions

I’ve been asked a lot lately about creating a schedule for young horse training. People want to know the exact age certain task should be started, and when they should be finished. It’s hard to try to explain to some people this is question that can’t be answered without involving the horse in the conversation.

young horse training with Horse Sense and CentsYes, of course, there are age and related growth issues. Staring too early or moving too quickly can create damage that can’t be undone. But so can discounting the equine mind in your training regimen.

Some horses are smart. Others need a different engagement approach to understand. There are those that will test you at every step – and you better be sure what you’re asking is reasonable before you decide to make an issue of it.

Some young horse training starts with a horse’s request

Certain young horses beg to be brought into the training process earlier than we plan. Judie (our 2007 Registered Irish Draught Sport Horse mare)was one of them. We knew she was going to be big and didn’t want to begin under saddle training until late in her three-year-old year at the earliest. She had other ideas. So we honored her request and did some very light training with her early.

Registered Irish Draught Sport Horse mare for sale
Judie’s been an amazing eager pleaser who wanted to start training long before we planned on it. She proved an unflappable, kind and careful steed on the trails for a novice rider employee.

Ground work didn’t satisfy her as she had been watching other horses being ridden. It’s funny how some horses seem to see the world. Judie’s been a fantastic learner and eager pleaser with every under saddle request we’ve made of her since. Just being included when she asked seemed to solidify her conviction that training was fun. Her response has been to try even harder to do everything right.

Certain horses will easily accommodate your schedule

Leah was another one we started early. This wasn’t due to her expressing a strong desire to begin training, but more because we needed her for a job. This is a remarkable little filly that we grab for a variety of farm needs. Most horses – no matter what age – wouldn’t be able to do what she does around here without angst or injury. In this case, we had a green employee who was providing help with client horses coming in to be started under saddle, but wanted the learning experience of a project she could do on her own. There aren’t many young horses I’d entrust with the schooling project (the horse did a lot more teaching than the human), but Leah’s special.

Irish Draught Sport horse for sale
Leah is my go-to gal for so many jobs at the farm. It’s amazing to witness her clever and cooperative approach to handling challenges with personality and zeal.

Boys often need more time to mature

There have been a number of times I’ve sent client horses back after some preliminary training because they were just too young to process or physically handle the demands of riding time. Fortunately, my clients care about their horses and trust my judgment, so are willing to give their equines another year or two to grow up before beginning career training. This seems to be a guy thing as these equines are almost always geldings or colts.

Starting a horse too soon is a mistake. If he’s too insecure, underdeveloped physically or confused about simple requests (this is often human error, but some horses do need to grow up to be mentally ready to respond as requested), he’ll come to see training with resentment, fear or avoidance tactics. That’s no way to start a horse that will be asked to partner with humans for a lifetime.

Young horse training decisions should include your horse

So, when people ask me “at what age should I be introducing my horse to tack,” my answer is always “it depends.”  I get some industries put tremendous strain on young horse bodies at a very early age. Some breeds take years longer to mature than others, requiring more time to physically mature for long and healthy career. Usually, though, no matter what the breed or career he is intended for (that’s a subject for an entirely different blog post), the horse will tell you when he’s ready.

Of course, there’s lots of things you can do from the ground while you’re waiting.

If you find your young horse doesn’t relish the training time you spend together, consider stepping back to try to figure out why. Maybe he’s been rushed to a point where he’s confused and concerned. Return to ground work in an effort to establish a better foundation. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence or understanding to instill courage in him. This might be a good time to seek out help. Alphas can be particularly challenging because they’re usually clever, willful and watching your every move to determine if you’re worthy. Too many people try to dictate to these horses, or recoil in fear; neither approach works very well.

Or maybe, he’s just not ready. Everything you do today will shape how your horse experiences riding time for the next twenty years and beyond. If you’re going to take on a young horse training project, you owe it to the horse to listen to what he’s trying to tell you. This is the time you set the stage for a horse to spend a lifetime enjoying his human interactions – or dreading them.

Reaching Alpha Horses e-booklet coverIf you find yourself challenged with training issues you’re encountering with your horse, we’ve created some e-booklets to help. These are available on this website and as Kindle Editions for only $2.99 (there’s about 20 pages each). We’ve also created these as audio books available on Amazon or iTunes and a number of other popular venues. Reaching Alpha Horses and Bringing home and off-the-track Thoroughbred are fun reads with stories, tips and ideas you can implement immediately. If you do pick up a copy of any of these titles, please consider leaving an Amazon review. Thanks!

What’s new at Horse Sense and Cents®?

It’s been a whirlwind few months with so much going on. Time’s streaked past in a way that has me wondering why we’re not still in August. Almost reminds me of the first time I sent a horse down the lane for a track breeze – kind of a joyous blur seeing but not fully able to focus on the milestones passed along the way to the finish line.

Halcyon Acres horsesWe’ve been doing a lot of work on the Horse Sense and Cents® website and products over the past few months. There’s still much more to go, but hopefully the changes will make it easier for you to find what you are looking for on the site. Do feel free to reach out (full contact information is available at the bottom of almost every web page) if you have questions, want to see us offer something new or are having trouble locating the information you seek.

Do take the time to look around a bit while here as there’s tons of free information designed to help you reach your training, career or equine relationship goals. Much has been added to the Inventing Your Horse Career pages (although we’re still working on a better organizational strategy).

For those still seeking last-minute gifts or stocking-stuffers for the horse lovers in their life, we have some great gifts that can be downloaded for $2.99, $6.95 and $15.99.

Inexpensive equine audio and printed e-booklets

Reaching Alpha HorsesWe’ve just started making titles available as audio products. You can now buy the Reaching Alpha Horses e-booklet for to enjoy as a listening experience via for $6.95 or on Amazon for only $6.08 – or at no cost with a free 30-day trial membership.

We expect the title to be available on iTunes and other major online audio retail outlets within the next week.

Alternatively, if you prefer reading to listening, the Kindle Edition of this title is only $2.99. You can buy it as a PDF document here on the Horse Sense and Cents® website.

Who hasn’t scratched their heads over the challenges an Alpha can present? This resource will help you customize approaches to get that special, opinionated equine excited about building a partnership.

Look for Bringing home an off-the-track Thoroughbred in audio next week. Or, buy the Kindle Edition or PDF if you want a fun, quick read for only $2.99.

Valuable, affordable equine career insight for time-starved horse lovers

Inventing Your Horse CareerMore than a dozen equine professionals had a lot of fun coming together last year to create the Inventing Your Horse Career Series. We’re running a half-price special on the 9 CD boxed series right now (just enter the discount code HSACLA2012 to save $119). We’ve also created individual MP3 download options for those who want the material in smaller and more affordable doses. You can get the Inventing Your Horse Career MP3s (about an hour a piece) for $15.99 each or $29.99 for three.

More free training tips and fun tools you can use

Beginning in 2013, we’re going to try to publish articles in the blog on a regular schedule, but back it off to twice a month. Of course, if we have something exciting or timely to share, we’ll jump in off-schedule, but it seems better for all to know when new posts are coming. Is there a particular day that’s favored by you readers? If so, please note this in the comments below or send me a private message. The day of the week makes no difference here, but frequency does. Also, if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered, say so and we’ll try to respond accordingly.

Horse Sense and CentsWe’re going to start producing the free newsletter monthly (if you’re not signed up, just enter your name and e-mail address on the right column of this page). This wound up taking a lot more time to create than anticipated so to keep it interesting, fun and relevant, quality over quantity seemed like a good move. For those who subscribe, we’ll send out some other fun surprises periodically, but limit the formal treatise to twelve times a year.

We’re in the final production stages of the long-awaited title by Rob Fera (the working title is Bringing Up Baby, but we need to change this as John Lyons already claimed that one) focused on foal care and handling pre-natural through 18 months with great information on nutrition, health issues, ailments, training and all sorts of super tips on being smarter about raising a young horse in a way that helps him be his best. This has been a much-anticipated book that we’re excited be close to finishing. Watch for free sneak peak chapters here as we get closer to a publishing date.

Hope you all have a very happy holiday season and prosperous new year. Thanks for being such a loyal, active and supportive following. I look forward to joining with you next year to ‘Enjoy the Ride.’

Positive reinforcement can encourage the wrong things

Let’s set aside the technical definition of positive reinforcement in deference to yet another case of common use morphing of the language. Uncle – this post will use the term to designate reward practices as such. We’ll assume those advocating for positive reinforcement are against any actions that involve a correction that discourages a horse (or human) from bad or dangerous behavior. It still doesn’t work as well as people might think.

young horse training needs different approachesSociety seems to be focused these days on a ‘don’t say no’ mentality, for fear the mere act of providing guidance to direct behavior through disapproval may undermine the self-esteem of our youth or label someone who sets limits as cruel to their animals. What this approach is producing is a bunch of confused, aimless and narcissistic humans along with a new generation of horses who long for a human that has guts enough to challenge bad behavior and provide them with the comfort of a guide they can trust to keep them out of harm’s way.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not an advocate of ‘keeping their feet busy,’ ‘teaching a horse respect’ or reckless punishment, but there comes a time when it’s appropriate to say no – and mean it. That’s never a good first approach with a young or confused horse, but if you’re skillful at reading what’s being projected, there will come a time when misunderstanding turns to manipulation or bullying.

Foals appreciate clear direction

We have a fifteen-month-old colt here that’s recently been feeling pretty proud of his appendages. He’s not very bold or confident, so we’ve taken extra time with each request keeping it kind, patient and encouraging. His behavior during the last blacksmith visit merited a different reaction. He figured he’d give biting and kicking a shot. One quick and timely correction (a thump to his belly) ended the antics. He was testing, seemed to appreciate having some boundaries set and handled the rest of the session with ease and grace. A scared or confused horse would have reacted very differently. It was time to say no with this coming cocky colt.

 Youngsters live happier with limits

If you think you’re doing your horse a favor (or your kid for that matter) allowing them to find themselves without negative reinforcement to help them understand appropriate social behavior or avoid danger, you’re not. People, like horses, are better adjusted and more joyful when guided on how to be a productive contributor in life. Even in wild herds you see this. Regardless, horses have been domesticated for millenniums. Most I’ve encountered seem to be hard-wired to seek out humans for work fulfillment.

Done right, horses appreciate the attention and engagement riding time brings. For most, finding a confident and responsive leader makes activities a lot more fun.

Keeping the horse in the conversation is critical.

That doesn’t mean you always have to agree or cave, just listen. Acknowledging the horse’s perspective and then saying no is a happy place for most equines, provided you let them express their views and, when appropriate, contribute to decisions on training activities. Some days this can mean a shorter session or none, others a longer one. Often a horse will suggest a different approach than you had planned, making the learning experience better for both of you. Why not let your horse help decide what you do in a session if it keeps you both happy and moving forward? He’ll be quicker to accommodate you when requests are less negotiable.

Negative reinforcement isn’t a bad thing

Honestly I don’t get this mindset that discouraging bad behavior is wrong. Most creatures appreciate direction that helps them better cope with the world we live in. In fact, a majority out guidance and approval from those they respect (something you can’t teach, but instead, need to earn) to help keep them safe, happy and fulfilled. Setting limits isn’t evil. In fact, done right, it’s a kind way to show you care. If you never intercede to guide one away from danger, why should they trust you (or themselves) to make right decisions when faced with new challenges?

Negative reinforcement doesn’t mean violence. It’s simply a matter of making it less comfortable to act out in ways being discouraged and more pleasant to proceed in the requested direction.

Horses are being discarded these days in growing numbers. It’s sad. Many novices take on a project they’re ill-equipped to handle. Most are good-hearted and well-intentioned, but lack the ability to understand how their actions are shaping horse behavior. You can literally kill a horse with kindness when only positive reinforcement (applied to both good and bad behavior) creates an equine that’s dangerous to themselves and others. These horses are being turned loose, dumped in auctions and left to starve. The horse is blamed and labeled a problem by merely doing what he’s been taught.

Horses and humans can live happier lives with clear boundaries. Sometimes a little bit of conflict is a good thing. It’s how we learn.

Customize young horse training for better results

Seasoned equestrians and novices alike can gain more benefits from customized horse training programs than formula approaches. It’s not just the lost in translation challenge when you try to implement rigid techniques designed by others. You’ll find even more disconnects with rote tactics that assume each horse reacts the same. If you’re not keeping your horse in the conversation, you’re losing opportunities to bond on a much deeper level.

Is it you or your horse that’s stuck?           

If you keep doing the same thing and your horse doesn’t get it, is he dumb or are you? As Albert Einstein quipped ““Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

To be fair, most novices that get stuck really try to do the right thing with their horse by seeking out knowledge from people they believe to be good advisers. I really feel for them. Not surprisingly, they tend to gravitate toward the most heavily publicized and artfully marketed products. Just because a method is popular doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you or your horse. What the promoters fail to disclose – in fact they do the opposite and tend to claim if it didn’t work you did it wrong – is that each horse is different. How they respond to you depends on how you respond to them.

To bring this back to the media for a moment – sex and violence sells (sadly) so this is most of what we see in the news. Today, what seems to be the rage with horse training is the “easy, do-it-yourself kit” that promises your ‘Bucky’ will magically transform to ‘Rover’ if you simply follow the program. Which begs the question – even if that were so, do you really want an obedient horse that blindly does what you tell them or is it better to encourage a horse to think for himself so he can save your butt when you get him into trouble?

Customizing a young horse training program that works

If you’re determined to bring your horse along without help from a competent trainer or instructor, there are some things you can do to make it a more pleasant experience – for you and your horse.

  1. Reward the tries. Any time you’re teaching your horse something new, it’s important to acknowledge the try immediately. If you demand he respond perfectly to your first request, he’s not going to understand what you want and will likely get frustrated.
  2. Get the timing right. Mot novices tend to either bribe the horse too soon with rewards before the horse responds as desired or take too long to reward the horse for effort. The latter often leads to reinforcing an undesired behavior (e.g. the horse comes forward when you want but you congratulate him as he’s backing away from you – so you’re unknowingly teaching him the back is what you want).
  3. Keep lessons short. Two hour drill sessions are rarely effective with young horses – and not too welcome with older ones either. When tackling something new or unfamiliar, strive for 10-15 minutes of training time, tops. End on a good note so you both feel good and can start with the progress you gained the next time.
  4. Don’t rely on a single method. No one is absolutely certain what’s going on in a horse’s mind. You can guess and get it right sometimes, but not always. Plus, every horse is different. Instead of rallying behind a single approach as the only right way to reach every horse, take the time to read, watch and learn what others are doing so you can incorporate a mix of techniques to find what works. There’s merit in every approach (even if it’s learning to never do that again) so it makes sense to be open to what your horse is trying to tell you as you experiment.
  5. Watch what more experienced people do. There’s nothing like seeing it live to help gather understanding for reaching your horse. Books, videos and other at-home resources aren’t the same as seeing what’s going on unedited. There are tons of clinics you can audit for a small fee, lesson stables that will let you watch and even some trainers who welcome the public on certain days to their facility. Ask around to find someone local who’s known for their ability to reach challenging horses. Make a call to see if they’ll let you watch. They might say no, but they might say yes. Imagine how much you could learn.

The next time you blame your horse for misbehaving, consider what you may be doing to cause misunderstandings. Just because a rich guy or a celebrated gal claims they’ve discovered the cure-all for every horse issue they’ve encountered, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Trying to mimic what someone else designs (or copies) is rarely a good way to connect with your particular horse. The best trainers customize their approach to build a responsive rapport with every horse.

If you find yourself challenged with a horse training issue, feel free to shoot me an e-mail and I’ll try to help. We also offer on-site assessments (for your horse or one  you’re considering for purchase or adoption) in the Western New York area. Call (585) 554-4612 for more information on our services.

Trouble loading your horse on a trailer?

It’s so much fun when you can reach a horse and human at the same time. Recently, I was asked to come to a client’s aid. Both came away from the experience with a new understanding, a better rapport and all puffed up as a result of what they accomplished independently and then, later, together.

Horse trailer loading trouble solutions
cc license by eXtensionHorses

Fun with a reticent gelding – interpreting horse and human signals to solve loading issues

When you get stuck, you can either keep doing what’s not working or call for help.

The owner of a young gelding that’s only home had been her farm (he was born there) started working on trailer loading for the first time this year. She had started him under saddle but made the decision to send him to Halcyon Acres® to do some polishing and get him steady on the trails.

Things went well, until they didn’t.

I always applaud those wise enough to know when help is warranted. It’s not always something easy to admit, but doing so can transform the relationship you have with your horse almost immediately.

What’s the real horse training issue?

We spent almost an hour and a half addressing and correcting the problems the first day. Actually, the horse loaded without incident on the first several attempts, but changed his tune after we tried to lift the ramp to close him in. This wasn’t a great trailer to be working with, which complicated things a bit, but the bigger challenge was this guy’s habit of backing rapidly without being requested to do so.

Patience and understanding was an appropriate early reaction. Soon it became clear, though, that he was no longer wary, but merely having fun controlling a game he designed.

In conversation with the owner, or perhaps, more importantly, observing the horse, it became clear he had learned that flinging himself backwards at a rapid pace ended a lesson he wasn’t too keen about. So, it’s not surprising he embraced this cool tool that provided a reward.

This was a very smart horse. He also responded gleefully to attention and praise – much more so than the food bribes that had been offered in the past. Sweet by nature, this solid guy wanted to please. He just wasn’t confident enough in people to be comfortable following their lead. He needed to understand that his backing frenzy could cause harm to him or human and was not acceptable.

The training shifted from trailer loading (this wasn’t the real issue) to addressing the backing penchant.

An unusual approach to solve the loading challenge

While it’s rarely appropriate to intensify the pressure to discourage a young horse from bad behavior, in this case, it was. This guy used his bulk in an attempt to mow over the human or fling them off the lead.

We put a chain over his nose to gain some additional leverage. As expected, he didn’t like it. He quickly learned, though, that his actions were merely responded to in kind. We never applied any pressure to the lead in the trailer, but once he was out and trying to fling or knock a human off their feet, pressure was applied. The moment he offered a smidgeon of cooperation, it was released. Timing is critical. The release needs to be immediate. Also note this wasn’t a jerking on the lead action, merely some weight against it. He quickly realized his nose got comfortable the millisecond he stood still.

After that, loading was basically a non-issue. The backing off without request ended too. He’d stand for many minutes as asked then stepped off slowly, one stride at a time as pressure was applied with some fingers to his chest. He glowed and responded with delight as attention was lavished for little attempts and food bribes were eliminated from the mix.

Gleeful owner reports positive trailer loading experience

Several days later I received an ecstatic call from the owner who, after witnessing the schooling session and listening to next step recommendations (give him a few days to process and gloat, no chain, walk on with confidence, immediately recognize tries, use attention vs. food bribes as a reward, etc.) that all went as we discussed – no, even better. Her loading challenges seemed to be history.

It’s always exciting to find eager learners who can process information easily in both horse and human form.

We’ll do another session together before we lock him up in the trailer for a short trip to the Halcyon Acres® facility, but both sessions should be uneventful. This guy really wants to be a good boy, he just didn’t understand.

Why horses resist trailer loading

Every horse is different. Understanding his concerns is the first step to resolving issues. Seeking help when you can’t is critical too. Forcing a horse on a trailer only works once. The damage you do to his psyche with such an approach will cost you big time in the future.

Instead, try to get into their head. You’ll be amazed at how much you may learn when you take the time to try to understand and respond in accommodating ways.

Unfortunately, many professional truckers or so-called seasoned trainers tend to resort to tactics that serve to reinforce a horse’s fear or dislike for the trailer. What’s more important than any tactic you use is getting a quick read on why your horse is being difficult. Usually it comes down to one of three reasons:

  1. He’s afraid. This can be due to unfamiliar trailers, first time introductions or memory issues associated prior bad experiences.
  2. He’s playing you. Some horses (interestingly with trailer issues it tends to be the geldings even though mares tend to present clever facades during under saddle training) offer resistance because it’s a fun game and/or they sense your lack of confidence and take the lead.
  3. You’re sending him the wrong signals. If you face a horse when trying to load him, his tendency is going to be to either stop or back. People who are helping you load also send body signals to the horse that can be problematic. Some don’t like being crowded. Others load better with a person close by to help keep him on the right path. Noticing how he’s reacting to the people involved and how you might be unintentionally asking for undesired behavior is important.

The most important factor in forging the path to better loading experiences is paying attention. This includes recognizing why your horse is responding the way he is, noting what he’s trying to tell you and understanding how what you’re doing is encouraging or discouraging his cooperation.

If you’re in the Western New York area, we can come out with on-sight. If not, consider our e-coaching services. Capture the scene in video, send it along and we’ll work with you providing customized ideas and suggestions through all the challenges. This month we’ve added an introductory e-coaching offer to new clients for one month of support at $65.

Horse temperament trumps just about everything else

There are a lot of people out there with a mission to ‘save a horse.’  Heartstrings pull when they encounter one suffering from poor early experiences with people, a bad attitude, health issues, soundness problems or a free price tag. Do people cause many of these problems? Yes. Is it worth the emotional, financial and time drains associated with trying to bring back an equine with lots of issues? Sometimes it is, but usually not for your average amateur seeking an enjoyable partnership. (more…)

Having fun with horse blogs and video

Popular horse blogs and successful equine industry businesses are incorporating video into their marketing mix. Early this year I set a goal to learn more on this front and make it a regular component of the Horse Sense and Cents blog. I haven’t quite figured out how to incorporate this into the copy writing/marketing site and blog, but I will.

Perhaps a bit behind the times with the normal crowd, but ahead of many in the horse industry, video capture, resource discernment and editing are skills goals I’ve set for mastery this year (OK, probably more like passable familiarity). As result, I’ve been playing with a number of of tools and approaches in a quest to make video a big part of strategic marketing activities in the latter part of this year and more professionally so in years to come. Of course, I’m also looking for ways to entertain those long-standing readers of this blog, as well as others who come to visit seeking free information.

Recently, I discovered It’s free for some stuff, with paid upgrades for more enhanced features. This is best when offering humorous messages (most of us have seen the vet vs. horse owner dialog – I believe this one was created on Xtranormal, but found the process there more challenging with a lot of hidden fees). But, if you can craft something that gets people nodding and smiling with a bit of a marketing message somewhere, it’s a fun way to make a point.

This evening, I took a first stab as I learned how this system works (it’s pretty easy). Here’s what I ‘produced’ in about an hour (the learning curve was a factor here, as was the copy writing – I had no idea where I would go with this when I entered the site so wasn’t working from a script):


FulcrumCom’s Animation by FulcrumCom on GoAnimate

Animated Presentations – Powered by GoAnimate.

Frankly, my plan was to do something hilarious with no marketing aspect to the piece, but I’m not feeling particularly brilliant tonight after an exhausting day and long week. Regardless, I figured a lot of readers could have fun with this resource for personal, business, cause or just plain laughable moments.

Please share in the comments below what you think of this video, links to films you’ve created with this tool and ideas for a future commentary that could be fun for all. Give me an idea and I’d be happy to run with it. After 43 years of riding, with a good chunk of that time witnessing some of the stranger than fiction things that go on in the horse industry, I have a lot to draw from.

Thanks for being such a great group of devoted readers!

Young horse training turns to older mounts

This month, we put a bunch of horses back into training at Halcyon Acres®. While our primary focus is young horse training for clients, it’s been an absolutely delightful experience hopping aboard the farm broodmares.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you a good temperament isn’t a critical quality in selecting a horse. It breeds through. Riding equines with a willing attitude is always a pleasure. New experiences are invigorating instead of riddled with angst. Time around these special creatures is always pure joy.

Midge has been our primary Irish Draught Sport Horse producer. She has decent bloodlines, is very correct, full of heart, loves to train, is game for anything new or different and her lovely head breeds through to all her foals.

I actually purchased Midge as a lead pony for client horses coming into the farm. She was so much fun to ride, gutsy, clever and had a calm energy that made her an ideal candidate. My go-to gal was getting older (some of you may remember Porky). She was asking for a person that was all hers I needed to respect her wishes.

Anyway, after spending so many years with Porky as my savior (the most amazing lead pony I’ve ever encountered), I came to recognize the beauty of small mares with young Thoroughbred client horses. Tall geldings aren’t good at smartly schooling cocky colts, usually have no heart and can intimidate the youngsters with their size.

Midge didn’t wind up being a lead pony for reasons that weren’t her fault, but instead, has spent more than half her life being a mom.

Up, Up and Away on an alpha mare with years off

My intent was to spend a few days getting Midge used to wearing tack again before adding a rider to the mix. Midge didn’t feel this was necessary.

You never know with certainty how a horse is going to react after a long hiatus. This mare really liked her recent job as mom. I wasn’t sure if she’d still be so enthusiastic about being ridden. Her nature hadn’t changed a bit – nor her aptitude. It was as though she hadn’t missed a day of riding, let alone seven years.

I gave her a few quick days at the walk and then felt she was ready (OK – it was really me – she was game from the start) to do more. The memories came flooding back about why I found this little mare so special. I had approached the owner the first time I rode her indicating I wanted to buy her when he was ready to sell.

Midge was the horse I dreamed of as a kid. Riding time was her favorite thing. Her gates were fun. Talk about cornering – she could turn on a dime at any speed. Temperament and smarts made her a standout.

This is my vet (she’s wonderful in so many ways) aboard Midge for the first time:

Starting a horse back after time off

Don’t do what I did with Midge. Yes, it harkens back to parental hypocrisy, I know, but seriously, it’s a rare horse that can handle jumping right back into a riding routine without creating big problems. Midge has always been a tough little gal that’s unfazed by stupid and unfair human behavior, stays naturally fit and balanced, is close-coupled enough to be able to handle a rider easier than most and seems to be indestructible, but she’s a rare find.

  1. If your horse has been off for a long time, particularly if this is due to injury, start with ground work. Liberty training or long lining is best, but if you must lunge or round pen, keep the sessions short, the equipment non-restricting and the pace slow. You can introduce him to full tack at this time.
  2. Engage a ground person or a watcher with a cell phone for your first few rides. Even if it’s just to keep you relaxed, having someone there in case your horse reacts strangely to unfamiliar weight and requests will make you more comfortable (and him too, as a result).
  3. Be careful the first time you hop aboard. Use a mounting block, leg up or lowered stirrup so you don’t put undue stress and twisting on his spine. Belly over to start just to make sure he’s not going to freak out with weight aboard.
  4. Stay at the walk for the first week or two – preferably on hills and trails – to begin to help the horse get balanced, stretched and muscled up. This will help avoid injury and build confidence for both of you.
  5. Spend time giving the horse attention before and after you ride. Most horses will appreciate riding time more if you bookend the experience with kind grooming, bonding and caring periods.
  6. Once you begin arena work, use circles, serpentines and other activities that provide regular change in direction.
  7. Listen to your horse. If he’s refusing, objecting, pinning ears, swooshing his tail, fighting the turn on the barn side or offering other behavior that seems sour, he’s probably hurting or confused. Shorten your ride time or change activities and seek a quick happy win for both of you.
  8. Stop training if your horse is lame.
  9. Know your horse. We have one mare here that is off about every third day. Some days she’s sound but sore. She tells us how she’s feeling. Often, when she’s uneven, she still wants to train. We’ll give her a quick goal to accomplish and that makes her happy. On the days when she asks to stop, we quit immediately – even if she seems 100%. This gal is a super pleaser that knows we’re listening.
  10. Be careful how much seat, hand or leg pressure you apply. Your unfit and sensitive horse is likely to object to aids you’re accustomed to applying to a fit horse used to harder rider cues.
  11. Hold off on canter until your horse is balanced, comfortable and responsive at the walk and trot.
  12. Keep the ride time short for the first month or so (10-30 minutes).
  13. Give your horse tons of praise for doing what you ask. If you introduce him to starting back in a way that makes him proud to please, he’ll strive to do more.

Yes, this is common sense, but it’s amazing how few apply it. If you’ve ever broken a leg back or neck that’s required bed rest or have torn a tendon or ligament, you know how difficult and frustrating it is to get back to just being able to do normal things. A horse needs time to adjust and condition for a rider’s weight after time off. Take it slow and you’ll likely find a happier, sounder and more willing horse as a result. Of course, this applies to young horse training too – perhaps moreso.

If you know of anyone looking for a suitable horse, we have a number of quality equines for sale. I’d appreciate it so much if any of you could spread the word. We’ll be updating our You Tube channel and our Halcyon Acres® website in the coming weeks to spotlight some of these special kids. Good homes are a must. Equally important is the right fit. Full-disclosure will be a staple on my end – including horse’s faults and proclivities. I’m also quick to note if I don’t think a horse will be a good fit for a rider or career choice. Please help spread the word. Thanks!

Horse happenings at Halcyon Acres®

It’s been a crazy month at Halcyon Acres®. We spent much of it struggling to get temporary water to the house, trucking it in to the farm and figuring out a fix. Last week we were finally able to get an available backhoe in here to dig a new water line. Might sound like a simple task, but wasn’t.

Diagnosing the problem took a while. First, we suspected the well was dry (we’ve been dealing with horrible drought conditions here). Seemed odd given the super producing underground stream, but I can’t recall a time when we’ve had so little rain fall coupled with high heat.

It wasn’t the well. Good news on the biggest problem front, but not so much on the ‘when will water flow’ question. Ultimately, we determined it the line.

By the end of the week a temporary fix was rigged. The problem was, we were asking a pump that was already working pretty hard to draw a longer distance and up an extra five feet of height. Holding the prime became a challenge. It was enough water to brush teeth, flush toilets, wash dishes and take rapid showers – all spaced throughout the day to put as little stress on the pump as possible – but we’ve been trucking water in for everything else.

The backhoe was a bigger challenge. The narrow, steep terrain, shale (and a foundation, as it turned out) and mud (getting to the well required digging through this productive underground stream) required a gutsy yet agile machine.

Seventy-five percent of the organic produce crop is gone. We had to resort to some insecticide treatment in the end.

The rain dances have paid off and water is flowing again at the farm.

Funny, I never realized how much I depended on water for most waking moments of my life. Now I do. It’s wonderful to find a new appreciation for something most of us take for granted.

Young horse training help found

Good kids horse for sale
Sweet Dixie charmed her rider who was aboard her for the first time.

This past month marked the hire of an assistant trainer. It took a while to find someone qualified. Many applicants had been riding a long time, but didn’t know how to do much more than be a passenger. Ultimately, we settled on a gal who was kind with the crew, had enough experience to be able to work with some of the greener horses and could operate independently. She set the compensation rate and her hours. She loved the horses, was awed by the beauty of the property and enjoyed the job. She pulled a no-show after a week’s time and later quit via an e-mail message claiming time constraints.

My wonderful vet stepped up and offered to lend a hand. This week we videotaped some of the kid-friendly stock under saddle and captured a bunch of conformation shots of others. Advertising will commence in the coming weeks.

I was also put back in touch with a lovely young rider/trainer in South Carolina. Some of the horses will be shipping down there for polishing and rehoming.

Remi’s stepped up and is trying to lend a bit of a hand with the horses in Gatsby’s absence. None of the horses have taken on Redford’s role.

Horse life on the farm

Crooked (she’s not any more – probably should come up with a new nickname) continues to grow and show how clever she is. She’s probably close to 15.3hh at only a year old and has a lot more growing to do. Her new game is to eat grass only on the outside of the fence. We’ve been doing a lot of work around here so the fence has been off. She knows it.

fun kids horse for sale
Cute little Midge is so much fun. You can see how intense she is in this shot.

Einstein has a different approach. He’s a jumper. Of course, he can’t seem to figure out he can get back in the same way he left. At least once a week I hear thundering hoofs and screaming through my office window. Fortunately, he knows where the primary entry spot is so it’s a merely matter of calling him and swinging open the gate, then watching him whoosh down the hill, corner the ninety degree turn at 35 mph and gallop full speed to the herd hollering all the way.

Midge hasn’t lost her spark. She’s loving being back in training. Riding her again is bringing back the old memories on what attracted me so much to this delightful mare. It’s so funny to witness her energy, enthusiasm and stamina. She’s game for anything, handy as can be and always ready to go, go, go. You can feel her smiling through every request and especially the new challenges.

Dixie is a gem. She was one of our video-taping projects. My vet couldn’t get over how sweet she was. This is another gal that was put back into training after a long hiatus. I forgot she’d never been ridden at the farm. She handled mounting with a stirrup and the trails like an old pro.

On the young horse training front, Judie’s old-soul mentality makes her one of the steadiest and easier horses on the trails. She seems to enjoy quiet rides alone. She comes running when she’s called and relishes her individual attention. As one that’s relatively low in the herd ranks, she appreciates a new routine that has her in the barn during the day. Clover and Leah are back in training too – both sharp little gals who pretty much started back right where we left off last year.

The herd’s starting to segregate. They were running as a band together until recently. It’s interesting to watch the dynamics. Sometimes you can learn more about a horse by watching how they interact with other equines than you can through direct contact.

Hope you all are enjoying the seasons and the horses that make them so interesting.