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Horse training

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.

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.

Do you have jitters about that first ride off the property ride with your horse?

Act fast (before June 4th) to grab our e-booklet Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride for free

preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property rideNovices and professionals alike get butterflies (and sleepless nights) thinking about how that first ride away from home might go. Of course, for experienced riders this usually involves a first for the horse, where with novices (hopefully) they’re on a more seasoned mount. In both cases, the angst you feel is magnified as you express it to your horse. Fortunately, there are things you can do at home to help keep both the horse and the human calm, knowing your horse is ready to trust you to keep him safe.

Of course, that adrenalin will always flow with the excitement of new adventures (for both you and your horse), but if you’re both ready to team up to tackle challenges, it will be a rush instead of a panic. Knowing you’ve built that bond makes your first public appearance a lot easier.

We’ve recently released a new title through Horse Sense and Cents®, Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride. You can find it here as a Kindle Edition and soon, as an audio title. If you grab it now (May 31th through June 4th) you can get it for free. Please consider returning the courtesy of this complimentary offering (we love our readers) by leaving an Amazon review or at least doing a two-second click (this book will appear on your Amazon page after you download it – just click the cover and you’ll be given an option to rate the book) to give a (five 😉) star recommendation.    

Here’s an excerpt from the e-booklet:

Homework for travel success

After you’ve established a good partnership on the ground, it’s time to carry the confidence you’ve built with each other over to under saddle work. Keep the home lessons short with big rewards. From your ground work, you should have been able to find some way besides treats to let your horse know you appreciate his effort. It depends on the horse, but some respond well to a ‘good girl’, others have a favorite spot they like rubbed or scratched, maybe it’s letting them jump a fence, eat some grass, nuzzle with a buddy – you figure out what really gives your particular horse great pleasure and use this to thank him for a job well done.

Obviously, what you do to show appreciation for efforts along the way will be different than the grand thank you at the end of a session. Of course, it’s always important to reward the horse for the try, so be quick about acknowledging his effort any time he does something you ask under saddle with a quick ‘atta boy’ that he recognizes as a sign that’s what you’re looking for with a reward he appreciates.

If you want to keep your horse comfortable and confident as you ask him to perform off the property, make sure you don’t over-face him or put him in harm’s way at home (or the stable where he is boarded). This means keeping the lessons short enough so he doesn’t get frustrated, only asking for reasonable progression day to day, being calm and encouraging with new challenges and exposing him to what he’s likely to see when you get to your destination.

We’re trying the KDP Select program for the first time with this title. We’ll decide, based on how you all respond (with action, comments, reviews, etc.) whether we’ll offer future titles as Kindle library loans and free downloads for a five day period (this is a supposed perk of this program) as they are released. Frankly, I’m not sure if this is a good idea for Horse Sense and Cents®, nor how to make it work. I’m not even clear if it’s something you all would appreciate. Are any readers using the Kindle lending library? Are you comfortable downloading free Kindle offerings (you can do this with or without a Kindle Reader, although they do make it harder without one)? WE have a large UK blog audience (and book buying populace) – do you have access to KDP Select titles and associated free download promotions? Have you seen KDP Select participants leverage this tool brilliantly? Would you be willing to share strategies you’ve seen done well with this promotional program? Any feedback, ideas, thoughts or comments you could provide to help us decide how we proceed with this in the future would be so much appreciated.

Please help me (us – it is a team making all this so) decide on what we do in the future to make what we offer most convenient, appealing and useful to you. Call, e-mail, comment or share to provide some direction on future decisions.

Thanks so much for any help you’re willing to provide here. This blog is usually focused on providing great free tips and virtually no promotion or requests, but I could really use some help from all of you right now to help shape our strategy for the future. You’re awesome!


Exciting news from Horse Sense and Cents™

This might be the best resource you’ll find if your dreams include a career with horses in the mix

Wow – what a crazy six months it’s been. I’ve been working with over a dozen equine professionals to bring something together that I think most of you will find incredibly valuable and timely. Check out the Inventing Your Horse Career announcement below. Plus, we tore down the site, recoded, reloaded, incorporated a theme that should provide a much better experience for you and are working daily amending the pages to ensure you can quickly find what you want. Please let us know what you like, what you don’t and what you’d like to see more of as we continue to modify the site to make it more fun for you to explore.

Inventing Your Horse Career

One of the features we’ve added to the site is a search bar at the top. If you enter Inventing Your Horse Career, you’ll find a summary page of all that’s up to date, but we’re adding new material every day. Many of the Contributors to this CD series have also provided tons of free stuff that should get you charged about what you can do – with guidance on how to get there.

But that’s not what has us all giddy this week. After six months in this labor of love, we have a product that everyone involved is extremely excited about – and proud to be a part of. If you’ve ever dreamed of a job with horses in the mix or want to see more detail on who’s involved, go to Inventing Your Horse Career. Briefly, what we’ve done is assembled an array of some of the most interesting and accomplished equine professionals in North America with 9 CD series that highlights stories, tips, resources, lessons learned, success secrets and contact information. It’s amazing how candid and generous all are in these interviews – and how focused they are on giving back. In addition, we highlight a number of success stories in horse career opportunities you may never have considered – with people who have found creative ways to craft a rewarding and extremely lucrative horse job with imagination and grit.

If you have a special someone in your life that has always dreamed of a horse career (we also feature professionals who decided to chase their passion later in life to find fulfillment and financial security), this is a great holiday gift. Consider too, how you could change a life for a loved one (including yourself) determined to make 2012 the year of life transformation and resulting happiness.

Free horse tips newsletter

We’re also launching a new feature for visitors to the Horse Sense and Cents™ website – namely a weekly newsletter. Simply enter your name and e-mail address on the top of the right column of this post and you’ll not only get features that include a quote and tip of the week, useful resources to check out, some regular introductions to people in the equine world you should get to know and special finds, but also bonus surprises on training tips and horse care issues. Please add your name and e-mail address above to start learning and chuckling from these brief and relevant treats.

Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners

Find easy ways to reach the difficult horse
Now available in Kindle too!

Through the end of December, we’ll be offering signed-by-author (you can ask for a personalized message) copies of the Turning book with free shipping and handling to the US and Canada (thanks to the large number of those to the North who have ordered this book – we’ll take a hit here but you all have been incredible with your interest and support and deserve a nod and reward). There’s a click through on the home page, or you can go here.

Equine E-coaching

We’re now offering e-coaching for horse training, horse breeding and foaling and horse care issues. For those who sign up prior to December 31st, you can tap into a one-time special offer of $399 for the year or 3-months for $199. After that it will be $699 for the year or $249 for three months. We’ll have this set up on the products page (which may change to ‘store’) in the next few days, but feel free to call (585) 554-4612 or (888) 875-3551 (in the US and Canada) if you’re too excited about this to wait.

Horsing around

Please do take a few moments to visit the changes we’ve made to the site, explore the free offerings, sign up for the newsletter and surprises and tell us what we can do to help you. This site is all about giving back and reaching out. So, we appreciate any feedback you can provide to make this a better experience and opportunity for you. Feel free to share in the comments below.  Hope you all have a very happy holiday.

How’s fighting with your horse working for you?

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” -William Butler Yeats, writer, Nobel laureate (1865-1939)

Few seem to have mastered the activity of standing your ground without being combative when it comes to horses. Of course, being insistent isn’t even always appropriate, depending on the nature of the horse you’re working with, but fighting with him will rarely get you the results you seek (unless your goal is an angry, untrusting or frightened horse).

So often what we do affects how our horse reacts. Have you argued with yourself lately to explore what you’re doing to create your ‘problem horse’?

This Yeats quote applies to horse/human relationships in so many ways – perhaps moreso than it’s intended direct at people to people. Rhetoric isn’t just about language, as critical as that is when it comes to reaching horses on their terms – it’s about arrogance (look a little deeper into the definition and you’ll find bombast – a synonym for bluster). Ah – and what a glorious moment it is when we look inside ourselves to discover the communications breakdown with our equine friend and alter our approach to make poetry in motion with the resulting partnership.

My horse needs to respect me

Respect is a two-way street (uhg – did I just use and idiom?). Sure, you can create a subservient horse that succumbs to your direction by demanding respect, but you won’t get one that appreciates and trusts you (no matter how many cookies you give him to show your love). Nor will you build a relationship that results in a partnership that includes a thinking horse that will do more than you imagine to accommodate and protect you.

If you’re really looking for an equine experience that comes from mutual respect, listening to what your horse is trying to tell you is key. That doesn’t mean you always answer with ‘yes,’ but you do need to acknowledge his input. If you merely stick to your training plan for the day without considering his concerns or issues, sooner or later a fight will happen. Sadly, even if you think you won, you didn’t. Your horse will remember and his attitude will suffer.

How do I read my horse?

As you look inside yourself for the answers, one of the most critical discoveries will be new insight into reading your horse. If you don’t know why he’s objecting to what you’re asking, you can’t offer an effective solution.

Equine Pain?

Is he in pain? No amount of discipline will assuage physical discomfort, so before you decide your horse is acting up, make sure he’s not acting out because he hurts. Get him well (or change your tack to fit him, riding style to accommodate him or career demands to adress his aging body).

Is your horse testing you?

Does she view you as an unworthy guide? If your horse is a confident, strong-willed and dominate mare, she won’t respond well if you sublimate every time she challenges you. The best course of action with this type of horse is to stand your ground – but pick your battles very carefully. It’s not about getting nasty – that’s the worst thing you can do with this personality. Merely continue asking no matter how intimidating they get until they agree. There’s a big difference between asking and demanding. Don’t make the mistake of choosing the latter with these girls. Either they’ll wear you out past resolve or you’ll rob them of the spirit that makes them so special.

Do you have an equine lacking confidence?

If you’re dealing with a horse that’s afraid or doesn’t trust you, insisting they buck up isn’t going to get you very far in your confident partnership quest. Here’s where the calm insistence doesn’t work. Instead, you need to be unflappable and patient encouraging them to face their fear with your quiet, clear and unreactive response to easy to accomplish requests customized to your equine’s penchants and offered in a way that encourages him to do what he’s comfortable with at his own speed.

Bad start?

It’s sad, but so many horses get their brain’s scrambled by people who usually have good intensions, but lack the knowledge to understand what they’re doing to the horse’s mind. These critters can take a lot of time to reach, but most can come around. In these cases, usually you need to figure out where things went wrong and go back to a time during the schooling trauma prior to that point and rebuild. Groundwork is the best way to start with such equines. What you build in terms of trust, understanding and rapport can transform the horse’s attitude in a way that translates to subsequent under saddle work. The benefit of starting on the ground is it makes it easier for both of you to see how each is trying to communicate.

Get personal with your horse

There are so many other reasons equines may act out when you ask for their cooperation, but each will respond best if you offer a customized approach that includes your horse in the conversation. Interestingly, the more you get in touch with your issues, the easier it is to see what your horse is trying to tell you. Quarrel with yourself and you might find the debate results in a better relationship with your horse. Think about it.


Do you have a story to share where self-discovery has resolved issues you’re having with your horse? Please share in the comments below.







Working with into-pressure horses

Horses are instinctively into-pressure animals. Sometimes, though, you encounter one where this behavior goes to the extreme. You know the type – as you push them to move they sandwich you against the stall wall; when trying to avoid an obstacle under saddle they move toward your leg cue and wind up in it; leading’s best done with hard boots and curled toes as they seem to want to use your feet as a cushion – if you’ve had one, you know it.

Moving into pressure is rarely rude

There’s a big difference between a horse that doesn’t have a proper foundation and one that automatically comes toward you with pressure because it’s so deeply ingrained in their psyche. Rude behavior needs to be addressed very differently, but in these cases where the horse is responding honestly, you won’t get far if your tact is to ‘teach him respect.’ In fact, that term always puzzles me when it comes to horses – doesn’t seem that’s something you can teach if it doesn’t go both ways. I digress.

Traditional approaches are very counterproductive with these types. The more you ratchet up the pressure, the more they’re going to lean into you. That is, until you find a way to communicate that they can understand.

Working in the stall

Probably one of the most dangerous behaviors of these types occurs when you’re in close quarters. If you manage to get yourself between the horse and a wall and try to push them away, invariably you’ll find yourself immobilized between 1000 pounds of flesh and a solid structure designed to withstand flying hooves. It’s a scary place to be.

Interestingly, many of these horses also tend to be kickers, so the easier solution of moving the hindquarters first can put you in a precarious place. Lots of people will advocate using tools such as ropes, whips or other extensions of your hands, but since my goal is to build a relationship and rapport with the horse, I try to rely on communications tools that can be implemented without them.

The first thing to remember is the harder you push, the harder they will. Hitting doesn’t work either. Using hand signals, the voice, creative touch and other tools your body provides are good ways to help reinforce what you’re asking.

I’ve found the safest place to be is at the shoulder slightly in front of the horse (don’t do this with a striker). Use any term you like, but I choose ‘off’ or ‘over’ because these are terms not easily confused with any other word that may be part of training and it makes sense to me. Then, I’ll place my hand between the horse and the wall with my body out of pinning range. With a forefinger, I’ll poke the shoulder on the side I want them to move away from just above and in front of the point of the elbow. At first they’ll move toward your cue. Keep doing it, a little harder as they lean into you, until they stop or make the slightest move away from you. Make sure it’s pulsating and not constant pressure. Praise them lavishly when they stop leaning or move a little. Try again. You’ll find in a matter of minutes the horse will begin to understand what you want. Remember, though, these horses will instinctively move toward you if you push them away so be careful about where you put yourself until you have weeks or months of careful and cautious handling. It’s also a good idea to have someone else at their head.

Under saddle challenges

Even with horses that have a good dressage foundation, I’ve found extreme into pressure horses revert to old habits when faced with a scary or new situation. This is particularly apparent on the trials. Sometimes it’s critical to have a horse move off your leg when holes, vines or old fencing comes into play – for their safety and yours. Just because they yield artfully in the arena doesn’t mean they’ll remember when fright kicks in.

If you know you’re dealing with a horse with this issue, slow it down. Give him time to inspect something of concern before you try to pass it. Oddly, these equines also seem to move toward what they fear as they try to scoot by it, so the more you can assuage their concern, the more likely they’ll hold a straight line.

As you’re passing it, look ahead, stay straight in the saddle, use your hands to control the front end and your seat to encourage a forward path. Don’t get twisting yourself around to look at the object because that will only increase the likelihood you’ll be in it.

While I rarely seek out equipment for behavioral solutions, I did find an interesting product this year that has proven to be extremely effective with into pressure horses.

Interesting tool to help with into-pressure horses

Spursauders were designed by Linda Hauch ( ) who was challenged with OTTBs overreacting to typical spurs. The unusual design increases the area of pressure on the horse, presumably decreasing the severity in the process. You need to use them a little differently than you would ordinarily to get a desired reaction from an extreme into pressure horse, but they work. Instead of placing it on the horse until they move off, if you rhythmically apply and remove the spur from their side it seems to send the message to get off your leg. They’re good to have in an emergency as it’s the only product I’ve found that can get your horse’s attention in a hurry when he’s hardwired to jump into pressure – and trouble – on the trails.

Leading your horse

With some horses, no matter how thorough and correct the foundation, when they’re anxious their instinct is to walk on top of you. The more you push them away, the more inclined they are to move toward you. Working to incorporate multiple signals (voice, hand cues, touch) during groundwork sessions designed to encourage the horse to move away from you helps. It’s important to establish these cues before you try to lead the horse (not always possible, I know).

In cases where you find yourself leading and in trouble, there are a few things you can do to try to regain control and safety. Stop the horse. If you have to get in front of him and face him to do it, so be it (but stay safe). Try backing him several steps until you have his attention. If he tries walking on top of your feet again, repeat. Once he stays where you want him (even for a moment), praise him and let him know this is what you want. It might take ½ hour to lead the horse 20 yards, but at least it will be a lesson that serves you both.

If they’re leaping and landing on top of you, curl their head in front of your body. That will push their shoulder and hindquarters out and even if you get your feet under their front hooves, it’s safer than having your head there. Work on establishing better control in an enclosed area (such as a roundpen) before you try to lead them again. Going back to the voice, hand signals, body language and touch can help here as well.

Horse sense to consider

Extreme into pressure horses revert back to this behavior when concerned, no matter how well schooled they are. Remember, pushing is likely to get them to push back. Instead of reacting in fear, stop, think and avoid steady pressure for preferred pulsating cues to try to get them off of you. Establish a voice cue they can recognize and respond to. Stay out of potentially dangerous positions. Go back to groundwork to try to reestablish understanding. You just need to be aware that what you do to get a normal horse to respond in a pinch isn’t likely to work with these sorts. So, pause before you act to think through what their reaction will be and get out of the way.

Have you found effective approaches to discouraging horses from moving toward you when you’re trying to push them away Please share your ideas – or challenges – in the comments below.

Do we really want to try to train horses to be unflappable?

Friday’s Opinion

This whole notion of ‘bomb proofing’ a horse might make sense when circumstances involve city crowds, physically challenged riders or Civil War reenactments, but ‘desensitizing’ has gone way overboard as a general training premise. At Halcyon Acres®, we get a lot of cases where playbook approaches designed to mollify the horse have gone terribly wrong. Think before you leap on a bandwagon.

The desensitizing process, as it’s been driven into the minds of those placing guru status on some of the more notable names in the ‘natural horsemanship’ movement of the moment, ignores the horse as an individual that deserves to be considered in the decisions. Even if you don’t think the horse should be part of the conversation, if you fail to incorporate his personality and issues into your training plans, you’re bound to get hurt. Unknowing handlers and riders trying to follow a formula ‘anyone can implement’ tend to create long-lasting issues that either condition a horse to tune out and/or cause him to explode immediately or later as memory receptors are triggered when frightening early training issues resurface.

For most riding situations, a thinking horse is a safer steed. This holds for basic handling issues as well. If there ever was a topic that called on Horse Sense and Cents™, this is it.

Gaining a horse’s confidence

Instead of throwing tarps or flags or plastic bags at the horse, why not consider building trust instead? Most horses, when introduced to early training and handling in a patient, understanding, consistent and customized manner will flourish as they’re asked to handle new challenges. They’re naturally calm, confident and relaxed with a human who’s taken the time to introduce them to new (real) experiences only when they are ready. They come to see their rider (or handler) as a guide who’s proven they’ll keep them out of harm’s way. It becomes a case where if the human is relaxed and confident about the horse’s ability to handle a task, the horse is too. This approach can work with older horses too – but it takes more time to undo the damage.

Horse training formulas fail to see the individual

Horses are incredibly animals. Part of what makes them so is the fact that they’re all different. Formula approaches promising prescribed results rarely work. If you’re dealing with a horse that’s scared, timid or lacking confidence, forcing him to endure more frightening experiences under the auspices of ‘desensitizing’ certainly isn’t going to make him braver – or cause him to see you as a trustworthy guide. Sure, you can get him to stop spooking at plastic bags being flung all around his body (when will he really need to have this skill?), but you won’t help him be confident (in you or his ability to figure out how to handle a task). Interestingly, most horses, when allowed to be part of the conversation, will come to be unflappable as a matter of course, provided they’ve come to view their trainer as one who considers their welfare and safety and asks in a confident, aware and fair manner.

Have you considered asking your horse for help?

Instead of trying to force your horse to accept what you throw at him (literally and figuratively), try asking him what he likes to do. Focusing on activities that allow the horse to excel with his proclivities will go a lot further toward building mutual trust and a safer riding experience than tricks purported to take the spook out of the horse.

Don’t forget to immediately praise him when he does what you want. Best to find a way to do this that doesn’t involve treats. Most horses will respond more quickly and confidently to recognition for a good deed than they will for punishment when they do wrong, so it makes sense to also spend the time to figure out what he really enjoys. This may be a favorite spot to scratch, voice cues he understands as approval, time spent grazing after a good lesson, buddy time with one of his preferred equine friends, a quick trip on the trails, jumping after he’s done with dressage – figuring out what gives your horse great pleasure is your challenge. Come to recognize what that is and you’ll be amazed at how quickly he strives to please you.

Regardless, your horse will be a lot more eager, less wary and increasingly focused on a partnership mindset to tackling challenges if you approach training activities with an ear toward what he’s trying to tell you. March into the ring (or trail, or course, or stall, or round pen) with a lesson plan and end-game in mind that doesn’t include his input and he’ll likely come to resent your time together (or respond by checking out to save his sanity). Few ‘bombproofing’ methods include the horse as a contributor. How’s he supposed to confidently thrive when you ask him to step up in naturally frightening circumstances if you fail to let him know his opinion has been heard and considered in earlier activities?

What about safety?

Personally, I’d much rather be on a horse that reacts to his situation than one that’s been conditioned to ignore the things that may get you both hurt. In most cases, if you are calm and relaxed about approaching new situations, your horse will be too. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need help from your horse to extricate you from danger, it’s best to have one that has been brought along in a way that encourages him to think as a partner in the problem-solving process.  There have been many occasions where I’ve turned the reins over to the horse to help get me out of trouble. Whether you find yourself bogged down in a swamp or unable to see a good spot as you approach a huge cross-country fence, it’s best to be aboard a horse that has been encouraged to participate in the training process. If you’re on a horse that’s been conditioned to be ‘bombproof’ bailing might be your best option.

What are we really doing to our horses?

So much of what people are calling natural horsemanship today is anything but.  The stuff that’s being recommended as a kind alternative to normal training (whatever that is) verges on cruelty, in some cases. This whole notion of demanding the horse’s respect has gone so far most seem to have forgotten this is a two-way street. Expecting the horse to endure activities that are terrifying to ‘desensitize’ him to new frightening experiences is ludicrous. Forcing the horse into immobile positions where they’re defenseless, with instincts screaming vulnerability to attacks and calling it horsemanship is a misnomer.      Think about it. How can you encourage your horse to tackle new challenges with vigor and glee if your training process teaches him his opinion doesn’t count  and humans are to be feared and resented (or worse, survival instincts kick in and he shuts down his brain to endure the pain then proceeds in a robot fashion to comply with your demands)?

Can novice horse owners apply these concepts?

This isn’t such a complex concept to make it too far removed for novice riders to understand. Geez – books and DVDs being sold claim any level equestrian can work with horses of all ages to make them perfect if they simply follow the formula provided. In my opinion, this borders on criminal in some cases, but what I think we need to focus on is the fallout. Today we have a lot of confused riders and horses struggling with issues they’re ill-equipped to handle without the knowledge to recognize good resources to turn to.

If you’re an inexperienced rider or horse owner trying to ‘bond’ with your horse, time and energy is better spent getting to know him and crafting a strategy that helps him feel good about doing what you want. You can’t do this by following a step-by-step process offered by someone who’s never seen you or your steed. But, you can learn how to interpret what he’s trying to tell you. Sometimes it makes sense to get a professional in to help. You might be amazed at how much you both can learn in a couple of hours for a minimal expenditure. The right trainer or instructor will be focused on teaching you how to do much of this yourself.

For us professionals, it’s time we worked together to help novice riders and new horse owners find good information and resources. We can’t control what others are doing to encourage people toward poor decisions, but we can set our sights on offering good and accessible information to those people who have been left twisting in the wind with problems not entirely their doing.

What do you have to share about horses?

Are you a novice rider or new horse owner struggling with a challenge? Post it here and we’ll try to offer some ideas you can use or resources to check out. Are you a professional frustrated with the cases you’re handed after a ‘natural horsemanship’ start or have ideas on how others can avoid such situations? Please share your stories and advice. Are you an instructor with tips for new riders? Post away in the comments below. Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope we can get the movement going, together, with a new realm that focuses on ideas that include the horse in the conversation.

Zenyatta gets her due

Honestly, it was shocking to see Zenyatta eclipse (pun intended) Blame as Horse of the Year, but it was the right thing to do. Kudos to the voters who decided it was OK to buck tradition and recognize this very special filly that was defeated in only her last race – the usual deciding benchmark for determining Horse of the Year. We’ll likely never see another one like her. Her name, heart and achievements will be remembered by so many for decades to come (not something that can be said of most bestowed with this honor).

So many who watched the Breeders’ Cup Classic this past year had a lump in their throat and a heavy heart when Zenyatta crossed the finish line so close (losing by a nose), but beat. Many wondered if the outcome would have been different with a cleaner trip (probably – but that’s horse racing).

Mike Smith has heart too

One thing that really touched me on race day was Mike Smith’s comments (he was the jockey aboard in all but three of her starts – and her only defeat). He choked back tears lamenting that he had let her down, knowing that she recognized the loss. Anyone who’s ridden competitive race horses gets this. Horses that are standout racers know when they lose a race. It bothers them. You can see it in their behavior after the race. They usually pick up their heads as the next race approaches, but this was Zenyatta’s last. His sadness for her is understandable – and demonstrates Smith’s character in his connection with the horses he rides.

While I couldn’t find the quote where he talks about her, I did find this one from Dan Steele’s column on (November 6, 2010). “It hurts more than I can explain,” he said, hesitatingly pressing his hands against his eyes, then choking up. “Just because it was my fault.” He paused again, then continued, his voice cracking, “She should have won, and it hurts.”  See for the full article.

The Eclipse Awards

According to, The Eclipse Awards (honoring horses and horsemen in the racing industry – and the deciders of choice for Horse of the Year) are voted on and presented by the NTRA, Daily Racing Form (DRF) and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters (NTWAB).

Is Zenyatta and Moss poised to change the industry?

Jerry Moss, who’s the owner of Zenyatta (with his wife) made some interesting comments after the awards presentation about paying more attention to fans of the racing industry:

“I came from an industry that sued its fans when they started stealing music through Napster,” he said. “There is sentiment in this business and you have to play to it. It is true in show business and it is true in racing. If you have a horse who gets people in the heart, then they want to come see them and get to know more about them, and you have the Beatles again.”

Given what the Moss’ are currently doing to make Zenyatta available to the public, he seems to be a man who lives by his words.

Moss (well credit really needs to go to trainer John Shirreffs, but owners can put a lot of pressure on trainers to put training on the fast track) also dismissed norms by taking the time to wait until Zenyatta was ready to race. She didn’t have her first start until the end of her three-year-old season (November 2007). She only had two starts that year. Trying to run this huge filly at two would have probably resulted in career-ending injuries. Many trainers would have insisted she get with their program. Early breakdowns are just an indication to them the horse wasn’t good enough. She was lightly raced by most standards the following two years, with seven and five starts respectively.

Hopefully Moss’s convictions about having an impact on racing fans will extend to activities that encourage some changes in thought in industry precepts The career of this mare and associated training that made it so provides a wonderful anecdote to illustrate how slow, customized and patient strategies win the race. I imagine any owner would be satisfied with the $7 million-plus she’s amassed (in 20 starts). Not bad for a $60K purchase.

Where did Zenyatta get her name?

On the small world front, Zenyatta’s name has a family tie. Moss signed the Police to A&M Records and named her after their Zenyatta Mondatta album.

What do you think?

Are you ready to offer solutions instead of jumping on bandwagons that attack problems? Moss and Shirreffs deserve a lot credit for doing the right thing the help make Zenyatta be her best. They both have a great success story to recount for decades to come on how going against the grain helped create one of the most amazing equine performers of the century. Zenyatta, in turn, chose to take care of them, and I imagine they will take care of her for the rest of her life. It’s interesting how happy this mare seems to be in everything she does (from her dance to the paddock on race day to her retirement videos). She’s a character. All the people surround her (owners, grooms, jockeys, trainers, etc.) seem to appreciate this with no desire to stifle her expression. That’s part of what makes this mare’s story so precious. How can we as individuals use this great example to help our horses delight in human interactions and suitable careers? What are you doing with the horses you encounter to help them shine? Do you have ideas for others on how to encourage a horse to be part of the conversation (and the owner to recognize what they’re trying to tell them?)? Please share in your comments below.

Please help me help horses and their owners

I’m not usually very good at asking for assistance, but am trying to grow (in more ways than one), so here goes:

This is probably a first for this blog in terms of requesting anything besides more cognizant approaches to horse breeding, care, handling and training methods. Now I need you.

Let’s celebrate horse happiness together

This blog is just over a year old now (can you believe it?). Do you have ideas on how we can celebrate this milestone? Please brainstorm away in your comments below or through personal e-mails to me. Also, feel free (please) to point anyone to this blog that you think may enjoy or benefit from the free content. Look for our free newsletter launch in the coming weeks and please sign up (and tell your friends about it).

Horse Sense and Cents

As most of you probably know, we launched the Horse Sense and Cents™ book series this year. Our authors are people who want to give back after enjoying an equine career that has been helped by the kindness and wisdom of others along the way. They are also determined to provide honest comment on their experiences and share mistakes made to help you avoid the learning curve they may have suffered the hard way. These contributors do this because they care about the horses and people who may be challenged with issues beyond their scope. Interestingly, equine professionals are embracing the series concept and implementing ideas and tips provided in the first book (it was created largely in response to the angst so many inexperienced horse owners were facing after being left twisting in the wind – and, of course, the pain we’ve seen horses put through due to misunderstandings) with good results to problems they have struggled with for some time. Novices are getting it too, and we’ve included a glossary as a feature for every book to explain terms that may be confusing to make understanding a lot easier for less seasoned equestrians.

These books are designed to be a fun read for all with easy to implement ideas to experiment with on a particular horse. This comes from an anecdotal approach throughout so readers can enjoy the stories and see how certain equines have responded to what we humans may throw at them. Bulleted points are also featured at the end of core chapters to cull out key issues to consider as training prompts. So many have found good intentions turn to frustration by trying to follow formula approaches that rarely work well with every horse. We hope we’ve provided a better path toward horse and human happiness and are planning a lot more for the Horse Sense and Cents™ initiative. You won’t get pat answers claiming to solve all your problems, but you will get ideas on how you can learn to read, respond to and connect with your horse in ways you may not have imagined. We also feature an entire section that draws from the vast knowledge of respected discipline professionals from around the globe with some real characters and a good number of highly respected international players.

Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners

“Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners” is now available via Ingram, Amazon, our website (the shopping cart is at but you can also get to it through the site – simply click on the books icon at the top) and distributors in the EU and UK. We’ll be making e-books available in at least three formats in the coming weeks. Please tell your friends and colleagues about this book and encourage them to check it out. They can see excerpts on the blog (under the category of ‘Books’ and ‘Turning Sneak Peeks’) for free. We want to get this book into people’s hands because we think it could start (along with other plans) a revolution that makes life better for the horses and people in their lives. This is true of all books planned for the series. This initiative is a passion for all involved – we’re trying to reach people with horses before they suffer consequences they may not be able to reverse.  “Bringing Up Baby” by Robert Fera is in the works, along with “Don’t Get Thrown Starting Under Saddle.” We also have two exciting titles planned in the next year that break the mold relative to equine activities that we’ll announce once we get closer to publication.

Will you help?

Please tell your friends, colleagues, family, business partners and networks about this blog, the books and our plans to create a movement. Ever wanted to be at the forefront as a trend-setter? Now’s your chance J.


Nanette Levin, publisher

P.S. Call (888) 875-3551 or (585) 554-4612 if you want a personal message in a book signed by the author. We’re also in the process of setting up the shopping cart on the website to not only deliver signed books with a personal message, but also include gift notes for orders for others.

Starting under saddle with alpha fillies is always interesting: Part 3 and the last of a series

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you’ve met Clover and Carrot.

As a quick update on Carrot, the rearing issue might have been resolved today with a ‘knock it off’ response to her intimidation tactics. Time will tell, but once outside, she immediately resorted to rearing again, but relented once she realized this tactic wasn’t going to net anything but annoyance. It was a good test because there were a lot of horses in close proximity that could have occupied her full attention (usually the horses are in the barn or pastured further out when we train), yet she turned her full attention to the rider once she was discouraged from calling the shots.

Alpha extraordinaire, LuLu turns almost immediately

When this little three-year-old half Arab filly trucked in, I thought she might rank up there with some of the most challenging Halcyon Acres’ projects – including badly started horses that already had their brains seriously scrambled with early introductions to training and required considerable time and intuition to reach. LuLu underscored this conviction as she left a path of destruction in her wake – splintering boards as she kicked at horses in adjacent paddocks, jumping out of her paddock to go beat up other horses, breaking lead ropes and lunge lines and behaving in ways that made all the residents at the farm uncomfortable.

The day I entered the paddock without a cookie and was greeted with charging, teeth bared, kicking and striking is the day I decided to put her into training much earlier than planned. I like to give young horses a week or so to acclimate to the new surroundings and routine before engaging in a serious training regimen, but she earned an early start.

That first day was a knock-down drag-out battle of wills where merely asked her to move forward and/or stop with body language in the roundpen netted hostile responses. Ultimately, the goal was looking for her to acknowledge me, but we didn’t quite get that far. We did manage to reach a point, though, where she allowed me to approach her as she stood quietly and politely.

The next day was a shocker (apparently she processed a lot more than she let on). I brought her to the roundpen and then set up a video camera, figuring this would be a good lesson in what’s not working. She waited at the edge of the roundpen and watched as I set up the camera. I entered the fenced area, ignoring her and proceeding to the center. She trotted right up to me and stood. This filly had spent her life dominating all the animals and humans she encountered. She had never met a match that wasn’t intimidated by her, yet didn’t return her hostility in kind. After a day to think about all this, it seems she decided she liked the idea of having a leader she could respect from kind but insistent actions.

Today’s challenge was the bridle. While she’s been a bit uncomfortable with the bit in the past, she suddenly seemed terrified to have her mouth violated. This was honest fear – you could see it in her eyes. There’s no way to know where this was coming from, but it was real. This filly’s spent a lifetime being motivated by food and it’s incredible how excited she gets about the mere sound of vittles. With this in mind, it seemed coating the bit with molasses would be an easy fix. That didn’t work. What ultimately did was simply spending a good deal of time comforting her with the bit in front of her teeth, but not in her mouth. Once she calmed down and realized this wasn’t going to hurt, she calmly and willingly accepted the bit. The rest of the lesson went great and we put her out with the big girls – where she’s no longer queen bee, but seems to appreciate the reward of company over isolation.

Update on LuLu

We haven’t had a problem with the bit since our first blow up. In fact, she now opens her mouth the moment it’s presented (this gal is pretty oral anyway). She still has some issues with the girth being tightened, but if there’s food in front of her, she’s not bothered.

She became comfortable enough about the bit that we started long lining her and had our third session today. She’s still a bit confused about the signals, but an exaggerated leading rein seemed to help her understand.  It’s kind of funny, as she seems to naturally gravitate toward an indirect rein, and her intended career is with Western tack.