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young horse training

What is ground work with horse training?

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

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

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

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

This includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart strategies for successful ground work training

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

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

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

Using ground work to address horse issues and personalities

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

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

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

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

Getting to know your horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A horse around the house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting creative at boarding facilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasture living

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

Freedom without turnout?

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

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

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

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

Young Horse Training Tip #3: Ride every other day

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

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

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

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

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

Better young horse training approach discovered by accident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, he’s still a baby

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

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

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

You can’t.

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

Protect your horse’s mind and body with restraint

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

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

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

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

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

Be happy and he will too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.’

Do you really care about horses?

Perhaps I’ve been living in the country too long to understand some of what goes on in the real world. That’s OK with me. People gossip, yes (everyone knows everyone), but they also extend themselves to neighbors in need with genuine caring, concern and grace. Community members jump up to chip in because they can. It’s done without belittling the receiver. Reciprocity isn’t a concern. All recognize they may be in need some day, but mostly, do it because it feels good to be kind.

novice riders are great learners
Reaching out to novices can be rewarding in more ways than you imagined.

People puzzle me. Those boasting a moral compass with animal interactions can be so cruel with humans. These are usually the same folks who claim to have the only right answer as it pertains to the horse. Actually I imagine their genius extends far beyond the equine realm. Pity the people who have to live with them.

The older I get, it seems, the less I know. Usually, I enjoy the idea of exploring new learning experiences with others, but lately I’ve grown wary of most touting horse advocacy rank. It boggles the mind that some believe bullying forth to enlighten those they purport to support is a good way to sway opinion.

Most good leaders are humble

When I reflect on my best teaches over the decades with equines, they’ve been humble. Most have been quiet, thoughtful leaders changing the world one horse or one human at a time. Have I trained with Olympians and other celebrities? Yes. Are these the people who have made the most significant contributions to my understanding, skill and quality of life? Definitely not.

Memorable influencers are wise and mature – having a deep inner compass that produces followers and fans not because they say they’re great, but because they show they care.

Some of my most treasured mentors achieved incredible credentials and acclaim – something you usually discovered long after connecting with them because they didn’t broadcast qualifications, but rather looked at every day anew based on results. Others drew from hands-on experience and the people who helped them along the way. Both types of professionals (a term I no longer take for granted, nor use lightly) have made a huge difference in my perspectives and accomplishments over the years.

Is there an answer the industry can agree on?

I don’t know what the answer is anymore with horses. When I was young I did. I knew it all. Now I just have more questions. I do wonder about the ironic nature of people’s behavior. It’s scary to watch what’s going on in the horse industry, but hard to be heard over the battle cries of the camp crusaders. It seems most would rather fight than do good as the number of people willing or able to personally support horses continues to wane. We’re already seeing the fallout from this with horses being discarded in growing numbers.

Novice riders have a huge need that’s not being met

Twenty-three years ago I founded Fulcrum Communications at a time when the small business moniker was uttered with disdain by the rest of the industry. Business owner clients are eager learners, smart adapters and willing and happy to pay a fair price for services – provided the investment offers results.

I see a similar phenomenon with novice riders today. Sure, there are products available, but few seasoned horse people willing to reach out to help them get pointed in the right direction where they live. These riders will shape the future experiences of the horses across the world and influence industry movement tomorrow – for good or bad.

Influencing the horse market requires understanding people too

I shake my head when I see people responding to forums, groups, blogs and other online venues where only words are exchanged with absolute conviction on how to handle a horse they haven’t seen in a situation they haven’t witnessed. This approach doesn’t increase credibility, it undermines it. Perhaps some of the time spent attacking others (it’s sad this happens so often when novices ask for help) could be spent helping those in need close to home? I witnessed how the world changes one person at a time as we collaborated to change perceptions and rule making for small businesses in the 80s and 90s. Believe me, it’s a lot more rewarding and effective when you choose to contribute to the world with positive energy.

Reaching out to one local novice not only changes her life, but the experiences of every horse she touches. Plus, the joy you get from the appreciation expressed – not only in words and timely payment, but also through eager application of new approaches – is priceless.

Help your equine business and the industry

Most of the novices I meet are amazing. They love their horses and are willing to invest what they can once they realize they’ve hit a wall. These are rarely wealthy people, but are smart and humble enough to know when they need help. They relish knowledge provided in a way they can process and apply.

If you’re looking for a market that wants your help, consider how you can customize what you offer to reach these riders. You’ll not only help your local community, but also provide a service that helps the horse industry evolve with sound perspective you can share and teach.

This ready market tends to be active social media participants, even if they’re just lurkers. Be careful about joining a frenzy that’s caustic. You’re likely to not only loose prospects ready to consider client status, but also industry leaders no longer willing to be referral agents for you. Nobody likes a bully. There’s a big difference between passion and arrogance. Lean toward the former and you’ll likely grow your business. Take the latter position and you’ll deserve the business failure you achieve.

If you really care about horses, consider reaching out to novices in ways they can understand, afford and appreciate. The gratefulness they show provides a super example for more seasoned equestrians to emulate. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from these special people.

Maybe the answer is as simple as that.