Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How to Avoid or Stop a Bucking Horse

I was so driven forward by who knows what on Sunday, that I didn't even ask anyone to take my picture for my first ride on Beautiful.  I remedied that immediately on ride 2 with a selfie! Then I asked my sweet daughter, Shiloh, to come out and snap a few shots.  In all honesty, I shouldn't even be riding her without someone there to help, in case of an emergency. It's just hard for me to be dependent on others.  I'd never get any training done.

I'm going to share the photos as I write about my primary concern with Bee--bucking.  Although, I should say, right off the bat, she did not buck me off, and NONE of these photos have anything to do with bucking.

She looks so short her, my feet almost touch the ground.  Why should I fear bucking?  ....Kidding!


First, it's a sign of an athletic horse.  But that's about the only good thing I can say about it.

If you want to know my philosophy about training without any bucking---this article, by trainer Dan Keen, sums it up very well, "The Buck Stops Here." (Horse and Rider)

I didn't know Bee was a bucker until I saw her buck my trainer off on her 4th ride.  Since she did, I learned it is in her repertoire.  Before that, she had never bucked in fear or evasion.  Her go-to move had always been backing up. 

But since she did unseat my trainer--even though my trainer got back on--which was ESSENTIAL--it did open a door for her to try it again in the future.

I had to ask myself why my horse bucked.  Was it....

1. Lack of work ethic and training--what some term "lazy." (I don't term it lazy.  They're just not used to being asked so much, and it's frustrating until they build a work ethic.)

2. Past experience. They unseated someone before and it got them out of the stressful situation.  (Let's face it, riding is work for them.)

3. Ill-fitting tack.

4.  Body pain.

5.  Fear or surprise.

In Bee's case, I think it was either fear/surprise or lack of work ethic and training OR both.

To keep a horse from bucking you have to keep them moving, keep their head up, and if possible, keep them turned in doing circles.  

If they do buck, and succeed in bucking you off, you cannot get mad at them when they stop or they'll think you're mad they stopped.  You have to keep your cool and get back on.  AKA: Cowgirl. Up.

I do lots of circles, and when I feel that we've hit a wall--stiff body, backing up, tossing her head--I dismount, work her on the ground, then remount and continue the ride.

Yesterday, I said I wanted to give her purpose, softness, willingness, and trust.  I have a few ideas.


I can ask someone to ride one of her herd mates in front of us.  She is very in tune with her herd, and it could help us to get some safe riding time in where I focus more on turning, stopping and backing cues--different gaits, etc.--without the stress of being separated from her herd.

Another activity to give purpose is placing boxes and bags around the arena that have one treat in each.  Ride her to one, dismount, give her the treat, remount, and ride off to the next.


Softness comes from understanding.  Bee is super soft on the ground, but she's nervous being ridden.  I want to help her thoroughly understand what I'm asking--each little whisper of an ask.  To do that, I need to ask in my body before asking with an aid. When she understands this unspoken language, I must praise her to high heaven and build pride in herself.

I also need to deepen that partnership by being out there with her--EVERY. DAY.  Not just riding, but having fun together, too.


A partnership helps with the willingness.  There's a lot a horse will do for someone they love. I don't believe in using fear to make them willing.  My philosophy is to build in small increments, so there is never a reason for her to fear.  When she is fearful, I hope to help her through that and show her it's okay.


Trust comes from all the things I've listed so far--but it also comes from strength.  When we get back on after falling off, when we stay calm through their fear--it builds their trust in us.  Likewise, when they surprise us with their own courage, our trust in them deepens.

The next time I ride Bee, I will be using my saddle.  I hope to have someone ride Penny in front of us, or do the hidden treats.  And, with all of this--the buck may still come. Some things are worth the risk.

Two things for me to remember--loosen the non-asking rein and keep my head up instead of looking down at her all the time.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My First Ride on Beautiful Girl, Trail Training on Steep, Scary Trails, & a Trip to the Hospital

Be careful what you wish for.  Last Tuesday, I wrote, "Live like you're going to die.
Because we are."  
The very next day, I was in the Urgent Care, having my heart stopped, loaded into an ambulance, and off to the ER.

I had my 6th episode of tachycardia, but they couldn't get it under control by normal means. My heart was pounding out a pretty steady 215 bpm for about an hour and half, so they decided to stop it and let it reset itself.

Before they did that, they were able to catch it on the ECG (EKG), and saw that I a have an extra node.  It's called Atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia or AVNRT.  Here is a description:
AVNRT is caused by an abnormal or extra electrical pathway in the heart, a kind of "short circuit." Electrical pathways in the heart consist of microscopic muscle fibers that conduct electrical impulses. Normally, a single electrical pathway allows impulses to travel from the upper to the lower chambers. An extra electrical pathway in the AV node allows those impulses to travel backward at the same time, starting another heartbeat. During AVNRT the electrical impulses continuously go around the two pathways. This is known as "reentry" and can lead to a very fast heart rate.
I saw the cardiologist on Friday, and he recommended ablation surgery, where they go in and, basically, burn off the offending pathway(s). I went ahead and scheduled it, I mean, who wants to have to go to Urgent Care and have an ambulance show up with paramedics (bless their hearts, they were sweet!) who stop your heart then send you to the Walking Dead Film Set  Emergency Room.

Now, I'm leaning away from it. I'd like to try least invasive first--removing ALL stimulants, lowering my stress through meditation, and taking a beta blocker.  What I have, supposedly, won't kill you, but the "cure" has its own set of risks: stroke, heart attack, permanent need for a pacemaker.  Also, many commenters said their offending pathway grew back after about a decade.

If you've had any experience with this, please share in the comments.  I'd love to hear it.


Would a Horse Fall Off a Cliff?

It [the deer] waited and leaped not
over the skinner's slack length of lead
but into the pack lines over Otto's back
to tangle and thrash and send the whole
entwined line of them down the slope of diminishing scree.

                                    Elegy for Otto the Mule by Robert Wrigley (excerpt)

I'm not sure if it was that poem, or a few bad steps by Cowboy on a steep cliff trail, that got me wondering if a horse would actually step off a cliff.  Years ago, I asked my friend and trainer, who regularly rides the steep cliffs in search of cows that wander away from their herds, and her answer was absolutely, yes.  Every once in a while she had a green horse, who didn't pay attention to the trail, step off, lose its balance and careen down a draw.  None of them were ever seriously hurt, and she always jumped off before going down with them.

Yesterday, I didn't plan to confront all my fears, but there is something a night like Wednesday does to you in making your fears seem much smaller--or, at least, the way around them much more necessary AND clear.

I ride Leah at Riverside State Park a lot, but the one area of the park I have avoided is the steep descent to the river and the narrow switchback trail along the hillside. (pictured above).  I've ridden it a hundred times on Cowboy who, through much practice, has become a pro at traversing the steep trails.  Leah, on the other hand, has a bad habit of always looking up the hillside, as if she's looking for that deer to come thrashing out of the serviceberry or sagebrush.  That's all fine, IF she'd look at the trail, too.

At the worst part of the trail, I got off and walked her. (That's my safe way around).  She did, indeed, take bad steps off the trail--as I suspected she would--but she was able to stay upright without the weight of a rider to balance. I remounted where the hillside wasn't as steep.  All in all, it was a great, SAFE training experience. I hope to do it a few more times this year.


Riding Beautiful Girl

No surprise, after traversing the steep switchbacks, I was ready to tackle riding Bee.

I started the day with asking her to self-load into the trailer.  She will self-load her front feet, but not her back.  It's as if she's saying, I want to do what you're asking, but I don't want to give my consent to being fully loaded and hauled away.  Eventually, however, with a little patience, she did self-load fully by just being pointed in from her side.


The next step was ground work with the bridle and bit.  She's still in that chewy stage where she's thinking a lot about the bit and worrying about how to carry it.  My answer to that is lots of work while wearing it.

And then, I made the decision to ride her bareback.  My plan was that any time she froze or felt bucky, I could get off and work her from the ground and then remount. I've worked on bareback riding all year, and I feel pretty well balanced now.  It also has the advantage of letting me feel the nerves, and tenseness, in her back--and quickly make adjustments.

The first few steps were the scariest, but when we got to moving--all at the walk--I started to get a sense of her and what she's about.

1.  She's not sure of why we're doing it.

2.  She's not soft to the bit.

3.  She doesn't feel the partnership when I'm on her back and out of her sight.

4.  She's ready for a fight.

On the positive side:

1.  She's willing to take the chance.

2.  She wants to please.

3.  She's thinking it through.

4.  She gives me information, through her body, so I can avoid a fight.

This was the first time she had been ridden since her bucking incident.  At one point, her feet stopped, I asked for forward, and she started to back up instead.  I could feel her back tense.  I slid off her back, worked her from the ground, and remounted.  She went forward  nicely.

My plan is to continue riding her in small increments and fill in all those gaps above--purpose, softness, willingness, and trust.  

I don't think getting off at sticky points will cause her to be more sticky IF I continue to stay calm and work her from the ground, and get back on.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Something is Starting to Take Flight

"The moment trust and confidence overcome fear and instinct, 
is the moment your relationship takes flight."

I thought I was having company last night, but they ended up running late, which allowed me to grab Bee and walk her to the evening ground clinic next door.  There were seven horses in the clinic, all new to Bee and, trapped inside the indoor arena, she had never, in the ten years I've had her, been in a situation so seemingly vulnerable.

Her entire body shook at my side: the muscles in her hind end, her shoulder, her legs--she was quivering from tail to nose, and my heart broke for her.  I wanted to assure her that it was okay and to take away her fear.  But I couldn't.  Instead, I was as tender as I could be, as strong as I could be, as reassuring as I could be. 

Though she was so truly terrified, she still stood her ground by my side.  She did not push into me. She did not try to pull away. She did not whinny for help.

As we began to lead them around the arena, I tried to hide my own fear that she would do something dangerous--overreact to an obstacle, another horse, a sound, a shadow.  

But she didn't.

When the ground work started--which she did entirely flawlessly--moving out both directions, turning, whoaing, taking up different leads--she was as sensitive as a whisper, and she had started to calm.

One horse drew back in his circle--trying to flee our direction--and she stopped on her circle and looked at me.  I reassured her and asked to move back out--she did.

It is moments like that which make me feel like my heart is growing for her--just swelling out of my chest with love for her. You know--that aching, happy, longing feeling you get.

Something is definitely starting to take flight.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The More You're Willing to Take Chances On a Horse

Live like you're going to die.
Because we are.

Day 107

There's a natural progression occurring inside me, and it's this: I work with my horse, I grow closer to my horse, I am willing to take chances with my horse.

On Day 107, I worked on loading Bee into the trailer and having her stand tied as I rode Leah in the arena.  She refused to self-load, but she loaded and unloaded with me very well.

Day 108

On day 108, I ponied B behind Cowboy around our property.  Cowboy wasn't the best participant.  He kept sending her signals to stay way behind, so I had to bring her up and pet them both until he was okay with her being next to us.  He never got as okay as I'd want him.

When we finished, I put Cowboy away and walked Bee to the barn next door to watch jumping practice.  It was good for Bee to see the continuity between the barn and our house.  Afterall, she's going to be there a lot this winter.

 Day 109

On day 109, I walked to the barn next door to help my friend with her horse and ride Leah.  Most of the time ended up being spent teaching her horse to stand at the mounting block.  I did ride Leah bareback for a while, too.

That night, I walked her and Cowboy over to the barn again for a chiropractor appointment.

I need to work with her on bending every day.  Her neck is tight.

Day 110

On Day 110, I worked with Beautiful, oiled my saddle and bridles, and waited for 5 tons of hay to be delivered.

The cats love their hay castle!

Day 111

Day 111 was the last trail ride for the summer clinic series.  It was challenging.  Lots of steep hills, narrow paths, pavement with speeding bicycles and lots of pedestrians, a large bridge, and a water crossing.

At the half way point, by this water crossing, we had a picnic lunch.  I was with my granddaughter and my son-in-law.

Foxy, my son-in-law's horse, had to take the lead, and she was quite jiggy at first.  There was a very loud ORV park at the trail head and it was busy that day...and loud!  However, when we got to the steep stuff--the really hard terrain--she mellowed out and did great.  She's a horse that needs a job.

Leah was a little antsy at first, too, but got better as the ride progressed.  It was five hours in total.

Leah really surprised me in one section.  It was super steep and sandy--with some rocks thrown in here and there--and the horses had to really sit back to make it down.  I had never seen Leah do that successfully, but she did that day.  She really sat back and put on the brakes when she had to.  There was a moment when we started to slide, but she had us covered with her big back brake on.  I think she was surprised, too. (And, I think the chiropractor work had helped to get better communication between her front and back end.)

Another tough obstacle for us was the water.  At first, she wouldn't get in at all, let alone cross. She stopped at the water's edge, and when I tried to urge her in with my legs, I could see a fight brewing.  So, I got off and worked with  her.

It only took a few minutes, and when I remounted, she went right in with Penny and Foxy.

It was a great day of learning and bonding.  I developed  more trust in Leah's abilities, and she developed more trust in herself.  Rebecca, my trainer, says that next year will probably be her year for getting those trail feet under her and becoming that bomb-proof mount.  We'll be doing clinics all through winter to help that happen.

Day 112

My granddaughters spent the weekend with us, and my younger granddaughter is becoming a horsewoman in her own right.  She is determined to learn about horses.  Last spring, we welcomed Little Joe into our family to be her horse to learn on.  

My friend, who gave him to me, told me he'd make an awesome kid's horse, but I didn't know for sure.

Turns out, she was understating that fact.  He is an awesome kid's horse times 100.  He walked like a gentleman with little Cat on his back.  He did everything she asked like a pro, and he took the most careful, cautious steps!

Afterward, her sister wanted to ride him, too, and she took off trotting and loping.  He did it all.  Then, Cat got back on and he went right back to walking. What a horse!!  And, I think he likes the kids.  He's better with them than he is with me. 

After this ride with the girls--I rode Cowboy bareback and showed off my skill at loping sans saddle--the girls were impressed!  Remember those posts last spring?  Well, all that work paid off.  I can ride Cowboy bareback at every gait--as seamlessly as if he were wearing a saddle.  I love it!

After we put the horses away, Sophie helped me train Bee to self-load, using the technique from the clinic--two long lunge lines tied together.  It worked awesome!!  She loaded and unloaded all by herself. 


Today, I went out to see Beautiful Girl to bring her in for ground work, but as we left the pasture, the black clouds rolled in.  I stopped and unhooked her.  She stood and let me pet on her and talk to her.  She didn't seem to want to leave my side. Eventually, I walked away, but as I turned, there she was watching me in the same spot.  I got to the barn and fed the fish in my trough--she was still standing watching me in that spot.  She stood in that spot until I was half way back to the house.  

And, like that, I had this feeling that I want to take a chance with that horse.  

I want to ride Beautiful Girl.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tips For Trailer Loading A Horse

The terrible air quality, with all the fires in our area, slowed us down, but it didn't totally stop us.  I've continued to work with Bee--as we call her now--on trailer loading, hauling, standing tied, and driving from the ground.

We had a wonderful all day clinic Saturday with my trainer, Rebecca.  She taught us her system of teaching horses to self-load and unload--which is a much safer way to do it, and much needed.  Bee had gotten to the point that she was trying to turn around in her divider before the divider was open.  She was also rushing out of the trailer backwards.  We needed some tools to teach her to slow down and to also be prepared for the "just in case" moments.

While we went over the lecture portion of the clinic, I let Bee out in the arena with tried-and-true Money Penny, aka, Penny.

And, we practiced standing tied, which is a prerequisite for being able to stand tied in the trailer.

Rebecca introduced her to the "Be Nice" halter.

It worked wonders for Bee.  She immediately gave to the pressure.  I'm going to buy one.

Rebecca showed us the technique for teaching to self-load.  Two long lines hooked together and ran through the front window.  The horse is on the line and you're allowing them to choose to go in.  If they run backwards, you have enough line to hold them (wear thick gloves!!), and then you just ask again.  Unloading goes the same way.  You have the lead rope on the horse, but you also have the long line and you ask them to step backward while giving more and more rope.

Here she is working Bee into her small 2-horse slant.  That went well, loading and unloading.

We moved on to my trailer.  Bee loaded, but wanted to turn and bolt out when she got in there alone. Rebecca had control of her with this long line.  She's asking her to stand in the trailer at this point.

She also closed the divider and opened it, which is when Bee has wanted to bolt, but she kept her head around.

When she asked Bee to back out, Rebecca exited the trailer to the side. Bee ran backwards as fast as she could and kept going.  She would have lost her with a regular lead rope, but the long line held.  She loaded and unloaded Bee again and again until this last phase, where she did much, much better.

Today, I went out and worked on tying, loading, self-loading, unloading, driving from the ground, and getting on her myself.

The self-loading didn't go well because I didn't have long lines.  I asked her to self-load from her side, but she would only put in her front feet.  We did that over and over.  Then, I got in and asked her to follow.  She did.  We stood around for a while and I asked her to unload politely.  She did.  We repeated that over and over.  I closed her divider, then opened it, untied her, and asked her to back out nicely.  All good.

From there we moved to driving her from the ground.  I did that with the reins in hand, rather than long lines.  It was awkward, but she allowed me to turn her, back her, whoa and move out.

At that point, I took her to the mounting block and she was excellent at letting me on.  I may have a broken toe from slamming my foot into a barbell, so I chose to go bareback, as to avoid the pain of a stirrup.

I was very scared and my heart was beating like crazy.  I petted her, jumped off from both sides several times, and remounted, and bent her in, but I didn't ask her to move out.  I knew that, at this point, I wouldn't be able to get back on if something went wrong. I don't think I'd have the nerve, and continuing forward is a must. She has only had four rides, and I don't feel ready.  When I know we're communicating from the ground, and she seems more relaxed, I may feel  more confident.

But until then, I'm going to keep filling in the holes.  Everything she's doing is much better than before.  She stands tied better, she was better for the farrier today, she loads better.

This winter I'll be doing a colt starting clinic, with Bee, next door.  I'll also do a follow-up clinic with Leah, for more advanced horses, on a following weekend each month.

One step at a time, but Beautiful Girl and I will get there--together...

each of us having to overcome our fears.

Monday, September 4, 2017

For a Mustang, Boredom Training is Torture

"When a horse doesn't do what you tell him, you think you've lost. 

It's not about winning or losing. 
A horse doesn't even know what that means. 
If something goes wrong, you start over. 
You have to accept defeat to gain success." - Ray Hunt

Boredom Training: Day One

After the little bucking fit last week, Rebecca's post-analysis really stood out to me.  She said, "It was as if B got bored with going in circles and she just had enough." She said she could feel it coming on the previous ride and was expecting it that night.  So, it didn't really come out of nowhere.  Did a wasp land on her? Did Rebecca touching her butt right before it happened bother her?

Maybe.  But my mind went back to the times B is standing tied, hits a wall of boredom, and starts to pull back.

It hit me, whatever the catalyst, the problem with her being able to stand still and rest is a root issue that has to be addressed.

To plug that hole, I started boredom training the very next day, tying her to the trailer, by herself, in the a.m., as I cleaned the horse trailer.  And, then again that evening, with a buddy.  Her evening tying session lasted an hour and a half, as my husband and I sat in my Cowgirl Cave directly in back of them.

B did great--for an hour--then, she got bored and started pawing, threatening Little Joe, and not eating her hay.

I wrote Rebecca to tell her what I was doing, and she wrote back:

Good plan breaking her from being a herd horse. Being a broke horse will be hard for a bit for her.

Boredom Training: Day 2

If  Beautiful is any indication, it's tough for a Mustang to be bored.  They're always wanting to do.  Rebecca said she's rarely seen a Mustang that isn't the enforcer in the herd.  Beautiful is definitely our enforcer.  

On day 2 of Boredom Training, or How to be a broke horse, or How to be a less herd bound horse...whatever  you want to call it, all the same, I loaded her in our trailer and hauled her two houses down to the barn. That is our barn in the background of the above photo.  Beautiful as not at all happy she could see her herd, but not get to them.  

She did good in the trailer, loading and unloading.  She was on high alert, with all the new horses, and knowing hers were so close, but separated by fences.   Despite that, she did walk well on the lead and had no problem navigating the barn and aisle-ways to the indoor arena.

Inside, Rebecca told me to let her go.

At first, she was a sweet heart, checking out the scary periphery, then coming back to us, venturing further out, coming back, and on and on.

However, after she finally made it to the scariest things in the arena, and touched them, there was nothing more to stimulate her mind, and it was as if whatever happened during the bucking fit was happening again.  

She had come to tell me, "Hey, mom, I saw the scary things. Conquered the scary things.  Been there, done that. Now, take me home."

I basically said, "No, honey, you go entertain yourself for a while as we sit here and chat."

And, the wild rumpus began.  There was trotting, cantering, head tossing, pawing, an all out brat attack.  She was like a teenager playing heavy metal in their bedroom so that the parents have to hear their anger.  She knew she couldn't make me leave, but she was trying to send signals that she was very unhappy with my choices.

Rebecca threw her a bone.  She walked out and started to build obstacles for her.  Beautiful followed her around as she did this, as if she was so wishing she could use her hooves as hands and do the work for Rebecca.  

I can't say she every fully rested like we'd want to see, but there were moments of rest and they were rewarded by moving outside and walking around the property.  

The work we're doing right now may seem small, boring (hopefully), and, to some, pointless--but I beg to differ.  Every horse is unique, and recognizing what each individual horse needs in order to progress, is always a good thing.

When we were done in the indoor, I went around scooping up B's mess--she followed at my elbow every step of the way--thinking, wanting to do it for me, trying to figure out a way that she could.  I love that about her.  I love that she's a thinking and doing horse--a horse who loves rules and knowing what the rules are--then enforcing them.  

When her basic personality can be tempered with a little patience and trust in a new--human--herd, we will be well on the way to a wonderful trail partnership.