Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Riding Scared: Working Horses Through Their Fear

My last post was about what to do when the rider is scared, but if we had horses that were never scared of anything, we probably wouldn’t be either. Our fear really comes from not knowing what our horses will do and if we can handle their fear responses and keep both ourselves, and our horses, safe.

Shirley shared a post for Radek Libal a few weeks ago and, since then, I’ve been following him on Facebook.  It was no little bit of serendipity that he just released a video addressing the topic of fear in our horses and how to handle it.

The horse he’s riding does exactly what Leah does when she gets to a scary situation. That whole blowing out to the right or left. For her, it’s almost always the Left. I loved watching his video. He is so good at explaining things and making them simple.  The last portion of the video is an ad for signing up with him. I think the cost was ninety something dollars for a  lifetime membership.  I just might do it because I LOVE his content.

(You can see Bee has one ear on the tunnel and a scared eye.)

I took B over to the barn next-door before they tore down the tarp tunnel. Turns out, Bee is actually braver than Leah with this particular obstacle--which doesn't surprise me since she allows me to completely cover her head with the tarp at home, whereas, Leah isn't okay with that yet.

We walked through the tunnel together, several times, from both directions.  She was able to listen to me in the tunnel when I'd put my hand up to ask her to slow down.  I am not riding Bee at this point, so we didn't do that. The ground is still too frozen and snowy and slick and I don’t want to take a risk on her.  When spring hits, we’ll start back in saddle and do a lot of work trailering her down to the equestrian areas and trail course obstacles.

I continue to work with the horses in the outdoor arena as long as they have decent footing. My work is mostly consisting of getting Leah to be calm. I do a lot of taking her from barrel to barrel and picking up a cone and then back to the next barrel to deposit it. Little things like that bother her. But with work they shouldn’t. She is doing much better at stopping and then going over obstacles.

The video by Radek Libal really sums up what we worked on at the last clinic: keeping them faced up as you work through the fear. It’s not about putting their nose on it, (although if they do become curious about it and they are thinking about it, they may decide to put their nose on it), instead, it’s about facing the fear and slowly getting closer and closer without running away.

A few extra thoughts about working them through fear:

1. Only ride with people who will be patient as you work through the fear.  It might take a while, so they should be prepared to sit back and relax.

2. Listen to your horse and his fears and don't just disregard them all as unfounded.  Last week, I asked Cowboy to step on the bridge above with me in saddle, and he wouldn't do it.  I dismounted and had him put a foot on it and he slipped.  He was right.  I praised him.  When the bridge was dry (above) we did it all again and Cowboy went over with NO PROBLEM.  It was always about the slippery bridge--not the bridge itself.  On the other hand, there are some things that are scary, but still very safe and we're going to override their suggestions.  We need to have a way of communicating with them that says--I hear you.  I have thought about your warnings.  But I say it's okay.  Or, And I say you're right, we're not going to do this.

3. In the video, Radek is in an open, flat field, but sometimes we get to places on the trail where there isn't a good spot to safely work them through the fear.  I like to scout out rides and really ask people about them ahead of time so we'll know what we're facing.

4.  There's nothing like a trail ride to test every bit of the work you do beforehand and, sometimes, you just get into a real mess--but still, the little things can make big differences.

There was a ride a couple of years ago where I let my friend--an old Cowboy who passed away last fall--lead us up a narrow trail near his house.  His horses had done it a thousand times, and I trusted him.  The trail was steep and overgrown in parts, but rideable.  Unfortunately, Cowboy's bit broke leaving me with nothing but his headstall.  At the same time I realized his bit was broken, I saw a log coming up in the path.  I quietly dismounted and got in front of Cowboy because the trail was too narrow for both of us.  Dismounting wasn't normal, so he started to get scared.  When we got to the log, he evaded going over it by going to the side and then almost falling down the side of the mountain.  He had to really dig in and pull himself back up--which thrust him forcefully onto the path.  He was paying attention to where I was, and he didn't jump ON me.  The log didn't seem nearly as scary as what he'd just been through, so he walked right over it and we were able to navigate the rest with just the reins and headstall--broken bit hanging down on both sides.  All of this, and we were sandwiched between four other horses on that narrow, steep path.

A couple takeaways from this.  First, I was smart to get off before we got to the log. What if he'd done that with me on him?  Would he have been able to correct?  Would I have thrown him off balance?  Second, Cowboy respected my space even when I didn't have any real control of him, and that was something we worked on a lot before we ever hit the trail. It paid off.

But on the flip side--I should have been working on dismounting before that happened.  I should have practiced dismounting on trail rides when things weren't scary and then maybe he wouldn't have gotten so worked up.  And, it goes without saying, I should have paid more attention to my tack!  But things do happen, even with the best intentions.  I've had a rein snap on me before--and it was a  new leather rein.  I've heard of people losing their saddle rigging.  Things happen.

And another lesson learned, my friend was nearing the end of his days (he died of cancer last fall) and he didn't have any real fear for himself anymore.  He kept suggesting the most dangerous routes on that ride.  It was in a park I'd ridden a thousand times, but the places he was leading us to were the most treacherous--railroad tunnel so low we had to duck through it on our horses--and this steep path.  He suggested another path, but I overrode him.  The lesson from that is, when your guide is demonstrating a lack of regard for safety, stop following the guide!

Will you look like a party pooper?


Will you look like a scaredy cat?


But at least you'll be alive!


My back is getting better every day. I purchased a back brace and wore it for a couple of days and that seemed to really help. For anyone else going through this I would suggest getting a back brace at the very start--apply heat and take Motrin for the inflammation.


I have lots of plans for this property as we get ready for a foal baby.  Fingers Crossed!  One is to combine two stalls into the barn into one big foaling stall with a video camera.  Since we'll have lost stalls, I want to build a 36' loafing shed to make up for it.  Honestly, I like loafing sheds better than barn stalls.  The horses seem to prefer them, too.

Well, time to stop blogging and get out with my horses.  I feel very lucky to have them.  They inspire me to get out in snow, wind, rain and ice.  I LOVE to see my herd!!

Friday, February 23, 2018

How Does A Horsewoman Heal & What To Do When the Rider Is Scared

Question: How does a horsewoman heal when she has torn a muscle in her back?

Answer: Very slowly

Question: How long does it take a torn back muscle to heal?

Answer: It depends on if it’s a horsewoman’s back or a normal back. A normal back takes a couple of weeks. A horsewoman’s back, however, will be 10 times worse after two weeks.   A horsewoman MIGHT think about slowing down when it becomes crippling, but just until it recedes from crippling to almost crippling when she takes Motrin. At that point, she will clear herself to ride and hoist her dogs into her pick up. Barn chores, of course, are completed at ANY point in the process—even crippled bed-ridden status. After all, horses need to eat and have clean stalls.


We have snow. We have ice. We have cold. We have sunshine.  It all started on Valentines Day. Eight inches of snow overnight and cold temperatures to keep it from melting.  The extended forecast shows no signs of significant warming.

But I have been able to get out there and do a little riding and a clinic.

The clinic was last Saturday. The roads were so bad that only two participants could make it. I’m very glad I did because I got a training breakthrough.

There was this scary tarp tunnel that we were supposed to ride our horses through. We did it last year, but it freaked me out, and as soon as I saw it this year, I was scared.

What do you do when the RIDER is scared of an obstacle? It happens. It could happen on the trail or at a controlled clinic, but it happens to all of us for different reasons. And, when we are scared or nervous, our highly prescient equine companions are, too. So, it’s going to happen, but what do you do about it?

1st, You listen to your fear. Is there something about the obstacle that’s unsafe or beyond your training level?  I looked at the tarp and it seemed well-secured and high enough for horse and rider. It was narrow and low enough, however, that there would be touching and rubbing—which would make noise.  All that said, it appeared to be safe for us.

2nd, if it’s safe enough to walk through together, dismount and work from the ground. We did that over and over and over until she could stop inside of it and allow me to shake the tarp around her.

3rd, if everything looks good, mount and ride.

And this is where I had my training  moment. In saddle, Leah kept bolting away to the left when we'd turn toward the entrance of the tunnel. My trainer, however, pointed out that I need to keep her facing up. I do try to keep her facing up, but it comes down, again, to finding the right amount of pressure and movement. It can be hard, but it’s the secret sauce of horsemanship. Too little pressure, they don't move--too much pressure, they bolt. 

It was a great opportunity to find the balance with Leah.

The trainer told me to go back to the obstacles she was very, very comfortable with and stop her before going through them. I had not been doing that. Instead, I was pushing right through the easy obstacles. The idea was to stop her and allow her to rest in front of an obstacle. Of course, Leah did not like that. Stopping anywhere made her nervous. So, we worked and worked on stopping, then moving one foot after another over it, and stopping inside the obstacle.

When we returned to the scary tarp tunnel, stopping in front of the tunnel did not cause her as much anxiety. We were able to stay in front of it and get her to look at it. When she'd move to the right or left, I corrected her, but I didn't urge her forward very hard.  I would let her rest and then lightly put pressure on her to go in.

Towards the end, she rushed out.

She calmed down in a couple of steps.  We practiced it many more times and worked on control.

Since Saturday, we've been working on the concept at home, and I want to differentiate this with the idea that you should put the horses nose on every scary object. That is not what this is about. It’s about being OK standing still in front of an obstacle.

We will get to places on the trail where we have to stop and inspect to see if it’s OK to go there. That will require stopping. Also, sometimes our trail partners have to stop or we have to just wait for them to do something. A trail horse has to be OK with stopping and standing, then proceeding step by step.


I tore the muscle in my back when I was swinging a saddle up onto Leah.  After months of bareback, I think my saddle throwing muscles had atrophied.  I could feel the tear as soon as it happened, but it didn't hurt very bad.  So, I kept doing what I do--taking care of the horses, moving furniture, cleaning house, just everything.  And then, last Friday, I could barely stand straight.  Oddly enough, the next day, Saturday, I limped myself to the clinic and it didn't hurt at all to ride a horse.  It only hurts to lift objects and to stand from a sitting position or vice versa. 

I was seeing progress yesterday, so I decided to take my dog to the vet alone.  I had to load all 77 pounds of her and then unload her.  Needless to say, my back hurts like hell today. 

But it didn't stop me from this morning's chores, and it won't stop me from today's training.  I can rest when I get to Hawaii in a couple of weeks.

And yes, I will be looking for a lighter saddle this year.  The one I have now is an awesome, solid, well made, beautiful saddle that I love--but my back just can't take it anymore.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Circle of Life: A Year Anniversary

Today, as I was walking out to the barn, I saw two doves. It was the first time I've seen them since winter hit, and it reminded me of Red and the dove who would perch near Cowgirl last year as she mourned for him

I looked on my calendar and, sure enough, yesterday was the anniversary of his death. 

Seeing them again made me happy.  It reminded me of Red.

Isn't it amazing how much you can love a horse?  And now, here we are thinking about breeding his horse wife, Cowgirl.

And, it hit me that Red raised Cowgirl from a weanling until she was almost 13!  So that means, any horse Cowgirl raises will have a big part of Red in it. His personality.  The things he taught her.  Think of all the dark nights where they would take turns lying down--one standing watch over the other.  All the times they lay down together, too, and slept side by side.  The times she, and her mare herd, would guide him through the night back to his stall where his equine senior was waiting for him. 

Oh, the memories.  And they're all in Cowgirl's heart.

If all goes well, I'll be getting a part of Red back.

Monday, February 12, 2018

My Very Own Trail Course & a Future Foal

So much happens in a week around here!  My trainer, Rebecca, listed her trail obstacles for sale last Friday, and Saturday morning, we were hauling them over to my arena.  I picked up two bridges, the car wash, a tractor tire, several cones and barrels, poles, and other nick nacks.

I immediately set them up.

Then chose my first victim horse partner.


First, we went through by  hand.

Then we rode it.

This one didn't go so well.  She went right in, but once there, I asked her to back out and her foot got caught on the tarp--dragging it out with her.  She flew backwards taking out a few barrels and poles.  But you know the good thing about it?  She didn't fall over or trip!  She's getting so much more sound and flexible now that I'm bending and using her--and she's lost so much weight!  I can pretty much ride anything she throws at me, but I don't want her coming down on me.  And she didn't.

But that did throw us back a few steps.  I worked her with the tarp separately.  Then, I asked her to go back into the obstacle without the tarp on the ground.  She refused no matter how hard I kicked.

I had just read an excellent blog post about how much pressure is too much or not enough by Radek Libal.    It really came in handy here.  She wasn't moving--a sign I wasn't using enough pressure.  So, I dismounted--which made her very happy--lots of lip chewing and patting herself on the back for a job well done avoiding that scary object!  But I walked her to the Cowgirl Cave, put on my spurs, grabbed my crop, and back out we went.

She went right in to the obstacle with not needing them.  (Um, someone is a smarty pants.)

But I asked her to do it again, just to be sure she was okay with it...and NO!  I did all kinds of things, and I kept increasing the pressure, but then I got the signals that I'd gone too far--she started getting light in the front end and spinning out to the left--a sure sign there was going to be either a rear or a bolt--I chose the bolt.  There wasn't much I could do except make her choice harder for her by circling her in tight circles both ways--then approaching the obstacle again.

It wasn't working.

So I took a few steps back with the pressure.

I'd give her a light tap with the crop--keep her straight--and when she took a couple steps forward, I released all the pressure.  Pretty soon we were in the obstacle.  And, I did it again just to make sure she was okay with it.

This obstacle is an odd one, because you have to back out of it.  Backing out tells them there's something to be scared of.  I guess it's good in that way because it shows them that backing out isn't always a sign of retreat and fear.

Today I took Bee, Cowboy, and Leah through in hand and they all did awesome.

Bee also had a clinic Saturday and did great there, too.


I told everyone that I have one more horse in my future.  I wanted to raise and train one more baby after Cowboy was no longer ride-able.  But I wasn't ready to go out and look yet.

But at dinner the other night, my daughter told me she wanted to breed her horse Cowgirl, but she wasn't in the position to afford it now or to keep the foal.  She asked me if I would like to breed her.  She thinks Cowgirl is getting up in age and we need to do it now if we're every going to.  She thinks Cowgirl really wants a baby and would be an excellent mother.  She's right.  And, Cowgirl is by far the best, smartest and toughest horse we have out there.  She's exceptional in every way we want in our trail horses.

I needed to find a stud close by, so I contacted a dear friend who was born and raised on a ranch in this area--very well respected--and a wonderful horsewoman.  She got right back to me and said she had taken care of a stallion a while back and bred her mares to him--and he was the smartest, gentlest one she'd ever met.  He was a reiner and he met my conditions of being foundation QH--at 94% foundation.

His owner, turns out, is my equine chiropractor, Dr. Jenny Wells. And, he's from Quincy Dan lines--the same lines as my first ever heart-horse.

Meet Zorro's Dan Quincy, Cowgirl's future baby-daddy.

His owner passed away and he was handed down to his grandson, the husband of my equine chiropractor.  They love him and use him and treat him like a king.  They've never bred him and they're not advertising him, but they're willing to do this. He was bred extensively before this, and everyone says his babies are smart, athletic and super gentle--like him.

He's 24, so not young, but he looks much younger than he is.  He doesn't show any signs of arthritis. His teeth look strong.  He was gorgeous, kind, calm. Shiloh and I fell in love.  If this is his last baby--we'll feel fortunate to have had the opportunity. 

We all know Cowgirl loves the old ones--she was raised from a weanling by Old Red who died, with her by his side, last February at the age of 37.  And, if this works out, it will be like having a piece of Old Red in this foal.  He passed on so many traits to Cowgirl, and now Cowgirl may have the opportunity to share them with a baby.

So, wish us luck as we start down this new path.  I'm praying that everything goes well.  The first obstacle will be finding out when she's ovulating and getting her to him.  We plan to pasture breed, and from what I hear, the ladies love him and he's very good to them.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Tale of Two Winters: Back in the Saddle with Bee & Leah Neck Reins

February 2017, we had snow and ice and super cold temperatures.  The ground had been frozen since early that December and didn't thaw until March.  The snow had accumulated, so it melted all at the same time, but had no where to go with the ground being hard and previously saturated (from a wet October/November)  It caused flooding.  We lost Red on a cold February night, and a few weeks later our basement flooded--and stayed flooded for 3 weeks.

It was a bad year.

But this year--2018--has been wonderful!

This photo is significant--

It was the first day I could retire my thick winter riding boots and don my cowboy boots.  And that meant--

I could ride Bee!

There was no way I was going to ride Bee in thick boots.  I didn't want to get hung up if anything went south.

So, yesterday, we did a little of this....

And today we did that, plus free lunging, driving over the tarp and other obstacles--and LAST--riding!  Something glorious happened--

she spooked--

she looked over at the other horses and saw Little Joe on Foxy--and she just did a little jump of surprise.

And I was happy, not that Little Joe was on Foxy, but I was happy that she spooked like a normal horse.  It wasn't anything I haven't handled a thousand times.  It was a nothing.  A blip.  But it broke the ice of my fear of  her spooking and doing something I couldn't handle.  I thought--Hey, I've got this!  She's just a normal ol' horse.  We had a normal ol' ride.  (Which is awesome since she hasn't been ridden for a couple of months!)


Then it was Leah's turn and --oh my--she's starting to move like a real horse!  It's like the feel is there between us and she's NECK REINING.

I'll back track a second...

to the approach.  Remember the last post, I decided her half turns in the stall weren't going to work anymore.  I mean, they were better than the days she'd walk out of her stall to her run to avoid me--which is why I tolerated them--but they were starting to feel like disrespect.

A half turn.

What I mean is this: I'd walk into her stall while she was at her feeder.  She'd walk away like she was going out to her run, but then she'd stop and half turn to me, but not fully turn to me.

So, this was yesterday....

I walked into the barn and she did this.  

I walked into her stall and she did this.  (It would be funny to caption it--any ideas?)

To test her, I held the lead up to her head to see if that would make her leave.  It didn't.

Today I went in and she was out in her run.  I called her to me.  She came.  That, my friends, is progress!

Below is us today--tacking up for a ride.  I was putting on my helmet in the the mirror--and there we were together--her head in the Cowgirl Cave.  I thought, I've got to a picture of this!

And this.  One month ago, Leah's hay belly was so big, she was a tight fit on the very last notch of this back cinch.  Woohoo!  She's getting her girlish figure back!

I free-lunged her again and her lope is just looking better and better and better.  Tomorrow I'll free lunge her with a tie down and start working on strengthening her back and getting her more collected.

Yesterday, we did the tarp over the back and head--then we walked over it.  (By the way, Bee had never had that training before, and she did perfect with EVERY. SINGLE. STEP.  It was weird.  She had no fear of the tarp--not on the ground, not on her back, not over her head.)  Leah, however, has done this before, and she still doesn't love the tarp, but she tolerated it.

When we rode today, we walked over the tarp, and other obstacles, and continued to work on neck reining.

She did AWESOME!

She likes the loose rein--it means less mouth/bit work.  The more I get off the bit, the more she feels like a real horse to me--whatever that means.  I think it means a horse that I'm used to riding.  She's calmer.  I feel more at home.  

Being on a loose rein--with neck reining for turns--does provide her the opportunity to take off now and again--especially when we are turning toward the gate.  But it's easy enough to pick back up the rein and steer her around.  Little by little, she's giving up trying to escape.  She wants the freedom of a loose rein--a loose turn--and sit back in the back saddle with a verbal whoa.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Teaching Leah to Neck Rein

February has started out slow.  I didn't ride or train the first three days.  But today, on the 4th day, I made it back out to continue training Leah to neck rein.

The way I teach neck reining is--

1. Lay the outside rein on her neck to ask for the turn.

2. If I don't get the turn, I apply leg pressure from the outside leg.  (At the beginning, that caused her to start trotting, and I had to pull both reins back to ask her to slow back down.)

3. If I still don't get the turn, I lightly pull the direct rein (the side of the turn) the way I'm asking her to go.  At that point, the outside rein is still on her neck, the outside leg is still on her side--all three asks are in place.

4. When I get the turn, I release all three. 

We have been working on this consistently for our last three rides, and today she was doing really, really well.  Before today there'd been a nervous energy, especially when I applied the outside leg, but now that she's starting to turn as soon as she feels the outside rein on her neck, she's much more calm. She seems to prefer the loose rein with neck rein turn.


When the chiropractor was here last week, she said Leah doesn't so much have a problem turning in tight as she has forgotten how to turn in tight.  She said that she seems afraid to turn in--like she's lost the muscle memory.  She said she sees that sometimes, after injuries.  The horse hurts, so the hurts stop moving that way, then the horse is scared to move--or forgets how to move.  She said the best way to fix it is to really work on it--every day.

I thought I'd also apply that to her movement at the trot and lope. The last couple sessions, I've worked her at liberty in the arena (avoiding anything too tight and constricting).  I just want her to feel what it's like to really move again--in a big, wide circle.  It was fun watching her as she stretched into her lope and felt for her balance.  At first, she carried her head pretty high--as if her front and back were two different sections, but as she warmed up, the two halves seemed to come together a little bit, and her movement looked more joy--filled, the way you see them when they're running, and feeling good, out in the pasture.


Concerning Leah, there's another item.  I was going into her stall and asking her to turn to me, but when she wouldn't, I'd go to her.  Little by little, I started to see that as a sign of disrespect on her part, so the other day, I smacked her in the hind with the leather popper on my lead and asked her to face up.  She did.  Today when I went in, she turned her back half away from me, but when I went to pick up the back of my lead, she immediately turned in to me as I'd asked. That was a confirmation that she really had been disrespectful.