So far Khaleesi is on track for 50 miles at the Blackwater ride on March 5. We’re picking up miles with at least one 10-15 mile ride per week and she’s stayed sound. Saddle fit is doing great with my old pad and we even have boots that seem to be staying on (knock on something!)
Though we have a tentative goal to get Heart to the Blackwater ride as well Susan and I are just not certain if she will get there or not.
She is coming along amazingly well however there are a few things we’d like to feel confident about before we load her up:
She’ll ride on the trailer. Yes- I can get her on, but she doesn’t like the confinement of having the divider in and I have not yet closed the door on her in there.
Susan feels comfortable riding her solo. Susan rides alone in the arena, and hand walks her on the trails solo but the solo ride is still in the works.
She understands and accepts electric fence confinement.
It’s not impossible these requirements will be met, but it’s not a given- especially the trailer.
Being a wild mare has advantages- she is amazing in the woods like she’s lived there all her life (she was wild on the range for her first 2 years which is a major plus).
Cross the river (check)
drink from a puddle or creek (check)
navigate tricky footing and downed trees (check check)
realize other animals live out here too and you don’t need to worry (check).
I am amused reading back to an earlier post where I mentioned there were some basics that are good to have in place before trailer loading. Which one had I neglected?
The confined spaces one.
So here we are. I love to look at these steps like a creative puzzle to solve- how can I get her working toward what I want in a way that doesn’t force or cause her stress: we always keep the relationship as the center.
It’s a puzzle for me to create a puzzle for her. As Buck would say- you sort of set it up for them and let them do it.
2-part plan for getting her comfortable on the trailer:
#1 the hay hallway
We created a hay hallway to walk her through in the barn so she can begin to feel closed in but still have an escape route. She’s ok with that so far and we also back out of it without (too much) trouble. Eventually the hay hallway will be taller and closer in and then we will not walk all the way through but close the door and have her be ‘ok’ in the small space.
#2 Feeding on the trailer
I’m not into horses working for their food or using treats to train. Doesn’t mean I think no one should but it isn’t generally in line with what I am trying to do.
That being said I starting looking creatively at how to get her comfortable on the trailer and decided in her case feeding her there might be a multi-prong solution.
Most importantly food on the trailer has made getting on the trailer ‘her idea’. I will always believe this is best practice if you can find a way.
Today I didn’t ask her to load at all. I put her food right inside the ‘box’ and she walked up and took a few bites. Then I asked her to back off the ramp and moved the food in a few inches. She was dying to get back up there.
It was her idea.
I let her come up and take a few more bites then backed her again.
Moved the dish a few more inches.
She came right up but now had to stretch a little more. She still was willing but it wasn’t as easy.
Back up – once more.
I put the bowl in the center. This means she really can’t reach it without two feet inside the box.
I believed this was harder for her to accept but not too much pressure for her to work out.
Then I got in the trailer and watched.
It was fascinating to see her WANT to get on the trailer but feel like she wasn’t sure she could handle it. It put me in a different role- one that helped her instead of forcing.
Now it was a puzzle that she could solve and I watched her work it out.
Sometimes she came up and ate for about a minute or two. Then she’d back off – I always allowed her to back off but she would step right back to the edge. Her mind was in the trailer.
At one point she started looking to the outside sides of the trailer – instead of not allowing it I watched her. She was right that the food was ‘right there’ but inside the box. She was sorting out the puzzle.
No – there wasn’t a way to get the food from either side.
After some exploration there I helped her out by showing her once again where the food was and she did come back up.
We were done when she finished the bowl.
Half way in was all she really could stand so I’ll take it today.
She worked out the puzzle and faced her fears which became less important than breakfast each time. And she couldn’t be too stressed out while she was eating which leads to the other positives to this method in her case.
Eating keeps her head lower while focused on the food bowl- lower head usually means lower adrenaline. Also if she can eat while on it she can begin to relax and stay longer without realizing she should panic.
If I had to load her and force her on to save her life I could do it, but I don’t chose that as the way to get her willingly loading and working together with us.
It’s amazing to me how quickly force can destroy a human-equine relationship with a lot of damage to repair over a long time. And by force- it depends on the horse to define it… each horse has a different threshold and it doesn’t take what humans consider abuse to be equine force. This is why learning to really read each horse is so important to me.
I still miss a lot but it’s what makes the difference between success and struggle.
By the way Khaleesi is also being fed on the trailers ‘off’ side right now to make her able to load as easily on the left as the right.
As for Susan’s solo ride, I am pretty confident that will be soon. Heart is frequently separated from the herd and is basically ok with Susan as her leader. One of these hand walks Susan will just hop on and feel right about it.
As for the electric pen, there is a small strand in the field right now blocking their favorite corner. Mid month I plan to cross section the field in prep for spring grass and these should at least give her the chance to understand the e-fence. Next will be to set it up in the farm (safe zone) and introduce her as an enclosure and see how she does. Other mustang owners say this wasn’t an issue for them. The horses are so smart they tend to get it quickly and as long as they have food to munch are pretty content to be still and relax. I think we’ll be ok here too.
On the trail she’s doing great. She’s willing and calm, relaxed and forward. We extend her ride each week and did about 6 miles Wednesday. We’ve been adding some trot intervals so by next month she should have no trouble doing a pretty flat 13 miles at walk-trot with a group of intro riders.
So really it comes down to the trailer. I can’t know yet how she’ll progress. She tends to be willing and smart and learn quickly but this confinement is worrisome for her which isn’t as simple as being a quick learner.
We will have to see. It will happen in its time- by the end of the month or not I can’t say!
This was too good of an update not to post so here’s a brief follow up to the Heart progress blog even though it’s the same day!
Sunday was not as wet and cold as I’d expected so after some house chores (woke up and realized my barn was probably cleaner than my house...) I had some free time so decided to hook up the trailer and make it the day for the trailer.
That meant it wasn’t: we’ll check it out and see how she reacts.
It was: she’s getting on if I stay here all day and night.
I thought about the horse greats… Dorrance… Brannaman… Hunt… I can’t remember who it was that first said it:
To be a good horseman you don’t force horse to do something. No. You make it [whatever you want to get done] the horse’s idea.
Well I’m not a real horseman. At least not yet… maybe someday. I wasn’t sure I could pull off making it Heart’s idea to get into that little aluminum box on wheels- but if I couldn’t do that my hope at least was to make it happen without force. Without frustration. Without stress. (For either of us).
To be successful I needed to have no time line, and no expectations about how long she would need to sort the puzzle out.
Checklist to prepare for success:
Be able to lead her well on the ground. Not just so she doesn’t run me over- she knows the dance and performs it well. Her leading skills are excellent.
Understand when I ask her to move forward either toward me or past me depending on my needs. This is solid but not perfect.
Understand how to back. Yeah. We got that!
Be confident walking on and stepping up and backing off uneven surface. We use the plywood platform in the arena and she easily steps up and backs off without hesitation. Excellent.
Be ok with confined spaces. She used to be stalled in TN and spent some time in a confined area here at the farm when she first arrived. Check.
Work on leading through narrow spaces. We didn’t spend much time on this. I’ve heard it’s great prep for trailer loading.
All in all I believed she had the trust in me and the building block to do this.
I called Nette and she met me at the barn for moral support (it’s always nice to have a friend), some fresh air, and to work the video!
Before even moving toward the trailer I got us connected and communicating with some groundwork. I led, backed, and asked to move the hind around the fore until I knew I had her attention and we were on the same page.
I think some who have horses not great at loading might solve their problems with that simple step.
Then we headed to the trailer and there was 45 minutes that looked a lot like this:
Basically I wanted to ask her as gently and softly as possible yet in the end it had to ‘get done’. In Brannaman speak: offer the good deal then increase the pressure until I could see the try.
This is tricky. I think I spent more time than I needed not asking clearly but hanging out with her feet on the ramp making sure she was comfortable and not worried.
I knew when I added too much pressure because it sent her backward down the ramp.
I also have been working on waiting on the horse. I believe it’s important you let your horse know she has time to think. I don’t want a reactive horse. I want one who knows I will encourage her to think a problem through if possible. It helps build trust. And the horse knows when you care enough to wait on them.
I was determined to out-patient my usual self and take as much time as she needed to do it on her timeline. Her comfort zone. It’s a common mistake ask a horse for something – wait a few human moments then decide “ok that’s enough… we don’t have time for this“.
So I was prepared: When my brain kicked in with ok, this is ridiculous… get on the trailer already!! I was ready to retort no goal oriented impatient self- we can wait longer!
After about half an hour I made the decision to ensure my request was crystal clear – I began to use my lead rope to drive (not to whip her- just a twirl or swing to communicate what I wanted) and added a forward invitation with my body to create almost a rhythmic rocking back and forth next to her. This seemed to break something loose and she began to shift more weight forward. She put on two feet then followed with the rear just behind.
I’m pleased with the work and after asking her to back off nicely (the second half of the process!) I loaded her 2 more times easy on, easy off.
Once she’d made it on the next couple times were quick and easy. My guess is she will now load fine. So far once she learns something it seems to stick.
As promised, work has been busy after returning from the Buck clinic. Still I’ve carved out a get back on the trail afternoon for a 12 mile ride and snuck in a morning to warm up our arena skills inspired by seeing the work in action in Reno.
I saw some cool reins at the clinic and after being on a year long casual search with nothing really interesting me more than my current biothhane reins (which I like) I found horse hair mecates.
I am not quite ready to go whole hog ranch style so the 22 foot mecate set up wasn’t really what I wanted however I did want to find horse hair and as luck would have it, at a last stop to a western tack shop on the way to the airport (because once I got home the Internet was going to be my only option) – they had one non-mecate Mexican made mane hair 9 foot continuous rein with rawhide connectors (maybe my favorite part!).
I had also decided to go back to a snaffle bit at least for some work. A main reason I had transitioned to the Imus comfort bit was at that early time I had considered seeing if Khaleesi would gait (rack most likely) and though I didn’t want to weight her feet and tie down her head, some poll action to encourage her to carry herself in a way that would make a gait easy seemed to make sense. Especially because I like the bit and it doesn’t operate through pain.
However if I wanted to experiment with a soft feel and eventually ride in a bosal I decided going back to the snaffle would simplify the communication and make her use her mind more than my aids.
I am not sure yet where this path will go- it’s a journey. So I hope no one will hold me to either bit in the future! We will see how the results are and go from there.
So we have temporarily lost the red head gear (which will continue to hold my comfort bit for now should I need to grab it) and have set up an old pretty leather temporary headstall with a nice sweet iron D ring snaffle and my Mexican horse hair reins with rawhide connectors.
First ride back in the snaffle was fine. We climbed the mountain over into Bolar property and rode right through downtown (for any of you who haven’t ridden in my area- Bolar was a bustling center of activity 100 years ago or more and now is almost a ghost town- but a pretty place). The climb with some rocks near the ridge is a great workout for the OD and we did a lot of trot and canter back to keep the heart rate up.
Khaleesi seemed willing to work after her long vacation and since Susan beat me to the barn (I had morning appointments) she brought the girls in alone-
I’ve seen those cartoons of people trying to bring in more than one horse at once like triton wrangling monster sea horses. Not my girls! One little source of pride I have is you can walk both of mine safely together calmly next to you.
She played around with the snaffle a little and I had to add a hole to bring it high enough that she couldn’t get her tongue over it. She doesn’t seem to mind it and though it was a new feeling to return to (we did early work briefly in a snaffle) it was fine.
She asked to turn around more than usual and I decided instead of holding fast on her head to go into the turn and do circles whenever she tried it- I am not using a chinstrap at the moment and though the D is likely to stop it- I didn’t want to risk pulling the bit through her mouth as she pulled hard the other way.
On the way home we picked up the energy and both girls got a little racy. I had less stopping and slowing power physically and knew I wasn’t getting her mind with me so both Susan and I made both horses run forward and slow and be passed etc (a little leap frogging) to bring their minds to us instead of feeding off each other.
Sunday morning however was less positive.
We are so exited to have Pam back in the neighborhood and she is going to ‘play’ with us this week to help work on some fundamentals.
Being a concert day and short on time I went to the barn at 7am to get a couple hours in and decided to go into our little arena to try some leg yields, soft feel and serpentines. Also trot on the rail with control – we always seem to drift in the trot and I’m not sure if it’s her mind that I’m not in sync with or if it’s my body doing something funky to translate the drift. Also I never trot circles so I can’t ever figure out the correct diagonal. Thought I’d at least give that one more try!
We had a list of things to try which was good considering I didn’t want to burn her out on anything for too long.
The morning began beautifully. She walked with me like a dream, we did some back up and leading practice. What a team!
We went to the arena where the boys could watch – and she could watch them watching her- and she’s in heat.
So… Though we did some nice work she also wanted to stop at one side to look at handsome Levi the sun King gazing at her from a distance. And when I asked to trot the rail she started ok, then began to fuss-
I don’t like this direction, let’s go back the other way.
That ground pole makes me have to pay attention, I’m going around it.
I want to go through the middle.
I hate you! You never let me do what I want.
(Ok that last one could be a tiny bit of anthropomorphic hyperbole)
After the argument began she eventually reverted to crow hopping and shaking her head in frustration and since that is so out of the ordinary with her I decided to get off and work her. I pulled my reins off and sent her around at a trot.
You are going to do this. It’s going to be worse for you if I’m not up there!
We went back to hook on-join up or whatever you want to call it where my goal was to get her to choose me again a her comfort and place she can relax.
How did that go you ask?
She was stubborn.
She was trotting, I turned her, kept her feet moving around me and she would she the signs- smaller circle, ear on me… I would relax my energy and allow her to stop, and change my posture, invite her to me.
She would stand perfectly still. Never tried to eat the grass- looking at me but would not soften and would not come with me.
I sent her on 4 times with about the same results.
The last time I knew I was running out of time and also losing the opportunity to make something positive out of this.
I walked up to her and put my pinkie through the D ring and asked her to walk a few steps with me. She did. I let go and kept walking- she took at least two more steps- I stopped and rubbed her.
Not a glorious partnership but something.
I got back on from the fence and we walked around a few more times and then called it a day.
After that we were fine again.
I can disagree with you and still love you I suppose.
Someone with more experience might have sorted that out more cleanly but this is where we are together. Figuring it out.
Bull butter… It’s not natural horsemanship. There is nothing natural about it. You’re asking a horse to give up their nature and partner with you. It’s opposite of natural for them to think and not run. –Buck Brannaman
I took a long weekend to spend a few days visiting my mom in Reno, NV. Partly inspired by my horse life and partly ready to fulfil a dream she hadn’t thought possible, she bought her first horse this year and found a trainer to help mentor her through the process of new horse owner.
As she researched local options one woman had the distinction of learning over 20 years from Buck Brannaman (who anyone who has read my blog for very long knows I greatly admire) and she uses his methods to the best of her ability. I agreed that she seemed like the best choice.
Over the winter my mom let me know that Karyn (her trainer) was hosting the Buck Brannaman clinic in May and for my birthday this year (which is in July) she offered to bring me out to Reno to audit the clinic with her and meet her horse (who it turns out Karyn used in the morning classes). It seemed like a good opportunity to see my mom and share in an experience together which included meeting one of my heros.
I worried going in that it wouldn’t be all I’d hoped for. I am not a hero worship kind of girl and believe we all put our riding rights or jeans on one leg at a time. However Buck is a little larger than life for me and if he turned out to be snotty, snarky, jaded, unapproachable or jerky I would have been disappointed.
The clinic wasn’t exactly what I’d expected- it was actually more helpful and inspiring than I would have believed.
Note: if you are not sure about participating or auditing, definitely audit. I was considering enrolling to participate in a clinic close to home in October and after auditing I’ve decided to audit that clinic as well.
I got immense value from being able to sit and watch both him and riders and horses of various levels instead of trying to process and act on it right then. Now I want to go home and get some experience then go watch again for more detail. Someday when I’ve gotten somewhere on my own I will be ready to try to ride for Buck and get his input I might actually gain something deeper from it.
Also- I’ve watched the videos. I have the 7 clinics and I’ve watched the groundwork DVD. I’ve seen some of the snaffle bit series before I went to observe. It all builds in layers
If you have the chance to get to one: GO.
If you want to learn how to do the dance my suggestion is first:
watch the videos.
Go back to your fundamentals and see where your horse has holes in her education.
Work seriously at it at home!
Go watch a clinic (make a trip out of it, drive all day if you have to… It’s worth it!)
Go home and do more work!
Then repeat steps one and two as much as you want or need…
Meanwhile save your pennies (it’s expensive but still a great value!)
Then try to get into a clinic to ride and hone your skills.
And for the rest of your life, go home and do the work.
What I saw holding people back from excellence and dancing with their horse are:
unwillingness to put in the time it takes to do the work.
unwillingness to put in the time it takes to do the work.
inconsistent work (do you ask your horse the same exact correct way every time? Usually due to #1)
less than perfect timing (probably due to #2)
I think my horse has some decent fundamentals. She’s solid. We are working as a team and she likes to be with me. She trusts me as her leader. This is a great first step!
We are pretty good.
When I see how bad pretty good looks when compared to seamless and light I can’t imagine settling for pretty good. I’m not just hungry for seamless… I’m starving for that kind of lightness.
I just want to see you get your horse to operate as if it is your legs. When your game of riding becomes a game of inches and not yards then we can talk about what kind of riding you want to do. –Buck
Fundamentals. I just rode our first 55 mile endurance ride on a willing horse and for most of those miles rode with me alone- her human leader. We were in a completely new environment with hundreds of horses in camp and on the trails. She was completely with me a good deal and I never struggled to stay in the leader role. I had pretty good light control- rarely had to do more than change my energy to steer or transition, and we finished healthy.
Our fundamentals are pretty good.
We are going to change that.
I was inspired by Elise on the first Biltmore loop because she rode her Arab in a bosal. That is more than pretty good. That is where I’d like to be. There were hundreds of horses at an international ride away from the comfort of home. Her horse had to see her as the only important factor that day. That is partnership. That is lightness.
Every chance you get to work on flexion do it. Be able to get that without them moving their feet. Ray used to say ‘you can’t do that too much’. When I reach for my horse he is reaching for me. No delay, no bracing. If your horse braces before he gives he’s already late in the movement. Even if he gives light as a feather eventually if he braces first you have no timing- the horse isn’t punctual.
I better understand now what Buck means by soft feel. I understand how that concept plays into lateral and vertical flexion and what it looks like when it’s done correctly and as you reach for the horse, she reaches for you.
Fundamental to everything.
I understand better how that plays into a quality back up and how to ask for it correctly on the ground and in the saddle.
I understand how that soft feel and flexion corresponds to the hind feet and using that to rebalance and get better impulsion from the hind.
10,000 times isn’t enough to ask for that flexion and soft feel.
I also know I’m going to screw it up. So many details about being consistent: how to ask, when to ask, what context is appropriate, when to release, what is plan B if you don’t get it the first time, do it enough times – you can’t do it enough- however don’t over drill, don’t frustrate or get them bored.
This is the other reason riders don’t get there. It can be overwhelming at best and ‘pretty good’ starts to look ‘pretty good’.
There were countless examples of a simple fundamental that tied into common training or riding questions.
When a horse falls apart it has everything to do with his fundamentals being sloppy. It’s like that with everything. If your fundamentals are rock solid you can take that somewhere.
He talked about true quality of leading and how soft and light that should be. He gets frustrated when someone asks after that how to load a difficult horse.
But the horse leads fine, it’s just the trailer.
No he doesn’t. The horse leads when comfortable in its surroundings. The horse is showing you the holes in its training or his lack of believing in you are the leader and source of comfort when you get to the trailer. You are not truly in control of that horse’s feet.
But most of the time people don’t truly want to fix the fundamentals, they want another quicker magic solution.
That’s something else that sank in as I observed: Many people believe they have a solid horse and good relationship because things work when the horse is comfortable. In reality it’s the environment or other horse that is the source of comfort and not you the rider.
The more dialed in my horse gets to me, the less they are worried about all that other stuff. Pretty soon my horse gets so tuned in to me he’s blocked out all other distractions.
Once the comfort is removed you see where your fundamentals really are. That became apparent watching some of the participants whose horses (they said, and I believe them) were solid at home. Here they were in a strange place with strange horses, wind & tarps/tents, spectators, a speaker that occasionally made funny sounds, and probably a self conscious rider who is also out of their element. Many horses were pulled aside by one of Buck’s cute young cowboy apprentices for some remedial help. Watching them work with a slightly troubled horse off to the side was a great bonus.
He spent a good amount of time interweaving the things that we can do to become that source of comfort for the horse. It takes time to prove that you are worthy of that kind of trust. It is quick and easy to destroy it through both neglect and/or intent.
Punishment is what bad riders do after something happened. Comfort is what good riders do when they sense trouble and reach for their horse a little. Be good enough to help your horse before he gets into trouble. A lot of people ride their horse like its crisis management all the time… Pretty soon instead of the human giving comfort and support they’re just winding their horse a little tighter.
In the end of the advanced classes you could see how the fundamentals came together when they brought in the cows. It makes me want to go ride through some local herds and play!
I have been reflecting on what these things mean to me as I travel the endurance road.
I also found so much overlapped with the Simple Equine Teaching I’ve been learning.
There are obvious things of course. Out in the wilderness of the OD 100 or Tevis you had better have a horse that is encouraged to think and communicate with you but then trusts you when you make a decision. Your lives could be at stake.
If I can help my horse balance herself and use use body in balance and flexion she is less likely to suffer overuse injury and be healthy for the 10,000 and more miles I hope we rack up together.
If I can encourage her to power from her hind maybe we can pick up a little speed in the process.
Bits & Hacks: I’m generally happy in my comfort bit and haven’t wanted to switch to a standard hackamore which relies on nose pressure however if I knew I had the trust, softness and control to ride her in a bosal style hack I believe that would be the best possible option for her. I read articles in the past year that discussed performance of endurance horses based on bit vs. bitless even going as far as to discuss the importance of the seal of the horse’s lips over long distances. I’m not 100% convinced it is not more marketing but I would make the switch if we could. I’ve also understood some poll pressure from the curb action can help a horse carry itself better- but now I believe flexion and softness is the better way to get that flexion.
A soft feel is the start of collection and it is a tool- I would not consider riding my horse for miles having to hold that.
Buck’s concept of the rectangle is also helpful to an endurance rider. He explains that your horse has a rectangle around him. You want your horse in the center of the rectangle – not pushing forward outside (faster than you want to go), not dragging on the back like a horse leaning on the butt bar in a trailer (slower, lack of impulsion), and not veering either right or left if you stop holding him in place with legs or reins.
Early on your rectangle might be yards around you as you try to get your horse to understand how to move straight or to not run through your hands, but when you’re good enough the rectangle just brushes past your legs, his nose and rear end. That’s the game of inches.
I think of this with some of the endurance Arabs I see and hear their riders talk about ruining their hands, tearing holes in their gloves and hurting their shoulders and necks from holding back the horse for miles and miles. I could never judge another circumstance and have not had a horse like that- but I do believe that is not a good situation for the human or the horse. It exhausts the horse and rider to fight that and is an example of the horse pushing out the front of the rectangle. While sometimes I wish my horse were a little more motivated (she is sometimes inclined to rest on the back of the rectangle), at least we are lucky enough to finish strong because we aren’t fighting the racing mind. In some cases letting the horse ‘run’ might be the answer but most of the time that wouldn’t work for the long haul- they would be spent too soon.
It seems like a training issue to me … And it also seems like it would take a lot of time to get that horse’s mind back on race day. More time than most people have or are willing to put in.
So the rectangle- especially the front and rear lines of it seem especially important to me in the endurance world. The sides can be helpful when trying to move to one side of the trail whole someone passes you- or you want to ride together for a while.
Anyone interested in finding a clinic can check out his website:
To end the trip my mom and I went to the BLM site near her house and we watched some of the penned herds waiting for adoption or transfer.
Almost more than anything I want to adopt a wild horse. It is my long term dream.
But for now I have a great project mare I adore that was practically feral (not a lot of human interference before I got her) and is a great training ground for me to hone my skills. We have some work to do and some endurance goals that take all the ‘free’ time I have and more.
I also have a low-maintenance horse in Faygo the Fine that most people with a little horse sense can ride safely. So for now I am holding my ground and waiting until things change.