The Back Up: Giving a horse the idea is like planting a seed.

The ideal back upWhen I am introducing a new idea to a horse it is usually done in a very subtle way. I ask for a tiny amount of response and immediately release. Even though the horse may not get the response completely correct, I reward for movement in the correct direction. Lets look at an example.

If I am teaching a horse to back up there are many things I am looking for. Some of these include:

  1. move feet backward
  2. soft relaxed neck
  3. break at the poll
  4. rhythm in the steps

While I might have all of these goals in mind I will begin by planting a seed. This could be on the ground, during ground driving, or it could be while mounted. Either way my main focus when beginning is to get the feet to move backward…even just a little bit. Ideally the horse will not only take a step but will also remain soft and quiet…but that doesn’t always happen. It is more likely that the horse will try something that has worked before in the past. That could be turning to the left or right or even walking forward. It is always interesting to see how many ideas the horse could have depending on their past history.

My job is to apply only enough pressure to motivate the horse to try something…and then reward any movement in this direction. When someone is planting a seed in a spring garden they treat it gently and try to give it the best chance. They prepare the soil, they monitor the water, they don’t walk on the new seeds.

That first step backward may not have all of the idea characteristics but if you are gentle and quick to reward it is amazing how quickly the horse will grow that idea. Their neck may not be perfectly soft, they may not break at the pole and they will rarely have good rhythm…but those will come. Unless the horse shows a dramatic amount of resistance in their neck and poll my main focus will be moving their feet. Later as that seed grows stronger I will begin to focus on planting the second seed of more softness to grow along side the original seed.

Fostering a new thought or a new idea in a horses mind is very similar to planting a seed.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Training


Tags: , , , ,

Side effect of snake bite on horse almost a year later.

snake bit horse nose crookedLast year on June 16 we were dealing with our first snake bit horse. You may remember the blog, complete with photos, documenting the whole process. As Hope, the horse that was bitten, was hanging her head out of the stall yesterday I snapped this photo and decided to do a follow up. I laugh when I see her because she has an innocent look…and a slightly crooked nose!

The only two signs she still has are 1) an altered growth ring on her hoof 2) a crooked nose.

The ring will be grown out soon but the nose…I’m not sure if it will ever be straight. Either way she is still cute!


Posted by on April 18, 2015 in Life


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Do horses get dizzy when they are learning to spin?

Teaching a horse to spin reminds me of a person learning to dance. There are many steps and stages that the horse moves through. The spin begins by improving steering in general and then gets gradually more refined. During the learning process the horse will make ‘mistakes’ which are really just the process of learning. If you watch a child learning to walk or a dancer learning to dance there are often uncoordinated moments, especially in the beginning.

While learning to spin some horses get dizzy. For some this stage is so short that it is barely felt but for others it may take them a bit longer.  They most often get dizzy as they get better at taking the steps and they begin gaining some speed. The key is to be aware that this stage exist and to try to prevent the horse from getting too dizzy. The difficulty is that this is the same stage where horses still need help to find their cadence and rhythm. As a rider I am helping the horse find rhythm and cadence…but it is difficult to tell if the horse is loosing rhythm because they are needing some help or because they are getting dizzy.

The video below shows a horse getting dizzy. Watch when we stop how you can see her sway to catch her balance. Now re-watch it and look at her ears as soon as I say whoa, they are pointed forward as she tries to focus. They quickly flick back as I feel her sway and move to steady her.

This was the first time this filly got dizzy. We happened to be taping for another reason and caught this moment. Although I have still been spinning her I am more aware that she has entered this stage and I try to avoid getting her dizzy. This means that I stop more often when I feel her lose her rhythm…which can slow down the training if she is just losing rhythm because she is thinking about stopping. Still, I choose to stop early because I don’t want to repeatedly make her dizzy and it is possible for them to get dizzy enough to fall down.

I find it interesting that all the horses I have ridden have eventually figure out how to not get dizzy. Once they are fully trained they can spin for long periods of time and will get physically tired without showing any signs of getting dizzy, even if they are spinning very fast.

I can’t say the same thing for riders though, lol.


Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Training, Video


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

155th Anniversary of the Pony Express!

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.11.23 PMMost of us have a concept of the pony express: deliver letters on horseback…fast. But how much do you know?

The pony express ended in California…did they start in

1) New York

2) Missouri

3) Texas

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.09.18 PMHow far they travel in 24 hours?

1) 100 miles

2) 250 miles

3) 500 miles

How long did the service last?

1) 7 months

2) 19 months

3) 22 months

My horse was disappointed in my score...maybe I should try again!

My horse was disappointed in my score…maybe I should try again!

Wanna have a little fun with the Pony Express today? My kids showed me that if you go to the Google home page you can play a game!

I was terrible on my first try, can you make your horse happier than mine was?


The answers to the above questions, as found on Pony

2) Missouri

2) 250 miles

2) 19 months


Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Life


Tags: ,

When you ride your horse do you focus on having ‘feel’ in your whole body?

feel- to be or become conscious ofYou have to start somewhere. All riders do. Maybe it was a pony ride when you were a kid or maybe it was riding a friends horse for the first time when you were in your 40’s but all of us started riding somewhere.

And it wasn’t pretty.

And it probably went something like this: pull on the left rein to go left, pull on the right rein to go right, pull on both to stop and kick to go.

Hey, they had to start you out somewhere. And you weren’t coordinated. I’m not as concerned about where you started out as I am about where you are headed now. If you’re reading this then there is a pretty good chance you are trying to better yourself as a rider. To understand your horse more. That’s great!

So todays question is: Do you ride with ‘feel’ in your whole body? What is feel (here is a blog about it)? Do you have it? How can you get it? Are you working on improving it?

One description of ‘feel’ if you google it is: to be or become conscious of.

Are you conscious of your whole body when you ride? Are you aware of where your eyes are looking, how much pressure you have on each seat bone, of your horses footfall and path of travel? Yes, each one of these is something that you should be conscious of. First you will learn to be conscious of each one individually…then two at a time…and eventually all at the same time.


Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Thought provoking


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

How do I correct a head shy and mouthy stallion?

stallion“Hi Stacy, I’m getting a 2 year old stallion who is head shy and nips (a lot, as in every 5 seconds or so…) I’ve worked with head shy horses before but was wondering if you had any tips since he is a stallion. I’ve been watching your video diaries of jac and you really emphasize space. Usually I just get in their space and annoy them until they get bored and realize I’m not going to hurt them. Any tips would be awesome. I’ve had 6 years of training experience but have not worked a lot with stallions. Thanks :)”-Megan H.

I know this is just an internet opinion but here are my thoughts:

I see two different issues in your writing; head shy and biting. You mention that you have had success in the past when working with head shy horses. It is a short description but I pretty much agree with the idea that you outline. Here is the catch though: what will you do if that same horse bites you?

At that point you will need to either allow or correct the biting…and you will need to correct it.

My guess is that his head shy issue comes from one of two things: other humans correcting his biting or other HORSES correcting the habit. Both will cause him to be head shy as he chooses to continue biting. It is often part of the biting game that is often strongly driven by hormones.

When you watch me work with Jac, I keep my space to help break the habit of biting. During that time period (lets say a few weeks) the stallion has the opportunity to learn to interact in a different way and I don’t have to deal with bite-correct-bite-correct-bite-correct cycle. I keep my space, he keeps his, and he gets a chance to learn new habits.

As he gets more educated I will move in closer. At some point I will have to deal directly with the bite-correct cycle but my own personal opinion is that I don’t deal with it for very long. Part of my stallions being allowed to stay stallions is that they need to understand their boundaries. Once they have had an opportunity to learn I make my decision. Newt was right around his second birthday when I gelded him because he was mouthy. He is a nice horse and I could have tried harder but I would have been battling hormones and doing lots of corrections. Even turned out with my gelding, Popcorn, he would nip and nip and nip until Popcorn wanted to kill him. Mouthy studs can even drive other equines crazy!

There are lots of great stallions out there but there is nothing wrong with a great gelding.



Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Members Question, Training


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spring vaccines in horses: negative reactions & taking temperatures

horses reacting to vaccinesIt is spring and –sickness– is in the air! At least around here. We have been hit in the house and in the barn. A couple weeks ago two of my kids caught colds that turned nasty and recently (Easter Sunday and Monday) migrated to ear infections. I have charts and rotations of medications that would make any pharmacy proud.

In the barn my horses are also struggling. They had their ‘spring vaccinations’ yesterday and today they are feeling cruddy. They are sore and running fevers. It is clearly the vaccines because three horses were not vaccinated and they are all fine. All the vaccinated horses are running temps between 102.5-103.9.

If you haven’t taught your horse to allow his temperature to be taken easily this is your reminder to go buy a digital thermometer, a jar of Vaseline and get them trained! It is better to do the training before they are grumpy from not feeling well. Did you know that a horses ‘normal’ temperature is actually a range from 99-101? When I was in college we were required to take the horses temperature daily to establish each horses ‘normal’. To do this we would take their temperature daily for several weeks before they left the stall. It is important to take the resting temperature because exercise, stress or excitement can cause an increase.

Have your horses ever had a reaction to spring vaccines? Have you ever taken your horses temperature?


Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Life


Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,550 other followers