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Category Archives: Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac

Jac Review: My horse walks circles around me while I am saddling, what should I do?

“Hi Stacy! I have a 17 year old mare that we bought last year. She is the sweetest mare I have ever known, however, she is a pain in the rear to saddle.
When we first bought her, her owners told us she was cinchy and showed us how they saddled her. They explained that after she had two foals, they tried to saddle her tied up and she flipped and went over backwards.
Her problem is that she can’t/won’t hold still. I have just been letting her walk around in circles around me. She used to seem a little tense, but I have done it enough times to notice that she isn’t scared or nervous at all, but it does seem unwise to me to tie her up and have the same thing happen again (I didn’t actually witness that).
So now I have a horse that takes forever to saddle because she can’ hold still. And I know I have reinforced this habit, I just don’t know how to break it. Help!”
Thanks,
Michaela

There are several things that could be going on here. My best guess is that prior to having her two foals, your mares saddle training probably had ‘holes’ in it. I have had broodmares that were unridden for two or three years that were fine when they were saddled up again. I did lunge them and review groundwork for 20-30 minutes before throwing the saddle on, but flipping over backward should be considered an extreme reaction.

If the mare had any spots that had been skipped or things that had been overlooked, then time off, plus quick saddling, it could have resulted in the huge reaction. I would also guess that someone was ignoring the mares body language during this disastrous saddling as there were likely signs that were either missed or ignored. I agree with you that you should not tie her up. I am going to guess that she was tied during the flipping over which is also an indication that she was likely lacking in that area of training also.

With your description it seems like moving around is a habit. I have seen horses that were not taught to stand still…so they move. Until the mare is trained to stand she is likely to wander especially as she has been allowed to in the past.

If you go back and watch the Jac series you will find places that this mare is lacking. If you only watch the video where I am saddling Jac you will not see all of the parts that went into teaching him to stand still. Go back and watch the prior episodes and look specifically for places where I have him standing still. I don’t always point this out but you can see it if you are looking. For example, when I am teaching him to stand facing me while I whip around him with the stick and string…I am teaching him to stand still under pressure. When I am bouncing the ball around him and off his sides, I am also teaching him to stand still.

Go back and watch the first time that I bridle Jac in Episode 13. That episode talks about emotional and physical cycles which is also key in getting a horse to stand still. Even the later exercise of teaching a horse a ‘parking brake’ to stand still for mounting is still reinforcing the idea of a horse being trained to stand still.

I would suggest restarting this mare. Go back through all of the steps that were shown in the Jac series. If the mare is solid in her training then this shouldn’t take long but as you find the ‘holes’ in her training, celebrate that you are on your way to having a solid broke horse that stands still for saddling.

P.S.- I have a long standing disclaimer that you should always evaluate and look for physical symptoms of pain. You indicated that it appears to be more of a habit and I answered the question from that angle. I always recommend consulting vets, chiropractors, dentists, etc as horses often display pain or discomfort by showing signs ‘resistance’ in training. Always keep looking for pain as a possible source of the problem even while you are working on the training aspect.

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The episode below is where I explain how to use physical and emotional cycles. They could also be considered physical work and physical rest cycles. This cycle is important because the hard work makes the standing still seem easy and desirable in comparison…which is why the horses begin to choose to stand still.

This episode is where I saddle Jac for the first time. Look closely at my body language, his body language and the use of work/rest cycles.

 

 

 
 

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“How do you decide how long a training session with your horse should be?” -brought to you by Weaver Leather

“How do you decide how long a  training session with your horse should be?”-Cindy M

There are many factors that go into deciding how long a training session should be. Often people decide how much training time by how long they have but it is generally better if we can set the goal to be primarily physical or emotional.

In a training session we are either trying to change something physically or mentally with the horse. Knowing what your focus is will help you determine how long the session will be. For example, in this video I am riding Al, an off the track Thoroughbred that is being retrained as a riding horse. This video is one entire training session and yes, it is only about three minutes long. During this session I was mostly focused on the mental training. Al anticipated hard work so I purposely chose to do some very short rides, even if I rode him once in the morning and once in the evening. My purpose was to change the way he thought about a typical ride.

Al also preferred going to the right instead of the left so I purposely only rode him to the left. I was again trying to plant a mental seed of ‘left’ being the answer.

Also, notice that I didn’t try to accomplish a lot of different things in this time period. I stayed smooth and steady which will help Al have a positive experience.

There have been other horses, on other days where I was trying to accomplish other goals so my rides were drastically different. For example, I have ridden horses with ‘relax’ as the goal, so I spent 2-3 hours riding them but not working them hard. This was planting the seed that neither one of us was going to rush through the process so we should both relax.

Other times I have been working on more physical goals such as improving the spin or the slide. Physical training often requires repetition much like learning to dance and it would be common for me to reward the physical improvement.

We are always training both the physical and the emotional but I have a plan before I head out to ride as to which will be my focus for that day. I am free to end the session if I see any improvement or if I am ‘planting’ a seed. Remember, any improvement should be considered a success.

 
 

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Picking and using a pony horse as a training tool: Stacy’s Video Diary Review

Here are four questions I received about Episode 14.

  • “What traits do you look for in the horse you are going to use for a “pony horse” in the round pen?”-Shawn J
  • “What traits do you look for in the horse you are going to use for a pony horse and do you pony them on trails to expose them to more things?”-Melissa P
  • “What should you look for in a pony horse?”- Rindy A
  • “What if you don’t have a pony horse to use?”-Tammy C

In this episode I use Popcorn to pony Jac.  To ‘pony’ a horse means to lead that horse while riding another horse. A pony horse can be a valuable tool. Ponying a horse has many benefits. During colt starting some of the advantages are that I can get a horse, like Jac, comfortable with movements above his head and gain further control of his body. There have also been times where I have ponied a rider during the first ride. Jac was a bit jumpy and unsure and I was able to work through it before mounting up.  Ponying is also useful in many other situations. If a horse has been taught to pony then it can be used for rehab after an injury, increasing fitness, exercising two horses at a time, exposing to new situations,  preparing the horse for the rider being above and more.

Teaching a horse to pony involves getting the horse to listen and respect both you and the horse you are riding. When first leading a horse from another horse, it is common for the horse being lead to be unsure of the situation. The horse being lead often has one of two reactions; timid, concerned about being kicked by the pony horse or pushy, challenging the pony horse. It is the riders job to teach the horse to lead respectfully.

I will only pony from horses that are well trained, that I can ride one handed and maneuver easily. It is important that the horse being ridden will listen to me especially if the other horse gets worked up. The ability to control the pony horses’ hips and shoulders determines the safety of all involved. It is extremely important that I am able to control the horse I am riding so I can prevent him from kicking or biting the horse I am leading.  Popcorn is an excellent pony horse because he will allow me to control his body and he is not intimidated by other horses.

Popcorn also has experience and he understands his job. For example, Popcorn knows how to angle his body so that when a horse shoulders into him it doesn’t throw him off balance. In the beginning I had tho help him find this position but now I don’t have to tell him to be prepared, he knows.

Newt is and example of a horse who is still learning to pony. Newt is already trained well enough, I can completely control his body. I am teaching him how to pony by leading horses that have already been ponied by Popcorn. This means that Newt is gaining experience but he hasn’t encountered a really tough case. A tough case would be a horse that was pushing into Newt or a horse that was refusing to come forward. By ponying horses that are easy Newt has gained an understanding and then I begin to pony horses that are a greener or are pushy. I can help Newt because I can control his body but it is nice when they have lots of experience like Popcorn. I will gradually lead more challenging horses and Newt will learn how to be prepared.

If you have watched the whole Jac series you should notice that I like to use lots of steps in my training process. Having said all of this, it is possible to train without a pony horse. There have been times where I didn’t have a good pony horse available. During those times I try to figure out how I can achieve the same end result. For example, if I sit high on a fence I can get above the horses head. Or I can spend more time swinging something that would go higher than his head like the stick n string with bags on it. Having a pony horse isn’t required but it often makes my job easier.

Below are several episodes where I used ponying as a tool.

This video shows ponying a colt and it’s the first time I pony Jac from Popcorn.

This video shows using a quiet horse in a situation where the other horse is likely to react. This video shows Newt ponying Jac.

This video shows Popcorn ponying Al, an of the track Thoroughbred, on the trail for the first time.

 

 
 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Emotional training

We are always training the horse both physically and emotionally. Physical training is easy to measure; the horse stops better, spins faster or steers easier. Emotional training isn’t always as easy to see. A horse that is very stressed may show signs of stress through physical movements; pawing, prancing or sweating or they may withdraw and get a glazed over look.

In my travels I have observed two common mistakes:

  1. that professional trainers will more often make the mistake of overlooking the horses emotions and focus purely on the physical responses, i.e. better stops or steering
  2. that the non professional may go to the other extreme and worry more about whether the horse likes them (emotional) and be more likely to overlook the horse being pushy etc.

I think that there needs to be a balance between both. The horse needs to physically respect our space and listen to us but we also need to take into account what the horse is emotionally going through.

Just like building a relationship with your kids, spouse or a friend takes time, teaching a horse emotional lessons takes time. Often this ‘time’ is less structured time than traditional training although the main difference is getting the horse to think outside the box. This could mean that I add unusual obstacles to my ‘normal’ routine, or it could be that I take my work out onto the trail.

When I was training Jac, he was more like a blank slate. He had very little training but he also had few preconceived ideas on how things were going to go. With Al, and most older horses, this was not the case.  Al has a history of training and he has learned that one system. There are pieces of that system that worked well and will carry over into Al’s next career, but there are also parts where he could improve.

Keep in mind that my main goal during this trail ride was to show Al that every trailer ride doesn’t end in hard work. I noticed the first time that I trailered Al that he was very nervous. He loaded and unloaded fine or better than fine. He jumped on, never pawed, and was respectful…but he was very nervous. Physically that meant he was shaking and sweating. I don’t need to know Al’s history to make a plan. Many times people will get hung up on wanting to know exactly what caused this type of reaction. In reality many things could have caused this, maybe he has always been nervous in the trailer or there could have been some kind of incident or many more ideas we could think up. The great news is that I don’t need to know the history to be able to make a plan for the future. If Al says he is nervous then it is my job to figure out how to make him more comfortable. Try to picture ‘more comfortable.’

As soon as I said more comfortable, did your mind conger up images of extra bedding, fans and padding on the halter? Typically when people think about making something ‘more comfortable’ they immediately think about physical comfort. The discomfort Al was having was emotional, not physical, and I know this because I hauled him with other horses. I know they were physically dry and comfortable. What Al needed was emotional training.

I hauled Al on multiple occasions and repeated this same routine; short trailer ride (15-20 mins), unload, saddle, pony, unsaddle, load, return home. On each trip Al was less nervous in the trailer and by the time I returned him to New Vocations he was not showing any signs of emotional stress when hauled.

The other effect of hauling Al was that I was able to give him lots of new things to think about including trails, crossing logs, and playing in a stream. This is some of my favorite training to do with horses.

Can you see how keeping the core lesson the same while varying the routine adds strength to the training?

 

 

Stacy’s Video Diary: How do you get a horse to relax in the lead departure?

“Hi Stacy, I was just curious how you get Jac easing into a lope so easily. I have a three year old quarter horse who I do a lot of ground work with and when I do ride him he tends to buck a lot when asking for anything faster than a lope. He’s my first horse to train and I know it’s something I’m doing wrong just can’t figure out what yet. He’s still young so I don’t ride him a lot but if I do I get bucked off almost everytime. Thanks for any help. :) “ -Bree H

“How do you teach a horse to relax and make their lope departure quiet and easy? Whenever I start to cue for a lope, my mare tenses up and then explodes into a fast canter.” -Amber W

In this video Al, a former Thoroughbred racehorse, is joining the video to help illustrate some of the points I made in the Jac video diary series. I borrowed Al from New Vocations, a Thoroughbred racehorse adoption program. I hope that by using multiple horses it will make it easy to see how these exercises can help the horses have a great foundation.

Teaching horses to have solid lead departures is a process that begins far before you actually ask the horse to lope. Much like driving a car faster will reveal a wobbly tire, adding speed when riding will also show you pieces that are not as solid.

If you go back and watch the early episodes of Jac (Episode 18) you can see how smooth Jac had become because of the groundwork, ground driving and consistency of the training program. This video shows how fluid Jac is during his trot circles…this is going to make a difference in his lope.

If you look at Al trotting the same circle while I am using the same methods you will see that Al isn’t as fluid. Al is actually raising his head higher and higher ‘looking’ for my hands. From his time on the track Al learned that the rider usually holds steady contact. Al feels a bit lost without that constant contact so he is ‘looking’ for my hands by using animated head movements. This will go away as he learns to carry himself more.

Jac doesn’t exhibit the same ‘looking’ for the bit head movements because he doesn’t have any prior riding experience which can lead to old habits or ways of thinking. When I start training a young horse, like Jac, my training is also a lot of prevention which is why Jac looked so smooth.

I will use the same exercises with Al that I did with Jac but Al will respond differently because of his prior experience. As Al sees the consistence he will begin to find the same rewards that Jac did and with consistency Al can learn the same lessons Jac did.

One key to having a horse be relaxed in the lead departure is to allow them to make mistakes during the transition. You will notice in the video that I am allowing the horses to go from the trot to the lope and then back to the trot. I am not making a big deal out of the transition and if they make a mistake, such as picking up the wrong lead, I am not immediately correcting them. This will help build the horses confidence and then later I can work on body position. As the rider, I am here to help guide him, not to only correct him for making mistakes.

To improve a horse like Al in the  lead departures I would focus on improving the steering and smoothness in the trot circles. Several common things people would be tempted to do with a horse like Al would be; sudden turns in an attempt to get the lead, a sudden kick or whip to ‘jump’ Al up into the correct lead, or a mechanical device to hold Al’s head down. In my opinion those options are more focused on getting Al’s body to perform a body function rather than dealing with the mental part of the training, the change of careers and training techniques, that is going on.

I would rather see Al given the chance to build his confidence in the trot and to participate in finding the ‘right’ answers instead of being rushed into a physical frame. Taking extra time now will pay off in the future much like the 20 + hours of work with Jac lead to his smooth confident look and eventually his beautiful lead departures.

As a side note, Al will be available for adoption through the New Vocations Website in the near future!

 
 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review – Questions about teaching a horse to lie down

Hi Stacy Westfall, regarding Episode 36: Is there any ‘age limit’ or health concerns such as arthritis, that would cause you to refrain from teaching a horse to lay down, regardless of how much it may benefit the horse’ s attitude?

I have barrel horses that can sometimes be pretty hot & was wondering what your thoughts were on getting them to lay down. They seem to be very nervous when I try to do it with them but I’m really just starting trying to get their foot up. Love watching you work with Jac.- Lisa Marie B

I consider both the bow and teaching a horse to lie down to be advanced groundwork. This means that your basic groundwork should be very well established including teaching your horse to: lead, turn on haunches, turn on forehand, back up, trot in hand, lunge easily at all gaits, sack out with ‘scary’ objects, stand quietly while whipping with stick n string, etc. Teaching liberty work, working your horse without a halter or lead, should be in the same category as bowing and the lie down.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

By the time you have taught your horse all of the basic groundwork skills listed (and more) you should know your horses temperament very well. This will tell you a lot about how your horse is going to handle the process of learning to lie down on cue. Naturally quiet and submissive horses tend to be the easiest to train. These are the horses that are fine with you walking into the stall while they are napping.

Horses that are more naturally jumpy and nervous tend to be more difficult, which makes sense as they are often making plans on how to leave if things go bad. These horses can be taught to lie down but they require a very solid foundation in the basic groundwork skills. They should be so solid in the basics; whipping around, being sacked out, loping one circle on the lunge line and then standing like they are bored, that they should look like they are NOT hot or nervous. These horses also benefit from learning at least some of the basic liberty skill, off line in a round pen, as shown in Episode 14.

I think that the idea that laying a horse down will change its attitude is largely a myth. I have seen horses that were forced to lie down with ropes and although some of them do get up with a shocked look, I have not noticed it to be a look that I want in my riding horses. I do think that the longer, slow process of teaching the lay down does have a positive effect as you will invest more time getting there.

Someone asked me once how young a horse could safely be taught to bow (without force) and I asked a vet. His opinion was that young horses are more flexible and, as long as it wasn’t forced, would be excellent candidates. If I were working with an older horse I would only do what they were comfortable with. If your older horse has arthritis bad enough to negatively effect his ability to lie down on his own in the stall or pasture then I would personally choose to skip teaching that horse. Many vets recommend that horses with ‘some’ arthritis stay active. I have some arthritis and it is recommended that I also stay active. The best thing to do is to ask the vet who diagnosed the horse for their opinion regarding training the horse to lie down.

 

Some basic liberty skills shown here:

Tips on teaching the bow:

 
 

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Why not skip the bridle and just start with a halter if you want to ride bridleless in the end? Jac Review Week

“Hi Stacy! In Episode 13 you start Jac in a bridle, I’m curious to why you start in a bridle instead if a rope halter, I remember something about how Jac isn’t your personal horse, so I’m wondering if you were starting a horse with the intent to do tackles riding, would you still start with a bit and bridle or just a rope halter and why? A rope halter makes sense to me because there would be less steps to tackles. What do you think?”-Jessica C

I can see where the idea of ‘less’ would appear to be a quicker transition to completely bridleless. There are several ways to view this question. First I will start with what I have done in the past. All of my bridleless reining horses have been very well trained in bits. As the horses have progressed through the stages of training I have always used the tools that helped make the ‘correct answer’ the easiest for the horse to find. For example, snaffle bits are excellent for teaching a horse to bend side to side and shanked bits tend to encourage breaking at the poll. These statements may sound like my opinions, and they are, but they have been built on observing many horses.

Your question has one huge variable; ‘starting a horse with the intent to do tackles riding.’ This could mean riding around in a round pen, or pasture, or competing in reining…and those more specific end goals change the answer.

My goals have been to show at the highest levels of reining without a bridle. A variety of bits, as referenced above, are part of the training process I use with my reining horses. This is one of the reasons I started Jac with a bit.

Having said that, I am also sure that there are horses that could be trained in a rope halter and reach a safe level of general riding…possibly even tackless. I just haven’t tried this route because I have always started with reining in mind and general riding naturally came with it.

I believe that bits can be comfortable for horses as well as an asset to many training programs. You may also be interested in reading these other blogs I have written on using bits.

What bit should I use with my horse? Why don’t you always use a snaffle bit? Doesn’t a bit hurt a horse?

Teaching a horse to accept contact with the bit, teaching collection and headset; Jac Review week

Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review – Teaching a horse to accept the bit

 

In this episode I show all of the things a horse must know before I switch to a bit with a shank.

 

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