Wanna Ride The Trail With Us?

July 24, 2014

Polly on the Trail We ride every weekend, it goes with the job. Often we ride here at the ranch or the surrounding area. Sometimes it’s nice to break the monotony and find some place new or revisit a trail we’ve ridden in the past. Many of our rides away from the ranch are made at the last-minute. We load the trailer and go. Because these spur of the moment decisions are usually made with little advance notice or warning, folks don’t get invited.

The rest of the week all we hear is, “Man, I wish I’d known you were going there. I wanted to go!” We especially hear it when Shawn rides.

People like to ride with him because they learn a lot. With years of training horses professionally and a lifetime of riding horses, he has the answers. More important, he honestly shares what he knows. But, you have to be ready for complete honesty. If you want to be told you’re a great horseman, then you have to be one. Otherwise, the advice and comments are straight-forward and intended to make you a better rider. Most people appreciate the tips and readily accept the benefits of his experience.

In any event, we decided to pick a date to ride and give everyone some notice. If you want to come ride with us, you are welcome. It’s not a trail riding club. There’s no fees or charges. No rule books or releases to sign. We are just going to tell you where we plan to ride and the date. If you ride with us, there’s only one rule. You ride with respect; respect for the horse and the other riders.

This ride is not an organized trail ride, but the opportunity for all of us to ride together and enjoy some pretty country from horse back. If you want to come, put September 20, 2014 on your calendar for the Will Rogers Centennial trail at Oologah Lake in Oklahoma. We intend to leave the main trail head at 9am. This time we’re telling everyone well in advance the place, the date, and the time. If you want to ride,  we’ll see you there!!

Rider Confidence: The Chicken or The Egg?

June 28, 2014

PollyWe see a lot of riders who lack confidence in their horse. You can see it on their face, in their posture, and often hear it in their voice. It doesn’t take long for the story to unfold about how the horse bucked them off or reared up or did something that really scared them. Sure they are back in the saddle, but with considerable apprehension or even downright fear.

If they had more confidence, it’s likely the horse they are riding would probably settle down to an extent. As a general rule, the more confident the rider, the less trouble with the horse. But, confidence is built on trust and without faith in the horse to react properly, the trust level drops. It’s a vicious cycle. The more confidence and leadership the rider demonstrates, the more the horse will accept the rider as the one who is in charge. The more the horse will relax and the better the experience will be. The more times the horse has bucked, reared, or thrown a fit, the less confident the rider feels.

So how do you build the trust in your horse so you can ride confidently? Good question, not always a simple answer.  If you are asking the question, the chances are you can’t. If you could overcome the lack of confidence in your horse by riding more, you probably would have already done it. Sometimes the best solution is to start over again with a new horse, but one suited for you and your level of riding. The confidence grows quickly on a horse that has been trained and that you are able to handle. As it grows, your riding pleasure will expand exponentially.

Every case is different, but you must be very honest with yourself. Are you ever really going to trust the horse? Will there always be just a little bit of doubt? If so, we suggest making a change to a horse worthy of your faith and one you can trust.



The “Magic Halter”

June 20, 2014

Once in a while, we give a talk or presentation about horses and horse training. One of our consistent goals is to educate people about horses. The “magic halter” is sometimes part of the discussion. We sometimes bring a “magic halter” with us to demonstrate the magic power contained in the woven strands. The benefit of a “magic halter” is you can use it when you have a horse that won’t lead,  won’t load in the trailer, sets back, and a host of other vices and instantly fix the problem. These halters retail for $79.95, pricey for a halter. But, it’s the magic you pay for.

Of course we are always happy to sell one of these grand devices. We want to help people fix their horse problems. Here’s the way it works, a “magic halter” is placed on the problem horse by one of our expert horse trainers and within 5 – 10 minutes the problem horse is leading, loading in the trailer, and “magically cured”. At least cured until the owner takes hold of the end of the rope. Those doggone batteries in a “magic halter” don’t last as long as they used to. Maybe we should sell some extra batteries to go with the “magic halters”?

Horse Trainer For Sure!

May 26, 2014

We have been doing quite a few day rides for the past several weeks. In fact, we have been to several that haven’t even been mentioned on the blog. This comment is made so we don’t embarrass anyone. It’s been interesting and some of the people you meet have some fascinating stories.

On one ride, we met a horse trainer that will be kept anonymous. We will just call this person “Trainer”. So Trainer arrives at the ride with a horse under training. As we ride along, conversation begins and we learn the horse has about a year of training, but it has been a while back. The ride is being used as a refresher. Trainer likes to start colts and says to have done 8 – 10 colts over the years.The first creek we reach is about a foot deep and maybe 6 feet across. It has a little mud, but basically solid footing. As we ride up, probably 50 horses have already crossed.

Trainer’s horse won’t cross water, won’t step into the water, and doesn’t respond well to the situation. We observe Trainer climb off the horse and proceed to lead the horse across the creek. Unfortunately we see similar episodes played out all the time. Everyone has their own way of training and their own tools to do so. But watching a self-described “trainer” lead a horse across a tiny water crossing isn’t our picture of training. Yet, we see the scenario over and over where a “trainer” has a horse they can’t handle.

Honesty is a virtue. Just because you have ridden a few colts, doesn’t make you a horse trainer any more than welding a few pipes makes you a welder. Horse training means you teach the horse to do a job. It isn’t about working around solutions like leading a horse thru the creek. We may not have much of a training operation, but at least our boots are dry. Have a good one!

Good Horse Gone Bad

April 25, 2014


Ever wonder why the nice, sweet, gentle, well-trained horse you bought, is all of a sudden acting badly?

You are not alone. Years ago horses had a purpose, we rode them for transportation, and they worked daily and hard. Some also plowed the fields and gave the little ones a thrill on their back. They were bred to do a job, they were not fancy horses, and they were hardy, even-tempered and willing. They were great horses, because they were bred well and they were worked daily.

Nowadays, we do not ride for transportation; we ride for a competitive sport with the horse, or just for fun, with really no purpose at all. We breed for sport but many breed just because their horse is not a good riding horse.

So what horses used to be and what they are today is completely different. We have bred them to have more energy but do not give them things to do with it. We have also bred them poorly to have bad unwilling and ill temperaments and we do not give them structure or rules to improve their attitude.

Each horse needs a purpose and it should not be to take up space, eat and look pretty.

In nature horses can walk up to 30 miles looking for food and water. Nowadays, they just stand there and it is given to them. No wonder they are acting up, they are kept in a box or in a paddock with nothing to do all day long. You feel bad because they are locked up, so you feed them more, which gives them more energy but you do not give them anything to do with it.

So they come up with their own jobs, such as scare my owner, guard my stall, kick at my neighbor, break the halter, break the tie up post, run from the trailer, there are so many jobs they have given themselves, I can’t even name them all.

When your horse was trained, he had a job. He was probably worked in a round pen or turned out daily, or possibly both, he was groomed and tied up until the rider was ready and then worked with a purpose. This could have been a ranch horse where the rider worked cows, fixed fences, rode the perimeter of the land. It could have been worked in an arena on being soft in the bridle, backing, doing rollbacks, canter departures. Each rider gave the horse a job. Even a trail trainer would have picked certain trails with challenges and given the horse jobs as they rode the trail. Maybe go over a log, up and down steep hills, over rocks or logs, circle around a tree and then tied up at lunch and ridden some more.

So now your gentle horse is bucking, bolting, rearing, striking out, pinning its ears, not letting you catch him, biting at the girth. Can you hear what he is saying? GIVE ME A JOB! He is acting up, because he has to do something to get your attention, and walking around the barn or down a flat trail once a week is just not doing anything for him.

I train many horses, and all the bad horses turn good. They are given rules; jobs and they are not rewarded when they are bad. Rides always end on a good note. I round pen them to get rid of extra energy and get them thinking. I ride them with a plan, I pick trails depending on their energy level, if they are spunky I pick the steepest ones I can find, if they are not energetic I pick an easier trail. I ride over logs, move cows, follow squirrels, follow bikers, separate from the other riders, stop and back, even go off trail and ride over rocks, in creeks, whatever I can find. In the arena, I have a plan of what the horse needs to work on. Once the horse is good at his job, I vary what I work on or do it a little differently. The smart horses need challenges, the athletic horses need challenges. If you don’t give them any, this horse will out think you and possible dump you on the ground.

The lazy quiet horse also needs challenges. These horses get stubborn and may refuse to go away from the barn and get quick coming home. They may also turn their back on you or kick out.

The best advice I have is, learn what kind of horse you bought. What was the previous owner doing that made the horse so good? Ask them. If you know his breeding, what was he bred to do? Is he smart? If you know you bought a cutting or reining horse, research what their job was. A horse that previously was quiet but the owner use to canter 30 minutes a day, may not do well with your once a week workout. Too many horses go bad because the owners do not want to put in the work. Your bad horse can be good again, but the real question is, can you change?

Gaye DeRusso -The Majestic Rider is a professional horse trainer in California and guest writer. Ms. DeRusso is an accomplished rider and trainer that spends her time training gaited horses. For more information about her, check out her webpage:www.majesticrider.com

Don’t Overlook the Benefits of a Good Spring Soak

April 8, 2014


For years before we opened the training program at the ranch, we used the advantages of a few good Spring Soaks. If you haven’t ridden your horse in the last few months, give some thought to the technique. It’s simple and effective. Catch your horse, saddle and bridle him, then tie him up to stand for a few hours. As he stands, maybe even impatiently for a bit, he starts to “soak”, i.e. to think about his job and accept the idea that it’s time to go back to work again.

Think back to your school days when you had the Summer off. By the end, your mind really wasn’t interested in studying or spending time in a classroom. The first week at many schools started on Wednesday or Thursday to give you the opportunity to get used to the idea again. A “soak” is the same principle. It puts the horse under your control, but without risk while he accepts the idea that Winter is over and it’s time to go back to work.

Most folks work full-time at their job and have a difficult time imagining being off work for a couple of months unless it was due to an injury or a layoff. But, try to envision a situation where your company shut down for two months and you were so valuable that to make sure you were there when it reopened that it paid you for the months you were off. A full paycheck with no responsibilities for several months is exactly what your horse just received. He’s just a little lazy from it and not 100% ready to give up his freedom and doing things his own way. He would just as soon keep getting the paycheck because he’s so valuable to you, but without having to show up for work.

If you haven’t tried a “soak”, you might find it really beneficial before you climb aboard for the first ride of the Spring.

Why Does A Well-Trained Horse Cost So Much?

March 11, 2014

The horse business is just like any other, you tend to get what you pay for. A properly trained, broke horse costs more than one that isn’t ready. Gaye DeRusso, a horse trainer in Walnut Creek, California has a wonderful article about the finer points of looking for a horse and why some horses are worth more than others. With many years of experience, she makes a number of points a person or family new to horses should consider before purchasing. We liked the article well enough to link to it. If you are looking for a good horse, give some thought and consideration to her advice.

Kids Make A Great Test

February 5, 2014

As we keep saying, there are lots of “experts” out there when it comes to horse training.  If you aren’t a horse trainer, it can be a little hard to distinguish a real expert from a vocal, big talking amateur. If you aren’t familiar with horses, then how can you know?

Here’s a really simple, easy way to see whether a “horse trainer” knows their stuff. Take a good look at their children. Kids don’t lie. Well-behaved kids are the product of love, respect, and discipline. Not present-day society’s gooey love, but genuine concern over the welfare of a child by a parent who demands respect and obedience.

Does the expert have the kind of children that none of us care to be around? You know the ones! If so, we’ll bet all the big talk is just hot air. We have never seen a reputable horseman whose children (and dogs) didn’t mind. A genuine horseman understands respect is essential and demands it. This shouldn’t suggest they are mean-spirited, but they also don’t put up with nonsense. You may not be able to accurately evaluate and judge horses, but all of us recognize poorly behaving children.

You don’t have to know anything about horses to distinguish a real life, honest to goodness horse trainer from a “blow hard”!

Think You’re A Horse Trainer; Take This Simple Test

January 6, 2014

Good teachers can connect with their students and grasp the struggles the students face in learning. Good horse trainers do the same thing and understand the problems horses encounter during the training process. Without the capacity to see issues from the view point of the student or the horse, the training is not effective.

Take a bridle and bit for instance, do you really recognize how it works and the confusing messages that can be sent to a horse. Judging from the blog posts we see and the comments we hear, not many people appreciate the torture a horse endures at the hands of an inexperienced “trainer”. Bits inflict pressure and/or pain depending on the type and the manner used. If you don’t know how to properly use them, when to use them, and the type to use, you have no business trying to train a horse with them.

Try this simple test and see if it helps you better understand bits from a horse’s perspective. Using a small, light weight chain, put it around both of the wrists of your spouse leaving about 14 inches between the wrists so the arms can move. You can tie the loops with a small piece of wire so it won’t fall off either wrist. Make sure you have about six feet remaining connected to the chain you just attached to the wrists. Use only the end of the chain to request what you want. Stop all verbal communications. Just like the horse, pretend you don’t understand English. For the next four hours, any action the trainer “you” wants to do; get a drink, perform a household chore such as loading the dishwasher, mowing the yard, or whatever can only be done with your spouse performing the task. The only means of communication to explain what you want is the chain. No speech, no facial expressions, and no gestures. All you the “trainer” can do is pull, twist, jerk, or move the chain. The only thing 99% of you will be able to accomplish is a divorce! And this is with the person who knows you better than anyone and understands your needs.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the “dumb” horse who has no clue what his “trainer” wants to accomplish as he sets there yanking on the reins. The bit in the horse’s mouth doesn’t feel any more comfortable than the small, lightweight chain around the wrists. The horse has to learn what the trainer wants from a few words in a language the horse doesn’t speak, the bit in the mouth, and leg pressure applied at various times as body weight is shifted. And people expect in 60 -90 days, a horse should be fully trained and ready to go.

If you can’t think like and understand a horse, you really have no business trying to train one. Despite the desire to say you “train” horses, the truth is you only confuse them. We recognize anyone “can train horses”. It doesn’t require a license or formal education. Any wanna be horse trainer can learn it on the job, reading books, and watching videos. Better yet, they can attend a weekend long clinic hosted by a horse whisper or famous clinician. Do the poor horse a favor when you get back from the clinic, see if you can pass the test with your spouse before you go to work on the horse.

Funny, our society won’t even let people trim the ends of your hair without passing a test. But, no worries, if you can’t pass the test, you can always yank on the bit and call yourself a horse trainer. This post probably sounds a bit rude and impolite. We don’t mean to sound unfriendly, but we would like folks to see things from a different perspective, that of the horse.

One more thing, before you take our test, make sure you have the name of a good divorce lawyer. The horse may have to put up with you, but your spouse doesn’t.

Trail Riding Aids in Western Dressage Training

December 30, 2013

Dressage comes from the French word, “to train or drill”. Originally dressage was training for war horses. They were taught to execute manuevers to maim the enemy and protect the rider. Today dressage is no longer about training for military actions. It is however a highly competitive discipline of horseback riding in which large numbers engage.

Western dressage is the blend of “dressage” techniques using western tack and with a less rigid rein action. The horse is requested to perform many of the same dressage movements that our trail horses receive as part of their routine trail training. As an example, our horses are taught to open and close gates. The horse is side-passed to the gate and once unlatched, asked to step sideways pushing the gate until open or closed.

Climbing over rocks and fallen trees involves dressage as the horse is asked to place his feet in particular positions as part of the everyday training given. Learning foot positioning gives discipline to the horse that translates into rider control and ultimately a safer horse. By using ranch and trail obstacles for the training, the horse learns quicker and starts to understand a purpose for the training rather than rote drills. Giving the horse a job to do while training brings purpose to learning.

Rainee McGeehan makes the point on how much better a trail horse performs that has dressage training. See Western Dressage Association post. I suppose we see it just the opposite, i.e., how much better a western dressage horse performs that has been given a lot of trail training. If you enjoy dressage, mix in some trail training to make your horse better in the ring!

How Do You Teach A Horse Pick Up His Feet?

December 15, 2013

Confidence Building ClinicIf you were this rider and your horse knocked over some of the poles in the pin wheel obstacle challenge, would you know how to correct your horse? One of the interesting dynamics of a trail obstacle challenge is the difficulty you can encounter with something seemingly easy. On the trail, if your horse hits his feet against a log, it probably doesn’t fall down. He has to go ahead and pick all four feet high enough to clear the top of the log. In a trail challenge with a pin wheel, if he doesn’t pick up any one of his feet, the poles get knocked down.

The ladies at the Bad Girls confidence building clinic last month discovered some of their horses didn’t mind knocking over the poles. In fact, a couple of them seemed to enjoy watching the poles hit the ground. One rider’s horse managed to down every pole,  save one, during a single revolution.

The ladies were quick learners and with just a little coaching learned how to ask their horse to lift his feet and step over the poles instead of knocking them to the ground. We did have just a little fun initially suggesting all they needed to do was tell the horse, “Hey, pick up your feet”! The Bad Girls took it good-naturedly and all had a good laugh while they learned.

The Old Cowboys Were Great Teachers

November 9, 2013

We were fortunate to have grown up around some of the old cowboys. They were great teachers and possessed a wealth of knowledge about horses, livestock, and ranching. Cowboys passed their knowledge to the next generation and to their horses by word, action, and letting the student try, fail, and learn from the attempt. They were slow to tell someone else how to do something, but willing to say, “Are you sure about that?” if they thought you were about to make a serious mistake that would get someone hurt or injure the livestock. Watchful for danger, but careful not to micro-manage.

Horses and young cowboys were allowed to make lots of mistakes and then given soft comments and instructions about alternative ways to do it better next time. Sometimes no comment was needed, the horse or cowboy protegé learned from his own mistake. Often, after observing failure, the cowboy simply went to work without saying a word right beside the less-experienced and just did the job. Without saying a word, he demonstrated how to properly do the job so the next time the student would have the skills to do it right.

The wisdom to know when to speak up to prevent a “wreck” and when to let the horse or “newby” as we would say, learn from his own doing provided the perfect learning environment. The concept came to mind a week or so back. We were riding and one of the young horses stumbled by stepping in a small hole. With a laugh and a smile, the horse was told, “better pay attention, it’s your job to watch the trail when we ride”.  Some will say the horse didn’t understand the comment. I think he did. Not necessarily the words, but the body language that politely said, I am sitting here balanced and relaxed. It’s your job to keep your feet underneath you so I can ride.

Cowboys were truly spectacular teachers with horses and people. Knowing when to talk, react, or just watch marks the difference between a pro and an amateur. The pro sees what is coming before it happens and has been there before. It doesn’t worry him because he will take action before he let’s a “wreck” happen. The inexperienced inappropriately react to the situation or try to cover their lack of understanding with a lot of words. Sure wish some of those old cowboys were still around!

If you don’t know much about horses and find someone always trying to convince you they know a lot, observe what they do. Watch to see if their horse acts the way you would like your horse to act. Just like the old cowboys, a knowledgable horseman doesn’t have to tell you how to do it, he can show you.