Friday, December 21, 2012

Through the eyes of a trainer (why we need horse trainers)

In this modern age the average horse person has access to a wealth of information.  From magazines to books to online videos and dvds you can learn just about anything.  This near limitless amount of information has gone a long way in helping everyday horse owners improve their skills and general horsemanship, but there are still some things that cannot be learned without the guidance of a skilled trainer.

I like to say that horse training is both an art and an science because unlike baking a cake you cannot just follow the directions and measurements on the package and have everything turn out perfect.  Training a horse requires timing and for lack of a better word feel both of which involve constantly changing variables.

When I start a horse (I hate using the word "break") I follow a basic formula, meaning that I know what I need to do at each stage to achieve the next.  I know where my horse needs to be with one skill/behavior in order to successfully move on to another.  This is the type of information found in every magazine article, book, and dvd.  These media sources tell you the steps you need achieve your results but they only share the big picture.  

Beyond the basic formula my training takes on art like form where I am constantly using feel and personal intuition in addition to timing to achieve the results I desire.  I know that every single horse I ride requires a slightly different approach.  With feel and intuition I am able to determine how much each horse needs to give and do on any given day to be successful.  Where Horse A may be mentally able to learn how to yield his hindquarter and his forequarter in one day, Horse B may only be ready to yield his hindquarter a single step.  This doesn't mean that Horse B will never achieve the level of Horse A it just means that a single step was all that Horse B could handle that day.  Tomorrow Horse B having been given time to think may surpass Horse A on the next lesson.  I train by reading how my horse feels and by learning how he thinks.  Using my sense of timing I release and reward according to the individual and how he is performing each maneuver on any given day.

The problem with intuition, feel, and timing is that their only constant is that they are constantly changing.  You may start at one level of timing at the beginning of the ride and finish in a completely different place.  You have to know when you need to go back to zero and when you are ready to zoom up to sixty and this can fluctuate back and forth in a matter of minutes and at times even seconds.

Only through experience, trail and error, and guidance by someone skilled in the art of training are you able to develop a true sense of feel.  While it is theoretically possible to achieve these skills without outside help working with someone is the fastest and most painless way to achieve your training goals.  Remember that every great professional rider has or has had a great mentor.  Greatness is rarely achieved alone.       

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Food for thought- Sometimes I just can't shut up

Today I happened upon the Mugwump Chronicles and her post "Sometimes I just can't shut up" and I really enjoyed what she had say.

Over the past 6 years training I have to admit that I have personally come to many of the same conclusions.

As long as a person is; trying, doing the best they know how by their horse, and is willing to learn they are always welcome here and in my real life. 

When I started training I made the commitment to teach and treat others as I want to be treated and spoken to and this philosophy has given me the chance to make a real difference in the lives of numerous horses and their owners.  I train/teach because I enjoy helping people grow, but I also realize that everyone grows at their own pace.

I realize that because someone does not do it exactly as I do it that it does not always make them wrong.  Sure, their horse life might be better if they did a few things more like me, but maybe my horse life would be better if I did things more like them. I might mention a great article on hoof care, saddle fit, or feeding; and if things are getting out of hand I will nicely confront someone.  But at the end of the day if a horse is not being staved, beaten, or abused and is instead truly loved we have enough in common to work together and be friends.        

True horsemanship is not about calling names or pointing fingers; it's about sharing, caring, and being nice to one another.

Sometimes we forget that we all had to start somewhere.

Sometimes we forget that we are ALL in it for the love of horses.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cold weather gear under $40

As an avid trail rider I have spent more than a few days out in absolutely miserable winter weather.  And over the years I have learned that having the right gear can make a world of difference at the end of a 8 hour misting and sleeting day.

Products I love:

Cuddl Duds:

I have worn them for years.  These legging play a huge part in my being able to enjoy hours outside on the colder days.  You can find them at most large clothing stores such as Jcpenney's and various online retailers.

Women's Fleece Earband by Duluth Trading Co:

Now I haven't personally used this yet but can't you just see it fitting under helmets and western hats.  The product reviews are all glowing and with the genius ponytail slot this product looks like it was made for horse people.  
$12.50- $14.50

Men's Shoreman's Ball Cap Ear Warmer:

Made with the same material as the Women's Fleece Earband, this version allows you to wear a ball cap with comfort and ease.  

Women's Duluth Winterproof Gloves:

Now I again have yet to own these gloves but after last year's sleeting episode while out on the trail they are on my must have list before I go on another week long ride. The reviews are once again stellar, and they look like they would be well suited for riding and general barn work.  If anyone is wondering what I would like for Christmas, size large please.

Cabela's Three-Season Jacket:

I love this jacket! I have two that are both a few years old and I would love another in a different color.  It is windproof, fairly waterproof, and it perfect weight for most cold weather in Texas.  In addition to the fabulous colors it is also cut to flatter your figure.  Best of all if you watch the sales you can get one for $20.  Cheap enough that you can have one for barn work and feeding and one for anything else. It is a well made jacket that will last for years to come.   

Women's Fleece Shoreline Gaiter:

Yet another thing I would love to have.  I love scarves but when riding and working they always seem to get in the way.  This thing provides the protection I need without slipping out of place.  Needless to say this gaiter is now on my need before a long winter trail ride list.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Riding tips, tricks, and words of wisdom

Many of you may have hear these from myself or other people, but here is a list of tips and tricks off the top of my head.

Tips for under saddle:

1.  If you are having a hard time picking up a lead try asking in a smaller circle.  The smaller the circle (small not tiny) the easier it is on your horse to lope/canter in the correct lead.

2.  If you are having trouble picking up a counter-canter work in a bigger circle and slowly scale down the size as your horse gets comfortable.

3.  Large wide circles encourage your horse to speed up (think reining) while smaller circles encourage your horse to slow down.  This works at both a trot and lope.  

4.  The more you move the faster your horse will move, think posting verses sitting a trot.

5.  Your horse's mind is where ever his nose is.  If he is hanging his nose to the outside of your circle he is not focused with or on you.

6.  If you can see your horse's inside eye/eyelashes or the buckle of your bridle your horse's shoulders are upright or close to it when working in a circle.

7.  When trying to lift your horse's shoulders you must first lift your hand before moving it over.  If you just move your hand over you will only tilt your horses head instead of lifting the shoulder.

8.  When your horse warping your circles to the outside.  Brace with your outside leg (leg facing to the outside of the circle) and direct with your inside rein.

9.  When your horse is cutting off your circles to the inside brace with your inside leg (leg facing to the inside of the circle you are riding) and lift your inside rein up and over to lift the shoulder and widen your circle.

10.  It is much easier long term to correct a bad behavior the moment it happens (yes this applies to a horse who normally doesn't do that) than to allow it to get out of hand.  Even the most well trained horse will try and push their boundaries at some time or the other.

11.  If they do it once they will do it again.  This applies to warping circles, dropping shoulders, walking off while mounting, and everything in between.  It is your job as the rider to recognize patterns in your horses behavior and work to fix them.

12.  All of a sudden does not exist in the horse world.  Your horse told you he was upset (high head, braced neck, distracted, tense) and you did not listen.  99% of all spooks can be avoided by paying attention to your horse.

13.  When in doubt move his feet.  It very hard to spook, buck, and or rear when all four feet are already moving.

14.  It is not the pressure that teaches but the release of pressure.

15.  When the going gets tough break everything down into tiny little steps and reward any progress in the right direction.

16.  If you want your horse to always do something you must always be willing to make them do it.

17.  Always make the right behaviors easy and the wrong behaviors hard.

18.  When you teach your horse to move forward without constant kicking, kissing, and general encouragement you are then able to use your legs to cue other maneuvers, you will also be a lot less tired after riding.

19.  If you want your horse to learn to do something for themselves (moving forward, traveling with up right shoulders, etc) you must be willing to let go.  You must be willing to let them try and mess up over and over again.

20.  Riding a horse is a lot like driving a car.  You are very likely to crash and burn when you take your hands off the wheel and stop paying attention.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

If your horse's great grandfather could trailer in this....

Thought of the day.

If your horse's great grandfather could ride in this.

(dated 1926)

Your horse has no reason for not riding in this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Definition of Quit- Cute Cowboy and Cow Horse Video Edition

It is no big secret that I am a big fan of the working remuda horses and general lifestyle.  When I dream of heaven I picture big beautiful countryside and spending the rest of my days with my equine best friends and family chasing cattle and experiencing nature.  So I naturally know of and follow many of the big ranches and the 6666's in Guthrie, Texas has always been one of my favorites. When I saw that they had horses offered in the AQHA World Show Sale I obviously had to take a peek.  Needless to say I was not disappointed.  

Now while the horse and cowboy are cute they are doing much more than looking pretty. 

When the video starts I see a well balanced rider a top a free moving horse traveling on a straight line (plus or minus a cactus or two) on a loose rein.   The horse is responsibly observing his surroundings and traveling at a steady pace.  The horse and rider are working as a team and neither party is getting in the other's way. 

The next scene is my least favorite but we see some arena work and while not perfect the horse is moving steadily (just a little stiff) but still on a decently loose rein.  If I were in charge I would change his bit.  

Then we get to the cattle pushing scene where both horse and rider are again on a loose rein, working together, and focused on their targets.  The horse obviously knows his job and the cowboy is willing to allow him to do it. The cowboy has quit babying the horse and the horse has willingly become quite self sufficient at his task.  

Next we find the roping scene.  We see a horse ready to do his job but willing to wait and listen to his rider.  We see the chute open and the horse bursts out in a quick but controlled fashion.  He then upon his cowboy catching up and roping the steer positions himself to keep tension on the rope.  

And the best part of the whole movie happens 40 to 48 seconds in.  The cowboy drops his roping rope and gives the horse his head.  The horse immediately drops his head and walks off as if nothing ever happened.  

Both horse and rider quit.

Meaning the rider stopping babying, kicking, and cueing.  He put his hand down and rewarded his good horse by not bothering him.  He gave his horse the chance to work without inference and was rewarded with a horse that did so willing.     

They each trust the other to do his part and as a result each is better able to focus on what they need to do to get the job done.   

Which is why this video is a pretty good definition of what it means to quit and what you can achieve when you do.  


Friday, October 19, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 5: Leverage/Curb Bits

Sorry for the delay in the series, life at times tends to get in the way.

Over the years I've found that leverage bits on average have a bad/harsher wrap when it comes to public opinion.  Many people consider it a point of pride to ride in snaffle over a curb.  But what most people do not realize is that comparing a snaffle to a curb is like comparing chicken to pigeons.

To refresh your memory on snaffle bits and mouth pieces please check out-

According to "A Whole Bit Better" by Dale, Ron, and Bob Myler a curb bit consists of shanks "of two or three rings, one at the top of the bit for the headstall/bridle and one or two at the bottom for the reins, attached to a length of metal in between where the mouth piece is attached.  A curb strap or chain is attached to both shanks."

"Shanks can be straight or curved, long or short, or any variation thereof.  The length and shape of the shank determines how much pressure will be communicated to the horse. Shanks are categorized as quick, offering more direct pressure to the horse with light pressure on the reins, and slow, offering a more subtle signal to the horse with pressure on the reins."

Where a snaffle bit exerts pressure on the bars, lips and tongue, a curb bit also applies pressure to the poll, chin helping the horse to break at the poll. Depending on the mouth piece a curb may also put pressure on the tongue and bars.

The shank on a curb bit amplifies the pressure exerted by the rider.  So if a standard curb bit has a 1 1/2" cheek and a 4 1/2" lower shank there is a 1:4 ratio of cheek to full shank.  So when 1 pound of pressure is applied to the reins 4 pounds of pressure will be felt in the mouth.  The slope of the shank also affects the amount of pressure applied.  


The mouth pieces of both snaffles and curbs can be the same and can work off the bars, tongue, and soft pallet.

So if both snaffles and curbs can use the same mouth pieces why have a curb bit in the first place? 

Where a snaffle bit is a direct rein meaning if you want to turn left you pull on the left rein and is generally used with two hands a curb bit is a indirect rein bit that allows the rider to use.  With more leverage a rider is also able to use lighter cues. 

A stronger bit is never a substitute for training, and no one bit is right for every horse.  A curb should be used on horses who already comfortable in the bridle and also work off seat and leg pressure .  A curb bit is best suited for a finished or nearly finished horse which is best defined below.     

"The ultimate goal with riding and training horses is to have a finished or broke horse.  The finished horse will do what you ask, willingly and relaxed.  He'll go wherever you direct him.  He will always try.  He has enough confidence in the rider to trust that he won't be put unto a situation that will hurt him.  To be considered finished, a horse needs to be relaxed in the bridle.  In the bridle means that the horse is broke at the poll with his head set on the vertical.  He's supple and giving to the hands and his head stays in position with little or no contact.  When a horse is broke at the poll you can feel it.  He's got his shoulders up, he's round through his back, engaged through the hind end and balanced underneath you.  It's a wonderful feeling for the rider.  You can gather him up to collect, release and he stays in position.  No matter the level of training, a horse should always be relaxed in the bridle. Always."- A Whole Bit Better by Dale, Ron, and Bob Myler

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reclaiming your horse life

They say horses are like potato chips, you can't have just one. Given their social and accident prone nature it makes since to keep a few good horses. I personally have two and one in the “oven” and I can't imagine my life without them. Since childhood my horse life has been about doing stuff. Trail rides, shows, clinics, parades, and numerous other events, I have horses because I like doing stuff with them. I love the thrill of galloping alone down a long dirt road, and riding in the surf. I love what I experience while riding, and I am not the only one. How many riding dreams have been you lucky enough to experience? How many goals still remain on your “riding bucket list”, and what is holding you back? If your answer is the training level of the horses in your barn you also are not alone. Hundreds of horse owners have several horses who are not trained enough to do anything. These owners dream of trail rides, shows, and other events and yet years go by and they still remain dreams. Friends it is possible to reclaim your horse life but you must be willing to start somewhere.

If you are truly committed to reclaiming your horse life and fulling your dreams you must first be willing to put in the work long term to reach your goals. This means setting aside time on a regular basis to work with your horse. Can you imagine what the school system would be like if we only sent our children to school 1-2 days a month? The horses learning curve works the same way, the more consecutive days (or close to it) you spend training the faster you will progress. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish with a few months of steady riding.

You must be willing to prioritize. This is where it gets hard. If you really want to change your horse life you are going to have to focus on just one horse. I know that they all need work, but it is nearly impossible to bring along several horses equally in a timely manner unless you are doing it for a living. If you decide to spend 6 months but better a whole year with 1 horse out of 4 at the end of the year you will have one horse you can do something with instead of 4 horses a ¼ of the way there. When you have a horse you can reliably ride you can then start to do things with them and build your confidence and skills for your other horses. But most importantly you will be able to start living your dreams horse back and will be on the road to sharing those dreams with each and everyone of your horses.

You must be willing to be scared, repeatedly. Fear is a completely natural part of riding, and after years in the saddle I still still get nervous the moment I do something new with my horses. John Wayne said it best, “Courage is being scared to death- but saddling up anyway.” In my experience with horses the more scary something seems to be the more fun it is when you finally do it.    

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is it you? How riders affect training and progress

In today's modern world it is easy to loose perspective on what it takes to train a horse.  Just pull up youtube, turn on RFD-TV, or open a magazine and you can see 1,000's of awesomely trained horses who we would all love to ride.  Regularly we see Bob Avila and Tom McCutcheon doing perfect reining patterns in the NRHA, and we just finished watching Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro win gold in London.  And who could forget Stacy Westfall and Roxy at the 2006 Congress as seen here.

We hear about and see the results of hard work on a regular basis, and yet we rarely talk about what it takes to actually achieve it.  So today I am going to talk about some rider factors that affect training and the speed progress.

1.  Time spent-  It is a proven fact that the more time you spend working with your horse the faster you will achieve what you want.  So if the professionals ride 6-7 days a week while you only ride twice a week logically you would have to ride 3-4 weeks to achieve the same amount of riding/training that the professional did in one week.  So if Stacy Westfall had Roxy in training for 3 years before their 2006 congress run (, it would have taken her close to 12 years riding twice a week to achieve the same results.
2.  Knowledge/Experience-  The more experienced you are the faster you will be able to realize your riding goals.  When you have little to no hands on training experience teaching a behavior it will logically take you longer to achieve the same results as someone with more experienced.  Considering that Bob Avila has been in the business nearly 40 years and started 1000's of horses it would be illogical for the average rider to expect to be able to achieve the same results in the same timely manner.  This does not mean you will never become experienced and knowledgeable at what you are training; it just means that you should allow extra time when you are not well versed in what you are doing.  On average it can take 2-3 times longer to achieve the same results when you are not experienced in what you are training.  Just remember that everyone had to start somewhere.
3. Timing-  Timing is the key to successful horse training.  With a understanding of timing you can often make up for a lack of experience and or greatly speed a long the process.  When you release/reward your horse learns, and the better you are at rewarding your horse the moment he does the right thing the faster you can train.  Unfortunately timing is not something that can be learned from a book but it is a skill that must be learned through trial and error and perfected over time.

At the end of the day you can have a ride like Stacy Westfall but you must be willing to work for it.  The average rider must realize that it is possible to achieve your goals but that the road to completion may be longer than expected given your own personal circumstances.  Besides isn't life is about the journey and not the destination anyway.       

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I love clinics and why you should too

  Since the age of 7 I have in ridden and attended clinics.  Growing up we as a family spent our vacations hot, dusty, and horseback.  In our little white Bruton Easy Pull we logged hundreds of miles attending Aggie 4-h clinics, and riding with wonderful horsemen like Brian Summerall, and Bob Allen just to name a few.  My Dad would take care of us and the horses and my Mom always rode in the clinic with us.  I was picked up from school in a loaded horse trailer more than once.  Growing up clinics were almost magical, not only did we get to stall our horses and ride in a arena (super special when you do not have them) but we also had the chance to learn something new from someone besides Mom.  Years later as a adult I still love a clinic and here are some reasons why.

1. You get to ride in a group.-  Many of us ride alone or with just a few friends and family.  Attending a clinic allows you a largely unknown group horses to ride and interact with.  Because it is a training/learning environment it is a great place to socialize a horse.  

2. You have to haul.-  Attending a clinic forces you to confront your loading fears and problems.  Every horse and owner should be comfortable loading and hauling and most of us rarely have the chance to practice.  Going to a clinic is a great way to get you both out and about in a understanding training friendly environment.  At our clinics we always help when some is needed. 

3.  You can't beat a little distraction.-  Between the new surroundings and new horses there are a lot of distractions possible for your horse at a clinic that you can not get riding at home.  Attending clinics is one of the best ways to teach your horse to perform reliably in stressful and distracting situations.  Again being a learning environment you are able to do what your horse needs without issue.  

4.  Another Perspective.-  Many of us spend so much time working alone that we do not notice small changes in our horsemanship and riding.  A clinic allows for a fresh perspective on your riding and horsemanship from the clinician, and a chance to evaluate for yourself where you stand among your fellow riding peers.

5.  You can't beat the time horseback.-  Most riders average 20-90 minutes on a normal ride.  At a clinic you often spend 7-8 hours each day with your horse (not all of it actively riding).  Just as you really do not know someone until you have traveled with them, you really do not know your horse until you spend two 8 hour days with him.

6.  Practice makes perfect.-  I have probably attended at least 12 Aggie clinics in my lifetime, and while each clinic was taught by different students they all presented the same exact information year after year.  Why attend so many of the same clinic you are probably wondering?  Because each time I had the chance to re-enforce what I learned before and pick up/remember something new.  Because each time I got better, and each time my horse got better.  Eventually I had a different horses who each time got better.  Our horses have participated in on average 8 clinics each year for the last 4 years, not to mention those by others, and yet each time we find something new or something else to work on.  

7.  The bang for your buck.- Between the long hours, personalized and general instruction, the unique training opportunities, and one of a kind atmosphere you would be hard pressed to find more value for your time and money. 



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dressage gets The Colbert Bump

A wonderful thing happened recently in the horse world.  Thanks to The Colbert Report and Stephen Colbert with the help of Michael Barisone millions of people have been introduced to the sport of dressage and the world of horses.

Be prepared to laugh, I know I sure did; and be sure to share it with all your horsey and non friends. 

                                   Image from The Chronicle of the Horse

Stephen's Dressage Training Pt. 1
Stephen's Dressage Training Pt. 2 

And for a behind the scenes look check out this from The Chronicle of the Horse. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Modern times, modern training problems

"It's my money and I need it now!"

Many of us have heard this annoying advertisement and yet many of us use the same philosophy in our horse life.

 "It's my horse and I need him to ___________ now!"

How did we get here?  When did we trade horsemanship for showmanship?

It happened when we put horsemanship on a deadline.  We need our horse to do ___________ because we have a show, trail ride, etc.  We have a date on the calendar which we can not ignore.

Now deadlines are not absolutely evil.  They can prompt us to ride, train, and can offer a gauge to our progress.  But they more often lead to short cuts in training which may pay off in the short term, but will eventually create major issues in the long run.  

I had a child horsehood without deadlines, yes I still had major horse events but I was taught as a small child that a horse will always show you what he needs, and that if he is not doing it he is not ready for it.  Knowing this I rode until things got better, I rode until things clicked and my horse was ready, and then I rode even more.

I was taught that good horses are born but great horses are made and that every great horse had someone in their life willing to ride through it all to find the wonderful horse inside.

As I've gotten older I have realized that what I learned as a kid is the right way.  There is no magic trick to fix your problems except to go back to the basics.  It takes me 4-5 years to "finish" (for lack of a better term, because you can always improve, horses are never finished in my book) a horse. How long does it take you?

Just ride, things will get better. Eventually everything will come together.  I promise.    

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Death of the Join-Up?

Yesterday this link to research done by the University of Sidney was floating around online:

Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method

Below you can find my response to their findings and observations:  

The data did prove that you do not need to act like a horse to be successful, but also that pressure and release works (which we already knew).  I would like to (as the article suggested) know what the researchers themselves consider to be humane treatment when initiating contact a 1,000lb prey animal. 

I will admit that the Join Up really does get miss used by the public.  I'm sure many horses think their owners have brain damage because they just keep doing the same thing over and over.  I myself use it only until I can catch the horse, and I don't use it unless I need to teach a horse to be caught.   

What it did prove (according to me) is that robots are as good or better than humans at training horses because they offer no emotion to influence, add to, or confuse the horse.  The talk about being a good leader or herd boss is really all for us humans to better project a cool, calm, and collected image to the horse.  All the talk is just a mind game used to convince owners to loosen up and stop being a doormat.  The horse could careless on how a person presents themselves, they just react to how you do it.  Even after 10 years together if this week I presented myself as a doormat Pie would treat me as such.        

It proved that you just have to speak clearly and consistently in order to "speak horse".  I'm quite certain that if they had continued the experiment using only pressure and release they could taught the horses just about anything.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 4: The truth about snaffle bits

The Snaffle Bit.  

Every horse owner has one or has used one at one point in time, and it is widely (and blindly) accepted as the softest and most humane bit available.

In the book "A Whole Bit Better"  By Dale, Ron, and Bob Myler a snaffle is described as a ring bit, "The rings may be round, oval, or shaped like a "D."  A loose ring allows the mouthpiece to rotate around the ring; a fixed ring does not.  Both the headstall and the reins are attached to the ring.  When pressure is exerted through the reins, the bit pulls with the same amount of pressure backward on the horse's mouth; thus a ring bit is often called a direct action bit."

Simply put true snaffle bits are direct action, non leverage bits. 

Meaning that pound for pound your horse feels the exact amount of force you use.

A snaffle is only a snaffle when the mouthpiece, reins, and bridle are all attached to to the same ring. 

A snaffle bit may have any type of mouthpiece.

All of these bits are snaffle bits because the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins all attach to the same ring. 

 Just because a bit is called a snaffle does not mean that it is humane.

Direct Rein Bits work by contacting the palate, bars, tongue, and lips.

The mouthpiece and the amount of pressure used by the rider determines the severity of a snaffle or direct rein/action bit.

A straight mouthpiece can create a nutcracker effect on the tongue and bars.

While a more curved mouthpiece will not immobilize the tongue.

Which would you put in your own mouth?
                          1                                                                                                      2

3                                                              4

I have used 1, 3, and 4, based on each individual horse's preferences, but never number 2.

In closing a snaffle is a direct rein bit.  

A snaffle is only a snaffle if the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins are attached on the same ring.

The severity of a snaffle bit is determined by it's fit, construction, and amount of tongue relief provided. 

A straight bar mouthpiece like number 2 (disregard the twist, looking only at the straightness of the mouthpiece) is more severe 1, 3, and 4. 

Bit number 3 is more severe than bits 1 and 4 due to the amount of tongue relief available.

A twisted mouthpiece is more severe than a smooth mouthpiece.

A smooth twisted mouthpiece is less severe than a square, or fishback twisted mouthpiece. 

The thinner the mouthpiece the more severe.

Stay tuned for Curb/Leverage Bits coming soon.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Keeping a good horse honest

Yesterday my friend came by to deliver a chicken (long story) and while we were outside talking near the horses Charlie immediately came up and offered to join the conversation while Pie (unlike her normal self) choose to stay back and did not offer to come forward.  Busy enjoying the conversation I put her odd behavior out of mind until walking back from closing the front gate. 

You see Pie is a attention hound, and she loves people.  She will drive you crazy with "moral support" when working outside, and she actually asks to be caught.  Needless to say I found her indifference troubling.

Then I realized that Pie had never seen my friend or her car before and had assumed that I was about to give a riding lesson.  She has to do it time to time and when Charlie was recovering last fall and winter she had to take over his riders all of whom were beginners, and she does not enjoy teaching beginner adult riders.

Pie likes a skilled rider or someone small enough (kid) that they do not bother her with their aids.  She likes a confident rider with a decent seat, someone who understands and uses leg cues, and someone who works with her instead of holding her back.

Charlie on the other hand seems to really enjoy giving beginner lessons.  A former ranch horse in the states of Montana and Wyoming, he appreciates a rider who only wants to walk and trot if that.  In a soft as butter bit and good fitting saddle he doesn't mind gripped knees, and heavy hands.  He loves the attention though, he soaks it up like a sponge.   

So what does any of this have to do with keeping a good horse honest?

A good horse must enjoy their job to stay honest. 

Any horse repeatedly put into situations they do not like will start to act out.  Pie put into a busy beginner lesson program would probably turn into a very bad horse very quickly. 

Now does this mean that because Pie hates beginner lessons she will never have to give one again? 

No, If I need her to she can and will give a great beginner lesson. But knowing that she hates it and in the interest of keeping her happy and honest long term I will not ask her to give one unless absolutely necessary.  I would much rather have a happy horse ridden by a few than a super pissed horse ridden by many. 

Long story short, in order for a horse to remain good and honest they must like the work that they do.  A unhappy horse will act out and possibly become dangerous over time.  Negative changes in behavior, personality, and habits when trying new sports/situations may mean that your horse does not like what you are doing.  While this does not mean that a horse should be exempt from anything they do not like.  A horse will never excel when forced and unhappy.

Happy Horse = Good and Honest Horse   




Friday, July 13, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 3- Resistance- The root of all bits

 Resistance- the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.

A few common examples of resistance in horses:   

Getting behind the bit
Running through the bit
Dropping the shoulder
High or tossing head
Gaping or busy mouth
Unyielding neck
Tipping the nose to the outside
Pushing out against the reins 

Resistance is direct result of:
Lack of Training

Now you must be asking yourself why I'm talking about resistance in the middle of a biting discussion, because we as riders often use bits to fix resistance, and that the more resistant a horse is the harsher is bit that should be used. 

(yes that is a bike chain bit, these are from our evil bit collection)

Bits can create resistance through poor fit, pain (from the bit or from needing dental work), fear,and lack of training.

Good bits can wear out and cause resistance.

Damaged medium twist copper half cheek snaffle

Pain, poor fit, and lack of training create resistance undersaddle, and a harsher bit should only be used after all other aspects have been explored. 

A bit is never a subsutite for training.

Stay tuned for snaffle bits!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Now instead of dogs imagine horses

I really could not have said it any better myself.  This is very much worth the read and is absolutely true of every equine relationship.  Who are you? Andy or Barney?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 2- Anatomy

What about bits? 

This is something that has always bothered me.  We worry about, discuss, and research; feeding, saddle fit, and hoof care and yet we are more than happy to shove any random piece of metal in our horse's mouth and ride around. 

Why are we willing to take someone else's word and recommendation without any understanding of what we are actually putting in our horses mouths?   It's time we start talking about bits, and the discussion starts right now.  

Egg Butt Snaffle- immobilizing tougue, clamping nutcracker effect on bars, mouth open in resistance 

Loose ring snaffle- pushing through soft pallet, nutcracker effect on bars

I did not just wake up one day and decide that I wanted to know everything possible about bits.  My father's lovely mare was the true inspiration and the beginning of my journey because no matter what bit you put her in mouth she would fuss/fiddle with it constantly. Which after trying every bit we in the barn lead my Mom and I to start looking for a solution, and what we found was a wealth of information and as a result some very happy horses. 

In order to begin to understand bits we must first understand a little basic anatomy. 

Artwork by Cathy Sullins
8yr old mare paint mare

It looks like you have plenty of room for any size bit until you get to the real life photo.  When taking this photo we were astonished at how much room the tougue actually takes up.

While all horses have the same structures (plus or minus wolf teeth) no two mouths are alike, and individual characterists can play huge role in finding the correct bit.  
Would both these horses do equally well in the same bit?

Probably not, the one on the right will require much more tougue relief than the horse on the left.

Factors to consider when choosing a bit-
1. Head shape- Generally the courser a horse's head and muzzle the meater the mouth and tougue, which calls for more tougue relief.
2. Age- A horse's mouth changes constantly throughout it's life. So the bit that works perfectly at age 5 may hurt by age 15.  Check out for a great general write up on equine dentition.
3. Past History- Some horses may have permanent damage from previous bits causing them to not respond to certain types of pressure. 
4. General Dental Health- Young horses may be cutting teeth causing them to react negatively to certain bits at certian times or older horses may have loose or missing teeth.  

Is your young horse being naughty, maybe it's his teeth.
Common ages for tooth eruption.
Type of toothNumberDeciduousPermanent
IncisorFirst (central)birth to 8 days2.5 yrs
IncisorSecond (intermediate)4.5–6 weeks3.5–4 yrs
IncisorThird (corner)6–9 months4.5–5 yrs
CanineAbsent3.5–5 yrs, some around 6 yrs (if ever)
PremolarFirst (wolf)Absent6 months to 3 years (if ever)
PremolarSecondbirth to 2 weeks2–3 yrs
PremolarThirdbirth to 2 weeks2.5–3 yrs
PremolarFourthbirth to 2 weeks3–4 yrs
MolarFirstAbsent9–12 months
MolarSecondAbsent2 yrs
MolarThirdAbsent3–4 yrs

 Unlike hospital sock bits are not one size fits, and should be considered and fitted on a individual basis. 

Stay tuned for Part 3- Resistance

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 1- One of these pictures is not like the others

For the last few years my Mother and I have done a biting presentation as a part of many of our clinics.  This month I will adapting our presentation into multiple blog posts. Today we start by gaining some perspective about how bits affect our horses.

At first glance what do you think this horse is thinking?


What do you think this horse is thinking?


What do you think this horse is thinking?




Horse 3:  "Oh boy, What are we going to do today?"

Which horse do you think is focused in a positive way on his rider and is willing and ready to try and learn?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post where we follow up by talking about bits in general and signs of resistance.


My tack collection obession explained

My trailer bridle rack, holding some of my favorite tools.

 My tack collection obession explained.   

I get it honest.  You see I grew up in a tackaholic horsehold.  Much as other women collect and cherish jewelry or shoes, my Mom was and still is all about bits and leather.  Growing up with her (a skilled amateur trainer) I was always taught to use the right tool for the job, and that the right tool may be different for each horse so it is important to have options.  So I grew up with a tackroom filled with bits and bridles of every kind imaginable with all being useful and important in some form or fashion.  Some pieces were there because she wanted to study them further, others because she wanted to try them, some were there because they were great and just not needed at the time, and others still were there simply because they should never be used again (abusive/inhumane bits, we collect them to educate people and to keep them away from horses).

Simply put every piece in both our collections has been collected with care and consideration.  So the next time you think our tack rooms or trailers are cluttered just remember that for some horsepeople every piece has a purpose.

P.S. - Thanks Mom you did raise me right.  (I think she has finally figured out how to access this thing)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Know your normal- A colic story

My gelding started to colic Friday afternoon. My first indication that something was wrong was the fact that he was laying down in a odd place (not the normal napping spot). So I called out and he got himself up but immediately started wanting to go down again. This was all the information I needed to spring into colic mode and start treatment. Up catching him I noticed his breathing was a bit labored and he was starting to sweat. When I had called him he did poop while up which allowed me to feel comfortable about giving him some Banamine. After the shot we started walking and within 20 minutes Charlie was feeling much better, and within the hour he was in the stall normal once again happily munching hay. My theory to the actual cause of our colic episode is that with all the rain we had last week a dormant plant/seed started growing in the pasture and Charlie ate it and as a result got a tummy ache.

Now the title of this post is know your normal. Given that Charlie was a good ways out in the pasture if I had not taken notice of his odd napping/lying down location (which made me investigate further) there is a good chance he could have suffered for several hours or even through the night before getting treatment. If he had not gotten early treatment (he was absolutely normal when I saw him out 3 hours earlier) there is a much greater chance that we would have had to go to the vet (and I was ready to do so if he had not shown such improvement early on) or worse he could have twisted his gut and required major surgery.

The moral of the story. Horses are creatures of habit, any changes in their behavior could mean there is something very wrong. While horses can not verbally tell us where it hurts, by knowing your horse's normal everyday behavior and habits you will be better able to tell when something is not right.     

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Calm after the storm

Calm after the storm

Just last week I rode through a hell of a storm. My horse in training reared sky high 3 times in a row over a simple back up request while I finishing up my ride out in open pasture, with a bum right ankle, and home alone (Why was I riding at the time you may ask, because I'm a horse trainer I get paid to ride no matter what is going on in my own life). All I could think as she was going up was, “Aw hell, now I have to finish this.” So I did finish it, I did, and she had to trot herself into a tizzy for rearing up, and go back to the crazy trot circles every time she tried to rear again. 15 minutes later she backed up nicely when asked and I slide off. I will admit to being a little petty and rewarding her with only a nice pat and the Babe the movie quote, “That'll do, Pig, that'll do.”, only because I was in serious pain with my ankle from her antics. Even in pain, even after a awful ride by anyone's standards I was happy because I had successfully ridden through the storm once again.

What is the storm? For me I have experienced a storm on every horse I have ridden regularly (Of course I am a trainer so I ride like one, and I expect my horses to do reasonable things at reasonable levels in their training career, and I am never just a passenger), it usually occurs 2-3 weeks into training after quite a bit of sloppy resistance on be half of the horse who usually has never done anything in its life beyond being haltered and brushed. So when I step in and expect attention, energy, and effort for the first time ever their lives they rightfully suffer a little culture shock and resentment. So we plug along, riding because we have to until the horse suddenly says, “Enough is enough, I liked my life before, and I don't like backing up, trotting circles, being caught, etc, so I'm not going to it any more, so make me, or leave me alone!” This is the storm, your horse has decided to challenge you, and you only have two options; win, or back down.

Win or back down. You can only do one, and the one that you choose will have great consequences in your horse life. If you choose to win you will get to experience the thrill of the calm after the storm, or if you  choose to back down your horse will only become more and more resistant. I always have chosen to ride through the storm (and believe me I have been in some spectacular storms) because I know that on the other side of it we will have an understanding, I will have a better horse, and in many cases the beginning of a true partnership. Let's just say that when your horse has dished out a 150% and you are still willing and ready to ride you finish the ride with a ton of “pasture cred” to say the least.

In my horse life after every storm I have always achieved a major break through. So much to the fact that I welcome storms because I know that they are the beginning a much better chapter in my riding life. I know that after a rough ride, 99% of the time I will have a good stretch of clear sailing up ahead. My horse in training has once again been another perfect example of what riding through the storm can get you, she was 100% better on the next ride and every ride since all because I was willing to call her buff and say, “Yes you can, and yes, you will.”

Are you willing to ride through the storm? If so I will meet you on the other side, which feels a lot like heaven.

Please note that all horses were in perfect health and care at the time of all bad behavior, and all had been evaluated for reasonable pain causes for bad behavior prior to being put into training.