Monday, April 30, 2012


This year I have decided to breed my mare.

The horror! You and I both know it.

Horses are starving, the economy is in the gutter, slaughter is once again going on in the US, and instead of rescuing some down on their luck horse and giving them a lifetime home I am choosing to create another. Let the flaming commence!

I'm selfish. But before everyone starts lighting their torches I should explain my reasoning.

  1. I want a purebred horse- I know a ton of wonderful grade horses, and everyone of these horses are special and valuable in their own way, but in my own pasture, as in my parents you will find registered Quarter Horses. I like their build, deposition, and versatility. As another may prefer Arabians, minis, or mules; I really like a well bred very nicely put together Quarter, so sue me. I also know that while; papered, well bred, and put together young horses do find themselves in terrible situations in need of being rescued, these horses are few and far between. Frankly the horse I want to ride (and own the next 30+ years) is not generally found in a rescue situation. While I am very happy to support, train, and love grade horses until (if ever) I have more money then I know what to do with my pasture will remain a permanent home to only well bred papered Quarter horses.

  2. I want to know my horse's history- I am breeding for athleticism, conformation, personality, and longevity. I will know that this foal came out of a wonderful, extremely athletic, very correct mare (who I have owned all her life, and did I mention she is beyond broke); and a well mannered, well built stallion still ridden in his late teens by young boys. Even better my father has a 10 year old mare out of this stud who he will never sell. I know that both my foal's parents have never been lame a day in their life, and that both, a long with it's half sister have great personalities. Buying a horse (especially a young horse) is a gamble as is breeding one but at least I will know where my foal came from and all of it's life experiences to boot.

  3. I am breeding for myself- I have waited over 14 years for this foal. Waiting for the right place, the right time, and finally after all these years it is here. I know the risks involved and the possibility of complications in pregnancy, and frankly I'm not willing to risk my perfect mare's life to create a horse for anyone but myself. Regardless of sex or color it will be registered, and I plan on keeping it forever as I plan on keeping it's mother. But if I did ever have to sell my foal it would have the manners, conformation, breeding, and education to afford it a wonderful home no matter the situation.

  4. I want to do it right- this day in age the horse industry is really hurting. The cost of feed and hay has risen 200% in last year alone in my area, and many people who are still breeding are cutting corners to keep afloat. This means less feed, less hoof care, and less health care for broodmares and the foals in their barns. I firmly believe that good nutrition, hoof care, health care, and exercise in the early years is paramount to rising a healthy horse long term. I have the space (acres of my own, and access to 100s), the time, the ability to let it live like royalty (as it's mother and uncle already do), along with the skills to train it from birth to a finished horse and do it right.

  5. The future market- The people breeding quality horses are not breeding as much, if at all. The quality of horse I am able to afford to breed for now will cost big money a few years down the road (keyword being quality). Fewer young horses being brought into the world now means there will be fewer quality horses available 5, 10, and 20 years down the road. All the while I will have a perfectly trained 5, 10 and 25 year old horse down the road for my future children and family to enjoy.

    So please go ahead and think what you want to think. But I am only guilty of two things; creating a horse that any one of you would be lucky to have, and of being selfish only because I don't plan on sharing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pony see, pony do

 Growing up every horse we had always clipped wonderfully. And by wonderfully I mean, ground tied, rope hanging around their neck, head willing held whatever level needed next to the telephone pole, with a huge set of clippers made for body clipping. This was how my Mother clipped her horses then, and this is still how we do it today (but with barns, and better clippers). Now you may think that we spent weeks and weeks teaching every single horse over the years to clip in such a nice manner, but it actually was achieved very simply but just tying/holding every single new horse we purchased right next to every horse that was really good for clipping while we clipped before turning the clipper on the new horse. Using observational learning or put it simply the concept of Pony See Pony Do (so much better than the monkey).

Think about as it if you had lived a  average horse's life, (only experienced normal horsey things; grass, stalls, trees) you too would probably think that a loud buzzing clipper near your face could only mean that person in charge of it was trying to kill you. But if you were allowed to see other people face the clippers who were not afraid of it, you probably would feel much better about allowing it near your face. Foals learn by watching their mothers, you learned to cook by watching your mother. Learning from others is natural and basic means of survival. So why not use this survival instinct to your advantage when training?

Around here I use this type of training with every single horse that comes through the door. Just last week I once again witnessed the awesome power of observational learning with Fancy.

Fancy came here at 6, broke as a 3 year old, then never handled, and this is her story of how she learned to be caught in open pasture.
Day 1: Slightly resistant to being caught in the stall.
Day 2: More willing to caught in the stall, was let out with other horses.
Day 3: Did not want to be caught in open pasture, forcing a 2 hour chase by lawn mower (yes I said lawn mower, and no she was never in any danger, just kept moving at a slow and steady pace), was unwilling touched at the end.
Day 4: The moment Fancy sees me she takes off, I go out and just catch my horses, who will come when called, and always stand for as long as it takes to get the cookie they get after getting their halters on. Ignoring her, I tie them and start grooming. She follows and watches, and eventually stands for brushing, using 3 cookies she is caught within 10 minutes.
Day 5: She runs away, I catch my horses, not wanting to be left out Fancy follows, and is caught as soon as I finish tying my own.
Day 6: She turns away but chooses to stay, I halter my own horses, then proceed to Fancy, she grudgingly accepts the halter.
Day 7: She turns and faces me as I approach, and is willing caught after my horses.
Day 8: She is over by the arena when I step outside(100 yards out), and she trots over and insists on being caught before Charlie.
Day 9: She had been perfect so far ever since.

Now lets break down what happened.
Fancy was in a new environment, her only sources of companionship were my horses. Over time by seeing over that over that my horses (all the horses in her environment) where happy to be caught, and even looked forward to it, Fancy eventually decided that she too could and should be happy about caught. Depending on how she is reintroduced in her home environment she should maintain her willingness to be caught. However if she were immediately turned out with other horses who ran away she would probably revert back to her previous behavior.

Making observational learning work for you.
The only tools you need to use this method is one or more really good role model horses who do exactly what you want the new horse to do perfectly every time. Over the years I've used this approach for clipping, grooming, trailering, tying, bathing, saddling, hoof trimming, you name it. I so believe in observational learning that I show every new horse how it is done by first doing it to my own horses and letting them watch. After watching two other horses sleep while being saddled you would be amazed at how well the new guy can take it. Don't let not having a model citizen in your herd stop you. Most boarding barns have a few model citizens you could ask to borrow for a few hours, or talk with your horse friends and see about setting up some time to work together work on your problems or show your new horse how it is done.   

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Definition of Broke

Striking up a conversation with another owner at the vet.:

Me: "Gosh,  She sure is a cute little mare."
Owner: "Thanks she sure is a sweetie."
Me: "What do you do with her?"
Owner:  "Oh, just ride her around the house sometimes, she can be a tough to ride.  But I have her son, and he is just a great little horse, very broke and I did it myself."
Me:  "Well that is just great, training a horse is a lot of work.  What do you do with him?"
Owner: "Oh yes, training is very hard, he does just great about everything until I ask him to move."
Me: " Well they never said it was easy."

And the small talk continued until he was called back for his appointment.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because his definition of "broke" absolutely floored me.

In his mind a horse is well broke is one you can saddle, and get on, and off without bodily harm. 

But is that really all there is to it?

In my mind a "broke" horse exhibits no bad or dangerous behavior and can be easily handled for everything: feeding, grooming, saddling, bathing, etc.  And is willing to move off leg, and listens to aids, and travels easily in all gaits, and does it all with minimal resistance to the rider.

A "well broke" horse does everything that a broke horse can in addition to advanced maneuvers, all on a loose rein, and can perform all these tasks and then some consistently in or out of the arena regardless of location or circumstance. 

And a "very well broke" horse will do all of the above for every rider every time.   

What got me was that he honestly thought he had a well broke horse, a horse I would maybe call green, but never broke.  

I walked away feeling very sad for both the owner and his horses.  You could see his love and commitment to his animals. But until he raises his goals and expectations, getting on and not dying is all that he will ever be able to achieve when so many wonderful things are possible.  

You can have the equine relationship of you dreams, you just must have the want to learn and the willingness to try.