Friday, 27 February 2009

The "Teaching an Important Skill With Treats" Dilemma

Today there is a ton of information to be found about bending and flexing a horse; what it does for your horse and how it helps maintain suppleness, responsiveness, and become a better mount. But just how do you go about teaching a horse to flex? Well I can tell you one thing. If I see one more post on the Internet about teaching a horse to flex around by giving him treats I'm going to rip my hair out, bounce my Internet connection off Russian satellites and vaporize the person who wrote it.

Now, there are many methods a person can use to teach a horse to bend and flex. Standing at the shoulder or hip, and enticing fluffy with a treat, is NOT one of those methods. Whether you choose to believe so or not; when you teach a horse to bend or flex to get a treat, the horse is not learning to give. His only motivation is food and it creates an annoying habit. Some people may say "well I only do it so the horse stretches". I DON'T CARE. If you want to teach your horse to stretch, he might as well learn to give to pressure and learn something useful. He already knows how to eat. If you teach a horse to bend and flex the correct way, sans treats, the horse will become supple, soft in the face, and you will have better control over that body part in the saddle. Now, I am not against giving treats when you have completed the exercises and are about to put the horse away; I just can't stand it when people give treats to try to "teach" them an important skill.

Now... Onward to the written demonstration.

As I said before there are a myriad of ways to teach a horse to bend and flex around. However, the method I'm about to describe is what works for me and several others, including some clinicians. It is not a "quick" method by any means. It takes time, patience, and dedication to get this skill mastered. When I say mastered, I mean mastered. I want to be able to lift with the slightest pressure of a finger to get my horse to reach around, and I want an immediate response. If the horse lags, he needs to have more time devoted to the skill. You can NEVER do this too much. The key to vertical flexion is LATERAL flexion. If this method is taught properly there should be no reason to use draw reins, tie downs, huge bits, or any other gimmick on the market.

This method works in a progression of "steps". As I said before, it takes time. Furthermore, you need to be precise in your timing of the "release"; otherwise, your horse is not going to learn to do this the correct way and he will always rely on you to "pull" him around. The horse needs to think it's HIS idea to reach around.

Tools you will need: I find it much easier to use a simple rope halter and 10 or 12 foot lead to start teaching this exercise. The halter will need to be adjusted so that it is a little lower on the bridge of the nose. Do not put the halter so low to where the nose piece is sitting on the cartilage or the nostrils. In this photo the halter is adjusted correctly. However, I like to adjust the halter about an inch lower; not on the cartilage and not on the nostrils, but just low enough to where I have some leverage.

I prefer to teach this method in a round pen, especially if you are working with a greenie. They will more than likely attempt to move around quite a bit when you first start asking them to reach and you don't want to be bouncing off stall walls on your first day. After they get the hang of the exercise you can do it easily in a stall.

Begin on the left side of the horse standing at his flank area. If you stand at his shoulder you will be in his way. I generally keep about 4 feet of slack in the lead rope and I drape the excess over the horse's hip or my shoulder. Standing at the flank area, I slide my hand down the lead rope about half way, and with one solid pull place my hand on the middle of the horse's back; yet on the same side that I'm standing. Do not cross your hand over the back and do not pull the rope towards yourself first. It needs to be one smooth motion up to the middle of the horse's back. At this point your horse (especially the greenies) will probably go "WTF" and dance around. Do not release the tension on the rope and do not move your hand. Be patient and wait for the horse to give. In the beginning stage, such as this, we are just looking for as much "give" as the horse is willing to give. If he only gives 2 inches... release the rope immediately like it just gave you a 3rd degree burn. Repeat this process, asking for just a little more give each time. Be sure to be IMMEDIATE with the release. The release is the reward. Now let's get a little more technical. Keep in mind, not all horses are going to figure this out right away. It's a slow process. Some advance to being able to give to the cinch area in a day; other's may take a few days. Regardless, your horse is not solid in this skill until you can put barely any pressure on the lead, he gives immediately, holds, and responds to the release. The idea is to get him as light as possible in the face to where it takes barely any pressure from you.

When your horse finally figures out you want him to give, you progress gradually until the horse can actually touch the cinch area. A give to the shoulder is not good enough at this point. He needs to be able to reach around and touch almost behind where the cinch goes. A common mistake people make is sliding their hand too far down the rope and asking for the give. If your hand is too far down the rope, when you ask for the give the horse will not be able to give anymore because the tension is too tight. A general rule of thumb is to only tighten the rope to where he has to give 3/4 of the way. The last quarter he must have enough slack in the rope so he can give the rest of the way by himself. Likewise, some people do not slide their hand far enough down the rope. When this occurs, the horse will have no pressure and he's not going to give. Just remember the 3/4 rule. Sometimes it helps to place a piece of duct tape on the rope so you can visually see the ideal place to slide your hand to. Then, you will never be too short or too long.

I generally do this exercise 100-150 times each time I work the horse; whether it's a finished horse or a greenie. Ten times on one side, ten on the other, alternating sides until they have done the desired number of repetitions and are nice and soft. You cannot do this exercise too much. As a general rule of thumb, I will use work this exercise in the rope halter and lead for about two weeks before advancing them to doing the exercise in a snaffle. (That's two weeks at 6 days per week for you slackers out there)! You are not going to advance as quickly if you cannot devote the time. Therefore, it may take some of you longer before you can teach this in a snaffle. And for those of you sitting there going "my horse bends just fine in a bit now"; if you can't do it with slight pressure from one finger I'm sorry but he's not as light in the mouth or face as he could be.

I challenge my readers that don't already use this method to try it every day for two weeks and let me know how it goes. I will post the next step to this method which combines disengaging the hip and bending around in two weeks. From there we will progress to using this method with a bit. I want to hear your success stories!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Segment Three: Grooming, Clipping, and Banding for the Show

Grooming for the show, no matter the class, is a lot of work. When I groom for a show, I am extremely anal. Everything has to be perfect and I will work to get it perfect before I head to the ring. Here are some tips and my show grooming and clipping routine that has brought me success in the pen at all levels.

Many people are at a loss as to what to do first when preparing the horse for show. My first step is to bathe the areas I am going to clip. For me, these are the legs and the head. Nothing will dull your clipper blades faster than clipping through dirty hair. In addition to that, when you clip through dirty hair, you will often get those dreaded “lines” in the areas you have clipped. A good clip job leaves no lines and blends seamlessly with the rest of the hair.

I like to bathe my horses at least one to two days before the show. The reason being is that bathing, especially with cold water, often fluffs the hair coat, giving your horse’s hair a dull appearance. Bathing one to two days before the show will allow the natural oils in the horse’s coat to surface and help smooth the hair down. I typically use Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo for the coat, mane, and tail. However, if I have a really dull white spot or a dirty one, I like Silverado Whitening shampoo, but only on my dirty white spots. I use a medium bristled, flexible brush to scrub the shampoo into the coat, legs, mane, etc. I like to spend quite a bit of time scrubbing to really get deep into the coat. Before I rinse, I sponge the horse’s head with water then lather it up with shampoo using a soft bristled face brush. Next, I rinse the horse, scrape the excess water and rinse again. There are two reasons I double rinse; first is that excess shampoo can dull the coat and leave it tacky, second is that excess shampoo can make a sensitive horse itch. After rinsing, I drench my horse is show sheen and let her dry. Now let’s get down to tail business.

I like to wash my tails twice. The first washing gets the outer crud; the second washing I concentrate on getting the crusties out of the tail bone and any other dirt that may be lingering in there. A clean tail with no buildup will grow faster and longer, unless you have a horse like Gertie. She is on a tail strike and she refuses to grow hair. After rinsing the tail I saturate it with Cowboy Magic de-mineralizing conditioner, let it sit for three minutes, and rinse. After the tail is rinsed I will take a large toothed comb and gently comb the tail and let it air dry. The day of the show I will rewash the tail, condition it, and blow dry it to add volume. Since I use a fake tail on this particular mare, my washing, conditioning, and blow drying routines are the same for the fake tail. The fake tail will always look better if the real tail has some volume to it. I do not add any detangler or show sheen to the tail until I have attached the fake tail. The fake tail does not get put in until an hour before the first class. Now let’s get down to clipping.

I used to clip my horses about two weeks before the show to let the hair have time to blend. That was until I learned how to blend the hair! I use two different sets of clippers. The first set is the Wahl Arco Cordless clippers with the adjustable and detachable blade. The second set is the Oster Finisher with the small #40 blade. You may want to practice clipping your horse multiple times before you get too comfortable clipping right before the show. They always seem to move right at the worst moment and you end up taking a chunk of hair off in the wrong place. Practice makes perfect and it has taken me years to perfect my clipping routine. I start with the legs.

For dark colored legs (meaning no white), I only clip from coronet band to top of ankle. Make sure the legs are clean before you start. I set my Arco’s on the #30 blade setting and begin at the coronet band holding my clippers flush against the area to be clipped, yet at a slight angle. Never clip downward, you always want to clip against the hair. I clip upwards all the way to the top of the ankle, making sure I get all the hair around the ergot, bulb of the heel, etc. Then it’s time to blend the longer hairs of the leg into the freshly clipped hairs. I set the clippers to the longest blade setting and continue upward until the hair looks perfectly blended to my eyes. Every once in awhile; if the horse has extremely long scraggly leg hairs, I will use a downward motion to blend the hair on the longest blade setting. However, if the horse moves, you’ll end up taking more hair off than you want to. Now, when you are finished clipping in this manner, it will look awkward at first. It will seem as if the hair is too short around the pastern and ankle and it will look a different color. However, when you are in the pen, especially under lights, you will be amazed at how well it actually blends. Now for the white legs; (always a favorite).

White legs can be extremely difficult to clip and have them look good after clipping them. The Cordless Arco’s are outstanding for clipping the white legs. I do this the same way as I do darker legs with the same #30 blade setting. However, on an overo horse, I will clip all the white on the leg, even if it goes half way up the gaskin. I then blend the darker hairs of the leg into the freshly clipped white areas with the longest blade setting. For a tobiano, I will only go to just above the knee and then blend the rest of the white hair above the knee into what I have clipped. The reason I go slightly above the knee on a tobiano is that sometimes their knees have a yellowish tint. That yellowish tint in contrast to freshly clipped white will make the knee look funny and as said before, I’m anal. I want it perfect. In my opinion, with a little practice, the legs are the easiest to clip. The head takes more time and skill.

Clipping the head… this is where I get really anal. I don’t like to see unblended hairs; therefore it is very important to take your time when clipping the head. I like to start with the bridle path, which I also do with the #30 setting blade. The general rule of thumb is to gently lay one of the horse’s ears back and only go back as far as the tip of the ear. However, some horse’s have much longer ears than others. I will do this for my halter mare (she has small ears); but for Gertie, I lay her ear back and stop about an inch from where the tip of her ear would lie. (She has long ears). LOL! So for general purposes we will use the short eared horse as an example. I lay the ear back and set my clippers blades flush with the bridle path facing towards the ears. I let the ear go, and clip towards the ears stopping just in front of the poll. When you touch the bony process (the poll) don’t go any further. You want to keep as much forelock as possible and we all know how hard it is to get a nice thick forelock. (Gertie refuses to grow a forelock too despite my incessant use of MTG and a myriad of other products we have tried over the years. She grows hair at the speed of snail). Now let’s get down to the whiskers.

Since I still have my Arco’s in hand, I will move to under the jowel, chin, and muzzle areas next. Starting at the chin, I set my blade to #30 and clip upwards against the hair all the way up the chin and jowel area. Take care NOT to clip the outer edges of the jowels at this time or the hair will be too short. Get every orifice you can possibly reach with the clippers under there. Next, set your blade to the next highest (longer) setting in order to blend the hair under the chin and jowel into the hair on the jowel. Go slowly with short smooth strokes. If you go too fast and the horse moves you are going to take off too much hair. I blend the hairs with this method to about half way up the jowels on both sides. Now we move to the shortest setting on the clippers for the muzzle and eyes.

The muzzle is pretty self explanatory. I make sure that I always clip in good lighting so I don’t miss any of those pesky hairs. However, the day of the show I will go back over the muzzle with a horse shaver, even if I clipped the horse the day before, to make sure I have a horse that has a muzzle as smooth as a baby’s butt. Next to clip are the eyes.

The eyes are very sensitive and extreme care should be taken when clipping the eye whiskers. For the love of humanity… don’t shave the horse’s eyelashes… just the long whiskers. The horse has whiskers over and under the eyes that should be clipped. Be very careful not to poke the horse in the eye with the clippers or your finger. You can laugh now… but it happens. I start with the left eye first. I put my right hand above her eye and clip downward and to the left just clipping the whiskers only. Not the rest of the hair. For the whiskers under the eye: I take my left index finger and gently place it over the eyelid and my left thumb is placed under the eye; gently pulling the skin downward. I then clip upwards, toward the eye, taking care not to clip the eyelashes. This takes time and practice. If the horse blinks, you are probably going to have some short eyelashes. Don’t get upset, just keep practicing. Next, I clip the ears.

I am very picky about ears. I want them clean, and free of hair. I use the #15 blade setting on the Arco’s to do the outer edges and whisk away any straggling out ear hairs. Then I move onto my Oster finishing clippers. The finishing clippers have a small #40 blade. They clip extremely short, and almost to the skin. *Think surgical blade. I do the inner edges and the entire inside of the ear to where there is no hair visible to the naked eye. (If you look in the ear you would see peach fuzz). Make sure to go along the curves of the ear and get the “hidden” areas as good as possible. After clipping the ears I will take a microfiber cloth, dab it in water, and wipe the insides of the ears to make sure they are free of dirt, debris, and hair. Next, I dab a bit of baby oil gel onto the rag and wipe it inside the ear. Not only does this add a shine to the inside of the ear, but it keeps the ear moisturized and also from getting itchy. I have found that the baby oil gel does not attract the dirt as much as the actual baby oil.

Lastly, I shave the blaze or any other white markings on the face. This gives the horse’s face a clean and chiseled appearance, not to mention a much cleaner look. I use the finishing clippers for this task as they do not leave lines and I want the face to look smooth. Once again, I clip upwards against the hair. If the blaze has a whorl at the top, I just make sure that I clip against the hair at all directions to get a nice even look.

Now let’s move on to banding. How many of you pay hundreds of dollars over the show season to get those perfect bands? Well… I’m about to save you some money. Banding is very simple; you just have to take your time. The one thing I cannot stand to see in the pen is a banding job that sticks up here and there and lays flat in other places. There is a very simple trick to banding; whether the horse has a thin mane or a thick mane. I personally don’t pull my horse’s mane; no matter how thick it is. It is always easier to band a mane that is slightly dirty; however, I’m anal and I can’t have a dirty mane. I start with a clean, dry mane. I like my bands to be about a half inch wide. I start at the top of the mane and work my way down. I grab the first section of hair and use a clip to hold the rest of the mane back and away from the section I’m working on. Next I take a metal mane comb and comb the section straight down while holding the mane tightly and pulling downward. I then spray a small amount of Quick Braid at the base of the mane near the crest or the neck. I comb and pull downward again and then I am ready to band. Hold the section of mane firmly in one hand; keeping the tension downward, and begin wrapping the band around the section of mane. If you don’t keep the downward pull, you will end up with that bunched up mane at the base of the neck that helps cause the bands to stick up. When you are nearing the point where the band can no longer wrap around the hair any tighter, be sure to end the wrap with the last twist of the band underneath the section of mane. This helps to keep the hairs underneath in place. This next part is very important so pay attention. Once the band is secure, take both hands and grab a small section on each side, from the underside of the section of mane you just banded. Then, pull downwards until the mane rests securely against the crest line of the horse’s neck. By securing your bands to the crest line, you ensure that the bands follow the neck line, are even, and are uniform. If you pull up at any time you are doing this, you are going to have those hairs that bunch up above the band and you will need to start over. Repeat this process until you have finished banding. When I finish banding, I slather Shapley’s mane mousse over the mane and put a mesh mane tamer on the horse. I’m not sure why but my horse’s never rip the mesh mane tamers but they destroy the regular robin hoods. This process ensures that your bands will be flat, against the neck, and perfect the following morning. You may have to adjust a few, but it’s much less time consuming then banding the morning of the show.

After all the grooming is finished, I sheet the horse or use a full body sleazy. However, it depends on the weather. If it’s really hot, I only use the mesh mane tamer and will spot wash where needed the morning of the show.

The morning of the show, I rinse the white on her legs to get the dust off and let them dry. I used to use chalk for her whites but I hate it. I’d rather use baby powder. I can apply the baby powder with more precision and coverage. Once the baby powder is applies, I show sheen the white to keep the dust away. Next I take the mane tamer off, adjust any bands that need it, and begin vacuuming. I vacuum the hose entirely, including her face, with a soft attachment. Next I do her feet. I like to use two coats of hoof black for class A or breed shows. For open shows I use the clear polish. Once the black polish is dry, I spray a fine mist of Ultra Hoof Polish Enhancer on her hooves and let it dry. While the feet are drying, I spray the horse with a finishing spray, and take a clean rag to her entire body, slicking down the coat where needed and giving her that extra shine. I wipe the insides of her nose and apply baby oil gel to her muzzle, a smidge over the eyes, and a dab inside the ears. Lastly, I do the tail.

I like to blow dry the tail for added volume the morning of the show. I also use a fake tail on Gertie since her tail is very fine and thin. It’s getting longer but her butt is so big her skinny tail looks awkward. I like the natural loop tails from as they are great for horses that use their tail, hold the tail away from the body, or even the horse that just lets it hang. However, this tail is a two person job to get it totally secure and undetectable. I make sure the fake tail is clean and has been blow dried before I attach it. Generally I would go into how to attach a fake tail, but at the risk of this being a lengthy post, feel free to email me at for instructions on attaching a tail. Or, if you guys choose, I can make a separate post about this later as there are many styles of tails and methods of attachment. Once I attach the fake tail, I put about a dime size amount of Cowboy Magic Detangler at the ends of the tail and then… we are complete.

I will address properly fitting a halter in the pattern segment of the showmanship series at a later day. For now, this should get you started on your way to successful grooming. This segment could have been much longer. Sometimes I add a few more things here and there; but this gives you a general idea of my show day routine.


Sorry I have not updated for a few days. I am currently working on the showmanship grooming/clipping for the show ring portion of our showmanship series. In addition to that, I have been extremely busy getting the horses ready to go to the next show in March and beating my head against the wall writing papers for school. We seriously have a paper due every other day and it's friggin ridiculous.

At any rate, the grooming and clipping article will be posted by tomorrow evening so keep your eyes peeled. Show season is already in full swing in my area but I know some of you northerners are still waiting for the weather to cooperate. Now is the time to be getting those horses ready to win.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Did anyone get the license plate number...

Of that bus that Cleve Wells threw his employees under? I have been following this case from the beginning and while I do not believe in a trial online, I do believe in hard evidence.

At this point, I don't care who is right and who is wrong; what I do care about is a horse that received terrible injuries while under your care, custody and control. While you say that you have done everything you could to rectify this situation... I, and many others are still waiting to see a formal public apology to the owners of Slow Lopin Scotch. I feel that it would at least be a step in the right direction of acting like a professional.

I couldn't care less if a purple-headed crack whore dressed like Madonna sneaked into the barn late at night and caused this horse's injuries. The fact remains the horse was standing in your barn with these injuries that were undoubtedly caused by someone (more than likely the crew that got flattened by that slow moving bus), and even in your "statement" NO apology was given.

Mr. Wells, the public may not know exactly who caused this, but we do know the steps that a Professional Horseman should take to rectify the situation. Sadly, one of those steps has been left out. I am by no means pointing an accusatory finger that you caused these injuries, but the horse was on your property and in my opinion, I feel the least the owners deserve is a public apology, whether you feel that you are right or wrong. Sometimes, to be an upstanding professional we have to take responsibility for the actions of others. And while you have so bluntly pointed the finger at someone else; you have yet to apologize.

This is merely my opinion on the matter. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not alone in my opinion.

Training the Showmanship Horse

Training: Training the showmanship horse is a relatively easy task. However, some people receive sub-par results because they lack repetition. Repetition (doing it the same way, over, and over, and over) is just one piece of the puzzle that makes a solid showmanship horse. There are six basic maneuvers that your horse should know; walk beside you, trot beside you, stop beside you, set up, back, and the pivot. Other maneuvers such as the 180 degree turn, the pull turn, etc. are all variations of what I consider to be the basic maneuvers. I like to start my training off with a regular rope halter and lead. For precision training I move to the war bridle.

Before some of you go frothing at the mouth and peeing in circles on the carpet screaming “abuse,” I am not talking about the war bridle you typically see to restrain a horse. I take a simple lariat rope that I have cut to the appropriate length. Next I make a medium loop with the lariat and put the “small loop on the rope” on the offside (to the right). I then pull the excess slack from under the medium loop (that I made) through the top of the loop; thus, making a halter that has an attached lead. The war bridle works off poll, nose, and chin pressure to help teach your horse to give to very slight cues. However, you DO NOT EVER JERK on the war bridle. This tool works off the most sensitive areas of your horse’s head. If you start jerking, your horse is going to show you how pissed he can get. Some horses simply cannot handle the war bridle. They resist, rear, strike, etc. While most any horse can learn to accept it; if you have never used a war bridle I strongly suggest you only do so under the guidance of a KNOWLEDGEABLE horseperson who can use one EFFECTIVELY. Let’s get down to business.

The Walk: The first thing that I expect my showmanship horses to do is to walk beside me. Not half an inch in front of my shoulder… not two inches behind me; I want their throatlatch at my shoulder ALL the time. Relatively simple right? I challenge those of you that do not do showmanship to go to the barn, put a halter and lead on your horse, and walk out of the barn with your hand holding the very end of the lead. I would venture to say that more often than not your horse was either in front of you (it doesn’t matter by how little or how much) or behind you (same thing). A horse that cannot rate himself to keep his throatlatch at your shoulder at all times is not going to get you very far in the showmanship pen. You shouldn’t have to “pull, tug, or bump” your horse with the shank to get him beside you if you have done your training right.

Teaching the horse to walk beside your shoulder is very simple; it just takes repetition. I start from a standstill. When I first go to ask the horse to walk I over-exaggerate and lean forward with my shoulder and gently pull the lead forward. Once he takes the first step I begin walking. (In showmanship, the horse should always take the first step, but only after you have given him the cue to do so.) I walk a couple of steps, stop, and praise him. Then I repeat the process until he starts to get softer on the cue. Once the horse starts to recognize that when your shoulder leans forward it means go, do not use your hand to gently pull him forward anymore. Make him look for the cue from your shoulder. However, you still want to exaggerate your shoulder forward since you are no longer giving him a cue with the lead. Example, I will exaggerate my shoulder forward, keep my hand still, and wait for the horse to take the first step. I walk the horse a couple of steps and stop and praise him. At this point I am not worried if the horse stays perfectly beside me when he’s walking. The point of this method is to teach the horse to watch your shoulder for the cue. When the horse gets to the point where he is recognizing your exaggerated shoulder cue within about a second; I start to exaggerate my shoulder less and less each subsequent time I ask for the walk. Eventually, the cue will be virtually invisible to the spectators and your horse will be in tune enough to know exactly what you are asking. As with any method, your horse is not going to complete all these steps in one day. This is something that needs to be worked on every day, for about fifteen minutes, for two weeks, until he becomes solid. When starting a showmanship horse I pick one maneuver to work on, and get them solid on that maneuver before I start teaching other maneuvers. Only after teaching all the maneuvers correctly do I start using them together for a pattern. Now let’s incorporate the stop.

Stopping: How well does your horse stop? And, I don’t want to hear “really good, all I have to do is say whoa.” The judges don’t want to hear you out there blabbering commands to your horse during a pattern. Your cues should be invisible. Your hands should not move, and your mouth should be kept quiet. Showmanship should be like dancing with your horse. So how do you teach the horse to stop at your shoulder without saying whoa or using your hands? Two words… body language. Now that we have a horse that will walk off a body language cue, the stop is just as easy to teach. Ask your horse to walk about ten strides. 3 strides before you know you are going to ask the horse to stop, mentally prepare yourself. Think about stopping. When you get to the point where you are ready to ask, gently pull downward on the lead rope, say whoa, exaggerate your shoulder back, and plant your feet… in that order. Then, turn and face the horse with your toes pointing towards his right front foot. By doing this you are telling him that he has to stay planted. When you are ready to move again, you will go back to your original position beside his throatlatch, give him the shoulder cue, and walk off. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Once he starts listening to your body language, do the same thing; except this time don’t pull downward on the lead. Just say whoa, exaggerate your shoulder back and plant your feet. The horse may take a few steps to stop this time. If he does, remain facing forward, and gently pull back on the lead rope until the horse is stopped and standing with his throatlatch at your shoulder. Then repeat this exercise until he learns to stop from the verbal and shoulder command. Once he’s solid on this, eliminate the verbal command, using only your shoulder and your stopped feet to stop him. Likewise, when he’s solid on this, start exaggerating your shoulder less and less until the cue to stop becomes invisible and he’s stopping accurately beside you (not in front of or behind you) when your feet stop. Now, just because you are not exaggerating your shoulder anymore does not mean that you don’t use your shoulder at all. You will always lean slightly forward for the walk and slightly back for the walk. You just have to make sure that he is watching and listening to your shoulder cues and that you are not over-exaggerating the cues. No one wants to see over-exaggerated cues. Keep it professional.

Once your horse has a solid understanding of your shoulder cues to walk and stop ACCURATELY, begin adding the walk and stop together to achieve perfection. If your horse is truly listening to your shoulder, he has now figured out that he has to watch your shoulder for the next command and that he is to walk beside you and stop beside you EVERY time. He will begin to rate his speed with your speed in an effort to keep up with your shoulder. Beware… if you work showmanship and ask for all the maneuvers perfect then let your horse dick around going back to the barn or just because you are tired, you are going to undo what you have just taught him. These maneuvers should become second nature to him. My horses are expected to walk and stop off my shoulder NO MATTER WHAT I’m doing. If I’m leading my horse to the barn from the pasture and I trip and fall, that horse better stop and stay planted until I’m ready to move. You are now seeing where showmanship plays a role in ground manners and safety.

The Trot: Again, the trot is another simple maneuver to teach. I teach the trot much the same way as I do the walk. However, I add a voice command. I start from a standstill, exaggerate my shoulder forward, gently pull the lead, and give a short quick smooch. (I don’t like to cluck in the showmanship pen because I cluck louder than I smooch!). Once the horse picks up the trot I release the pressure on the lead, quit smooching, and keep my hand in the same place. I then ask for the stop. Once again, I work the exercise until my cues become invisible and the horse goes effortlessly into the trot from a standstill. I don’t want 2 or 3 steps at a walk. I want an immediate trot. The only exception for voice commands that I have is for the trot. Since my shoulder cue is the same as the walk cue, I use the short, quick, and quiet smooch to ask for the trot. This way, when I am in the pen and my horse is listening to my shoulder if I give her a short, quiet smooch, she knows it’s time to trot and she doesn’t get confused between the walk and the trot. Make sure that when you ask for the stop, you get a stop and not three or two walking steps and then a stop. The horse should trot off perfectly and stop immediately from the trot perfectly. If you let them take a walking step they are going to get lazy and your transitions will be sub-par. Now let’s move on to the pivot.

The Pivot: This is often the hardest thing to teach a showmanship horse and often one of the most improperly taught maneuvers. Why? Because many people attempt to push the horse backwards into the pivot. The pivot is a forward motion and should be taught as such. When you push a horse backwards into the pivot they will often pivot on the left hind foot and/or cross the left front foot behind the right front. This is incorrect and one of the main reasons why people get frustrated with the horse. Additionally, the pivot should be taught in steps. If you go out there and ask the horse to pivot the entire 360 degrees without showing him how, you are asking for confusion.

Keep in mind that when teaching this maneuver, the horse’s entire head, neck, and body should be straight. If the horse bends his head and neck around, the slower his front feet are going to be in crossing over, making the pivot slower. Points are also deducted for a “crooked” horse. To teach the pivot I start from a standstill, (obviously), with the right hind foot slightly behind the left hind. (This is for ease of teaching. When you are in the class, you will more than likely have to pivot from a squared position). With my left hand I take the lead rope and gently pull forward and to the left, and simultaneously press my right thumb into the shoulder to ask them to move away from the pressure. I press with the thumb and take a step towards the horse’s right front foot. (Note: I do not walk directly towards the horse as this will give him the cue to take a step back and away from me. My toes are pointed towards the right front foot and I take a step towards the right front foot to tell the horse to move to over). If the horse starts to cross his left front foot behind the right front, I pull forward again. The left front has to cross over the right front. I also only ask for two steps at a time. The horse will not be able to pivot correctly in the hind end unless he is crossing over correctly with the front end; therefore, I concentrate on teaching the horse to properly cross his front legs first. Each time the horse tries to cross his LF behind the RF, I pull him forward and push him over with my thumb then release the thumb pressure. If you leave the thumb pressure on them they will start leaning on your thumb rather than moving away from the pressure. Once the horse has mastered crossing over in the front correctly, I start concentrating on the hind end. As with the front, the left hind foot needs to cross over in front of the right hind foot. The difference here is that the right hind foot needs to stay planted. Do the same thing you did while teaching him to cross over in the front. Ask for 2 to 3 steps and let him rest. If the left hind foot gets behind the right front foot as he’s moving, pull him forward to where the left hind foot is in front of the right hind. Once the horse figures it out, take away the thumb pressure and just pull forward if he starts “backing into” the pivot. The slower you go, the faster he will learn it. Eventually, you ask for more and more steps until he completes the 360 degree turn correctly. When you get to perfection, you will be using your right hand to maneuver the horse, not your left hand. Your horse should be solid enough with your shoulder cue that when you walk towards his right front he knows it’s time to pivot. Likewise, your horse should watch your shoulder for the cue to stop the pivot. When you plant your feet, he should plant his… not continue on with the pivot.

Squaring up: Another thing that is often taught incorrectly! Your horse should be taught to square up around his pivot foot, the RH. To get the horse soft to your cues, ask him to stop with his right hind behind the left hind. You should be facing the horse with your toes pointed toward his RF foot. Next, I take my right hand and gently pull the horse forward, only letting him move his left hind foot forward. Then I push back asking him to move the LH back. I do this over and over again until I am sure that with the gentlest of pulls or pushes he is going to move that left hind foot where I tell him to put it. Next I start asking him to place his left hind foot directly beside the right hind. I like to keep about 2 to 3 inches distance between each hoof. Use your judgment. Since the horse is soft enough to the “move your foot forward and back cue” it will begin to take less and less pressure to get him to place his foot correctly. Eventually, the horse will become automatic. When you stop and turn and face the horse he will square his hind feet without cue. This is when you start working on the front feet. You do the same thing with the front feet as you did with the back feet. Your horse needs to have his RF foot planted and his LF foot needs to be placed around the RF. By this point my horses are usually so soft to the cue to move feet that I can *just barely* jiggle the lead to get the LF foot placed. It usually takes me two weeks of working every day to get the horse to square from my body language. Meaning, when I turn and face the horse with my toes pointing toward the RF foot, they square up with no cue from my hand or lead. In the pen, the horse is expected to square up within three seconds. Any more than that and you are wasting time and you will have points deducted accordingly.

Backing: A correct back up can determine a winning or losing pattern. The horse’s head should be level with the withers, on the vertical, and he should back with no pressure from the lead. When teaching the back, I want it perfectly straight. There is nothing worse than watching a “big booty back-up” in the pen. (You know, the one where the horse swaggers his hips side to side and goes as crooked as a politician). First, I test my horse to see which direction he sways his hips to. I then put him next to a fence. If he sways his hips to the right I want his right side next to the fence. When you ask for the back, make sure that your body is pointed straight. If you are angled towards the horse in any way he is going to back away in that direction. If your body is straight, he is going to back straight. If you are angled away from the horse, he is going to back into the area that you are angled away from. I then take my right hand and gently push the horse backwards with the lead while walking towards him (keeping my body straight and my shoulders squared). When I release the pressure, he knows to stop. I do this over and over. Each time I use a little less pressure on the lead. Eventually, the horse will learn that when I take a step toward him, he is to back up with NO pressure from the lead. Keeping your body straight and teaching him to back along a fence will help to ensure that he is backing straight.

Showmanship is all about body language. Not your hand movements and not voice commands. Your horse should stay with you at your shoulder, and watch for your body signal to stop, square, back, etc. Once your horse is solid on these maneuvers, try incorporating them together. If he is lacking in a maneuver, go back and give him a refresher. I generally spend two weeks teaching and perfecting EACH maneuver until I am sure I can use them together with perfection. Then and only then do I start working on patterns. I typically work on all maneuvers and patterns for about 15 to 20 minutes per day to make sure my horses stay fresh. When I want refinement in my maneuvers I will use a war bridle. It gives the horse that extra “light bulb” moment when they think “oh yeah, I remember this”! Keep in mind, I ONLY work in the war bridle if the horse is lagging. I don’t want them to get dull to the pressure.
And… since this post was so long, I will cover show grooming and patterns at a later time.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Nosy Nelly

There is a saying that "if you minded your own business you'd stay busy all the time". I am no doubt, a busy person, but I have a tendency to want to be even busier. Many of you know that I follow several horse related blogs but rarely comment. After reading my daily dose of "blog drama" today, I came up with several questions I wanted to ask of my fellow bloggers.

Wenchster- I read your blog daily. While I don't always agree with everything spot on, you have a great writing style, sense of humor, and valid points. Here is my question. You know how the trolls always come over and say "she's just pissed that she was featured on FHOTD and she created this blog in retaliation"? I don't think you created the blog out retaliation for being featured as I highly doubt you were featured. Just being a nosy nelly here and wanting the skinny on what inspired you to create the blog, other than the stuff you have already mentioned. Oh, and where abouts in Texas are you located? Do you happen to be near the DFW metroplex because if you are we may have some trail riding to do.

Fugly-With all the controversy on the VLC keeping his testicles... I want to know why you think he's worthy. Would you be interested in possibly elaborating on the conformational points that you believe to be exceptional. Do you see any faults in confo? How about movement? Do you see his stride as balanced and cadenced? Does he have incredible extension? You've elaborated quite a bit about his disposition but I would like to know where you feel he is exceptional and where you feel he is lacking.

So everybody. What questions do you have that you would like to know the answers to?
And... as for the second segment of showmanship... it's going to have to wait until tomorrow. I got sidetracked with a Psych paper tonight.

Next To Ignition

We all know that selling horses right now is harder than trying to suck start a harley. Some sellers are so hard up right now (especially the men) that if you showed them your boobs and bought them a twelve pack you could probably end up with two or three really nice horses.

Today's seller is in fact a woman and no, she is not that hard up. However, she asked me if I would pass the word around on this little guy.

Next To Ignition is a 2008 Bay/Overo stallion by Taylored In Tin and out of Skip N To Savannah. Yes in this photo he is 1) hairy as a wildebeest and 2) has a a couple of dirt spots on his belly. But in defense, Ohio is colder than a witch's tit right now so the weather is not really conducive to bathing and getting rid of those stains.

The colt is, however, paid into the Kentucky Incentive Fund. So, for every point you earn, you get money back. All the paperwork is done, all the fees are paid, and he is ready to go. He has had all the basics done with him. I bought my mare from this same seller 4 years ago so if she says he does all these things, he does all of them and more. (Insert shameless plug for my mare here. I have been very successful with her).

If you are in the market for a nice prospect and don't want to have to deal with crazy ass sellers shoot Sandy an email and she would be more than happy to answer questions. Unless of course you email asking if he's safe for kids on the trail. This colt is located in Chillicothe, Ohio. The seller can be reached at

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Segment One: Fitting, Feeding, and Everyday Grooming for the Showmanship Horse

I have met many people that believe showmanship is a waste of time, boring, and a discipline that does not take any talent. Some of them are so vocal in their distaste for showmanship they choose to make some very derogatory comments to those of us who choose to show the discipline. Often times, (not always) these are the people that have horses with poor ground manners and you see many of them posting on message boards about their latest injuries because their horse is “pushy”. Showmanship takes: skill, talent, precision, an extremely well mannered horse, and a handler that takes pride in his/her appearance as well as the horse’s appearance if you want to be successful at the top levels. For those that scoff at the idea of the amount of work that goes into a showmanship horse; I say kindly do the world a favor and pull your lip over your head and swallow. Showmanship isn’t just for people that show. Backyard horses, ranch horses, hell, even race horses, can benefit from a few showmanship lessons. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what it takes to be successful in the pen with showmanship. Please bear with me. There is a lot of information to cover. I will be posting the show grooming/clipping, training and pattern basics tomorrow to keep this post as brief as possible.

First off, I don’t speak for everyone. Many people have different routines and different ways of doing things. There is nothing wrong with that and it doesn’t make one person’s techniques the right way or another person’s the wrong way. That’s what makes the horse industry versatile and dynamic. However, I thought I would share my fitting program, grooming, training, and pattern techniques for those who would like to take advantage of what I have learned over the years.

Fitting: It’s no surprise that I like a properly fitted horse. I don’t want huge muscles and a ton of weight on my showmanship horse. I want a horse that is fit and conditioned to look like it could ride all day long. Make sure you cover your medical bases before you begin a fitting routine. Your horse should be on a proper rotational worming schedule, UTD on dental work, vaccinations, trimming/shoeing, feeding schedule, etc.

The way I fit a horse depends on the horse; its size, body frame, weight, and overall body condition play major roles. For example, one of my mares (pictured at the top of the blog) is currently standing 15.3 hands, and weighs roughly 1, 025 lbs at the moment. She is currently fit and working 6 days per week, whether its riding, round penning, or chugging along behind the 4-wheeler. If I have a major show coming up and I only plan on showing in showmanship, I don’t ride her much the three weeks before her show. The reason being is that I don’t want to work her longer than 20 minutes, and the saddle and pad tend to sweat the withers down. The schedule that I follow before a show with this mare consists of round-penning or working behind the 4-wheeler for a total of 12 minutes 6 days per week. I prefer the 4-wheeler as I can keep her going in straight lines which is less stress on her joints. However, I don’t always have a second person to help with this so on those days we round pen. (Note… if you decide to try the 4-wheeler method, please be sure to have some help. It is extremely dangerous to work a horse off the 4-wheeler if you are the one holding the horse and driving the vehicle). For that matter, it is extremely dangerous to work off a 4-wheeler no matter how much help you have. Be sure your horse is comfortable in using this method first, and please, be sure the handler wears a helmet. I have seen young studs think its play time and strike the handler in the head while in vehicle is in motion!

Typically I will use a stopwatch and I will have the horse work 3 minutes at a trot and 3 minutes at a lope, switch directions, and another 3 minutes at a trot and 3 minutes at a lope. Trotting will build the bulk, loping will strengthen the topline, tuck the underline nicely, and build that nice smooth muscle. Keep in mind this is the routine I use for a horse that is already fit. For a horse that is beginning a fitting routine I recommend starting at 8 minutes total because you are asking the horse for constant motion for the entire time you are working. For weanlings and yearlings (in halter) I generally work them for 4 minutes total. The maximum amount of time I will work one in this routine is for 15 minutes. Any more than 15 minutes and you begin taking weight off that you want to keep on (if the horse is already fit). Keep the horse at a steady pace at both gaits for maximum fitting. Letting the horse be lazy is not going to achieve the results you want. I also like being able to swim my horses when possible for 1-2 minutes, but sadly, I do not have the facilities that allow me that option anymore.

Feeding: Feeding of the showmanship horse is just as important as the fitting and training. There are a variety of good feeds on the market and many people feed in different ways. Every horse is different and has different needs so don’t expect to get the same results if you decide to feed exactly what I do. Talk with your veterinarian about your fitting routine and decide what the best possible feeding routine is for your horse to achieve maximum results. Currently the mare I have been referring to is getting 3lbs of a 10% protein 8% fat pelleted sweet feed mixture and a large flake of quality coastal hay in the AM. She is then turned out a good portion of the day in a 1 acre lot with a Tifton 85 round bale that she can munch to her heart’s content. In the PM, she is brought in and fed the same ration of feed with a large flake of quality alfalfa. I choose to supplement her diet with 1 pump of Dac Oil AM and PM. It helps add the sheen from the inside out, promotes a slick coat, adds fat, and is an excellent source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. I also give her 1 scoop of MSM in the PM to promote and maintain joint health. (Always be sure to feed MSM with the grain ration as it can cause digestive upset when given alone).

Some horses are larger than others and require more feed; others are smaller and require less feed. Again, figure out what works for you and stick to it. Some of you may be wondering… “why the alfalfa”? I like the alfalfa for the protein content and its ability to keep the horse from developing the ever-dreaded hay belly. You know… the one that makes your gelding look like he’s getting ready to foal at any minute. I try to avoid that look!

Grooming: Ah, now here is an aspect that I could go on all day about. I am extremely anal when it comes to grooming my horses. I will cover this aspect in two segments: everyday grooming, and grooming for the show. Grooming/clipping for the show will be posted tomorrow.

Everyday Grooming: My horses are typically groomed 6 days per week and I am very methodical in the process. I start with a red rubber curry (the little black ones are too stiff for my liking). I will curry the entire horse in short circular motions to stimulate the oils in the coat and loosen dead hair and/or dirt. I will then go back over the entire horse in short, straight strokes with the edge of the curry. This method will pull off a ton of excess hair without breaking the hair like a metal curry or a shedding blade. Be prepared to do this for a long time and expect to break a sweat. I do this even in the summer. No matter how slick the horse’s coat is, you will find that you will still be pulling off dead hair.

Next I grab my super duper vacuum. I use a vac-n-blo pro series, but even a small shop vac will work. I vacuum the entire horse to get all the dirt and debris out of the coat. Most horses will stand quietly for this but if your horse is hesitant at the sound of the vacuum be sure to introduce it slowly. Take your time with the introduction. He may not let you vacuum him the first few times or he may dance around. Be persistent and calm and sooner or later he’ll be standing like a pro enjoying his vac-n-blo job.

Then I dust my horse off with a soft bristled dandy brush and spritz them with fly spry. Next, I spray them with a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water. Vinegar acts as a natural show sheen without drying out the coat, and also helps to relieve any itchiness or rubbing the horse may be experiencing. Lastly, I pick the horses hooves and apply Fiebings Hoof Dressing. However, I only apply the dressing 3 times per week.

Tails: There are many ways you can do a tail. I prefer to leave my tails down if they are fairly short. I wash and condition tails once per week with Cowboy Magic Rosewater shampoo and Cowboy Magic conditioner. I always wash my tails twice! The reason being is that the first wash gets the surface dirt and any detangler residue out. The second wash gets everything else. I always make sure to wash the tail bone thoroughly to get all the dandruff and crusties out. After washing I soak the tail with conditioner and leave it in for about 3 minutes, then rinse. I then saturate the tail bone, especially at the base of the bone, with MTG and comb through with a wide toothed comb. Next, I blow dry the tail and finger pick the tangles and I’m done.

I don’t like tail bags as my horses always seem to break off hair. However, for a horse with a long thick tail, I will follow my procedure as described above, section the tail into 5 or 6 sections, and put each section of hair into a figure eight knot, or a crochet knot, and cover with vet wrap. This keeps the tail off the ground, the horse can still swish flies effectively, and I don’t have as much hair breakage. If you must braid and bag your tail, I prefer to make my braid tight and I pull downward while braiding. This keeps the hairs from going all willy-nilly and keeps them from popping out the top of the tail bag. I have several methods for braiding and bagging so if you are interested just ask and I will go into more detail.

I also do not comb or brush my tails between washings. If they are really knotted up I will pick through the tail with my fingers and add some Cowboy Magic detangler if needed. I don’t like to break off any more hair than necessary so I tend to not brush.

Manes: I will cover manes in the show grooming post tomorrow.

I know this is a long post, but there is a lot of info still left to cover. I will have the second portion of this topic covering: grooming/clipping for the show, training, and pattern basics, posted by Thursday.

The "Little Guy" vs. The BNT

Day after day, year after year, I constantly hear the same thing. "You are showing without the name of a BNT to back you up, get you noticed, and get you placed. You are never going to make it big." And day after day, year after year; I have to think of new and colorful ways to tell the "non-believers" to kindly pull their heads from their asses.

Call me naive and say what you want; but in my experience, you don't need a BNT backing you in order to go win a big show, the World Show, or even an open show. What you do need is a properly turned out horse, plenty of preparation, and dedication to master your chosen discipline(s). Do you have to have a high priced horse? Hell no. Does your horse have to have "perfect" conformation to be successful? Nope. Do you have to have a BNT in the saddle or at the end of the shank? Once again, no!

Judging from my experience in the APHA industry, you don't have to have any of those things to be successful. What you do need is knowledge of your discipline(s), a horse that is turned out to the best of your ability, a tidy appearance, determination, dedication, and of course; money to go to the shows.

While I have worked along side professionals such as Shawn Flarida, Gary and Linda Gordon, George Williams, and many more... I have yet to hire a BNT to do my work for me. Instead, I have chosen to work for these people in the past to learn everything that I possibly could. I don't follow their programs exactly they way they do it. If I did, I'd end up doing some things that are unsuitable for myself and my horses. What I did do was take bits and pieces of their programs that I liked, and tailored a program for myself that brings me the success that I want. There is no harm in taking a "hands on approach" to different disciplines. Whether you like the discipline or not, there are things to be learned from it. And whether you agree with the methods of the discipline or not, you will walk away a more knowledgeable and well-rounded horse person. I encourage people that have the ability to keep an open mind to go intern with BNT's from a variety of different disciplines. You'll be surprised what you walk away with. No doubt... you'll learn the good with the bad, but you will have the option of either putting the good or the bad to use. If you choose to put the "bad" to use, you need some more training.

For every person that says you can't win big without a BNT, catch ride, or catch lead; I will proudly present a list of accomplishments. For example, I walked away with 1st and 4th in showmanship at the Fort Worth Stock Show this year. No BNT trailing behind me, going over the pattern, helping me prepare my horse, etc. It can be done people. Sometimes you have to forget about what other people will think, suck it up, and walk into the pen and show your horse. Each show is just one (or multiple) judges opinions on a given day. You can't give up, and practice makes perfect. You also have to have the capacity to learn something new every day. If you can't, you are going to be stuck doing it the same way every time. For some that can be a good thing (for the people that win); for others it can be a set up for failure.

So how exactly do you go in and beat the pros? You learn everything you possible can from them, take the "good" portion of what you learned, and apply it to yourself and your horses. You use their routines against them. A good horse is a good horse. You can't always win, but if you use your brain and have some determination you will get noticed.