Wednesday, April 1, 2009


When we learn anything new or when I'm giving lessons I will give the lesson, explaining it thoroughly and then I will step back and let my student absorb the lesson. Then ask questions and we'll carry on.

This same theory has got to be applied to horses. Example time!!!!! Yesterday while S&D was working with her mare Sugar, she was trying to get her to go over a bridge. Sugar was terrified! She would try and jump the bridge, rear, back up and do everything to avoid stepping on it. Now, Sugar was getting trouble for the bad behavior, but not for not stepping on the bridge. Rearing is NO NO!

Well finally Sugar decides that OK, getting trouble for rearing was getting kind of old and she would at least walk up to the bridge and stand quiet. And that was her reward. She got to stand and absorb the bridge. Sugar had to stand there though and pay attention to the task, she couldn't look around or get distracted. So when Sugar was asked to step up again she did, then she stopped and was allowed to absorb that it was OK and the bridge wasn't scary.

All in all Sugar was crossing the bridge both ways, would stop on it, stand on it and was perfectly mellow all under 10 minutes. And there was no forcing, fear, beatings or anything otherwise. It was letting her LEARN that she would be safe wherever S&D led her. sugar is smart and beautiful as most of our little darlings are and it is very easy for us to get mad and say "It's just a Damn bridge!" But they don't know that... So in any lesson where you are trying to teach your horse something new and unfamiliar you have to stop and let them absorb what they're doing for a good 30 seconds to a minute. Then proceed. Always end on a good note and always make sure your horse is more relaxed and comfortable at the end!! Oh BTW it's snowing in Seattle again LMAO!!!!


S&D said...

I was so proud of my Sugar Girl last night! That was the one obstacle in our trail class that we kept having issues with... there's no stopping us now!! Hahaha!!
Absorbing is a very good thing... no one likes to be rushed with new things... horses aren't any different

Amy said...

I have a mare that freaks out whenever the footing changes color... for example, it took 3 days to convince her that stepping off of the dirt of my driveway and onto the asphalt wouldn't kill her... I have found this absorbing technique to work well... try and push her, and she'll just back up, warp speed, into whatever obstacles happen to be there, and then proceeed to freak out because there's a bush up her ass. We're working on white cement now... the roads in our little town are mostly asphalt, and white driveways are oh-so-scary.

Amy said...

Can I ask how you effectively and safely punish for rearing? My mare has started bringing her front end off the ground as an avoidance thing... we have lots of respect issues to still work through, but I don't want rearing to becoem a habit. Right now, it's not really a rear, but I can see this becoming a problem.


GoLightly said...

Spank her little butt, Amy. Make sure you're not asking her to go and whoa at the same time. That's a real easy way to TeacH them to rear.
Confusion is hard on the poor horse's brain..
re-direct, re-group.
Great post TrexX!

whattya think?
As I keep saying, rearing was always highly unusual, unless you'd already trained the horse to do it. Trick trainers are the ONLY people who should be teaching that behaviour. And I'm pretty darned sure they have the horse really well-trained FirsT.
Anyone else is just asking for a wreck, either now, or tomorrow, or....

Trainer X said...

Rearing is one of those damn things that drives me nuts! And S&D can attest to this as Sugar rears... Soooooo take a deep breath and get ready for this... take a long whip dressage or a broken crop, you want something that will sting a wee bit. And when she brings those front feet up you have 3 only 3 seconds to smack her legs UNDER THE KNEE only. You will NOT hurt your horse and it gives off enough sting for them to say HEY! OUCH! Smack her HARD! Under the knee, never hit a horse anywhere else with a whip that hard... So from the knee down the back or front side of the front legs crack her good. It only took Sugar a couple times and she figured it didn't feel so hot... John Lyons uses it as well... Rearing is very scary and dangerous in the saddle or on the ground and has to be dealt with a such... it is never ok. If that doesn't work or maybe you aren't comfortable with that go back to some desensitizing excercises. Like spraying her legs with water, she'll learn that if she paws or rears the water still won't leave her alone... You want to be able to get your point across fast and hard and then be done and move on... Let the lesson sink in and start again... She'll learn that rearing hurts like hell!! LOL! And that you are serious that it is not ok!

ezra_pandora said...

Ok, my mare's been "absorbing" the bridge for about 6 months now, lol. We've gotten her front feet up on there and just stood, but then she'll just leap forward off of it. I was told to try to put it up agains the wall and walk her over it with the wall on one side and me on the other. I know what's going to happen though, she'll run me over avoiding it. But interesting tips today for sure.

Trainer X said...

Yeah for sure if you need to set up a border so your horse has no choice but to attempt to get on the bridge... Don't pin yourself, you don't want your horse jumping in your lap lol!!!

Amy said...

So, smack her front legs under the knee with a crop? I would love to try this first on the ground... except she doesn't rear on the ground... I'm just scared to make her go up and over... and I've read that any pressure in front of the shoulders will make a horse try to back away... I'm not scared to spank her ass, I just wanted to know the safest and most effective way to do it.

Definitely not asking for go and whoa at the same time. A couple days ago, she kept stopping at the same place in the area I ride... I ride in a round-pen shaped area of flat sand in a vacant lot next door... she kept stopping at the equivalent of the gate... so I would cue to go, keep cueing, increasing pressure (I use blunt spurs and also had to escalate to spaking with the leather poppers on the end of the reins) and her response was to pop off the ground *grumble.* I did keep cueing, so she didn't get a release from the rear, but I was unsure how to reinforce that rearing was BAD. She also bucks at times... this is all attitude, because when we are pointed where she wants to go, she moves off all nice and collected. Do you punish a buck the same way you would punish a rear?

I have a blog about little miss sunshine: We are making progress, it's just coming along slowly.

Sorry to hijack. Thanks for the advice.

kestrel said...

'Dwell time' my old cowboy friend used to call it. Give em time to figger it out...
On rearing, god I hate that vice. I use a training halter that's similar to a rope halter, but have used the knotted rope halters with a long lead. It's got bite, but releases instantly. The second they go up stand back as far as line will allow, start yanking boomboomboom and don't quit! Cuss LOUD, keep yanking face until they come back down and stand still. Immediately remove energy and go quiet. Ask horse to go back to work. Dare horse to go up again, boomboomboom....Whip on legs works too. While a horse is in the air any part of them is fair game.

Sullen lazy saddle horse, I carry a lunge line with me. They get too stupid, I'm getting off, but lazy will get you work. So will working yourself up into a shit fit. Keep pressure on horse with cussing, glaring, snarling. Lunge line on, do transitions, turns, must be perfect or else, when horse gives it up I get back up and see if attitude is adjusted. Horse learns rider on back is work, but pissed off rider on ground means he's gonna sweat!

If I know a horse rears under saddle I use a running martingale on them, yank one rein around, get that head bent and down. Same thing, do not release or forgive until they are willing. I get off if have to and make their life unbelievable hell until they stand quiet and respond to commands, then work quiet on line. The thing is, if a rat bastid horse learns they can intimidate you to get out of work you're doomed. The issue becomes 'them trying to evade work,' so it really doesn't matter if you're on their back or not as long as you have a way to make their life hell. As long as you keep the pressure on high when they're refusing, and reward quiet and cooperative, they learn that even thinking of evasion is going to be sooo not worth the effort!

kestrel said...

Oh, and maybe not too clear in previous post. Timing is everything. I go from pissed off meat eater to soft friend deliberately, and instantly. Very black and white reaction to horse's behavior. Bad behavior gets horse disciplinarian owner, good behavior gets horse admiring owner. Once the horse realizes that it's behavior influences my reaction we have communication going.
I use my reaction to behavior in a herd oriented behavior, copying what dominant mama would do to foal.

Dena said...

Trainer X
I had an odd thought today. Now bear in mind I haven't even fully thought it out yet.
It was one of those hmmmm...I wonder things.
Totally OT
I never ever teach young horses to longe. I just do not do it.
But we have very long winters here.
Perfect to properly bit the youngstuff without pushing.
What do you think about starting the ground driving at say 20
I would really like to hear your opinion on this.

GoLightly said...

GAWD, kestrel
You are brilliant, did anyone ever tell you that?

I was hoping you'd respond, too.

Always learn something new here.


The_Black_Mare said...

OK, this is completely off-topic, but I thought you all might enjoy hearing about this... I saw the Western States Horse Expo (huge event in Sacramento, CA) had *Cleve Wells* the big-name, horse-abusing trainer, on their list of presenters. I sent a complaint in to the organizers and encouraged others to do the same. Below's the reply I received and my original message:

Thank you for your concern. Yes, Mr. Wells has been removed from our roster of clinicians. We could not state it any better then you did yourself.
Miki Cohen
Western States Horse Expo - 2009

Original Message:

To the organizers of the Western States Horse Expo:

As a Californian and life-long horse enthusiast, I was eagerly anticipating this year's Horse Expo... That is, until I saw that you booked Cleve Wells as a clinician. As I'm sure you know, Mr. Wells is currently involved in a very serious horse abuse scandal. I cannot understand why your event would want to be associated with that man; I seriously question your judgment.
Why, when you have respected trainers such as John Lyons and Stacy Westfall, would you feature someone accused of one such an ugly case of horse abuse?

Maintaining the welfare of horses is absolutely vital – much more important than winning at shows – something that Cleve Wells clearly does not understand. I strongly urge you to disassociate yourself with Mr. Wells and to drop him from your roster of presenters.

Black Mare back in: Isn't that great news?

kestrel said...

Black Mare, you rock!
GL, naught brilliant, just trying to pass on what I've learned so far. I absolutely hate the "I've got a secret training technique that works but you'll have to pay me big bucks to learn it" bull that is going on in the training world today. We should be welcoming newbies, mentoring them, and teaching them all that we know....for the horses. Now you girl, have taught me some sTUFF!
Wish we could just travel around doing clinics. We'll win the lotto and not even charge. Our motto would be, if you can afford a trainer GO PAY THEM. If you can't we'll help anyway, and maybe encourage you to budget in a trainer.

Padraigin_WA said...

First time posting here, and I hope you guys can help me out.
Yesterday I rode a rescue mare in a very large outdoor arena. She moved off my leg and we were on our merry way. Suddenly, after about twenty feet out, she hit the brakes and began backing up. She must've reversed for a good fifteen feet, even though I kept urging her forward with my legs, while keeping a soft rein. I turned her in a small circle and tried to get her to step forward, to no avail. Someone then loaned me a pair of roweled spurs, and said that this is how she tests all riders who are new to her. After several attempts to get her to move forward, she finally stepped off, yet pulled the reverse mode trick with me several more times. There were other riders in the arena, and she seemed to not mind where she was heading. We narrowly missed being kicked. But I was firm with her and kept my heels pressed against her and refused to fight. She finally realized I had spurs on. But I was almost in tears and was embarrassed as well. Can you guys give me some advice as to how to ride this one out? I'd love to ride her again and gain her respect. BTW, spurs are new to me, believe it or not. After all these years of riding, I never used them on my own horse, as he had very light sides and was quite hot ,and now as a middle aged re-rider, I feel as if I am developing a kind of angst with situations such as the one described above.

kestrel said...

Okay, help me out here girls, cuz I am just going to give my opinion and I'm sure there's several ways to handle this. TREX, where are ya?! GL, Fern, Horsepoor....everbuddy!

Okay, here goes. Don't even be embarrassed about the situation PW. That mare is a rescue for a reason. It has nothing to do with your riding or respect. The horse is screwed up big time. Whoever put you up on a horse like that without warning you is someone I'd like to kick.
The mare sounds like she's vapor locked, with a serious disconnect between her brakes and accelerator. If she were mine, I'd go back to ground work and try to find the hole in her education. A horse that runs backwards blindly is very dangerous. A lot of times it can start with a trainer that punishes the horse with backing, so every time the horse thinks of disobedience they punish themselves before the rider can!
I'd start with lunging, go to ground driving. Check mouth for bit fit and action, check teeth. Lunge another rider, really making sure that she understands the difference between go forward and go backward, then move back up into the saddle.
If she still runs backwards I'd give up. I don't think the mare is 'testing' new riders. My gut hunch is she's afraid of the bit and panics. A panicked horse can kill you when they go into fight mode, or they will lock down so tight that they explode at seeming random.
Sounds like by adding spurs whoever has been riding her has made her more afraid of the spurs than going forward, but that can backfire. I'd sure be looking at why she flips out at going forward, and I'd be doing it from the ground. I've seen that type of horse blow up and either go over backwards or run right through a fence.

bhm said...

If the horse is rearing I' check the bit and get the teeth professionally done by an equine dentist. They would be able to tell you if something if off on the bite.

If the horse is going backwards it is more than likely that it is sore somewhere. I could be a training problem where the horse was ridden with an ill fitting bit, ill fitting tack, or ridden sore.

I wouldn't put any pressure either through the legs or through a rope on a horse were the stop is coming from the front end. Rearing is usually situational and its best to let the legs come down and not react. Then once the horse stops ask for the forward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Patience is usually the best training tool.

kestrel said...

See, I knew I needed help to explain! Thanks!

bhm said...

With a buck and rear you can say no. With the buck pull the head up quickly while saying no. It's important in both situations to remain dead calm in the saddle and let your weight sink a bit into the saddle. Your horse needs to have the calm to be brought back to.

GoLightly said...

Yeah, jeeesh.

Way to go, BYB's that will never realize how incredibly F**ed up they can train their horse to be.

Right back to basics, poor thing. Someone hurt her, very, very badly.
Take your time.
What kestrel said.
Be careful. They have a very narrow intelligence, and it's brutally accurate in it's expectations.

"said that this is how she tests all riders who are new to her."
"You" aren't that new to her. That's crap. Typical. Ask whomever handed you the spurs to show you, first. Why are they daring you with your volunteer life?
Does she even do ground work? Do ground work first, with any horse you are about to ride, anyWAY.
But, yeah. Be careful. It's your life, here.
You rode through it? Finished on a good note? Did anyone make sure of that, at least? Hello?
Kudos to you, don't let it scare you. You are right to think, hmm, not a safe mode of transport. That isn't, not at all.
Maybe she could be, for someone else?
So what, there will always be other horses, right?

Sorry, any "arrogance" directed not at you, paddy:)

Oh,and YAY to NO, he who shall not be named..

where is TrexX?
you better not be smokin' girl, or I'll well, do absolutely nothing:)
Hope you're better, and Acacia is snugglin' with ya more each day:)
Oh, and that it isn't snowing!
Warm Dry Air, your way!

bhm said...

If the horse is rearing or going back wards you can test by asking for forward on the ground. Apply the leg aid to the girth area by using your hand and get the horse to go forward. You should be able to tell from the horse's reaction what the problem is. Also, reschooling for forward from the ground is also a good way to retrain the horse to not have a rearing, bucking, or reversing problem.

bhm said...

I also find with asorbing that it's important to stand still and wait patiently for the horse to move forward is the best. Horse's usually hate stand still for long periods of time and will usually move forward on their own to check out what the strange object is. Give your horse no cues, words, pats, or any form of interaction until the horse moves forward. Then reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

You can try this in hand with a horse that doesn't like strange colors or substances. Place a carrot on the strange surface and remain quiet and passive. Allow the horse to get the object on its own. Reward. Repeat with the carrot a little further and eventually the horse will willingly go on the substance. Try this training with a variety of strange footings.

It's a great training technique to use before being introduced to the trail as it is more that likely that you will meet something that will stop your horse from going forward. The horse should now how the training for forward works ahead of time.

kestrel said...

Yeah, from the ground. Buck or rear from high spirits or momentary fear reaction, not a problem for me at all. Running full out backwards blindly is definitely an "Oh shit" moment. That's a horse that hates it's job and usually everything associated with it. Takes lots of time to undo, and there are a few horses that are so brain fried they will react like that whenever they get overloaded. Yikes!

Padraigin_WA said...

Kestrel, bhm, GoLightly,
you guys are great. Thanks for the advice. You're right, something's going on with this mare. And yer right, too, in that a horse backing up blindly -and rapidly-is not a fun ride. In fact, it was downright scary- I did have this awful fear of her going over backwards. I'll let those who've been with the rescue a longer time than me to work with her and correct this habit. Btw, we did end on a good note, as I settled her into working on small circles and some serpentines at a walk and trot.

- and bhm, I like the idea of the 'absorbing' concept. Think I need to make use of it myself more often, whether with horses or my family, for that matter. Or 'dwell time', as Kestrel's old cowboy friend refers to it.

- GoL, you're right, there'll always be other horses. I sure appreciate the one-day-a-week-leased gelding I've found for now.

kestrel said...

PW, you are one heck of a good rider to have pulled that one off! Getting a horse who's brain is that terribly mangled to come back to the present, instead of being locked in past trauma, is a delicate and touchy process.

GoLightly said...

Paddy, Kudos!

To finish well is always the key.
yeah what kestrel said:)