One of the most important things you will ever do to and with your horse is to groom him. Remember, a clean horse is a healthy horse. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your horse and get to know him. It’s also a great opportunity to inspect your horse and make sure he doesn’t have any dings or bangs or cuts. You can inspect his feet for thrush, or other foot disorders when you pick his feet.
When brushing my horse, I normally use a rubber curry. It’s not as harsh as the metal combs, and it feels better to him. Let’s face it; wouldn’t you rather have someone scratch your back with a rubber comb instead of a metal one? You should brush him all over, including his mane and under it. Sometimes horses with a long mane could cover an injury underneath.
Next we want to discuss bathing your horse. I’ve often heard that you shouldn’t give your horse a bath to cool him down. This is absolutely false. It’s been proven in several studies that horses cool down much better, faster, and safer when bathed in cold water. So don’t be afraid to hose down your hot horse.
First you want to tie up your horse using a quick release knot. Choose a space where the water will drain away to tie him. Most stables have a wash rack or a place to tie them specifically for bathing. You can either fill a bucket with warm water, or you can simply wet him down with the hose. Next, I fill the inside of a rubber curry comb with shampoo. You can use the mane and tail shampoos or you can simply use people shampoo. This is usually cheaper and works just as well. Taking the curry, you want to work the shampoo into his body, scrubbing him good. This includes his mane, his belly and his legs. Horses are more than just a broad back.
You should also wash his tail, especially if it is light colored. Washing the tail won’t give him a chill, so you can wash it any time. Again, you can either fill a bucket with warm soapy water, or you can wet it down with the hose. Next, you want to apply the shampoo liberally to the tail. Scrub it in good, making sure to scrub the tail bone as well, top and bottom. Let it set a moment or two, then rinse it well. Make sure you have all of the shampoo out of his hair, on his tail as well as his body. Leaving shampoo in his hair isn’t good for him, and may cause hair loss. When you have all the shampoo rinsed from his body, you can condition his mane and tail. Apply the conditioner, and no need to skimp on it. Once you have the conditioner thoroughly worked into his hair, you can let it set for a couple of minutes, then rinse. You can actually leave
just a little bit of conditioner in the mane and tail and it makes it easier to comb out, and won’t hurt them at all.
All too often I get an animal in to train that is pushy, disrespectful and almost dangerous. The most common thing I hear is, "I don't know WHY he does that!" Well, I'm here to tell you it's because people "train" their horses to do these things. I know you think it's nice when Spot (or Fluffy, or George, or w/e you call your mighty steed) comes up and rubs his head on you. You may think this means he loves you, but what he's really telling you is "I dont respect you or your personal space." Let's just say for instance Spot was out in the pasture with a herd of assorted mares/geldings. There will be one old mare who be the undisputed BOSS of the herd. What's gonna happen if Spot goes over and starts wallering ol' Missy? Well, one this is for certain, if Missy doesn't feel like being pestered, and doesn't "invite" him into her personal space, she's gonna get miffed. First she'll threaten him. If this gets no response she'll use stronger language. If at last, he doesn't move off and leave her be, she'll kick or bite him to tell him in no uncertain terms to leave her be. In this manner, she teaches him to respect her and her space. You should remember this when Spot comes to rub all over you. Do not let him rub on YOU. YOU need to be the one doing the rubbing. Keep him out of your space unless you invite him in. I knew some folks once who had the cutest colt; he was such a little charmer. He loved to play and they loved to play with him. They used to let him rear up and put his feet on their shoulders. This was fine and dandy until one day, he was all grown up. They darling baby was now a gigantic, dangerous, 1300 lb spoiled brat! It wasn’t the colts fault, he wasn’t trying to be mean, and he just wanted to play. The trouble here was twofold. First and foremost, he did not respect the boundaries. This is because there were none established. Second, he did not respect his owner as the boss. Although this was an extreme case, I’m sure you can see now how establishing personal boundaries and respect are of the utmost importance. You should start establishing your boundaries from day one. Every time you lead your horse, remind him that he is to stay out of your “bubble”. You can achieve this by the following method. When you are leading good ol’ fluffy, he will try and crowd you, or even try to pass you as you lead him. The thing to do is to stop suddenly, raise your arms up and move backwards towards him, shooing and making noise so as to alarm him. Now, keep in mind, you’re only trying to move him back a little, not give him a heart attack or scare him into the next county, so use judgment as to how much to use. He will back up from you, and then you cluck to him and move out
again. Every time he tries to crowd you or pass you, repeat the procedure. It won’t take too awful long until he gets the idea that he’s supposed to follow, that YOU are in the lead, not him.
Why, you ask, would we want to make our horse stretch out? Well, there are a couple reasons for this. First, it helps a horse learn to stand still after you saddle him. It gives his something else to think about aside from taking off. Second, it helps teach patience. He can learn to park out, and stay there until you move him off.
It’s easiest to start this with your horse saddled. Take him out into the barn isle, or anywhere else that’s relatively level and smooth. You want to be standing at his on side
shoulder. Take the rein in your left hand, and place your right hand on the saddle horn. While pushing away on the horn, you want to bump his left front heel at the bulb with the side of your boot, just below the coronary band. Now, here again, you want to be cognizant of the fact that when we start out, we’re only looking for the smallest try. Ideally, when finished, we want him to pick that foot up and move it forward, while keeping his back end still. Initially though, we will accept him just picking it up. When he does, praise him, and really make big of him. Next, you want to pull him towards you, causing him to take the weight off of the right front. You want to repeat the procedure you used for the left foot, only with the right. You should be telling him to Whoa, and using the rein to keep him still. It’s going to look a lot like a slow motion shuffle; first one foot goes out, then the other. Remember to help keep his hindquarters stationary, you should initially bend him towards you just a bit. It helps him keep focused on you and what you’re asking of him.
When parking him out, remember not to park him so far out that it’s uncomfortable to him. If you make it difficult, or painful to him, it only makes your job of teaching him that much harder. When he’s parked out as far as you want him, make him stand there for about 45 seconds. This helps to confirm that he can’t just take off whenever he likes. Walk around him and pet him and tell him what a good boy he’s being. This will not come easy, not at first. It will take time and work to get him parked out, and then keep him still after he’s parked out. When he’s stood at least his 45 seconds; back him out of the park. IF he will not back, push is reins back, TELL him back, and then push on the corner of his shoulder with your thumb. When you’ve got him parking well, then you transfer it into the saddle. Ask him to park out, and then mount up. Make him wait his 45 seconds, then back him out of the park. Once he’s back up straight, make him wait for a few more seconds before you just take off with him. You should ask him to stretch out before every ride. Consistency is the key with any type of training. Make sure to do the same thing, the same way while you’re teaching him.
Have you ever wondered what goes on during your horses "Basic Training"? Well, if you were in the military, it's is similar to the process there. You want to build a horse from the ground up the way you want him. The first thing I do is an evaluation. What does he know? What has the owner taught him, if anything? Does he have any bad habits? These are some of the questions that will need answering so that you can decide where to start.
Basic training will entail all of the things needed to get a colt "started". It includes things like round penning for respect, lateral flexion, saddling, sacking out, and the first ride. There are many things that go into your horses basic training and not every horse or mule undergoes the exact same process. For example, Horse A may not need to learn to accept the saddle, while Horse B does. Basic training at its core means that you are giving the horse the basics of the education that he will need for you both to become part of the team that makes you both whole.
Be aware though, that just because a horse is finished with his "basic" training, that does not make him anything near what I would call a "broke" or finished horse. Depending on the skill level of the rider, and what you are wanting out of your horse, he may need much more work. For example, in 30 days, you can expect a horse to turn left, right, start and stop and hold a gait. You can NOT however always expect one to neck rein, side pass, dance a jig, fly a kite or any other sort of advanced technique. These things quite simply take time. If there is one thing I've learned in my many years as a rider, it's that there are NO shortcuts in the equine world. Anything worth doing is worth doing RIGHT the FIRST time. Anyone who tells you different is selling a gimmick, NOT good training.
I've been asked by my friends, who are less fortunate than I, who ride straight going stock to explain what I mean by "Setting a gait". To explain what it means to set a gait, first we must discuss the Naturally Gaited Horse.
A "Naturally Gaited Horse" is a breed of horse that has been specifically bred for a smooth easy gait. These include your Tennessee Walking Horse, or the Paso Fino, or your Missouri Fox Trotter. These animals have been bred for many years to produce these easy gaits. However, Some horses are naturally more talented than others. While they are all of them able to do their natural gaits, it requires a bit more from some to learn to do it whilst carrying a person on their back.
This leads us to the setting of a gait. Plainly put, to "set" a gait means to have them hold the desired gait indefinitely. So, when we are setting a gait, we are encouraging the equine to not only hit the desired gait, but to hold it until we ask him to change. This requires just as much from the rider as it does the equine. Your horse must be taught to understand when he is in the "right" gait. Whether it be a fox trot, a running walk, or a rack, you must be able to communicate with him to let him know he's in the right gear. This also requires that the rider know the difference between gaits. It does him no good if you don't understand gait. So, first learn your gaits, then you can teach them to you horse. Happy trails!
As you know, not every animal is the same. What works on horse A, may confuse the heck outa horse B. Pushing one through the bridle IS a great way to collect one to help him gait. I've done all this, and more to help set gait. Why, do you ask, do they NEED set? Aren't they NATURALLY gaited? While it is true that they are naturally gaited, it is a matter of balance. Let's say, for instance, that you LOVE to tango. Your instructor tells you that you have a natural talent for this. One day, your instructor comes to you and puts a 200lb pack on your back and says "TANGO!!" Well, you remember the steps, but your balance is not the same. You have to relearn how to make these moves with the constantly shifting weight on your back. It's much the same for a gaited horse. They have to relearn, in a way, how to gait while carrying someone. If you get them well, and truly "set" in their gait, then yes, you can let them go for extended periods and they still pick it up. But let's face it. Not all horses (or people for that matter) are equally talented. Some horses are just not that graceful, or smart. It doesn't make them "bad", just not as talented. Some of these take a bit more training, but all can gait. Also, in reference to hill work, a long slow hill is EXCELLENT for developing gait, but I've found that working them down a really steep hill will help to develop overstride.
There are LOTS of ways to develop gait, or to encourage the correct gait. For instance, I wrote an article not long ago, about the two dirty words for gaited people. One is "Pace", the other is "trot". While any horse can walk, trot and canter, gaited horses were bred to gait. If we wanted one that just trotted, we'd have bought a Quarter Horse! So we get our bright shiny new Fox Trotter out and lo and behold, he PACES like a CAMEL! OH NO! Now what? You may ask, "So what if he paces, isn't that a gait?" Yes, it is, and for some breeds, such as the Standardbred, it is desirable. When training Fox Trotting Horses, however, It is NOT a desired gait. So what do you do to fix this? Deep footing is one way to help "break up" the pace. It encourages them to lift higher, and in turn also helps to break up that pace.
it was an awesome, if long day. I took Sonny out for his first ride, and he promptly REFUSED to step even ONE foot on the blacktop! LOL It took a bit of coaxing, but I got him on it. It took a bit MORE coaxing to get him to cross the wooden bridge that crosses the river.He did the same thing as when he seen the blacktop. He put on the brakes and stopped on a dime. He wouldn't step not a toe on the bridge. I worked him for a bit from the saddle, then decided we'd be best to try it from the ground. I got off and led him to the edge, he still wanted to balk, but eventually he stepped up on it. I led him back and forth several times, without letting him step off it. I then mounted up and rode him back and forth a few times. Then, we rode off the bridge and down the road a about a quarter mile to another bridge. This was a small, low water bridge that had a waterfall coming off of it. It was not deep, but was pretty noisy. My goal here was to just get him to it. I achieved my goal, rewarded him by taking off the pressure, petted and loved on him, then headed back the way we came. We went along at a pretty good clip for a bit up the wide open trail, then he, with great flourish I might add, fell flat on his nose! I, meanwhile, practiced my technique for gravel diving. I find that I can still take a nose dive into the gravel with the best of them. It was only AFTER I picked myself up and got down the road a ways, that I found something dry and witty to say. The only think I could think of to say while I was watching the ground come up, unfortunately for me, was "OH CRAP, YOU CLUMSY BAS&*%$D!" When one takes a dive like this, it should be noted that you should ALWAYS have something dry and witty to say while doing so. You know, something like " GERONIMO!" Or, you could try "BONZA!!" But, OH CRAP doesnt really count.....
BUT, Amos got his hair cut and he looks slick as a baby's butt with his new "Kojak" look. It took me 2.5 hours to body clip him. (yes, I know that's an awful long time) He was a good boy though.
Its musty smell belies its use.
Its age belies its youth.
Creaking softly as it is picked up,
Flung over, cinched down.
With a swish of fabric,
It is pushed down onto the withers.
Rushing wind, beating hooves, dripping sweat.
Gentle rubbing, lathering.
The wind stops.
Uncinched, creaking softly as it is picked up
Its musty smell belies its use.
Its age belies its youth.
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As a trainer, I've seen accidents happen to other riders, and had more than my share of bangs and beats as well. I feel like it's time to share this very personal, very sad story.Sometimes, bad things happen, even to the best of us.
Some years ago, when I was just starting out on my own;I received a curly horse called Traveler. I was still a very young man, just barely out of my teens. I just called him Larry (for the stooge with the wild hair). He had previously been broken, the people just wanted him rode for thirty days or so. I rode him for six days. The folks were having trouble mounting him so that is the first thing I did was work on making him stand while mounting. The next few days we worked on neck reining and crossing water. He was coming along great. He had the makings of a truly fine horse. On the sixth day, My sister, my wife and I went for a ride. I rode Larry over to a friends place so I could meet them there. They were going to ride Molly and Traveler(another fine foxtrotter) . We had a real good ride, Larry did real well. When we got back to my friends place, I took care of the other horses and left again. About a mile down the road, Larry got real bad stove up and would do no more than walk. I got off and led him for about a mile and a half. He was getting progressively worse, so I turned him and took him to a local barn about a half mile from my position (there were no celular phones in those days). I put him in a stall and rubbed him down and went to call the vet and my father. My father was on his way so I lead him out of his stall. He would hardly lead all the way down there and now was no exception. He got clear of the door of the stall and laid down in the sand of the arena. He would not get up. When my father got there he looked at him and thought I had ridden him too hard. The diagnosis was colic. When the owner of the barn got home, it quickly changed to a twisted gut. We had already called the owners who called their own vet, (as we could not get one to answer the phone) and they came right over. The vet arrived shortly after and quickly pronounced it as "tying up" or severe Azoturia (Exertional Rhabdomyolisis), a muscle condition that causes severe muscle damage. The Amish used to call it "Monday Morning Sickness". The vet said they were unsure what caused it, as little was known about it. The eventual verdict was that they would put him down. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I have never seen a horse do that before and I hope I never do again. I was in agony too. Here was a creature that had just given me his heart and soul, and now was laying there, dying on the floor of the barn. What a cruel thing is a fate that would subject us to these things. I guess it is all over now, but I cannot help feeling bad. He was a good friend while I had him. There really is no moral to this story, everything was done that could be done, I just wanted to share the story of a great friend, with a greater heart.
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I was reminded of a very important lesson today. I took a little John mule I'm riding l, and went with my son and a couple of my friends to Busiek State Park to ride. At the midway point, I was asked to ride my friend's mule to see if I could get him to gait.My son wanted to ride the one I was on; so I let him ride him. they did a very good job until we got to the creek and the little mule balked and refused him. My son did not have spurs so could not coax him very well. A battle ensued and my son was on the losing end. He quickly lost his temper and got quite frustrated with the little mule. It was at this point that I intervened. I had him hold the one I was riding, and i got on the little turkey. I had the same issues with him(which was to be expected). He tried to rear, and dance and side step, and refused to go in the water. With some coaxing, and a lot of patience, I managed to get him to walk down the creek a ways. I rewarded him with a lot of praise and no small amount of patting and rubbing and good boys. I then had my son get on him and walk him in as well. They both did well this trip. We resumed our ride and had a great time. My son, however was still miffed at the mule for misbehaving. It took him about 10 minutes to get over his mad.We finished the ride, loaded our stock and headed home. We got back to the barn and unloaded. It was as we were leaving that I asked him what he'd learned today. He said" I learned today that it takes a lot more patience, and knowledge to train and correct these animals than I have." I told him that was a very good observation, and that I was proud of him for admitting it. You see, we as horsemen are not perfect. Our mounts are not perfect. We should learn from our shortcomings, and try to improve. Not only as trainers, but as people. In my own life, I know I'm not always as patient with people as I am with a horse. I am consciously trying to work on that. Thank you son for reminding me of such an important lesson.