horse training

The H.I.T. riders meet every Tuesday at 6:30 pm. This isn’t your typical riding class. In fact, some weeks there is no riding at all. But every week the horses are involved in some aspect of the challenge.

Yes, these young riders are up for the challenge of training a horse. H.I.T. is an acronym for Horseperson In Training. And although their riding instructor is present, it is up to them to determine what challenge they choose and how they will go about accomplishing it.

One of the young riders selected roping a steer for her challenge. We provided the cow, as it turned out, but she decided what steps would be taken to make sure the horse accepted the “steer” in the arena and allow her to rope it.

Eventually, this challenge will go one step further, and the cow will “run” along the long wall of the arena on a rail while the rider “ropes” it. But for now, we just got the horse used to the cow moving and the rope hitting the cow.

This video captures it. 

It did take about four weeks to accomplish this task. And although our horses are pretty much desensitized, it took an entire session to get Leslie really comfortable with the cow.

For more information about the variety of programs we offer, see our website at Pretty Pony Pastures.

I never thought I’d be the proud owner of a horse that goes to college, but earlier this month Angel (Angelita’s Image) stepped into the trailer that took her to Meredith Manor is West Virginia!

One of our Program Aids, Christa, had been working with her for over a year. Late last year she was accepted to Meredith Manor. During a session she expressed her disappointment that she would not be the person to “finish” Angel since she would be leaving soon for college. At that moment I had an idea. I knew some other colleges that would allow the students to bring a horse; I even heard of a few colleges that would allow horses to attend even if their owner wasn’t attending that school. So, why not ask if Angel could go too? After all, she still needed some training and Christa had really bonded with her.

So we began getting all her supplies together and having the vet come out to give her the required vaccinations for her new adventure.

When the big day came, Angel loaded in the trailer like she was an old hand at travelling. Truth be known, she has not travelled much at all, but she wasn’t going to let the transport compnay know.

Angel new home_tFrom all reports, she was a big hit when she arrived. Unloaded, refused to walkAngel at Window_t through the mud, and made herself comfortable in her new stall. When Christa visited her the next day, she was very happy to see a familiar face.

The back of her stall open to the paddocks so she doesn’t feel confined when she spends time in her stall.

Angel has been assigned to an advance student who is making sure her ground training is on target. They will teach her all she needs to know to be a great program horse. And best of all, she will continue to be with Christa!

We’ve even given her a Facebook page that will be updated with her progress. You can find her at Angel (Angelita’s Image).

It will be two years before she returns in her cap and gown.


There is a lost art in horsemanship – ground tying. The cowboys had to have horses that would stand when the reins were dropped so they could dismount and do their work, knowing that the horse was not going to wander off. Today we have cross-ties, tie-rings and a gamut of devices to keep our horses from wandering off. But how many horses will stand when the reins or lead-line is dropped?

At our barn, ground tying is one of the skills that we insist our horses learn. It’s not hard to teach. Most horses would rather stand than work, so we use that to our advantage.

Last week, I was so pleased to see two of our green horses just standing while their young trainers walked around the arena. Not only did the horse stand while the young lady moved away, but, each of the young ladies were able to circle the horse, then the arena, with the horse only moving her head to see where her leader was.

Talk about establishing a bond! The girls were very proud of their horses as well. Carrots for everyone for a job well done!

Having and training horses for the past several years, in addition to  being a teacher, has really shown me that there is much similarity between all living beings.

When we train our horses, we follow the three C’s – Clear, Concise, Consistent. Let me show you how this would work with a simple task. At our barn, we want the horse to stop at a doorway when it is on lead line. It doesn’t matter if it’s the gate from the arena to the barn or the stall door. We want the horse to stop, let the leader through, then the horse walks through when asked.

Clear – Be exact about what you want the horse to do. In this case we want the horse to stop at the doorway. Not just slow down so the leader can get through the door first, not stop three feet or more from the doorway, so the leader has to extend the lead line, but at the doorway. This means the leader doesn’t ask the horse to stop until it is in the correct position.

Concise – How few words can you use when you ask the horse to stop? At our barn, say “whoa.” No explanation, no extra words, just “whoa.” Then the leader’s feet stop moving. If the horse insists on continuing through the doorway, apply a quick tug on the lead line to remind the horse that it’s suppose to listen to the direction.

Consistent – This, in my opinion, is the most important part. We stop at EVERY door, EVERY time. No deviation, ever. In a hurry today, so we skip the stop at the doorway? That tells the horse that the rules do not apply all the time. Horses learn fast. They know which leaders follow the rules and which don’t. Then they try to convince other leaders that the “rules” do not apply to them.

Think about it. Then think about your kids or other people you know or work with. Would the three C’s work with them as well?

Trust is such a big issue when it come to horses and riders. You will hear one person say, “I trust my horse’s judgement better than my own on the trails.” Another may say, “I could never trust my horse in a new situation.”

When there is a strong bond between the horse and rider, it seems all is well; when there isn’t – the picture isn’t pretty.
I just read an article that was published in two different magazines showing how the horse and rider or leader are intertwined. According to the article, there was an experiment with 10 horses and 20 people. The first group of 10 people were to ride the horse. Both the horse and rider were wired to pick up the heartbeat. The riders were told to ride the horse past a group of people four times, but on the fourth pass, several of the bystanders would open an umbrella. Watching the monitors, the persons who were conducting the experiment say BOTH the riders and horses heart rates increase on the fourth pass. Some of the horses were getting fidgety. Why? Only the riders knew about the umbrellas, which, by the way, we never opened! But, the riders anticipated and the horses responded to the feeling they were receiving from the rider.

Next group only led the horse with a halter and lead line. They were told the same thing. Walk by the group of spectators four times, on the fourth time some on the people will open an umbrella. The results were identical! The horse not only feels our energy when we are on their backs but when they are being led as well!Copper Boy kisses ghost cropped

At our arena, we tell the parents and riders that we will dismount if there are severe storms or thunder storms.  The parents always question whether the horses are afraid of thunder.  Our answer has always been, “No, but if the rider gets scared, the horses wil  get scared as well.  No matter how much we try to desensitize the horses, they will still respond to the rider or leader.

We witnessed this just the other day.  We had three adult riders in the arena.  Two were on lead line, one was riding independent.   It was not a particularly windy day, but, in the middle of the class, a tree in the woods behind the arena decided to fall.  One of the riders on lead line head the rustle, tensed up, then decided it was nothing.  Her horse did a little jig for one or two steps and immediately quieted down.  The second rider on lead line was in deep conversation with the leader.  Neither of them were aware of the noise; their horse did nothing.  The third rider saw the tree as it started to fall and began to react to the anticipated noise.  Her horse reacted to her anticipation and trotted out about 30 feet.  The rider was able to regain composure and bring the horse to a walk.  The horse that did nothing is our newest horse and has had the least amount of desensitizing.

Which makes me wonder – how important is it for the rider to trust the horse and the horse to trust the rider?

We took Leslie to her first schooling dressage show today.  What a wonderful way to start Mother’s Day.

Never mind that the show was an hour and a half drive away, that we were showing from the trailer, and we were the first ride at 9:00 am, so we had to leave by 6:00 am to have some warm-up time.

After an hour of trying to best braid Leslie’s mane, we loaded her in the trailer.  This is the first time in two years that we have taken Leslie off the farm and her first dressage show with only six months of training, once a week at best.  Amy, her trainer, and I decided to enter her in the Introductory Level Tests A and B.  We feel that she has been making good progress, but we wanted a judge’s opinion.

Leslie was a bit nervous when we brough her into the arena area to tack her up, so we walked her around a few times.  Mirrors!  Our arena doesn’t have any; this one does!  I remembered someone saying that some of the horses in the Olympics spooked when they saw themselves on the big screens that were hung in the arena.  What would Leslie do when she saw herself in a mirror?  She was curious, but not afraid.  Good!  This was actually a good thing when we bridled her.  She decided that she wanted no part of the bridle.  Not her style, but in a strange place, understandable.  She ran.  Where?  To her reflection in the mirror.  She stood so close to the mirror that it got steamy!  As she commiserated with herself about her predicament, we were able to bridle her.  Amy mounted and the tests began.Leslie and Amy Dressage Ribbons

Happy to say the tean took ribbons in both classes – fourth in Intro A and second in Intro B.

So proud!

I went to a demo clinic last night about riding with feel.  Interesting thought – feel.  In our human world we often see a situation and say it doesn’t “feel” right; we meet someone and later declare that we didn’t have a good “feel” about that person.  But, how does this fit in with horses?  Is it the same kind of “feel”?

Being prey animals, I know my horses are on the watch and aware of their surroundings.  But what about the people they interact with on a regular basis?  Through my studies, I know that horses mirror the rider or handler.  How many times do we go to the barn after a bad day at work only to find that our horses does not listen or obey our commands.  Still in a bad mood, we place the blame of the bad ride on the horse – it has an attitude today, not even considering that the horse was playing off our “feelings” that evening.

When performing therapeutic riding, our horses are interfacing with both a rider and a leader.  I know that they will often tune into the rider and adjust their gate accordingly.  But what about the leader?  I have seen horses that were very edgy in one class and calm in the next.  Was it the leader, the rider, or a combinaiton of the two that cuased the horse to react?  Did the leader in the second class have a different aura or feel and the horse, “feeling” the calmness became calm as well?

I am considering purchasing the book and maybe the CDs on this topic to see what insight they might give me when working with our horses.  I’ll post the results when I see them.

True Horsemanship Through Feel, Second Edition

Horse Handling & Riding Through Feel

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