First Horses

Having the pleasure of introducing my children to horses gets me to thinking about my first horse and learning to ride with my mom, especially when I stumbled across these old pictures. I am so lucky to get to carry on the tradition. My mom got what I am pretty sure was her first horse as a teenager. There may have been a pony sometime before that? I should know this. Sass was a Morgan cross advertised in the paper as “not good for poles”. He was quite the horse. She would have to be the one to tell his stories, and hopefully I can get her to. Thinking about it now they were quite the stories. He was hot, proud cut, and maybe a little crazy. That could have been the combination of the two of them though 😉 He was a great cow horse, borrowed regularly to work cattle. A great jumper, they jumped home made jumps bareback. And he was hers, well loved until us children came along.

Then he was mine. Not many people are lucky enough to share a first horse with their parent. By then he had a fair bit of age on him, he had settled down, been sold, my brothers fault, and brought back home again. He was the perfect height for a child and the perfect age, safe and dependable.

My mom went on to get Tally. Tally, Brandy’s Tally Jack, was a registered Morgan, big, hot, green broke, and gorgeous. Sass suddenly wasn’t very exciting. I believe I was four to Tally’s five. All I wanted was to ride  him. Sass was old and boring. Strangely my mom let me ride Tally. She says I didn’t fall of every time I rode him and I’m sure that’s true. Eventually I did learn to ride him although he remembered me, and all my times of falling off, until the end. He carried us through horse shows and trail rides, faithfully and loyally, sometimes all three of us at once.

These two wonderful Morgans taught all three of us to ride while instilling a love of horses, Morgans in particular. We were so lucky to grow up with them.

Potty Training And A Variable Reward Schedule

So, I’m a member of a great horse training group, Horse Tricks Academy. The lady who teaches it, Jain Brand, has a wonderful class over there with a really fun and involved Facebook group. There are lots of discussions on training and lots of friends made, it’s one of my favorite things. I might spend a little too much time there.

The other day she offered some definitions of the terminology of this type of horse training, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and the like, no wonder we need definitions with that last one, and asked if anybody had examples of these from our daily lives. Of course the talk turned to children, if only they were as easy to train as horses. There was talk of using positive reinforcement to help with toilet training of youngsters. A treat for a “job” well done. But then they mentioned intermittent rewards, not getting a treat every single time they do something but randomly.

Wait I know about this! I’ve read a dozen articles, heard the reasoning and benefits and I’ve, I’ve never tried it.

I went to bed thinking about potty training, then, as always, my thought turned to horses. I laid there thinking that I’ve never tried this. Of course when I have no horse handy to start working with immediately is when the greatest epiphanies come. Not rewarding a behavior that usually results in a well loved treat causes great upset to the horse and they TRY HARDER. They offer more of the behavior and when they offer a larger Spanish walk, or run back with the rubber chicken instead of plod, then you click and reward. Sandra of Hippologic explains it better and more thoroughly than I can here.  She and Jain both were kind enough to offer pointers and advice, on child training as well as horse 😉

I can’t wait to get out there and try to put their advice to use. Not right this moment, it’s hot out, but soon and this time I will remember to do it and not forget like all the other times I read about it. Really I will. As to potty training….

A Day Of Firsts

We’ve been doing this for awhile now, it doesn’t seem like there should be too many things left to do for the first time. We keep finding them though!

After our nice little morning work out yesterday I managed to sneak back out in the afternoon and bring him in again. Any time I want to do anything with the horses they seem to be clear out on the far side of there pen. I can’t call them up the the front from the gate but if I walk out to the end of the lane Rusty will come and  meet me in the middle.


I threw his saddle on and hopped on without any warm up or ground work. We had done plenty that morning and I reached a point this summer where I got tired of treating him like a green horse. He’s been under saddle for over a year now. He has only been ridden sparingly in that time but hasn’t ever done anything really bad, so I’m done. He’s a horse. He can go for rides. Little rides, close to the house, but still we’re going.

After a quick circle around the arena I pointed him towards the chicken coup. It’s always a scary place, there are tree branches scraping the roof, an old pickup, calves in their pen, and, scariest for me, a drop off on one side. It took some encouragement and lots of reassurance but we made the scary loop! Check one first off.

On the back side of the chicken coup instead of going around and back to the arena we turned the other way and went behind the shop building and another old barn. There’s an extension cord strung out across the ground, tractors parked, and the tree row. There aren’t as many rocks to hurt a poor little horsey’s feet going that way though and variety is nice. Check another first off.

We went down the driveway a little ways, like last time. Unlike last time it was terrifying this time. Still made it and back into the yard. Nobody died. He wanted to go past our turn and down towards the stack yard. I was happy to comply. He wanted to trot, out of nervousness I think. I encouraged it for a few strides then asked for a whoa. After lots of work on it from the ground he now automatically backs a few steps after stopping. Very nice. Did that a few times as we rode between the towering stacks of round bales. The ones he hasn’t been able to gather the courage to ride between on previous rides. Check another first off.

Heading back to the pickup we met my husband on a four wheeler. I didn’t immediately leap off to meet them from the safety of the ground. Rusty was unconcerned as we stopped next to each other for a brief conversation. Mostly he wanted to see if a four wheeler would taste good. The air puffing from the exhaust was not a worry. It zooming off behind him was not a worry. Check another first off.

Back in our arena I thought we would work on some finer points before I got off. We made one circle, practiced one turn on the hindquarters and looked up to see my husband coming in the semi he had been off on the four wheeler to start. He gestured to let me know that he was coming our way. This time I did jump off. The four wheeler is one thing. For our first time meeting a semi I did want the safety of the ground. We stood quietly and watched it come through our arena. He watched with pricked ears but was unafraid. It came right past his nose and he reached to sniff it. As it passed we gave chase. Following, sniffing, clicking and rewarding his lack of fear, until it parked. And our final first of the day.

The ride may not have been calm and uneventful, he spooked and tried to turn back, but we did it anyway. We are getting away from that green horse, babying, stage and I am reaching a point where I am able to treat him like a normal horse. Life is good.

And Back To Rusty

We’ve been doing some other stuff but, good old Rusty, nothing has changed there. Except his coat color. It’s the normal fall darkening but, WOW. He is very nearly liver chestnut, with a lighter red main and tail. Gorgeous.

I’ve managed a couple of rides on him and should be out getting another one now instead of doing this. He is thrilled to be back to work. When I bring in a horse besides him he paws the gate and screams. Last time I rode him we went off down the driveway by ourselves! He was perfectly happy to be going down the road, because we have spent so much time taking walks down it? As soon as I asked him to turn off into the corner of the pivot he had a small melt down but I was able to reassure him and we circled back that way and home for a nice, short ride.

This morning I brought him out with no intention of riding, and I didn’t a small child was following me around riding stayed out of the question. We did work a bit on painting, then asking him to put his foot forward. when we started clicker training we did a simple bow, one foot forward and head down. I asked for it the other day and he seems to have forgotten. We are relearning. I found that if I watch for which foot is about to step forward I can click as it hits the ground and before the next one picks up. I take a step forward with my corresponding leg, I put my left leg forward I want him to place his left fore forwards, my body position is asking for the walk, he starts to walk by moving his left leg forward. Wala! He has given me what I asked for. I need to be careful to ask for the leg that he has taken the weight off of and is planning to start walking with. It’s all about asking at the right time and making it easy. I think. It seems to be working.

I have watched him concentrate on this, more yesterday before I figured out the walking thing. He puts his head down next to mine and I swear I can feel him thinking. He is not an easy horse. Not that he’s bad in any way but he is so intense. He thinks so hard and pays so much attention that he can be a bit overwhelming. I’m sure it’s also that I haven’t taught grown ups well enough (standing quietly while the adults are talking 😉 ) I am trying to pay more attention to him while I’m distracted and reward him for standing still for a second and not touching me. It’s an amazingly hard thing to work on.

There is a piece of railroad tie laying near our “arena” I originally wanted to use it as a pedestal but was having trouble getting him to stand on it instead of pawing and rolling it so it has sat there for children to play with. Today we walked over to it. I asked for foot forward when we were close to it. Clicked, rewarded. I placed my foot on it. He looked at me, I could feel him thinking again. He looked at the tie, my foot, me again, then he picked his foot up and placed it on the tie next to mine!!!

After big rewards and lots of loving I tried the other foot. He did the same with his other foot! He is awesome. The whole moving his foot along with mine thing has turned out better than I ever guessed. He already does Spanish walk when I raise my foot. Now we are slowly adding move foot back with mine and maybe cross over? Rusty never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

The Full Story Of The Rodeo

I heard about another kiddie rodeo so I called to get the kids signed up. Turns out it was not so much kiddie rodeo but a fun/play day. When I called about it I was assured that it was usually over by four, we would have no problem making our previously scheduled engagement. Then my good friend Paula called and asked if we wanted to enter and ride with her. I happily told her we were already entered but would love to ride with her. Did I mention her new living quarters trailer?

I resumed loading practice with Onna, (she had not been interested in going home after our last adventure) got our barrels back out and made my daughter go around them and got as much as I could ready. When Paula showed up that day we loaded everything, including Onna who hopped right in and were off. The children stayed behind with their much beleaguered father, who would feed them lunch and bring them later so they didn’t have to sit out in the hot sun any longer than necessary.

We got there early but the grounds were packed. Paula drove her big, long rig right in and found a spot anyway. The spot might have been the point at which we could no longer go forward but hey, it worked! And we were right behind the rest of the family who were there competing or watching. It was perfect.

Once saddled we went in to warm up. I debated hard which horse to ride. Paula had very kindly offered to let me ride one of hers because Coyote is off a little. I was going to take him to ride anyway, he isn’t limping  I just worry too much about my boy, I thought it would be an easy day for him. This was much better, but now I had a young horse that I had never ridden and would like to get used to. Paula assured me that he had ponied a horse, once or twice and had been “OK” with it. I am a chicken rider, not one who rides chickens 😉 but a rider who is chicken, thought I should clarify that, and the “OK” part didn’t reassure me. I also had Onna who did great last time but last time was not near the mad house this time was and I was going to put my small children on her. I chose Onna to warm up.

In the arena it was crowded. By crowded I mean I could almost see the ground occasionally as people walked trotted and loped endlessly to the left with the occasional stop and back thrown in. I’ve shown horses for years but I had never seen a warm up like this.  I tried to discern some sort of pattern, was the outside track for walking? No. Maybe the inside and loping to the fence? No. Everywhere for everything, cutting back and forth and through then slamming on the brakes and backing into the rest of the horses doing the same thing. I guess more people can fit in to a rode, each run last a few seconds as opposed to a cowhorse event where each rider gets approx. four min. There were lots of people. I don’t think the pictures can show just how crowded the parking was, maybe that made it seem worse.

I didn’t want to do anything but walk Onna in the warm up. She needed to learn that it was a calm place with nothing to be worried about. It wasn’t but it would be nice if she could think it was. That done we went back to the trailer where I switched horses. Luckily Paula showed up about then and I was able to get on with her there and her horses buddy that she was calling for so desperately. Tee Bird is a she so if I refer to her as a he anywhere forgive me I seem to keep doing that. Once on she was fine, with her buddy. I was a bit nervous on a new horse in that madhouse of a parking lot. She wanted to be with her buddy pretty bad but once we got that settled she was great. She never spooked as children on foot and children on horses galloped about, she wasn’t bothered by ponying Onna, she didn’t even get upset about the idiots that thought this was a great time to play football, throwing the ball over the heads of horses walking down the narrow isle between parked pickups and trailers and the tents set up all around the arena full of people and more vehicles.

My daughter did the goat snatching (deribboning? something), where you run up, dismount, and grab the ribbon off a goats tail. I let her go on her own and they were both great. She can’t quite get all the way off on her own but she’s so close. She did the poles, they’ve been doing great practicing at home so I let her off the lead. It was a mistake, I thought she was going to die. There was some over steering and I was sure Onna was going to leave, Onna is a patient forgiving little mare and kindly didn’t run off. My daughter got a little far off the side of the saddle once but managed to pull herself back on. All in all it was a good run. And she did barrels, that was their best event of the day I think. I ponied but was able to let them go around the barrels by themselves after the first.

My son only ended up getting to do poles. I had been going to ride Onna like last time but Tee Bird was doing really good and I felt safe just riding her with him in front of me. We didn’t quite fit in the saddle but it worked and I hear he looked happy, pointing at the crowd and smiling. He left with his exhausted father to make our previous engagement before he got to do barrels. there was no way this show was going to be over by four as previously predicted. It was after five already with many classes left to go.

It was a fun day, hot and dusty, long for the kids but their cousins were there watching which helped a lot to keep them entertained. They seemed to enjoy this one that I thought had everything conspiring to make it slightly miserable and I think we will try to hit a few more next year. My daughter is just starting to ride off of a lead line and with a winter to work on it she should be doing good by next summer. My son is difficult. Maybe he will develop a lick of sense and make an effort not to fall off, maybe he will grow enough to reach the stirrups or maybe he will keep going in front of me. Princess Onna is great, we are using clicker training to help her learn how to do these things. She handles the crowds and all the scary things involved like a pro I couldn’t have asked for a better horse for the kids to learn on. As for me? I’m learning about this whole rodeo thing. It’s still not my thing, I’m discovering that I am a dressage queen at heart but, I am slightly competitive. Maybe I’ll have to show Rusty how to run a round a pole 😉 I can see why people think a horse that’s been rodeo-ed on should be so broke they have to put up with a lot. If nothing after hauling Rusty to these things a good old normal horse show will seem like a vacation!




Follow The Leader

Tanna came to see us! She’s off to college now and we were thrilled when she came to see us on her limited time home. Coyote has been off since he came up lame, but he’s not limping. We grabbed Rusty and Onna and rode around the yard.

Then I decided to try Coyote. It would just be a short ride, my daughter wanted to ride her horse and I’m not willing to put anyone else on Rusty yet. It was perfect. Tanna has a great seat and had no problem riding Coyote bareback. Onna’s little girl was happy to have her horse back and to ride with Tanna. I got to put more time on Rusty. I wish we could do this all the time.

The “barrels”, empty lick tubs, were set up in the driveway still and we decided to play with them. An enthusiastic game of follow the leader was begun. First it was my daughter and Tanna, and the goat, Baa, and Rusty. After I got done videoing I got back on Rusty and joined in. We took turns being the leader and were declared disqualified by little miss queen of the world if we didn’t trot to the finish. Aside from helping her to remember the pattern and practice steering it was a great way to work on Rusty. We also practiced steering. We worked on being in front, in the middle and behind. And trotting to the finish was the perfect time to work on whoa.

We were so glad to see Tanna and had fun training all of us while she was here.


Taking Our Medicine

Coyote came up lame. He’s twenty now so I guess I should expect the effects of a life time of hard work to start showing up. He spent most of his youth as a ranch horse on a ten thousand acre ranch where no four wheelers were used. He has never worn a pair of shoes and, until this year, never been lame except from injury. Trying to kill himself because he is delightfully neurotic type of injury, bleeding needing the vet type of injury. Earlier this summer he was favoring his right front a little. I watched him and didn’t ride, decided that he had been stomping flies too hard. He was better in a couple of days.
Then a month or so later I went out to find him standing with his front leg held out and shaking. The leg not him. I called the vet, she sent Bute home with a friend. Coyote hates Bute. The first time of giving it to him was ok and it went down hill from there. I couldn’t catch him anymore, having a very lame horse run away from you is an interesting experience, I had reached a point of putting the medicine on my fingers and shoving them into his mouth as he tossed his head in the air trying to avoid it. I was talking to my mom about it and told her that I knew there was a way to train him to take it willingly but it seemed like too much work. Then I listened to myself and realized how stupid I was being. The next time I went to doctor him I took along my treat bag and went to work.
First I clicked and rewarded him for touching the syringe with his nose, then his mouth. Once he was no longer trying to run away we got down to slipping the tip into his mouth, then holding it there. In no time at all I could put the syringe into his mouth and he would stand. That made me think that I should have been filming this. So I decided to get the last little bit on tape. Better than nothing at least.
Of course as soon as we worked on this the limping went down to nothing. I think he is mostly better. We don’t know what caused the issue but it appears to have been a soft tissue injury. It could have been stomping flies, sticking his leg through gates, like he likes to do, wear and tear or any number of things, hopefully he is done with that now, I plan on him lasting well into his thirties.


Good Ponies

See that black dot over the cornfield as we look across my daughters horses neck? It’s hard to see, I was busy at a time when I could have gotten better pictures. It was farther away in this picture. Can you tell what it is?

It is an airplane.

A crop duster to be exact. This one, and this is what he looked like as he flew towards us as we were out for our ride. Maybe a little higher…

He was not spraying these fields at the time. Fortunately. He was just headed past. Headed past, flying low, directly over our heads as we were out for a nice morning ride. Alerted to his approach by the low rumble of his engine, we watched him come, as he went forward the high winds were blowing him sideways. I wondered if he was high enough to clear the power lines. I wondered if we should run.

Running seemed pointless, we couldn’t get far enough away in time to make a difference. The horses weren’t worried yet and if we told them they should be they might change their minds. I must admit that getting off never occurred to me, so we stood and watched. The horses were more interested in grass and he went over our heads without them paying any attention. After he was past and I realized everybody was going to live it occurred to me that I should hurry and get a picture. it was too late by then to get a good one and thus we have Princess Onna with a little black dot over her head in the distance but we know that black dot is the little yellow crop duster and our horses are not afraid of it!

The Funnest Day Ever

My daughter has decided she wants to be a cowgirl, so when my friend asked if we wanted to go with them to the junior rodeo at our county fair I said yes. We haven’t hauled Princess Onna since we got her, my daughter has only been riding off a lead line for a month or so, and neither of us have any experience with poles barrels or any rodeo type stuff. Oh well, it was a play day more than rodeo and little kids could be lead or ponied, the rest of it we figured would work its self out.

With only a few days to prepare we sat some empty lick tubs out in our “arena” and started practicing. Onna has had some halfhearted clicker training, I’ve been using it to teach her to understand a small child’s confusing cues. Now I applied it, a little, to going around barrels and poles but mostly to stopping. My little girl rode her around the barrels, I clicked as she went around and rewarded when she got back to me in the middle of the pattern, then ran alongside as they gaited to our designated finish line clicking when she stopped. The patterning was iffy but the whoa at the end was solidly trained.

I admit I’m not a barrel racer, I’ve never had any interest and still don’t but having the barrels out there and a goal to our riding helped both little girl and Rusty work on steering. We will have to keep them out and continue working with them.

The work we did was successful. When we got there I rode Onna around then put my little girl up and lead them around. Onna settled down quickly. I led her through the barrels, the first event of the day. Onna was fine and running to the finish line nearly killed me. After that I put my faith in her training and let got of the lead rope. They sat outside the arena waiting without being held. Children climbed on and off of her while she stood, leg cocked, resting. Onna followed both me and her riders cues as we went in for the poles. When we rounded the last pole we ran to the end together and they beat me then stopped and waited. By the goat thing, what ever that was, I sent them off alone to finish. There was no fighting the stop or running off. They calmly stopped together our training paid off.

I must admit it was hard taking our Morgan into the sea of quarter horses, my helmet wearing child into the midst of cowboy hats and, mostly, my treat bag and cookies into the arena. It’s hard to be different and even my good friend that we went with laughed at me a little. There were some comments made to my husband, waiting, holding the other child, about how that horse was sure trained to eat treats good. Lots of comments were also made about how good Princess Onna was, how beautiful she is and how well behaved she was for her little rider and my good friends son asked if he could wear our sons helmet. Being different is good, I’ve always said if you’re going to be weird you better be good and I’ve always been weird. If my daughter decides that this is what she wants to do I guess we will see about clicker training a rodeo horse.



Begging To Work

I turn Rusty out to eat grass, or tried to.

See this blog is still about Rusty, I haven’t left him completely for Princess Onna and her child.

After letting him out the gate I tried to shoo him away from me and my sandaled feet. I went in the house, leaving him in the yard, I’ve been forbidden to bring him in the house, and put a load of laundry in. As soon as I was done I went out to check on him and he wasn’t there. I looked around the house and found him waiting by the tailgate of the pickup. When he saw me he called out to say hi. “Was I ready to come work yet?” he asked.

How could I tell him no?

I grabbed the bag of treats we had been using with Princess Onna and we played. Just a quick run through of the basics. I did pause to put boots on, with my capris first. I thought about getting on but decided that a halter and helmet, at least, would probably be necessary and resisted the urge. He happily performed next to me and protested heartily when I told him I was done and to go eat grass. He refused to eat if he didn’t get to play for the food and I had to put him back in with the others.

It was fun even if it was brief and it lead to better things…