Trick Riding

We’ve all seen the horse for sale adds with a person standing on their horses back to prove that the horse is ‘broke’.

We’ve all rolled our eyes a little because while it shows the person is braver than I am at least, with better balance, it doesn’t show much about their training.

This is not that. Not anything to do with it.

My daughter does have a goal of being able to stand on a horses back. I support her in that because I can see quite a few benefits. None of which are to help in selling the horse 😉

Both children do gymnastics, because they enjoy and are good at it and because I like a sport that can add so much to their riding abilities.

Vaulting is a wonderful sport that I would love for them to be able to do. If there were anything closer to us. There are a couple drawbacks to living in the middle of nowhere. There are probably some resources available online. There are for everything else, I need to remember to look.

This is our improvised version.

Rusty volunteered to sidepass over the top of a small round bale. Just the perfect height. Getting on and off has been a hard part of riding for both children. It’s a long ways up and down. Having a bale to cut the height in half helped a lot. They were soon hopping off and on, spinning circles, even standing on his back. No pictures of that, I was too busy holding on tight, there were no hands left for a camera.

As they get better and more comfortable we will switch to jumping off the side without a bale to shorten the distance to the ground.

Is it dangerous? Maybe. Life is dangerous. Every precaution has been taken and my faith in the horse is complete.

Instead I think it adds considerable safety to their riding. Knowing how to get off safely is one of the most important things you can do. Being comfortable on a horses back and being able to stay on in many different positions is a close second. Being comfortable on a horses back, not tight with fear, instead loose and moving with the horse, is something we work hard to learn.

The change in both of them with only a weekends worth of practicing their gymnastics on Rusty’s back is amazing.

For his part, Rusty isn’t thrilled I admit. He is willing though, as long as I provide treats. If I slow down on the treats he takes a step away from the bale. When lead to the bale he steps right into position and asks for his reward. I don’t think we are bothering him too badly.

As long as everyone is loving it we are going to keep practicing this.


My husband said I shouldn’t write this post.

I’m sure he had many reasons for that. Possibly embarrassment among them. He also said it sounded like bragging. If that is what you take away from this than you are missing my point. This isn’t about bragging it’s about view points. I’ll say that ahead of time and then ignore his wise advice and say what’s on my mind!

My above mentioned husband is as close to perfect as its possible for any man to get.

My horse Rusty, is very nearly perfect. The other horses are only a small step behind him.

My children are very nearly perfect.

God has truly blessed me.

How did I happen to end up with these wonderful creatures? It wasn’t purely God’s grace, although that was a large part of it. A lot of it has to do with outlook.

We find what we seek. If I was mad at and about any of them. If I focused on the things they have done, the things they are doing, wrong, If I remembered every slight, every bad behavior, every injury, Then those are what I would find.

We sat at a rare meal out, in an actual restaurant, the other day. The children were being less than perfect. The husband was tending towards the grouchy side. I was working towards joining him. It was miserable. Then I got to thinking about this post, floating about in my mind already.

We find what we seek.

I informed children and husband of how perfect they are, how happy they make me. My darling husband scoffed and laughed. The children climbed on me, laughing. The downward spiral was broken. We all laughed as they took humor, and maybe some pride, in their perfection. The food came. We were a happy family again.

In training with positive reinforcement we spend our time looking for the right answer, for the good behavior. It can change our entire mindset. If we let it.

It does help that my husband is kind and loving and works hard to make sure I am happy.

That doesn’t change the premise though. We find what we seek. Look for the good in life and you will find it. Look for the bad, well, that is where you will find yourself.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8

Treat Manners

I’ve stopped training Ghost.

She and Blossom have started trying to run me over. The resource guiding and over enthusiasm has reached the point of being dangerous. The whole herd is interested in what’s going on and want to get closer. Poppy thinks all these young kids should get out of the way and let the matriarch have her share. She isn’t above forcing them out of her way.

It’s a good way to get smashed.

Does that mean that feeding treats, training with food, creates a monster? Is this an example of how hand feeding teaches bad habits, is dangerous, and should never be done?

Many people believe that horses, or cattle 😉 should never be hand fed. They believe it will ruin a well behaved animal and make a poorly behaved animal dangerous. It is long standing tradition, for many people, to never give treats for these reasons. They feel very strongly about this and any conversation about it can turn quite heated.

Do I believe this is the problem with Ghost? Am I going to turn aside from my wicked ways and never feed her treats again?

In a word.


The problem here isn’t the feeding of treats. The problem is my training.

That is the same problem all these people who have had trouble with hand fed animals face. It can be hard to accept that we have personally created a monster and much easier to blame it on something else. Like feeding treats.

In truth though, lots of people feed treats regularly without bad results. Even more, many people train animals that can do amazing things happily and willingly with the best of manners with no more tools than a treat. It has been well proven that it is possible, even common.

So why is it so easy to believe the problem is in feeding treats and not the training?

It can be hard to go against tradition. It can be impossible to find an alternative when the alternative is not something we are familiar with. It can be hard to accept that we don’t know everything. Ego is a humans biggest down fall. Saying we might have been wrong, admitting that we are unable to do something that works so well for others, can be nearly impossible.

Instead of giving these two darling animals up as a lost cause, I am going to train them better.

How am I going to do that when I just got done saying I am going to stop training?

Sometimes training requires a certain location or set up. Not a round pen or anything fancy and expensive like that. All I need is a fence and a place away from the rest of the herd. What we need here is protected contact. To keep me safe and to make it easier for them to understand what I am asking of them.

Because that isn’t available in the middle of a pasture surrounded by the cow herd, our training will have to be put on hold for awhile. Unless I am able to catch them near the perimeter fence and away from the herd. That is a difficult training situation to set up.

I can wait. We have time. The important thing is to look for the root cause of training issues, acknowledge when we are the cause, and figure out the steps needed to fix the problem.

Blaming a training aid that is well proven to work doesn’t fix anything.

Kids Horses

Many years ago I was on a trail ride, a big trail ride. One of those week long ones with hundreds of horses and riders. Sometimes along the way people needed a lost shoe replaced or other farrier work done.

One evening we were standing around watching a farrier re-shoe a horse, talking and hanging out. Apparently there wasn’t much else going on that evening.

He had his small daughter along, sweet and cute, we were talking to her too.

They each had a story to tell. The differences in their stories were heart rending.

The farrier told of how not too long ago his daughter had been life-flighted to the hospital after her pony had kicked her in the head cracking her skull. He swore that pony had turned and looked at the girl before carefully taking aim. He had hauled it to the sale. No way was he keeping that thing around after it purposely tried to hurt his child.

Nobody blamed him for that.

Seeing your child near death with a skull fracture would have to rank high on the list of the worst things that could happen.

The sweet tiny child said that her dad had taken a baseball bat and hit the pony until it died.

Looking back I’m not sure how she would have known that, not with the time she spent in  the hospital. At the time it made perfect sense. A beloved child, a viscous pony, and a story that could be told publicly without condemnation while quietly covering the truth of an act done in rage and anguish.

Yes there are lots of reasons the terrible accident could have happened. Yes, the whole thing is terrible from every side.

The love of a parent for their child is the point of the story though and the importance of choosing carefully when looking for a horse for children. Also the importance of teaching children to be kind and polite when dealing with their horses. So often we see children  doing things that could and should cause them to be on the receiving end of a kick or bite.

Introducing our children to horses is the best thing a parent can do. It is as exciting for the parent as for the child. It can also be one of the most dangerous things we can do. We need to be sure to take the time and do it right.


  1. 1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others
     1. admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

I was at the local coffee shop the other day. There was another family in there, the mother of the family has a reputation for being, if we are polite we would call it straight forward, to the point, and abrupt. If we are being honest we would call it mean. Not to her kids, or at least not any more to her kids than she is to the rest of the community.

The barista went to school with her daughter and they had been chatting.

Something was said that the mother misunderstood as being about respect. She said a few other things but the part that stuck with me was that she thought the young woman had always been afraid of her in school and because of that had always respected her.

I sat looking at her thinking about that and about how it applies in the horse world too.

People are continually confusing respect and fear.

Like her we yell. We chase out horses around and micro manage their every move. We wonder why our horses don’t want to be near us and wont let us catch them. Then if they don’t do exactly as we say we jump all over them, move their feet, make them ‘respect’ us. What a sad life it must be for her to have to constantly fight and worry that people won’t accept her and listen to her if she acted any other way.

Respect has to be earned it can not be forced and is in no  way related to fear.

That horses are unable to feel respect according to any of the definitions has been well discussed, if not agree upon by everyone.

Let says that horses could feel respect though. If we are trying to get our horses to respect us are we using fear tactics like this lady? Are we confusing a quick scurry to get away with a desire to do as we ask and work together in mutual respect?

So much horse training is based on fear. The fear makes us feel safe and comfortable, and as though we were getting respect. Like this poor lady in the coffee shop are we confusing fear with genuine respect?

Lady, Giving Lessons

Lady got ignored a bit yesterday, we were busy doing things that didn’t involve horses. Not sure why that sort of thing ever has to happen 😱
Today we brought her out for the daily tapping session that it has been decided is going to be on the schedule Lady’s person even decided that her little brother needed a lesson on how to tap.
Then a good long time spent hand grazing and getting used to things like hanging out in our yard.
Then when it was time to put her back there was another lesson on how to take a halter off. Something that confounds both children. 😆 I don’t remember it being this hard but it gives them something to work on and Lady was amazingly patient with the whole thing for a long time.
Once she has had time to settle in better we’ll work more towards riding. For now I’m loving watching them play with Lady and seeing how well she is taking these crazed small creatures. Everyone is learning lots while we hang out and get to know each other.

The Downtrodden

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, You’re right” ~Henry Ford

Our mind set in life is our most valuable and important tool. Without belief in ourselves we have nothing.

The same goes for our horses.

Often horses come from kill pens, from rescues along with a terrible back story. Other times they are the ‘wrong’ breed for the job. They can be too tall, too short, lacking the stellar blood lines. Whatever the cause we often decide a horse can’t do the things we would like to do with them.

Us deciding, knowing, that they are unable tells them that they are unable.

If we didn’t tell them they would go through life accomplishing all these things they can’t do, because they didn’t know any better. It might be a little more difficult, that only means success will be treasured all the more.

Why do we feel the need to tell anyone or anything that they have disadvantages and so can’t do all the things?

Useful Tricks

What counts as a trick?

People, who don’t do trick training, often discount tricks as silly, pointless, even teaching bad habits.

We know better of course.

But seriously, what counts as a trick?

Smiling? Sure. Bowing? Yes. And also as a bit of horse yoga to get them stretching and limber, work those muscles. Spanish walk? It depends, are you calling it a trick or high school dressage. Side stepping towards you? I guess, unless it’s to get your horse to the mounting block so you can get on. Then it’s a much sought after ability that you see people on horse pages asking about constantly because they can’t get their horses up to the mounting block.

A trick is only defined as a trick by people. Horses don’t know the difference between trick training and all the rest of the training we do in their lives. Except maybe that they like the trick training part best.

In  the teaching of tricks we are helping our horses learn to be confident and to trust us as well as how to listen when we ask them for something. Many tricks have very practical applications. Mat training teaches them to stand quietly and wait. A good recall means we never have to chase a horse down in the pasture. Pedestal training teaches them to be comfortable stepping onto different surfaces and makes trailer loading much easier.

We can of course teach tricks directly aimed at husbandry. A horse can be trained the wonderful trick of allowing you to give a shot or to happily eat worming medicine. Then there’s hoof care. So much easier to clean feet and trim when a horse picks their feet up as you point at them.

The principles of trick training can be used to better teach anything we want to do with our horses. By making the time we spend together enjoyable for horse and human, horses magically become easier to catch and more willing to work. Instead of fighting to accomplish goals we can work together and enjoy the time with our horses. That is the most useful trick of all.

Cow Work

Although technically it was a bull 😉

My darling husband took both children with him yesterday leaving me in peace to go ride.  I saddled up and headed for the pen  where a few head of cattle are living for the summer. We were going to play.

Rusty was doing so good I wanted to get some video. We all know that holding a camera while riding makes for better training after all.

The young bull was working good for us, slow and easy. Although technically Rusty is a working ranch horse, in reality he doesn’t actually work very often. He’s tracked cattle five or six times and worked great for sorting pairs once this spring. He was doing great watching the cattle. His biggest problem was wanting to creep forward towards them.

After a few nice easy back and forths the bull went for the fence.

So often horses will lose cattle at the fence because they are hesitant to run into a solid object. Perfectly understandable. I wouldn’t want to crash into a fence either. There isn’t any need to actually hit it but it’s still hard to run strong with a barrier right in front of you.

I wasn’t riding effectively because of the phone. Rusty is inexperienced with cattle. There was no way we could cut him off before he passed us running along the fence.

But Rusty did it!

All by himself, I sure wasn’t helping much, Rusty went full bore into the fence. Because of my lack of effective riding and assistance we turned the wrong way at the fence. That didn’t mean Rusty didn’t do a great job, just that he didn’t know what to do. What a good pony. We’re going to have to sneak out there more often. Maybe he could make a good cutting horse as well as trick horse!


Doing Laundry

Rusty just happened to be hanging out in the yard when I went out to do laundry the other day. It was a perfect chance to play with him.

I love how he knows his job and is happy to come help. He’s much more help than all the children. Although it was rather cute how 8 wandered through doing some bush whacking.