Children and Horses, 2

If training horses is like raising children…
Yes, children who are told no and yelled at often can be just as rotten as those who are raised in a more positive manner. Or worse ( They can also be very well behaved though.
One reason for that can be learned helplessness.
Many horses can act scared of nothing, they go about life unaware and uninterested in their surroundings, taking anything their rider has to offer without questioning. This is so often brought on by learned helplessness. They learn there is no escape, no point in fighting, they give up and pull deep into themselves, plowing through anything they are ask to, numb to the fear.
This can happen with children too.
I was talking to a lady who was reminiscing that maybe they shouldn’t have been so hard on their oldest child. He had been spanked regularly for little things like accidentally spilling his milk glass at the dinner table.
I cried inside upon hearing that.
Were their children well behaved? Yes. As long as they were under the parents thumb and the learned helplessness was kept up.
Like horses once the learned helplessness is no longer maintained children can wake up, come out of it with all the resentment and pent up anger that being raised in such an oppressive environment will build. It can lead to rebellion against their parents as soon as they taste freedom, running wild and doing all the things their parents were trying to avoid with their overbearing behavior.
There are abundant stories about horses is sold, from a trainer, who carefully maintains the learned helplessness, to a new owner who was searching for that dead broke, safe, dependable horse they thought they had found. Only for the horse to suddenly start bucking and spooking at everything.
Quiet and well behaved is not worth being forced into submission. Dependability and trust are better earned through other methods.

Raising Our Children/Horses

From the very beginning I thought that raising children must be like training horses. Turns out I was right
I was watching my children at one of the many activities that our lives revolve around. The parents around me were talking about life, children, everything under the sun.
As usually happens one of them was the loudest and most outspoken. It was impossible for me not to hear everything she had to share with the world.
Someone had been trying to tell her how children could be taught in a positive manner. They had said that parents should tell children what they should do instead of yelling at them when they do the wrong thing.
Sound at all familiar?
She was telling her captive audience how silly and pointless that was. She had four children to raise, she didn’t have time for that.
I laughed, on the inside, as I heard that. The child she was there with was running rampant about the area getting into no end of trouble.
It was good to see that her methods worked for her
I’ve noticed much of the same thing about the people who tell me that positive reinforcement wont work for horses either. They tell me that it will create biting monsters. That horses will never behave unless we show them who’s boss and make sure we are dominant. It’s the natural way of the horse world.
So much of the time, as they are saying these things, their horses are doing exactly what they just described, no treats involved.
It can be easy to project our fear of failure and feelings of incompetence onto others. To think that if we can’t get our horse, or children, to listen using the method we are, than there’s no way anyone else could get them to in any other way.
Just because we can’t do something doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that we don’t know how yet. If what you are doing now isn’t working take a chance, try something new.



It’s been a crazy busy last few weeks and I haven’t gotten anything posted! Things are slowing down a little and I hope to get caught up, there are lots of things going on that I wanted to talk about, just didn’t get a chance. Until then, here’s more time playing with Rusty.
In the Horse Tricks Academy this month we’ve been concentrating on doing less while working with our horses and here I am doing as little as possible to while playing with Rusty.
So often people tend to over cue, offer way more help than needed, and generally muddy up communication with our horses.


Getting the halter on Ghost for the first time.
This one is a little old.
I could have held her still long enough to pull the halter on quick and get it fastened before she could get away. Probably. But I don’t want to do it that way. Not completely. We did end up with a little bit of that once she was more comfortable with the halter.
Instead we worked on letting her get used to it all around her head then eating her treat through the nose piece.
Once the halter was on I did not start pulling on it. if the halter goes on and then lots of fun stuff happens, tricks and treats, then the halter becomes associated with those things and is a great fun thing to put on.



Rusty and I entered a virtual western dressage show last month. Technically it was last month, we submitted our video in August even though the show ended in the beginning of September.

I got my score sheet back and was very happy with our scores. The judge seemed very fair and exact in their comments and scoring. The critiques were very much accurate and the comments kind. There was advice for improvement,  real actual constructive criticism of the best kind.

I never did see any show results. Of course I didn’t look that hard either.

Today we were working around the house. Taking advantage of the nasty weather outside to get things done inside. My husband forced the children out the door with him to go get the mail. He brought me back  a package. I wasn’t expecting anything. We opened it curiously.

Inside was a ribbon!

I saw blue but I also saw brown, maybe a fifth place?

We pulled it all the way out. Small hands were grasping at it as I tried to read. It looked like it said first place though! As I saw that it disappeared with a child. I stood there grinning like an idiot.

Then I gathered my wits about me and went in search of child and ribbon.

She had nicely laid it out next to my bed for me but I had other plans. It was going on display with my buckles and pretties. Then I messaged my friend with NAWD and asked about show results. She sent me a link and I went searching. There were only two people who rode the same test.

Well, that explains a lot.

Looking over the scores and comparing I was still thrilled with our ride. Now I can’t wait until next time! I want to ride more tests!!

Cross Training

We signed the kids up for gymnastics recently. I have hopes, false hopes but still, of them someday doing vaulting. The horseback verity. The gymnastics instructor was very confused when I talked about it. She had never heard of any such thing. It doesn’t exist close to us unfortunately.

Oh well. It teaches balance and builds strength. It can;t help but help with riding. Not sure they care about that but, it makes me happy.

Our kids went in on their first lesson and did great. If I do say so myself, parents always think their kids are the best ones 😉

They went in though and were able to climb  and hang and swing and walk on the balance beam. None of what was asked was overly challenging to them. They had to work but where not over faced.

I put that credit on the hours they spend out climbing on the hay bales in the stack yard. They can clamber up the sides of the stacks and race down the top row then down again. All that exercise makes them strong and improves balance. Which helps them in gymnastics. Which I hope will help them ride better. Which will continue to make them strong and improve their balance.

Nothing they do stands alone. All activities are interconnected.

How does this tie into riding?

The answer to that is two fold. We can improve our riding by working on other things. Gymnastics is awesome but so is yoga. If nothing else it can help us reach those stirrups. It also works inn other areas though, balance and strength and focus. There are so many activities that can improve our riding. Even something as simple as regular walks.

Our horses too can benefit from exercises other than the ones directly related to the chosen sport. If we are working on trailer loading practicing stepping onto a bridge and leading will help to greatly improve the loading issues. Canter circles are improved by lots of exercises done at the walk far more effectively that continuous canter circles.

So often difficulties in one area are best solved by focusing on something completely different.

With all of that in  mind I let my son convince me to try to climb the hay stack with him. I made it up on my second try, with his urging. Then he totally schooled me. He raced across the dips and crevasses leaving me in his dust then down and up again on a new stack as I gasped for breath, following slowly behind.

I’m going to have to keep this up, I want better strength and balance for riding too.

Quiet Riders

They say that quiet riders make for nervous horses.
Going by that theory then, do quiet rides make for nervous riders?

I desperately hope for and want my children to love horses and want to ride with me. I also hate riding with my children. The bounce around and skitter about underfoot. They yell and laugh and high five each other from the saddle.
When they are around I can’t find that spot of quiet concentration that allows the horses and I to get so much done. They make me nervous and worried and I often end up yelling. The last thing that will ever make them want to ride with me.
All three of us went for a ride today. They had managed to keep wanting to ride long enough for me to get two horses saddled for once. My daughter on Harvey being led by me on Rusty with my son up behind. They seemed happy and the horses were fine with it so we went for a longer ride. The length gave me time to be desensitized to the noise and ruckus. It also gave me time to think.
Getting used to them is good for the horses and these small doses will help them be able to handle the children without me there and help the children be able to handle the horses without me there to lead them. Hopefully they can do this on their own eventually.
But it’s good for me too. I need to be exposed to the chaos. The exposure helps me to calm down and not be as up tight about the lack of calm quietness. I need lots more of this. Not just so the children can get out and ride but so I can learn to deal with the children getting out and riding.

As pleasant as I find quiet alone time with the horses these loud enthusiastic rides are good for me.


I did that thing that horse people are infamous for. The cardinal sin that everyone knows, or should know, is wrong.

I didn’t mean to do it.  Didn’t even  realize I had until looking back I realized what had happened.

Rusty and I were practicing for our western dressage test. It was our first attempt, the first time i had remembered and gotten  on the ball. The whole thing was very exciting.  I found and chose a test that suited both of us. It was fun and simple,and nothing Rusty wasn’t capable of. Except it called for some stops.

Rusty doesn’t like to stop. he is a very forward hot horse. If he were turned loose he would go all day. Go fast. I rode him in a halter in the beginning then switched to a snaffle when I didn’t like the communication offered by the halter. Then I got my bitless to try out and really liked it so we’ve been riding in that. Because we ride in the bitless doesn’t mean that he’s quieted down any. It only means that he listens to me and does what I ask because he wants to.

When he was plowing through my cues and not stopping I switched back to the snaffle,  to give a little more oomph to my cue when I asked.

It’s a double jointed French link snaffle. Bits don’t get much softer than this. There was no  twisted wire, long shanks, or gags.

That’s why it took me so  long to realize that I had moved to a harsher bit to get training results in stead of TRAINING. A very gentle snaffle that he is used to is still a harsher bit than the bitless, a wide flat rope around his nose with not a drop of leverage. The point isn’t that it’s a soft kind bit. The point and problem is that I put him in it to get him to listen to me better when I pulled on the reins. That I switched to it because he felt dull and unresponsive when I picked up the reins in my usual bit. That I used it to get more response without changing the way I was training.

It’s the trap so many of us fall into. Now I can see how easily it can be done and with the best intentions.

And when I switched? Were the results magically different? Did he suddenly start stopping when asked?


Instead he was stiff. He was no more or less responsive than he had been before. I was more tense and less forgiving because he should know better!

After a couple of days of that I got sick of the communication we had lost somewhere along the way. I was sick of drilling and fighting to get that stop. I said to heck with it. Riding wasn’t fun anymore. If this was what was required to show then we weren’t going to do it.

I put him back in his bitless and got on determined to not be so determined. I wanted to relax and get our mojo back. I wanted the communication and cooperation back. We didn’t stop great. Instead we worked together, got him loose and responding to me again. We worked on all the other parts of training, the listening, from both of us, that leads to a good stop.

Now, having let go of all  of that, we are getting a stop in the bitless again.


Western Dressage

A couple of years ago, or something like that, I joined NAWD, North American Western Dressage and I’m guessing there’s an association in there somewhere. I thought Rusty and I could do the ground work tests. I love to compete and we weren’t at a place where we could do any local real type shows.

We never got it done.

This year I received a reminder that there was a ranch horse show coming up. I looked up the tests, found one we would be capable of, did a very little bit of practicing, and got it done!!

Only life can never be that easy.

Our go felt wonderful. Rusty was relaxed, happy, and he even stopped when asked! It was nearly perfect, or felt that way, looking back at video things are never as good as they feel. Finding that center line is hard! Watching the video I realized how far away the GoPro made everything look. It was set not too far away from the marker but even that looked to be far off in the distance and Rusty was the size of an ant. I sent the video to a friend of mine asking if she thought it would work. She was very diplomatic in saying that no, it would not.

Redo number one.

Riding is easiest when I’m home alone. That wouldn’t work for this. I’d have to corner my very busy husband and beg him to film for me. The day was cool and cloudy. The film very dark. It worked though. We had a run that I was very happy with. Watching it I noticed more little things that were wrong, center is SO hard to find apparently and I needed more bra 😉

I got it cut down to only the parts needed and was ready to send it to the friend again to make sure I hadn’t messed anything up this time. When I noticed that I didn’t trot for the first part where I was supposed to.


Managed to get my husband again. Twice in one weekend, it has to be some kind of record.

Rusty did not feel good. He was sick of this pattern and doing it AGAIN. He was off and running for our first try. We went through it fast! Missed most of our marks. I asked for a redo.

Western dressage sounds easy what with being able to do your tests at home and send in a video only once you get it absolutely perfect. In real life it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Getting that perfect run is never easy, even at home. Getting it filmed just right isn’t easy either. Remembering when a show is going on when you don’t have to be there at a certain time is as difficult as getting a couple of weeks to get a test rode and sent in is great.

Our second try of the day was okay. Rusty slowed down a little. I think we mostly found center? The biggest problem is stopping at C. It’s up against the only real barrier in the whole “arena”. You’d think being about to crash into the hay trainer would make it the easiest stop in the test.

Every single time he wants to run through on that stop. Almost only that  stop, stopping is never easy for such a forward horse. We ran over the marker (lick tub) but the rest of the run was good and I did not want to do it yet again. So we  called it good. Now I just need to figure out how to submit the video. Should be simple right? 😉 Except I am incapable of reading directions.


No I’m not wearing the same shirt for every ride. Not quite. I may have fallen madly inn love with the shirt and color and bought quite a few of the same one 😉 A solid colored shirt is required so why not choose one I like, over and over again…