Threshold, in this case, refers to the level at which the horse becomes afraid.

Keeping a horse well below threshold means they are never worried about anything.

Getting a horse way over threshold removes any ability to learn. They wont take any offered food to help calm them down. They are too afraid to eat. So feeding for calmness wont help. A horse who is scared can’t think, they wont remember anything you try to work on while they are in this state. Other than that what you did with them made them afraid. Keeping a horse well over threshold without any way to escape the fear brings on a state of learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is when a horse has given up. They can’t escape the fear so they shut down. They seem fearless because of their lack of reaction.

With most of the training we do, we want to stay well below threshold. Our horses will be happy and gobble up all that we can teach them. By working in this area we will build a solid foundation of trust so when we cross that threshold they will be better able to rely on us and know we will get them out safely. All training to help them over come fear has to come before the fear is present.

By pressing close to threshold without crossing over, we can sample fear in small doses and show the horse that we will keep them safe. Offer a taste of fear, then back away, give treats, offer support and comfort so we become the safe place when there is danger. Not physically the safe place of course 😉

Once we have crossed threshold it is too late to do any training. All we can do is our best to get them back to a safe place, mentally and physically, so we can recover and meet the challenge better prepared next time!



On the way out he protested softly.

I turned up the gravel lane on the way out to the pasture. He stopped. Pointing his body on past the lane towards the other gate into the pasture. Not paying attention, not enough at any rate, I thought he just didn’t want to go for a ride. I asked and he gave in, ouching occasionally on the rocks as we walked up the lane.

I was leading the one child as the other rode along beside. Out into the pasture where a small bunch of cattle are spending their summer is a favorite ride destination of theirs. With the windmill, pond, and big hills to go up and down it’s understandable that they would think it’s a fun place to ride. If I were riding I would think it was fun too. We had ridden there for the last two days, this made a third.

On the way back across the pasture, we were pointed directly at the gate that lead down the lane. Rusty kept veering off to the south. Where are you going? I would ask him. Look, home is straight this way.

Finally we got to the gate. He stopped again. Just like he had on the way out. I paused, and asked him again. Politely, the horses don’t get drug around. He stood his ground just outside the gate. We had come this way for the last two days, he knew it was the way home. Still he stood, unwilling to budge.

I thought about the way he ouches over the big pieces of rock. Good for letting us feed up and down the lane in wet muddy weather. Not so good for his tender feet. I had thought that it was ok because he could walk along the edges where dirt had gathered. Not enough to protect his feet apparently.

We turned south, the way he had been asking to go all along. A slightly longer rout, out around the corrals, avoiding the rocks. He set off happily and enthusiastically.

All that time he had been trying to tell me there was a problem. He had been worrying about it. Thinking ahead even as we approached the lane that bothered him so from a long ways off. He had told me on the way out, but given in when I didn’t listen.

About time I heard what he had to say. I guess we’ll be going around from now on.



Good Horses

Three rides, three days in a row. I only got to ride one of those but at least we’re getting out with the horses.

Today we saddled Lady for my son, they then lead the way for the whole ride. Rusty stayed on a lead and walked nicely, slowly, beside me carrying his precious cargo. She says that’s why he walks slower with her, I’ll go with it. We went out along the pivot, down the side of the hay field.

Near the far end Rusty stopped. Lady was walking beside us just then and stopped too. I said come on Rust lets go. He said no.

Looking back at him to see why he was refusing I saw a strand of wise across the front of both of his legs. Grabbing the leadrope up short to hold him still, because he wasn’t the one who had just told me he needed to 🙄 I looked over at Lady. Her front feet were clear of the wire but it was wrapped in front of her hind legs.

We were a long ways away from the fence where the wire must have come from. Deer must have gotten caught in it and pulled the strand of electric wire clear out into the field where we found it. I ordered children off the horses.

They immediately jumped off.

Haha, no. The sat there wanting to know why. Would I help them? Did they really have to? Once they were finally unloaded my daughter stood holding Rusty while my son and I carefully walked Lady out of the wire. He stood with Lady then while we walked Rusty out.

No one spooked even slightly. Both horses were calm and relaxed the whole time. Both kids stayed the same. I was ready to load them up and keep on with our ride. My daughter was far more responsible and went to work getting the wire back to the fence where it belonged. My son and Lady stood quietly holding Rusty while I went to join her. Then we finished out ride.

Two good horses, two good kids, one good ride.

Cowboy School

Heildorf has been away at cowboy school.
He’s been learning how to work cattle, how to calmly and quietly cover many miles while listening to his rider for cues while at the same time watching the cattle himself to see what is going to need done. A true practice in teamwork.
He’s learned to have a rope thrown off his back, to hold a calf in front of him to be doctored, or pull it behind him to take it to be worked.
He’s crossed water in deep ditches. He’s climbed steep hills. He’s been in big groups of horses and people. He’s been hauled all over the place. He’s developing into a well trained working horse.
His time away at cowboy school is almost over. I can’t wait to get him back and see what all he’s learned.


Kindness Always Wins

The kids have been working with their bottle calves. each child has a calf they are going to show in 4H. Each child is supposed to be training their calf to catch, wear a halter, and lead.

My daughter has a big black steer who is quiet and friendly and she is doing a great job training him.

My son has a fiery little red steer who isn’t thrilled to be caught, doesn’t want scratches, and doesn’t lead.

He was working with his steer the other day. I had caught and haltered the steer. His job was to get the calf to follow on the lead. The calf said no. He didn’t want to. That was it.

My son was getting a bit frustrated. I was trying to take turns working with each of them and pay attention to a cow who really wanted petted and goats. It must not have been going well when I wasn’t looking. From across the pen I heard his voice. “Kindness always wins, right mom”?

He had gotten frustrated and was ready to fight and pull. Then he stopped and thought about it.

Instead of fighting he stood quietly with the calf and petted. He scratched the calf’s itchy spots and they spent undemanding time together. Then pulled the halter and let the calf go. I’ve never been so proud of the boy. He got lots of hugs too. We talked about how that time spent together doing nothing but enjoying had put him so much farther ahead than dragging the calf around ever would have. How, yes, kindness will win and is always the best way to work with our animals.


The Calves Got Out

The Calves got out.

Not in a bad way. Just on the other side of the fence. It’s good that they are grazing that part. It would be better if they could get back where they are supposed to be by themselves.

Raising their own bottle calves is great for the kids. Even if they aren’t appreciating it at the moment. I sent them off to do their nightly chores. Get animals back in the corrals and off the grass for the night and get them their grain. Figuring out where the calves were and how to get them back was part of the job. I would leave them to it, taking care of other things, and help them later. If they needed it.

Time alone working to solve a problem without adult help is good for them.

After I finished my chores I stopped to help them. They had the calves almost to the gate. All by themselves. I only opened the gate for them.

They were one calf short.

The calf wasn’t lost. They knew right where it was. It was just stuck. The corrals are very nice. The old corrals are still there too. Just outside the other corrals. A foot or two on the outside of the fence. The new corrals built inside the old fence line. The last calf was stuck between the two fences. No way out. Not easily.

We all traipsed through the trees and waist high grass back to him. We looked, we talked, we pondered our options. One child started pushing him down the fence line. Then he shouted, the boy not the calf. He had found a break in the fence. The calf might be able to squeeze out. But barely. We pushed and broke branches and old boards. We all worked together to pull and push the calf through the little opening.

All the grass out there and he had just had to squeeze into the one spot he shouldn’t have been. We all worked together and managed to get him out. Teamwork, problem solving, perseverance, respect for the responsibility our care for the animals around us requires. All the things children need to be learning. How can anyone not love having calves around?


In Town Again

It’s been so busy I haven’t had time to share everything that’s been going on! Working on getting caught up.
We had to leave our last Wednesday night riding class early. my husbands boss was having a good bye party and we were joining them for dinner. With the trailer behind the pickup and horses on.
There were plenty of kids there. Some of whom had seen Rusty when we were at the school. They asked if they could see him again.
After eating we walked out to the trailer, feeling somewhat like the pied piper.
Unloading there in the middle of the street, in the middle of town, Rusty stood again for a small audience to pet him and ask for fist bumps. We couldn’t find the rubber chicken in the trick box that was still loaded in the trailer but did find a squeaky pig. Rusty was willing to play with that instead.He picked it up and whacked children with it.
He did wonderfully then loaded happily back in the trailer to get home. I haven’t had a chance to hardly touch him since then but he did great for his very busy week of being hauled all around while he awed children with his abilities.

Life Lessons Learned While Working Cattle

  1. Going slow is the best way to go fast.

When we rush to get a job done it always takes twice as long. When we run the cattle or hurry the horses they sull up and work slower or blow up and it all goes to heck. If we pause a moment and let everything settle and look around they have time to make the decision to go forward calmly and comfortably.

2. Screaming and yelling is no way to get the job done

I once had a neighbor help work calves. The usually quiet agreeable herd didn’t know what to do with all his yelling and suddenly refused to go through gates or would all take off. Once I convinced him to stop screaming and waving his arms, to instead walk through them quietly and ask politely, they went back to their usual selves and everything worked much easier. People and animals respond much better to being asked nicely than they do to screaming.

3. Mind your own business

Yes, it’s best not to pry into what your neighbor is up to, but in this case, your business is the cows in front of you. Don’t cut in front of someone else to get the cattle moving there. Every rider, when moving cattle, has a pie shaped wedge out in front of them. Figuratively of course 😉 The rider at the narrow end, with it widening at the herd.  That is their business. The wedges over lap at the corners. But you never, ever, unless it is an absolute emergency and the whole herd is about to disappear down a deep draw, leave your place to get into another riders space. To do so is insulting to everyone helping and makes you look bad.

4. Respect your elders

It takes time and experience to earn the top jobs at workings. The right to rope, brand, or castrate are earned. The young people get to wrestle calves, and do what ever else they are asked to do. Just jumping on a horse and deciding you are going to rope is not ok.

When working in a chute, running the chute and giving shots are the top of the hierarchy. Everyone else pushes cattle into the chute or brings them in from the corrals. All the jobs are important. One can’t be done without the other. There is nothing wrong with stepping back and acknowledging the age and experience of those you are working with. Being asked to do more is a far better than to be asked to step back.

5.Sometimes you gotta get a little poop on your boots to get the job done.

Nothing worth doing was ever done without putting in the hard work to get it done. That means wading into the deep mud, getting into the poop, rolling up your sleeves and getting done what needs done.

6. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you

Sometimes cows get into a different pasture. Fences get down. Things happen. We can make the decision to make it right or quietly let it go. It can be a little too easy to let things slip when they are to our benefit. Do we pick up the phone a little faster when the neighbors cows are out on our pasture? Do we wait a little longer to get cattle in when they’re on the neighbors pasture? Doing the right thing even when it isn’t to our benefit can be hard, but it’s still the right thing to do.

7. Do the job until the job is done

It doesn’t matter if it’s hot and you think you might die of thirst before you can refill your canteen, or so cold you can’t feel your extremities, or so late you are about to fall asleep in the saddle. When there’s a job that has to be done, it has to be done. The cattle’s health and comfort comes before the person’s. That’s how this life works. Now on the other hand, sometimes that job doesn’t HAVE to be done now. There’s no reason not to let is wait until after presents have been opened on Christmas, or after the big parade in town. The trick is knowing the difference.

8. Branding, cow working is not the place to train your horse

Yes, young horses need to get out and experience life in order to learn how to be a good horse. But there’s a fine line between getting that experience in and messing up the workings. When there’s a job to be done and people around that could get hurt is not the time to build that experience. Cattle working, especially when they’re not your own, is not the place to get a colt with 30 days on used to crowds and noise.

9. Good handling makes good cows

We’ve all seen those herds that scatter when they spot a horse, or 4wheeler. We tried to work the cattle that ball up or refuse to go through a gate to sort. Some cattle are just hard to work.

But maybe it isn’t the cows. Cattle are trained to handle, just like horses. The time we spend with them, the way we work them, all influences how they handle. We can change our working style, stop yelling, see lesson #2, slow down, lesson #1, and take a close look at the working facilities. Is the set up arranged in a way that allows for easy movement? Is it mostly free of shadows, dark or light places that will make it hard for the cattle to see where they will be going?

While we’re working on ‘training’ our cattle to handle well we can do some actual training. Run cattle through the chute one time without working them. Let them see what and where. The next time they will have learned that going through the chute lets them ‘escape’ and they’ll run right through. Knowing the routine is important for cattle, they are creatures of habit. Make sure they know what is coming and they will work with you instead of against.

10. Never ask a man the size of his spread

Seriously. It’s just rude.


Rich Strike, HorseWhorls

As much as I hate to do this, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Normally I have no interest in racing, but a cool horse is fun to look at no matter his sport.

This isn’t about racing, for good or bad. Comments arguing about that will be deleted if they get mean. This is about the whorls!

It’s hard to find good pictures of a horse no one had any interest in a few days ago. I searched the internets and these are what I was able to shamelessly ‘borrow’.

It looks to me like he has a slightly high whorl. That doesn’t come as any surprise because more than half of all thoroughbreds have high whorls. A slightly high whorl shows slight extrovert traits.

Extroverts are very invested in the external world, everything going on around them. They want to go, to be moving all the time. Intelligent, emotional, and sensitive they will be as brave as they can be and eager to please with a sensitive supportive rider or a nervous wreck with a harsh rider who doesn’t give the support they need.

His ears show sensitivity and energy. But they are widely set enough to add in sensibility and saneness. His nostrils appear to be large and wide open, even in the still pictures. That shows an ability to get plenty of air for endurance and easier learning.

From the side we see a somewhat convex profile. That shows physical toughness and determination. It isn’t a straight profile, so there should be some quirks. Something to keep life interesting. His chin is hard to see but doesn’t appear to be complicated for a matching temperament.

We can’t see much of the body whorls in any of these pictures. Except a crest whorl I think, up just behind the ears and feathered. The whorls on the crest of the neck show where they will bend through the neck when they tuck their nose. When the whorls are feathered they will bend through the length of the feathering instead of the single point of the whorl.

Nothing extreme about any of the whorls, just a nice energetic horse with enough extra to give him plenty of character. Sensitive and energetic, but sane and tough.

The Dentist

It started out the way so many situations do with our horses. Something is supposed to be easy. After we have already started, to far in to stop, the horse says no. It isn’t easy at all and they want nothing more to do with it. But we have to finish. It isn’t safe to stop where we are, or in the case of vet or farrier visits things can’t be left undone.

We need to get the job done. Whatever it takes.

Only instead of a horse this was my son.

He doesn’t like the dentist, but he had held up long enough for the cavity to be drilled out. There was an open hole in his tooth and he wasn’t going to let them do anything about it. No way no how.

So, we got the job done. It was not a good or pretty thing. It left me traumatized so he must have been in an awful state. Unfortunately the patch was the quickest easiest possible. It wouldn’t last. They would have to try again.

So we started training. We reenacted the scenario as best we could. Laying back and letting me look in his mouth. Adding bright lights shining down at him and poking around. We even got to do a practice run getting a cleaning without any teeth work done. Like with a horse traumatized by a bad vet visit it wasn’t smooth sailing. Everything took time and patience. Large rewards were needed.

Today it was time for the real deal. Our second chance to see if all the prep work had worked.

We got there right at the appointment time. I thought less time to think about it would help. They were running late. He was huddled in my lap. I thought it was never going to work. Instead all that extra time gave him time to settle and relax.

By the time they called us into the office he was calm and happy. He watched his sisters teeth get worked on, then he was huddled in my lap again. I offered support, comfort, and distraction. Yelling and forcing would get us no where. Isn’t it amazing how the principles are the same no matter the species?

Once they finished up with his sister he got to sit in the chair and wait. I thought it was going to lead to trouble. Instead, once again, time to sit, get accustom to the new place and idea, let him calm down. By the time the dentist came back he was ready to go. They let him see the tools, demonstrated how they worked as much as possible, and, most importantly, gave him a stop cue. Anytime he needed them to stop all he had to do was raise his hand.

Allowing a horse or human control over their training, work, medical care, is a reinforcer all by itself. Control, a say in your destiny, can change everything. If we allow our horses to say no when they aren’t happy with what is going on they are far more likely to say yes. That is exactly what happened here. Any time he held up his hand they stopped and sat back, allowing him to sit up and take a break. When he did that I came in and offered what support and comfort I could. Rewarding him for stopping, offering comfort and support, instead of encouraging him to make them stop more often, helped him to keep going. We aren’t training a horse to be ‘bad’ by comforting them. Being nice isn’t letting them win. It is giving them what they need to face fear. If we are a safe place they will turn to us when afraid and trust us to get them through it. If we insist on being the boss and making sure they don’t ‘win’ they will fear us as much as whatever else is out there to get them and tell us no at every opportunity.

With all the reinforceres we all could offer, with comfort as a high priority, and being allowed to say no when he needed, he made it through the dentist for the first time ever. We overcame the past bad experiences and instead of huge withdrawals from the trust account ended with a larger deposit than we started with! Learning theory and what we do with our horses applies to anything that we can possibly train. That makes this relevant to horse training. It is a story of training success.

Of course we went for ice cream after. Excellent behavior deserves a jackpot reward!