This is Harvey. Harvey is an eight-ish year old grade Morgan? type gelding. We like to call him Harve, or Harvester.

Harvey is my horse and as such has a rather unusual skill set. He rides a little but does a mean Spanish walk and great side pass from  the ground.

His whorl is a high center and he fits it perfectly, hot, energetic, a bit spooky. and very smart. That’s not what I want to talk about though.

Harvey has rather interesting whorls on his chest. Above the usual and very normal whorl above each front leg the hair feathers up clear to his neck. His left side farther and more pronounced than his right.

As I said, Harvey is great at Spanish walk. Before we ever started work on that he pawed constantly. There is great emphasis on his front legs in  anything he does. Even more with his left front than his right. The leg with the biggest whorl is the one he wants to lift up and move around the most.

When there is a whorl on one side of the body and not the other a horse will usually want to curve towards the whorl and has trouble bending away from it.

Harvey does a beautiful liberty sidepass to the left, the direction of the bigger whorl, and has a very hard time going to the right, away from the whorl.

Because this is my horse I can do this one a little differently than normal. I have a video of his whorls instead of a picture, sometimes it’s just easier that way. When  I was trying to get the video he went to pawing, like he likes to do with his left leg. Thank you for showing us how that goes Harvey. Then a bit of him doing Spanish walk. He steps higher with his left leg than he does his right. Last the sidepass to the right is so much harder and less coordinated than it is to the left. We’ve been working hard on going to the right and he is getting better. Just because a whorl shows that something will be harder for a horse doesn’t mean it can’t be improved with work and attention.

It is fascinating to watch and learn about the effects of whorls all across a horses body. There is so much more to learn!

Company For Breakfast

Laying in bed late on a weekend morning, luxuriating in that place between wakefulness and sleep. Not having to get up yet.

Until the children ran to the door. “There are cows in the yard!”. That ended the restfulness.

At the front door the children held the curtain  back staring out the window excitedly. We went to look too. Looking back was a yearling steer. A few of them. They weren’t in  the yard so much as knocking on our front door!

So much for breakfast.

We rushed out the door and pushed them back towards the corrals. One of them had gotten a gate unlatched. Again. This was not the first time. Nor the same gate or latch as the other times. Someone is way too good at this.

We could already see some of them out in  the pasture with the cows. The yard was covered in hoof prints. Hay had been thoroughly enjoyed. Everything was a mess. But the steers were happy and apparently ready for their breakfast. They ran happily to await it.

They were all out of their normal corral. It seemed like the perfect time to rearrange.

The heifers have been in a corral at the bottom of the hill. This winter has been so wet and snowy that corral has some really deep places. We’ve been talking about moving them but it hasn’t worked out, until  now.

Yearlings are notoriously difficult to handle. They are curious, more like to follow something than to move away from it.  But only certain things then they take off running the opposite direction. With cattle, the grown up kind, you move slightly and they respond with tiny adjustments to their path of travel. It’s very minute and precise when  everyone has the dance down well. Yearlings completely reverses their path of travel if you push them at all. They ping pong off fences like a golf ball hit by an over enthusiastic toddler.

Moving the heifers would be no small feat even inn the small area.

Not usually at least.

My husband and father in law went into the pen with the fourwheelers. I waited outside the gate. Once they got around the calves I called Ghost. The little white calf trotted out  of the herd and towards me at top  little calf legged speed. My other bottle calf, Blossom, followed right behind her.  The rest of the herd, curious and, like any other teenager, intent on following everything the rest of the herd is doing, came right behind.

In the rush too get out of the house I hadn’t strapped on my treat bag like I usually do. Ghost had done perfectly but I had nothing to reward her with! Never fear. My hands are always attached and hard to forget. I went to scratching all those itchy cow spots. She leaned into it, tongue going like crazy. Blossom wasn’t interested in scratches. She would sniff my hands looking for a treat but shied away if I moved towards her.  We stopped scratching for a moment and walked farther out of the gate to let all the others follow, then scratched some more. With a little encouragement from behind the heifers all came neatly out of the pen.  We shut the gate and turned them up the hill towards their new home. Right next door.

As the herd bucked and galloped ahead in their enthusiasm, Ghost stayed with me, walking with my hand on her withers, shoulder? do cattle have withers? The fourwheelers came up along side. My father in law was trying to move her along with the others. I took advantage of the moment to assure her that fourwheelers aren’t scary and she can ignore them  if she wants. All while laughing on the inside about the trouble it could cause.  Knowing though that we  may ride along side them someday and wanting her not to be worried about it.

The heifers ran through their gate, bucking their way to the far corner to explore. Ghost stayed with me for more petting. Then  we went off to find more steers. It wasn’t how I had intended to spend my morning but oh well, it was kind of fun. It would have been more fun horseback but some jobs are better done with fourwheelers. The ice and rough footing would have been hard on a horse. We did find all of the steers. The moving of heifers went well and, once again, the purpose of training cattle was proven.



Nate’s history deserves a post all its own. I will barely touch on it here, he was starved, locked in a stall, gelded late, slightly crazy, forgiving, and dependable. That’s the important part. Despite everything he was smart, dependable, and forgiving.

He deserved so much more than the rider I was at the time.  We do the best we can though until we learn better, then we do better.

We were riding up in Wisconsin, the south east corner, in the big beautiful hills covered in trees and under growth. Everything used to be farmed harder than it is now that it is so much a suburb of Chicago and Milwaukee.

As our horses eased down the steep hill, nearly sliding down on their hindquarters, Nate stopped.

Confused I asked him to keep going. He said no. I began  to look around. The friends we were with stopped, turned around, and began  to look too.

Nate sat perfectly still, legs clear up under him, haunches inches from the ground.

All of this happened much faster than it takes to write or read about it. Nate was starting to tremble though with the strain of staying perfectly still.

It didn’t take long for us to discover the source of the problem. An old barbwire and woven wire fence had fallen nearly perpendicular to the ground. All the other horses had walked over it without even knowing it was there. Nate had caught it just right and both hind legs slid under it.

Feeling the wire over his legs, instead of fighting or panicking there on the steep hill likely getting both of us hurt, he had froze refusing to move. I jumped off as fast as I could. Luckily we had wire cutters along. Nate’s hindquarters were visibly shaking by the time we got the wire cut and freed him. He was hesitant to move even when  we had the wires out of the way and he could do so safely. It took some convincing to get that first step.

I believe I walked him down the hill to let him rest and recover.

My hot, slightly crazed little Morgan had saved me once again. Most of my scars and sore places are left overs from him. He was too much horse and I had too little knowledge as a rider. That I am still alive to talk  about it is also mostly because of him. If not for his kindness in taking care of me the wrecks we had could have been far worse. We were friends working together to drive anyone who rode with us crazy, from me teaching him to bite any horse next to us on cue (maybe my actual first use of positive reinforcement?) to him having permission to use me, or anyone else who dared to ride him, as a scratching post (a reward for letting me ride him). Even then it was a two way street of communication between horse and rider.

One of the many horses who I wish I had to do over again. If only I had known then what I know now, of course what I know now is largely because of him.


Maybe He’s Just Not That Into You?

One very important part of a relationship, one that we often over look with horses, is allowing them the option of saying no.

If we were friends with someone but never had any say in what we did with them we wouldn’t look forward to seeing them very much would we? It would lead to us avoiding them and looking for ways out whenever possible.

When  we have the option of saying no, when  we have equal say in any relationship, we are far more likely to say yes and to seek that person out.

It is the same with our horses. They have thoughts and opinions on things just like we do. Allowing them to express those feelings, instead of making them more likely to say no, has the opposite effect. Having a choice gives them a chance to say yes.

Horses having the ability to say no makes us better trainers. When they can tell us how our training makes them feel it forces us to look closer at what we are doing. When a horse is happy with our training they wont want to quit. If we are lumping or pushing too hard the horse can tell us by saying no.

We can only know for sure that our bond is strong when our horses have the option of saying no.


The idea of stopping the whole rule following thing. Let yourself be who you are without all the people telling you who and what you  should be.

What could be more fitting for horse people?

Before we come along and start telling them what to do and what they should be, horses just are. They are full and complete in  who they are, we are the ones who shove issues onto them.

Glennon Doyle talks about letting go of the things that try to force you to conform. I like that idea. How many of us have trainers and friends out there telling us how we HAVE to do things with our horses? People who tell us all the things we can’t do and that we should just stop trying?

Without them it would be simpler to step back  from  all the expectations ‘those’ horse people and get back to enjoying being with our horses. To find that horse crazy girl again and let her take joy in horse life again. In the spirit of this post (https://www.facebook.com/glennondoyle/posts/10157990570289710) I’m going to follow in her footsteps and do the same. Want to join me?

Unfollow two accounts that make you feel bad about yourself.

Also: In the comments below, please tag the accounts that are supportive, encouraging horse pages, or training pages of some sort, any two pages you love for that matter! So we can share the good ones that out there. The ones that help us find a better path with horses or in life.

There’s too much good to hang onto the bad.



Giving To Pressure

This is Heildorf learning to give to pressure.

There’s no excitement. No one is upset. He is loose, no reins or rope attached. There is nothing aversive going on here.

It makes me wonder why positive reinforcement people have developed such a distaste for using any sort of pressure?

Well used pressure can offer guidance to a horse, lower stress, and  make life easier for everyone. It is a natural way to steer or lead that makes sense to everyone. What is well applied pressure really except touching our horses? I touch Heildorf’s side here to ask him to step over. I touch the side of his face to ask him to turn. I touch  my hand to his chest to ask him to back.

I understand that not everyone uses pressure well. There are those who want to escalate and go to swinging ropes, chasing the horse around whenever they don’t immediately respond. That is pressure used badly.

That is a problem  with the individual trainer though. Bad horsemanship on that persons behalf. Not a sin of pressure itself. Even when training with pure -R, pressure and release, round penning, we don’t want horses to be upset by pressure. Use as little force as necessary, that is every true horseman’s goal and mantra.

When pressure has been used badly we need to recognize it as the bad training, abuse even,  that it is. To let those times cast a pall over any training that uses tactile cues and touch is wrong though. Instead of demonizing all use of pressure as being bad we need to look at the way we are using pressure. Perhaps the problem is in  the one using the tool, not in the tool.

Good horsemanship should always be the goal.


Rusty appears to have foundered Thursday. Although  I guess I should call it laminitis? Apparently it’s considered founder when  it gets to the advanced stages. I’m learning more about this all the time.

He was fine Tuesday when  I worked with him, although he seemed slightly off. Nothing that I could pin point. He wasn’t limping, just wasn’t quite the same as usual. He would occasionally take a step and “ouch” really quick, you know what I mean? He’d pick the foot up like he stepped on something that hurt. Then he would put it somewhere else and walk  off like nothing had happened.

I trimmed his toes a little so he’d have a shorter break-over just in case he was sore. Didn’t touch the sole, just rolled the toe a bit.

Wednesday I didn’t get to see him except for walking past when I went to feed. I didn’t notice anything unusual. The rest of the day I spent inn the house with a sick child. It was miserably cold out.

Thursday when I went to feed Rusty was laying down. Not a big deal but he didn’t get up to come beg for treats. I fought my way past the others and went over to him. He did get up for that but was very reluctant to move. I left him there and went to feed. When I came back by it was immediately apparent something was wrong. Really wrong. He was sitting back on his hind end, front legs out ahead of him, he wouldn’t move and when he did it was painful.

I went in to call the vet.

They said to bring him anytime. That was easier said than done. The pickup on the trailer hadn’t moved since we brought cows home. My father in  law very nicely helped get the battery charger on it and get it going while I got a still sick child bundled up  and ready to go.

Rusty lead reluctantly out the gate. Heildorf followed begging to come out, so I let him. He had no idea what he had volunteered for 😉  They both loaded nicely though.

At the vet Rusty unloaded cautiously and limped around showing them exactly what the problem was. I let him take his time hobbling over to the clinic. The vet  like has moved and I do miss her. This one seems really nice though. I was annoyed by little things but they were mostly silly things. They, the vet and her assistant, wanted to slap him on the butt to make him move faster going into the clinic. I felt he was welcome to take all the time he needed. The assistant wanted to hold onto his halter. Rusty  was standing beautifully. I don’t feel we ever need to hang on  a horses face. It’s her job, I understand, and it wasn’t like she was doing anything bad, I’m just so picky about anyone touching my horses. Especially Rusty.

Aside from those little things they were great.

Of course laminitis was the immediate suspect. There was no obvious cause though. He’s on a dry lot, n the middle of winter, with grass hay. She got the hoof testers out and he didn’t show any reaction to them. At all. Anywhere. He had a slight pulse going to his hooves but not much. He didn’t show any other sign of lameness either though. She checked all down his legs, his shoulders, his back. He seemed fine. except he was so lame he could barely move.

She gave him a shot of the medicine she would give to treat laminitis and esnt home enough to give him through Sunday. If he wasn’t better, she wanted to see hm Monday and would do X-rays.

With that we headed home.
Heildorf had done very nicely in the trailer while we were in and was doing a great job at being along for company. It’s such good experience for him to be hauled all over the place like this being company.

Friday Rusty was doing better, still laying down a lot and still sore, but less so.

Thanks to lots of cookies giving the medicine is no problem. We put a hay bale right next to the water so he doesn’t have to walk hardly at all. The ground is still frozen and rough but we are supposed to have a few warm days here so hopefully that will help soften  it up and make it more comfortable for him.

We have no idea what caused it. He is on grass hay. There was a bale of alfalfa that got put in for them before the last grass bale. That would have been almost two weeks ago though. Surely if there was a problem from the alfalfa it would have showed up sooner? If there was something he got into in  the last bale of grass hay, it is gone now. Hopefully it’s not inn any of the other bales. It can’t be something common because this has never happened before. Not knowing the cause to be able to prevent it inn the future is hard.

He’s not out of the woods yet even though he is looking much better. We will be going back to the vet Monday even if he is looking all right. In the  meantime I need to get to studying about laminitis.

If he gets all the way better and can ride again that would be great. I love to ride him. If he doesn’t and can’t be ridden again, that’s just fine too. We have plenty of things we can do together besides ride.


When it comes to working with horses we all have our own  personal, and strong, opinions on how it needs to be done. We are seldom shy about expressing them. Telling other people what they are doing wrong and how they should be doing things is a favorite pastime of horse people.

The problem  with this is that we have no idea about the other persons ideas, goals, or story when it comes to horses. Before offering help, or worse telling someone what to do, what will work, what wont,  we need to stop and remember that we only have experience with our own lives, that’s all we know. Of course we assume that that is what there is to experience and how everyone experiences life. It isn’t until we grow those gathered experiences and expand upon them that we begin to see that there is a whole other world out there, that everyone experiences life differently and responds differently to those experiences that we realize how much there is that we don’t know.

Just because one thing doesn’t work for us doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for everyone. Just because we are able to do something one way doesn’t mean that everyone can. We all have our own separate roads to follow. That means that we can’t force others to follow our path or even that they should.

I train using positive reinforcement. Obviously I think its the best way to go. That doesn’t mean other ways don’t also work and make a happy well trained horse when used well.

There are so many different ways to train within the realms of positive reinforcement even. I use pressure and release, it’s a great tool in the positive reinforcement tool box. There’s no need to use escalating force,  no need to make it aversive to the horse. Pressure and release is a way to offer guidance and give clear signals to avoid stressing the horse as he tries to figure out what we want. It can be the equivalent of being lead by your partner in a dance or holding hands with a loved one as  they walk with you down the street. A kind, gentle guidance.

Some people aren’t able to use it well. That is just fine. They don’t need to use that tool if it doesn’t work for them. Nobody should use a training method they aren’t capable of using well. That doesn’t mean the training method is bad, it means the training method doesn’t suit that one person using it.

As we travel this path with our horses, and with the other people traveling the what appears to be the same path with us, we need to remember that even though our roads look the same we all travel them differently. The way that is right for one may not be right for the other.

The important thing, the way to decide if a method is working well, is whether or not the horse is happy. He is after all the one whose opinion matters here.


Not The Typical Reinforcement

I saddled Rusty today Planning on a ‘real’ ride.

The kids were busily occupied and I had some time. He has been getting tired  of me riding in  our little arena. Tricks are more fun. He gets to stand around and have food shoveled into his mouth. What’s not to love?

He does seem to enjoy going out and covering country though, instead of the working on  intricate little details that I’ve been wanting to do. He came to the gate as usual but had to stand and think hard about actually coming through it. I thought I’d let him decide what we’d do to start with. He could chose something he liked to do before I asked him to do what I wanted. Once saddled and on I let the reins lay and off he went.

He was going somewhere and in a hurry.

We cut the corner around the trees tight, slipping and sliding on the ice. I was tempted to grab mu reins and steer us to safer footing but then we were through there and there was no point. I thought he was heading for the other horses, but no. We came to them and kept going. That wasn’t where he was headed.
Out to the cattle he sped. Up the lane in  the feedlot.

Now I remembered. We had ridden out here earlier this week. Came to check a tank  that had run over and stopped to share some of the cattle fed while we were here.

Sure enough. He went right to the feed bunk he had enjoyed last time.

When we think about positive reinforcement we usually think about the immediate reward. The click and the treat.

Positive reinforcement is any reward, at any time, that makes a behavior more likely to occur again.

By stopping to enjoy a snack Rusty rewarded himself for riding out there. He wanted to do it again.

When I was in high school my mom  would drop me off at the barn on summer mornings and leave me there to ride all day. Once I rode way down the road to a town with a little grocery store. I tied my horse to the railing at the front entrance and went in. I got a snack for me and a bag of carrots for him. We both enjoyed our treat then rode home.

The next time we rode out he went enthusiastically in that direction. I decided it was because he had enjoyed his carrots. Unfortunately I never put much more deep thought into it. I might have found positive reinforcement much earlier!

What is the point of all that? I’m not entirely sure. Except if your horse is reluctant to leave the barn for trail rides. You might want to consider bringing a snack for him to enjoy at the farthest point.

Mostly though, I think, it’s that positive reinforcement is so much more than a click and a treat. What other ways can we find to encourage the behaviors we want?



Rusty finally did it! And with all the new people here I think we should talk about it. Air our dirty laundry if you will, or airing something for sure

Some geldings will never drop when we are working with them while others like to have it hanging out at all times.

There are quite a few reasons as to why geldings to drop while working with us. One is that they are stressed, overly excited about the food they are expecting to receive, not sure about what they should be doing to get it. In this case it’s a sign that we need to slow down and take a big step back.

To help them to calm down we need to find a lower value feed, ramp up our rate of reward, the speed at which we are clicking and treating, and break our training down into smaller slices so they can understand what we are asking better.

The second reason is a lot like the first but a step down from there. My horse, Rusty, usually drops while training because I have pushed him a little out of his comfort zone. He isn’t anywhere near the extremely stressed state of our first reason. He’s still calm and mannerly, no other signs of stress showing. It happens when I ask for something new. When he isn’t completely sure what I am asking and it happens whether we are training with treats or not.

This still calls for some of the same fixes. I need to make sure I am breaking my training down far enough. We need to go slow and be patient, help him to become comfortable with the new questions I’m asking. Soon he settles down and gets comfortable and things go back where they belong.

So many of the horses in this group seem to drop because they are relaxed and happy. Some people don’t believe that a horse can or should be relaxed enough during training to be “that” relaxed but it sure looks like a common occurrence.

Ineke‘s horse, JB, is always letting it hang out. He knows what is going on, there’s nothing new or stressful, he’s calm, relaxed, and happy.

Now Rusty has dropped out of shear relaxation. I was giving him a good scratch the other day before making him go back out to pasture with his herd. He loves to have his belly scratched. I was working my way around when I bumped into something and there it was. Not a drop of stress involved.

Knowing our horses well, knowing their habits, likes, and dislikes is key to training. If your horse never drops and has all of a sudden it’s important to look for causes. It might be a sign that you need to look closely at your training. If it’s his normal way of working and everything is good, then there’s nothing to worry about.

Unless you want to take pictures. Then you might have a bit of a problem

Yes, I know he’s not very dropped here. Later he was at the wrong angle for the camera to get that part.