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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)

Probably my first horse ride ever, circa late '70s.



"To understand just one life you have to swallow the world..." Salman Rushdie


It seems a little difficult to explain where I’m at in my horse life.
For sure I’ve found a horse life to be a dynamic thing, shifting and changing in ways a person may not expect.

First I should explain that whatever may change about me, a constant is that I need to have horses in my life. I’m human, female, and just as deep as both of those things I’m a horse person. In the times of my life where I could not have my own horses, I still thought about them, read about them, obsessed about them. Throughout the long years of childhood and as a teen, when my mother remained convinced I would outgrow this phase, my thoughts revolved around learning, preparing, and planning for when I would own a horse. Any chance I had to meet a horse, touch a horse, ride a horse, and I was there.

When I was in college, they asked me why I chose my career as a nurse. Others around me said they’d always dreamed of helping people or been interested in health care. I truthfully said I wanted to have a career that would help me have a good income so I could always have horses.

Although I did not own a horse until my early twenties, my obsession with horses meant that before I bought a horse I had ridden many horses, taken different types of lessons, studied many different trainers, knew a lot about various types of tack and riding styles, horse breeds, and how to assess horses for soundness and conformation.

As always with horses, and something I learned long before I owned a horse, is that even if you study horses your entire life, you can only know a fraction of what there is to know.

Over the years I’ve found horse people to be opinionated, stubborn, emotional, dramatic, and helpful, tough, caring, loyal. Most of them are loyal to their horses first, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s hard sometimes to call them “my people,” yet they are. They’re the only ones who can understand the deep-seated need “we people” have to talk about horses. Co-workers’ eyes glaze over, spouses try to care but get bored, family members have heard it for far too many years. Strangers won’t stick around long enough. Even when horse people get frustrating, they’re still good to have around to listen to the stories.

I’ve had the chance my horse life to study some different disciplines and different theories whole-heartedly. I’ve had the opportunity to be disillusioned by the difference between dreams and reality, and to learn again and again that horses are amazing animals, just animals, but animals worth spending years and dollars and dreams on. Horses have been teaching me about myself, about humanity, about beauty, and about life. There’s more to learn.

Where I’ve landed is somewhere far away from those that use horses for profit and ego and their own goals. It’s also some distance from those that use horses to fulfill purely emotional needs, or those that believe horses sense our purposes and bond with us with some form of blind parent/child trust. I’ve learned that absolutes such as never, or always do not apply to horses. No horse will “always.” No horse will “never.” In the right situation, any horse will, and can hurt you. I’ve learned that you can’t take anything personal with an animal, and to stay far away from anthropomorphizing. The more I understand that horses are individuals with their own, strong motivations, the more I appreciate them.

These philosophies help explain why I have the two horses I own, and may give insight into what I write about them. In the next post I’ll introduce my horses.
 

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Amore: The Early Years

Amore was my first horse. I bought her when she was 12 years old, and now she is 24.
She has taught me more than I realized a horse could teach a person.
The first thing she taught me was to throw the book away, it did not apply to her.

When I went shopping for my first horse, I was completely open-minded about what age, gender, breed, or level of training to buy. Although I had not trained a horse myself, I felt confident that I was experienced enough, having ridden many horses and even very green and young ones. Having read thousands of horse books and magazines, I knew of many training methods. I’d ridden quite a few breeds of horses, and knew positive things about many of them as well as their faults. So when I saw a beautiful, 14.2 hand bay mare, age 12 with no real training, it did not deter me. Her conformation faults were minor, she had good bone and pretty movement. She was very, very sweet. A blank slate, if you will, seemed to be a positive thing.

We bought Amore on Valentine’s day, and her star was shaped like a heart. A sweet little horse, she didn’t know how to lead without stepping on you but her eyes were big and doe-like in their innocence. How hard could this be?

Two words to describe Amore: Innocent, terrified.
She literally knew nothing. She’d always lived on one small property, with her mother and older half-sister. Soon after we met, Amore opened her mouth, looked at me blankly and set her teeth on my arm. Since biting is one of those “cardinal sins” for horses, I shouted, slapped her neck, got big and scary. You’ve never seen a horse so surprised. She literally almost fell down, scrambled to the back of her stall and stood with her face in the corner, shaking. She stood there for quite a few minutes, peeking around to see if I was going to attack her again. She never tried biting again, but I learned that my reactions did not need to be so strong with this horse.

For the next year, I learned a lot about fearful horses. Following every step I knew to desensitize a horse, I taught Amore to lunge, be saddled, lead, learn the aids. She stood with the saddle on and cinched, I flapped the leather around and pulled it side to side, and she had no problem with it.
I planned to let her walk a few steps and lunge her, but that first step was a doozy. I’ve rarely seen a horse that could buck like her. She would twist and put her head between her legs and kick her heels over her head. Over and over and over. Once or twice she somersaulted clear over.

Being extremely stubborn, I thought twice about what was going to happen when I rode this mare but still got on her once she seemed fine lunging with the saddle on. The trick with Amore was that you’d think she was used to something, until one day she wasn’t. This little horse was so willing. She’d try and was so teachable and pliable as long as she wasn’t frightened.

Well, I kept riding. We started in a bosal and Western saddle. We’d ride for a few days and she kept progressing, building on what she knew. Then something would startle her and she’d buck just like I’d seen her do when I wasn’t on her. It didn’t matter if you were riding or leading or if Amore was in her stall. If she panicked, her mind was gone.
After several months and getting bucked off quite a few times, the trainer at the barn where I boarded suggested I might try a six ring martingale. By now I’d had an accident with the bosal and switched over to a simple snaffle, which seemed to give clearer messages to Amore. Later I learned that my bosal did not fit properly, which meant the release was not fast enough, which led to the day I kept spinning in circles on my horse so fast I almost lost my lunch, and decided to change to a snaffle.

The martingale was a great tip. For the first time, I caught Amore right at the moment of panic and stopped the buck from beginning. Hopping off, I was able to calm my mare from the ground. For my part, I was by now taking lessons from the trainer and learning some new things such as long lining, and watching as she trained other horses. I was even managing to stay on sometimes for several bucks, before getting launched off my horse. But they were impossible to ride out.

Now that I’ve ridden and trained many other horses, I understand what made Amore so difficult in the beginning. Her reaction to a stimulus was less than one second, literally. If she saw or heard something frightening, by the time I heard it or felt her tense up, she was already bucking. I’ve not ridden a horse with such a fast explosion point since. If you did the wrong thing, her full-blown panic would happen instantaneously.

The trainer I was working with was an Arab trainer. She was helpful, but she and others said many times in the first several years with my mare that she was lucky to have me. I didn’t see it that way. I felt if my horse wasn’t learning, I was doing something wrong. I felt that there had to be a key to getting past her fear, if I could only find it.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Amore: Part Two

Since I am so stubborn, and will not give up on a horse, I kept riding Amore. Once her experiences allowed her to wait a second or two before panicking at every sudden sight or sound, the bucking quickly resolved (well, after I got bucked off a few dozen times). A couple of times she bolted, but soon that became rare. Her spooks were frequent and serious, and often unseated me.

After a few months of riding, we began going out on rides off the horse property where I boarded, and began showing. I’d started taking hunt seat lessons, and showed in English classes. Amore and I went to clinics, and rode out with other people. By now I just expected that I’d be coming off my horse fairly often, and it didn’t bother me too much. Somehow I’d never broken any bones, and after three concussions started wearing a helmet, so those stopped happening too. Many people let me ride their horses, which was a relief since falling off my horse so much made me feel like I was a bad rider. But I found other horses easier to ride and never came off of them. My trainer didn’t care to ride my horse either.

Now came a period of time where we moved to some new locations, had lots of riding experiences, more lessons, shows, and I rode lots of other horses. Something that began happening was that fellow boarders needed help with their horses. So many people around me were afraid of their horses and could not understand their horses’ motivations. I was learning a lot by riding and assessing many horses. Some were in pain, too little exercise/too much energy, bad tack, and some were just being horses. People thought their horses were plotting to harm them, behaved as if they had a magical bond with their horse like the Black Stallion or other fictional stories, or were so afraid of their horse they would only do ground work, over and over until the horse’s eyes glazed over with boredom.


What I saw was horses…each one had a distinct personality, and they all had the same motivations. Food, rest, outlet for energy, curiosity, social interest, run from danger. If other horses are running, you probably should too. Find your place in the herd. Yet each horse was so unique too, and all their life experiences played into who they were.

During this time I put Amore through some serious bomb-proof training with full courses and dedicated some time to lots of exposure training. By the time I’d had her four years, I decided she would never be a solid trail horse, and that she’d always spook and be afraid of going out alone.

When Amore was 16, we moved again and my new barn’s owners changed everything for me and helped my horse life tremendously.


These women boarded horses only because they wanted people to ride with. Within a couple of days after moving my horse in, they asked me if I would go for a ride. I explained to them that my mare was a little spooky and might walk a bit fast, things that had deterred other people from riding with me sometimes.



They launched into stories about their horses and how one of their mares had come to them at age 20, and for the first months riding her she’d rear every few feet during a ride. They said she also sometimes bolted off, but they felt it was fairly controllable by now. It turned out these gals were stubborn like me, gave horses the benefit of the doubt like me, and felt it was the human’s fault if a horse had learned bad behaviors.

We went for a ride, and Amore was like a kitten compared to their hot-blooded horses. She pranced a little, and one of them laughed as her horse began dancing sideways rapidly in return.

For the first time in my life, riding felt like an exciting adventure and these women sat on their horses like centaurs and always asked, “Ready?” before galloping off without waiting for an answer. I wanted to be just like them, so I held on tightly and Amore didn’t spook or do anything at all besides try to keep up with the flying white mare in front of us that she now worshipped as her leader.

Until now, I’d thought I was brave. I’d been riding a horse that was spooky. Big deal. These gals were riding these big, super fit, snorting horses up and down the mountains, jumping logs and bushes and half the time they’d just throw a bareback pad on. It was either fall off or ride, so I rode.



The first time we cantered on a winding trail through the deep sand dunes at the beach, I had ditched my western saddle to ride English like my new friends. I was behind the other three riders, and kept almost falling off while marveling at how they rode so easily through the deep footing around sharp corners doing flying lead changes.


We kept on riding together for several more years. Soon, I’d ridden all of their challenging horses and we’d trained some others together, and next thing I knew Amore was going out and still spooking, but she wasn’t that difficult to ride anymore. I’d transcended her. Now my confidence pulled her along, and we could go along the highway, out alone, over jumps, anything. My friends rode her easily too.



One day I found myself galloping Amore up the mountain, bareback, and I realized things were different and I finally knew how to ride. Now, in my 30s, after so many lessons, and horses, and books, and years. It was a mixture of learning the right techniques, riding the right horses, and being given a push far out of my comfort zone to learn real confidence.



This was when I met my second horse, Valhalla.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Taking a break from the summary of my past with horses...fast forward to the present:

Today there was a break from the wind and rain storm we've been having for a couple of days. My current boarding barn does not have an indoor arena. In the past, I've used the winter as incentive to tune up the horses and work on some things that have been neglected during the rest of the year. Recently I've realized that some things have been slipping due to only going out on beach or trail rides, so I decided it would be good for me to show some discipline and try to do some arena work.

We have an outdoor arena that has enough room for cantering. It was placed over a grass footing, which had been churned up and was a bit rough. Recently some wood chips/hog fuel footing was put down around the perimeter, so I decided to try it out.

Valhalla was sick most of last winter and spring. Over those months, I learned many new things. First, we dealt with ulcers, healing them and putting weight back on. After that I learned about Vitamin E deficiency and how it can seriously affect a horse. Halla had severe muscle weakness and uncoordination, which at first I thought might be Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, PSSM, or even EPM. All of these are difficult to diagnose from a vet, but we did rule out PSSM and EPM. A high fat, low starch diet did not help, and as my mare deteriorated I thought I would not be able to ride her again and she may even need to be put down.

In all my research, I finally learned about Vitamin E deficiency and began relating my mare's downturn to the fact that I'd stopped feeding vitamins the previous spring, the pastures had been overgrazed and poor all summer, and by the time winter came my mare was severely deficient. As a trial I began feeding a large amount of Vitamin E, and the improvement was dramatic and immediate. A lot of the weight loss I'd been unable to put back on Halla after her ulcers turned out to be muscle loss, and as she grew stronger she filled back out.

For several months I was just happy to be riding my mare. Yet as she grew stronger, all my focus on her muscles and movement highlighted to me how crooked she was (has always been), and I began working on improving her saddle fit. Halla's left shoulder is much larger than her right one, and her left hoof is a bit larger and flatter than the other. The final solution I came to was buying a treeless, Freeform saddle. For the first time in 5 years, the saddle stays straight and her shoulder movement does not affect the saddle.

I've discovered that Valhalla needs to relearn how to use her body under saddle. Over the years and miles I had developed a way to deal with having such a crooked horse. Using my body and aids, I had compensated quite a bit to help her do things such as pick up leads and move in a straight line. Her trot always felt terribly rough, and she preferred to canter.

When other people have ridden my mare, it has been very difficult for them to keep her straight. It has been difficult for me to keep her somewhat straight as well, and some days are better than others. Some of the technique I used became a bit subconscious, but I had a chronic tendonitis on the outside of my lower left leg due to having extra pressure down on that stirrup most of the time. Even the best fitting saddles always tended to slide to the right on my mare, toward her smaller shoulder. It was a process of weight and balance and blocking aids and guiding aids, and then we'd manage to follow curves and straight lines.

Today after we warmed up a bit, we worked on cantering around the perimeter of the arena. There was some humping over/crowhopping and changing leads, as Halla tried to figure out how to use her body. Whenever she got into the canter, it was straighter than it's been, and more balanced. But it was tricky for her because there was nothing for me to counter balance, so my weight was equal in both stirrups. I didn't have to fight the saddle and then counter balance that pushing weight with other blocking aids. I'm sure it feels very strange to her, having been used to cantering in such an odd way, always fighting the saddle pushing crookedly on her back.

I'd tried having the saddle shimmed and flocked to fit her, but that only helped about 20% of the problem on a dynamically moving horse.

We had several laps of successful cantering, and then we went and walked around a large field with a buddy horse. The wind and rain started up again by the time we finished, but it was a good ride.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Dusk was settling in. People were hunkered down inside, staying dry and cozy as 40-50 mph winds and driving rain battered around the houses in my neighborhood. Driving toward the barn, the wind buffeted my car, making it feel as if the steering wheel might get pulled out of my grasp.

Turning in to the gravel drive at the barn, shapes began appearing in the gloom.

The horse people were here, pushing wheelbarrows, leading horses, and carrying hay bales. Their faces were cheery, framed by wet hair that seemed unable to decide if it would rather plaster close to a person's skin or fly around wildly. It was as if there was no storm at all; no one mentioned the weather. Not one person apparently minded that while nearly everyone in the county was staying inside, they were all out laboring in the inclement weather.

They behaved like they were the privileged few, and rather than resenting the daily chores that did not go away when the weather didn't cooperate, they acted as if they were enjoying themselves.

For my part, as I gripped a gate with one hand while the gusts scattered the manure off the fork I was holding in the other, it seemed that I was smiling too.

The horses were soon eating contentedly, the rain pattered on the roof, and it felt like I was one of the lucky ones, part of this weird, alternative, horsey world.
 

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Valhalla, part one:

Valhalla was an unplanned rescue.


My friends and I agreed to take in two horses for training, a Thoroughbred and an Arabian. When we went to pick up the horses, we saw two horses tied up and thought something was wrong…we were supposed to be getting a 12 yr old and 13 yr old horse, but the horses we saw appeared very old. As we got closer we realized the horses were skeletal, the TB near death.


We took the horses, but our fun little project was now a rescue mission. It became, “Sign over the horses or we’ll report you and there will be fines.” The TB was 16.3hh and the Arab 15hh, the horses were getting a flake of hay to share daily, were standing in a mud paddock and had eaten most of their shelter.


One of my friends decided in an instant she would take the TB. I struggled over getting the Arab, but in the end didn’t know anyone else who could take her on with all the expenses. Both horses had severe rain rot, scratches, and the Arab had a few sarcoids. Large chunks had been cut out of her mane and tail. The TB only had one eye.



When we brought the horses home, we put them on grass for about ten minutes, and the look in the horses’ eyes was as if they’d starved and died and now were in heaven. That look was what gave Valhalla her name…a "found paradise" of sorts was what I wished for her future.


As the horses regained their health, the TB was sweet, mellow.

My Arab began to show her true colors…feisty, excitable, dominant. She was absolutely impossible to catch due to previous poor handling, so that became the first project.



The story was that the horses had both been trained at one point. The TB was off the track. Valhalla had been to a trainer to get started. Then both horses had been turned out for the past 8 years. Meaning they’d been 4 and 5 when all their training had stopped.


The TB remembered and picked everything back up. Valhalla reacted to the cinch, reared and pulled away when you picked up her feet, and both horses had severe separation anxiety when one was taken away from the other.



Beginning with ground work, I started Valhalla over.
I planned to find her a good home once she was healthy and going solidly under saddle. After all, I already had Amore.
 

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Valhalla: Part Two

As my new horse, Valhalla became healthy, I started taking her out on rides with other horses.
My plans for finding her a new home began evaporating fairly quickly.

First, although she gained weight and muscled up, it turned out she was a very hard keeper. The vets said her teeth were good, despite the neglect, and we took care of any worms. But once Halla was out of a starvation state, she began turning up her nose at alfalfa, beet pulp, or any wet food such as oil. I gave her free choice hay, and despite that she was eating 8-10 lbs of complete feed a day just to stay in on the thin side of normal.

Then there was the issue that despite her rapid progress with training, her personality was very hot. I kept her in a snaffle for some time, giving her a real chance to work with the lightest cues possible. Thankfully she was not as fast to explode as Amore had been, and didn't buck or try to bolt. But her energy would build rapidly if you tamped her down too much, and although you could do a slow ride and keep her rate under control, it required some serious attention and detailed, methodical riding. She'd simmer until she came right up to the boiling point, and then you'd better let some energy out before the pot boiled over.

Knowing that horses have to be trained to gallop safely, I tried to keep Halla in a snaffle while going out with other pace horses to teach her to slow, rate and stop while going fast. That worked for a time, but this mare loved running and soon wanted to lead the other horses or even keep running after the other horses stopped. So I turned to a Kimberwicke, which had worked well on other strong horses, and this did help give an element of control when she became very excited or strong.

Valhalla had some interesting traits that I had not yet encountered in other horses. One thing she would try when I would ask her to keep her speed controlled at a canter was doing one and two tempi flying lead changes. We'd be going up a hill, staying nicely behind other horses, and changing leads madly back and forth at such a rapid rate that I felt like I was bouncing up and down on a trampoline.

Since Halla had not been exposed to mountain trails, she viewed changes in light or patterns of light coming down through the leaf canopy as solid objects. We'd be trotting or cantering along, and all of a sudden her weight would shift back all the way onto her hindquarters and we'd stop dead. If you haven't done this on a horse, it is a bit disconcerting and rather difficult to not end up either concussing on the horse's skull, or finding yourself sitting on the horse's neck. A hunter/jumper friend I met several years later told me her trainer taught her to think, “feet on the dashboard.” That describes perfectly how I rode Halla through this time period.

My friends and I had developed an interest in endurance riding. As we put the horses in training, we rode them for many, many miles and it was something both of my horses excelled at. When you ride horses for so many miles, you begin to feel like a part of your horse, and getting on again just feels “right,” as if part of your body was reattached.

You think, your horse moves. You look, and your horse goes there.

I began to realize that out of the 80 plus horses I’ve ridden from various breeds, Valhalla was my absolute favorite to ride.

She was now my horse, forever. She was expensive to feed, I only knew several people other than myself who could safely ride her, and on her best days she was a handful. On her worst days, almost too much to handle.

But Halla is the greatest ride. I have never, ever had to ask this horse to go out. When I get on, I point her nose in a direction and we go. She loves to run like the wind, and if I ever need a serious stress reliever, I can just open her up and she will take off like a rocket. She rides like a big, powerful horse, but she is compact and can turn on a dime. If I want to keep up with friends on their big Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, we can. But she can also go for a spin with little Arabs, Mustangs and ponies. Halla is so athletic she can do about anything. She has challenged me so many times to become a better horseman and better rider. For those who value a quiet mind, steady temperament, or a relaxing ride, this is not the horse. For me, riding her is something to look forward to every time, and I’ve realized by now she is probably that once in a lifetime horse, that perfect ride and I feel so lucky to have found her.

 

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Valhalla has a lot in common with Mia. Unfortunately, the Sonoran Desert doesn't have many places where running safely is remotely possible. That is why she is now a brood mare in a place where the country is open, they like to ride 20 miles at a time, and like to gallop for 2-4 MILES instead of 2-300 YARDS. I find I miss her, though.

But your advice some years back was very helpful in making Mia a safer horse to ride...maybe because you had ridden Valhalla?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Valhalla has a lot in common with Mia...
But your advice some years back was very helpful in making Mia a safer horse to ride...maybe because you had ridden Valhalla?
Yes, your descriptions of Mia reminded me very much of Valhalla. I think they are cut from a similar cloth. I don't think I could have managed Halla very well without the ability to take her long distances and let her gallop sometimes. On the mountain trail where I used to board, we would start with a 3/4 mile gallop up a very steep hill after warming up. Many horses we rode with couldn't even make it halfway, so we'd wait for them at the top. Halla wouldn't even get winded, and I'd have to pull her up at the end.

It sounds like you did what was best for Mia rather than just yourself, which is the mark of a true horseman.

Thank you, Knightrider. I've heard the phrase, "A fit horse is a dangerous horse," but I think a key thing is that a person gets fit at the same time as the horse by riding the miles. Getting there together trains the rider to handle the horse.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
The Wrong Reins and a Poor Dog

I made my silly name, "Gottatrot" on a whim, a few years back. It stuck because it kept being appropriate. You gottatrot most of the way in order to finish an endurance ride in the time frame allowed. Slow walking horses gottatrot to catch up to the rest of the riders. Spooky horses gottatrot past things that make them nervous. And Valhalla is constantly asking if she can please canter, and I must keep insisting...gottatrot, gottatrot, gottatrot a little longer.

I'm sure without horses in my life I'd be an impatient person. However, there isn't a lot of instant gratification with horses, and progress comes slowly, through a lot of grueling work.
Today it only worked out to have a short ride on Valhalla. By the time I got her saddled up, darkness was closing in fast and I decided to ride around a field to continue working on bending through circles to help her redesign her body to move more straight.

At the walk, she was bending fine. At the trot, Halla found it easier to do a spiral in around the circle instead of going straight through her body around the circle. Her front end was making a slightly smaller circle than her hind end, but I wanted to have both ends going around the same circle. I knew what I needed to do: look ahead to where I'm going, allow the turn of my body to match that angle, and my horses know to follow my seat, weight and drape of my legs around the curve.

When I pushed Halla forward, we'd get a few steps of the circle right, but she found it more difficult at a slower speed. A straight horse wasn't built in a day, and since we could not bend at the trot I did not try to canter on the circle.

As we began to canter on a straight line, I realized I had the wrong reins. Do you ever annoy yourself with how stupid you are? This past summer, I decided absolutely from reading posts on the forum that I needed to buy some rubber reins from Nuttysaddler. Well, it slipped my mind and then I went to visit friends and took one ride on a lovely Quarter Horse and decided I liked the new reins my friends were raving about, which were made from synthetic Beta material.

On my ride on the Quarter Horse, I thought I gave the reins a good test because we went for a long ride with plenty of fast trotting and cantering. But the mare was in a leverage bit, so I rarely contacted her mouth. Now that I've taken the pair of Beta reins I recently purchased out for a few rides, I find that I can't hold onto them, they slip through my fingers and get worse when I wear gloves with nitrile to keep my hands warm. I can't differentiate between the reins and my horse's mane, so today as we cantered off powerfully, I found I had a rein in my left hand and a mane in my right. So when I asked Halla to slow, we circled sharply to the left.

Taking the gloves off, I felt a bit safer, so I rode Halla over past the barn and up a hill to take a loop around the horse pastures. We have a nice riding track there, but as I crested the hill I saw that one of the elk herds had drifted in with the settling dusk. The elk remind me of clouds. When you look at them, you don't notice them moving, but if you look back after a couple of minutes they'll have drifted in one direction or another. It's peaceful, and disconcerting if you're trying to maneuver at a safe distance around a herd.

We only rode down one side of the track and trotted back up, to avoid the elk. The labrador that lives on the property had followed along with us, and he looked a bit melancholy. I felt sad that we'd had such a short ride and disappointed him. Later I heard that was the third horseback ride he'd gone out with that day. What a poor fellow.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
In another thread, an interesting topic came up about confidence when riding and horses that spook.
I wrote about this in a reply based on some of my experiences;
I don't believe the right approach for each horse is just based on how afraid the horse is, or how experienced or confident the rider is.

I've found that horses have a lot of different levels of how sensitive they are to a rider's confidence/demeanor. If I had to rate horses I've ridden on a scale of one to ten, I'd say some horses are a "1," meaning they rely almost entirely on their own self, and some horses are way up there like a "9" or "10," and a rider can either make the horse fail or pull them entirely through a situation on their own confidence and riding.

Horses also vary greatly on the scale of how confident vs fearful/spooky they are in general.
So you can have a horse that is very confident and also relies entirely on a rider. Or you can have a horse that is very spooky and relies entirely on a rider. The most difficult is a horse that is very fearful/spooky and relies entirely on himself.

The same goes for excitability. Some horses are very excitable but rely heavily on the rider or handler's input, so calm down easily. Other horses are very excitable and rely heavily on themselves, so do not calm down until their own internal factors are met.
What I'm talking about here is not training, but the horse's innate personality that comes through when instinct takes over.

I believe that some horses get more confident out in the world because they rely on themselves, and they believe through experience that things are safe out there. I believe that other horses get more confident out in the world because they trust their rider's input and confidence that they are safe. The difference is seen when you put a green rider on either horse. The self-confident horse will ride the same and not spook. The rider-confident horse will suddenly be afraid of everything again.

Obviously there are ranges to this, and more horses fall into an average range than otherwise.
This topic makes me think of some horses I've ridden and how they responded to confidence.
One little Arab gelding named Banner could be absolutely terrified but he relied very heavily on his rider. So we'd be cantering around a corner and you'd feel him start to canter higher because he was afraid to pass something spooky. But one firm push with your seat and he'd canter on by, eyes bugging out of his head but gamely trusting that you'd keep him safe.
I've ridden a few other horses that you could just bluff through anything.

Most of the Mustangs I've ridden are the opposite. In general, they've been more confident types but extremely self-reliant. You could just feel the disdain when they'd stop to look at something possibly threatening. I'd give them the old, "Come on, nothing to see here," cues and I swear their entire body language would be, "Oh really? You think YOU are going to decide if it's safe for ME?" One even turned and gave me a look.

Valhalla is very insensitive to the rider's confidence and depends heavily on herself. You could be totally confident or scared witless and she'd behave the same. She's mid-level when it comes to spooking, and once she learns things are safe, she won't spook about them again. But she is high on the excitability scale and won't calm down until her own internal factors are satisfied.

Amore is super sensitive to rider's confidence. My friend says "Amore knows if your little toe doesn't want to go over the jump." She is a very spooky horse, above mid-range excitable but can calm down quickly if the handler or rider exudes confidence. You can ride her through about anything confidently, but a nervous rider will have a tough time riding her. Amore also picks up the vibes from the other horses on the ride and will behave just like the other horse she is out with. If we go out with an old plug, she'll be an old plug. If we go out with a prancy young thing, she'll be a prancy young thing.
 

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I really liked what you posted on the other thread. Unfortunately, there was no "love" button to click.

But your explanation "explains" Mia and Lilly and Cowboy and Trooper and Bandit.

Cowboy is pretty experienced and self-sufficient. He is largely the same horse with a total beginner as with an experienced rider. Cowboy doesn't like arena work, but put him on a trail and he is VERY sensible. He understands the desert (having been born wild) and knows how to handle himself.

Trooper can take a total beginner, but he was named TROOPER because he was always just 'a little trooper' who would do what he was told. In most cases, his natural reaction is to do what his rider says. He was always that way, which is why my rancher friend recommended him to us. You can count on him to do what you ask in the large majority of cases.

Mia wanted to be self-sufficient, but lacked the experience. So she was nervous, but she often forgot about her rider. If she bolted, the most reliable way to slow her was to call her name softly. Once she remembered, she would 'check-in'. She also NEEDED to be part of the decision making process.

Bandit is pretty self-sufficient in the desert, but has no experience riding in human neighborhoods. In a neighborhood, he needs to trust his rider.

IMHO, the problem was that his previous riding experience was "Shut up and color" - so a firm rider would get him to obey, but against his judgment. I've been trying to show him I have good judgment. We are about to a point where his trust in me is similar to his trust in another horse...which means it helps, but he isn't confident walking past something just because another horse just did it, either.

He is enough like Mia to want to be part of the decision-making process, but he also needs a lot of reassurance at times - which can be communicated by a firm seat, firm legs, a reassuring voice, AND a refusal to let him make the decisions on his own. There is a point where, if I time it right, I can defuse tension by "suggesting" we turn left 20 degrees and get an extra 20 feet of room, or by suggesting a trot will leave us better prepared in case that garbage can DOES leap at us. A well timed suggestion will reduce his tension and buy me obedience...but the timing is still something we need to work on.

"Most of the Mustangs I've ridden are the opposite. In general, they've been more confident types but extremely self-reliant. You could just feel the disdain when they'd stop to look at something possibly threatening. I'd give them the old, "Come on, nothing to see here," cues and I swear their entire body language would be, "Oh really? You think YOU are going to decide if it's safe for ME?" One even turned and gave me a look."

That is Cowboy. Including the LOOK. He'll also stop and give Trooper the LOOK when Trooper is lagging behind so Cowboy (the decision-maker) needs to stop and wait for him. Cowboy accepts me as an adviser only. And in the desert, that is usually all he needs.

"Valhalla is very insensitive to the rider's confidence and depends heavily on herself. You could be totally confident or scared witless and she'd behave the same. She's mid-level when it comes to spooking, and once she learns things are safe, she won't spook about them again. But she is high on the excitability scale and won't calm down until her own internal factors are satisfied."

Mia. Very much like Mia.

" My friend says "Amore knows if your little toe doesn't want to go over the jump." She is a very spooky horse, above mid-range excitable but can calm down quickly if the handler or rider exudes confidence."

Bandit. His rider's attitude and confidence are very important to him, IF he believes his rider is trustworthy. He can usually be pressured into doing X, but that does nothing to calm him about X.

So thank you for a couple of great posts! A great rider wrote:

"Because of the widespread preconception that you can only learn, in a sort of intuitive way, by doing, and that reading or even thinking seriously about riding is rather pointless, too many young riders are doomed to groping too long in a forest of problems solved long ago. I can recall my astonishment, when I first began to collect books on the techniques of riding, at finding, in books written two or three centuries ago, minute descriptions of "discoveries" that I had made for myself only after a long period of trial and error...Once we become interested in learning about riding, and are not content to repeat interminably the same errors, there is much that we can learn." - William Steinkraus, Riding and Jumping, 1961.
This has been one of those "Aha!" moments for me.
 

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Mia wanted to be self-sufficient, but lacked the experience. So she was nervous, but she often forgot about her rider. If she bolted, the most reliable way to slow her was to call her name softly. Once she remembered, she would 'check-in'. She also NEEDED to be part of the decision making process.

A great rider wrote:
"Because of the widespread preconception that you can only learn, in a sort of intuitive way, by doing, and that reading or even thinking seriously about riding is rather pointless, too many young riders are doomed to groping too long in a forest of problems solved long ago...​
Something I never get tired of is hearing about horses' personalities, how they are the same and how they are different. Since Halla is self-sufficient, when she had ulcers last year she was dangerous (I figured out quickly she had ulcers, but not before experiencing what it was like to have her never check in). I was used to her sometimes forgetting about the rider, but she would always check in. Until she was in pain, and then I was the rider and she was the horse, and we were two unrelated entities.

I've learned a lot from reading about your horses and concepts you've learned too, and it is very helpful to share experiences with others.

Another little horse I sometimes ride named Booker is very self-reliant. He is an Anglo-Arab and has the confidence and excitability (about work) of a Thoroughbred with the stamina of an Arab. Great horse. He takes care of everything and is completely trustworthy at any gait from walk to slow canter. If you want to go faster than that, you absolutely must check in with him first. If you remember and say, "Hey, Booker, I'm here and I'm setting the pace," he will be compliant and run at your pace for your distance. If you forget and don't check in, he will run at his pace for his distance and ignore you completely.

I spent many years horseless as a child and teen, while still being obsessed with horses. Many times I heard that the only way I could learn about horses and riding was to be around them and riding them for enough hours. But I could not accept that, since my only chances to be with horses were not on a daily or even weekly basis. So I read and read, and studied concepts about horses, riding and training. Since I understood the concepts, it was much easier for me to learn quickly each time I was able to get the hands on experience.
Many of the things that have helped my riding the most are concepts, such as when I read from George Morris, "Your security is in your lower leg." Or the concept of a fast release.
 

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How I Became a Hoof Nerd - Part One

Despite my interest in anything related to horses, there were two large areas of horsemanship that I spent many years avoiding getting deeply into. The first one was horse nutrition. I figured there was a lot to it, it seemed very complicated, and every time I began reading about calcium/phosphorus ratios my head began to swim. So I kept putting off really "buckling down" and studying horse nutrition.

The second area I avoided was hoof care. It seemed enough to know the basic parts on the bottom of the hoof, keep the hooves picked out and have them cared for regularly by a competent farrier.

Around 2004 I began hearing about "barefoot" hoof trimming, and ended up getting a barefoot trimmer for Amore. Prior to this I'd put shoes on her from time to time for no other reason than because we were going to horse shows, and that was what everyone did. The trimmer said her hooves were "good," that one was "a little clubby," and it seemed like she did a good job.

A year later, I moved away and the recommended farrier did not impress me very much. He came to see my horse after six weeks, said there hadn't been much growth, took three rasps off each hoof and charged me $60. The barefoot trimmer had spent at least ten to fifteen minutes on each hoof, rasping the bottom, making a mustang roll and trimming the frogs.

Shortly after this was when I moved again and began riding Amore for many miles out on trails with my new friends. I was beginning to believe that barefoot was better for horses. However, the roads we were riding on were so rocky that Amore hit a rock wrong and put a big split up the middle of one front hoof. My friends had two farriers they used, a more methodical, educated farrier for the horses that behaved well, and another farrier that could put shoes on the one mare the first farrier wouldn't touch. The educated farrier came out, said my mare would need shoes to ride on this tough footing, and put some shoes on Amore. He said he did not have any clients that rode like we did, and showed me how our shoes could not be reset after six weeks because they were so thin he could break them in half with his hands.

These new friends of mine had gone to farrier classes themselves, and also their farrier had been sharing his knowledge with them for several years. More information was coming out on the internet about barefoot trimming, and after a few months I began to get frustrated that even with shoes on and various grooving methods, Amore's crack was not showing any signs of resolving.
My friends had begun teaching me how to use the rasp, nippers and hoof knives. At this point I decided to use some barefoot trimming methods (as I understood them at the time) to see if I could get this hoof crack to grow out.

At this same time, we were working with some new horses that were needing hoof care but that the farriers did not want to handle. We had a Mustang mare that came to us as the most aggressive horse I've ever been around. At first, if you entered the paddock with her you'd have to stand up tall, square your shoulders and have a crop in hand or else she'd come charging right at you, teeth bared. This mare would jerk her hooves away and kick you, quite purposefully and without fear or claustrophobia issues. "If you weren't so pretty..." we'd joke, since it's tough teaching a horse respect that has learned to be that aggressive. But we did end up succeeding quite well with the mare, and she was tremendously smart and brave.

Also around this time we had Valhalla show up. As I mentioned before, she was not used to being handled and was very difficult with her hooves at first. After three months, I wanted shoes put on her since I was still unsure of how to get horses out on these rocky trails barefoot, and her hooves had been neglected for awhile. Since I'd been working with her daily on picking up her hooves and hammering on them, I was confident she would be good for the farrier. However, when the farrier arrived he was concerned about the amount of muscle tension she had, and the "look in her eye." I gave her a dose of ACE to try to help. We waited and waited, the ACE did nothing, and I gave her a second shot. When that did nothing, the farrier suggested a third full dose and I said no.

My two close friends and I had been gradually changing from people who passively watched a farrier trim and shoe, to people who discussed with the farriers exactly what we wanted and had the farrier do the actual work. We decided, why not just do the work ourselves? The good farrier was getting close to retiring, so began doing fewer of the easy horses. We took over trimming and shoeing the others.

It turned out Valhalla could not wear shoes because she interfered when she galloped and I worried about her harming herself. From time to time my friends would use Easyboots on their horses, so I bought some and tried them out. Over time, we ended up keeping a few of the horses barefoot and riding with Easyboots. It became habit to inspect the other riders' horse hooves as we went along, checking to see if any boots had come off. All of us had difficulty keeping boots on hind hooves, and on front hooves when galloping.

This was the beginning of my interest in hooves, born out of necessity. I was starting to learn there was a lot more to hoof care than I'd previously thought.
 

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How I Became a Hoof Nerd: Part Two

It became quite noticeable to me that the barefoot horses owned by myself and friends had healthier hooves than the ones that wore shoes all the time.
Even though I hadn't been able to completely get rid of the toe crack on Amore's hoof that had been caused by hitting a rock, after a period of trimming the hoof myself the crack was very tiny.
Although hoof boots did not stay on satisfactorily and were difficult to put on, I was getting used to the inconvenience and they seemed preferable to shoes.

After a few years, family needs meant we had to move away from my good riding friends. My new boarding barn owner was a barefoot trimmer, but she was not currently taking care of hooves and I was on my own. Since I'd been having issues with the Easyboot gaiters rubbing around Valhalla's pasterns, I began looking into a better boot for her.
This was when I stumbled onto the world of information online about hoof care. I began studying with a group of people who followed certain "hoof guru" who was so passionate about hooves it became contagious.

After a time, I realized that although the idea of studying hooves in depth was very important, this hoof teacher I was learning from tended to the extreme and placed too little importance on what actual research had shown about how nutrition affected the hooves. All problems were considered "mechanical" and "trimming issues." Some of the more logical thinkers split off from the main group and did studying on our own, following the studies of those who had helped many horses such as Ovnicek, Ramey, Jackson, Pollit, Redden, and Bowker.

As I studied dissections, thousands of hoof photos, and spent a several years reading in depth studies about hoof anatomy, growth, and going to hoof clinics, along the way I kept running into people with horses who were in need of trimming help. In particular, people had horses that had difficulty with farriers, but that needed their hooves trimmed anyway. Because of the experiences I'd had with the horses we'd trained on my friends' farm, I would offer to help. In this area, for some reason some of the farriers are men with very little experience with horses other than farrier work. They tend to be unable to read body language well, and end up with bad experiences that make them nervous around the horses. Many of them only have one or two tools they use for bad behavior, such as hitting or yanking on the horse.
That being said, there are some very good farriers I've seen as well, that are very confident and skilled at reading horses and staying safe while handling their feet.

Most of the horses I ran into were not ill-tempered. Some of them had painful hooves and couldn't stand for long. Some had tight or weak muscles and couldn't stretch very far. Some just did not know what they were supposed to do, and some were afraid to give up their feet.

All that I learned taught me that Amore's hoof crack was going through a laminar wedge in her toe, caused by a club hoof. Once I grew out the laminar wedge, the crack disappeared, never to return. Valhalla stopped interfering once her toes were not too long. Both horses developed tight hoof capsules, concave soles, and healthy digital cushions. Renegade hoof boots were the answer to our boot retention problems, and stayed on all hooves even when galloping. Over the terrain where I currently ride, my horses don't even need to wear boots.

Each month after I trim my own horses, it usually turns out that I help out another horse or two or three. At the barn where I currently board, there is a very good barefoot trimmer who comes out and trims some of the horses, and it is nice to see such good hooves around.

It is interesting to me that although I do not call myself a natural horsemanship person, and although I can and will discipline horses, people tend to trust and believe that I will be gentle with their horses. I’d like to think that what they and the horses see is fairness. I give the horse a chance to just be scared, inexperienced, and to have excuses for behaviors. If it turns out there is not a real reason for the horse to act up a bit, I will discipline the horse. But I think people can see why I did it, and that the horse understood as well. What many people dislike (and I also dislike) is when a horse slips, and the farrier hits the horse with a file on a bony part of his body, or if a horse raises his head to look at something and the farrier yanks the horse back five steps. I guess my philosophy is to give the horse a chance to fail and not just assume they will. If the horse does fail, then I let them know what they did was wrong. In my experience, this leads quickly to better behavior on the horse’s part.

Something I always try to think about nowadays…Valhalla was tricky with her hind legs for years. It seemed to me she was just a difficult horse since other horses improved so much after patient and persistent handling. Last winter when her symptoms became very bad with hind end weakness, I watched videos of horses with shivers and noticed they did what Valhalla had always done. Their legs would come sharply forward to their bellies, as if involuntarily. I’d always felt that Valhalla tried to be good, but just couldn’t, but attributed it to personality. It was a real eye-opener when I realized what shivers and Vitamin E deficiency have in common is hind end coordination issues and weakness. After dosing Halla up on E and having her return to normal strength, amazingly she stopped pulling her hind legs away from me and held them up nicely. As I suspected, over the years she would have liked to be more helpful.
 

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Your posts are so informative and well-written. I really look forward to reading them.

I wish I had known this about vitamin E deficiency many years ago when I had a young mare who wouldn't let us handle her hind feet. I bought this mare from a man who knew nothing about riding and horses and didn't plan on learning anything. He had bought her at auction, knowing nothing about her except that she was a small draft and 4 years old. When he first started riding her, she was great, but it wasn't long before she was bucking, bolting, and attacking people. (We've all heard THIS story plenty, haven't we?)

Since I had grown up with horses, he "allowed" me to come check her out. I saw immediately that this little draft mare had never been handled or trained at all. I set out a nice plan for training her to be ridden, and he completely ignored and pooh-poohed all my suggestions. So, of course, she only got worse. He refused to sell her to me (I didn't need her, I just wanted to get her out of that awful situation and find her a good home), because I was a woman and couldn't possibly know anything.

Finally she had become so vicious and dangerous that people couldn't even go into her stall, and he reluctantly sold her to me. I thought I had a HUGE re-training project ahead of me when I loaded her into my trailer. But from the moment she set foot on my property, she was calm, gentle, and well-behaved. I started her as if she had never been ridden, and she was perfect--except for one thing. No matter what I did, she kicked violently when I tried to pick up her hind feet. She did everything in her power to please me in every other way, and I was convinced it was some sort of pain issue, but nobody could find anything wrong. I decided she had bad stifles, which is hard to diagnose, and stopped punishing her about the back feet.

The rest of her story is long and convoluted, so I won't go on about her. I finally sold her for only $300 to a riding school because she was so quiet and gentle with beginners, with the caveat that she had bad stifles and must never be bred. Sport horses were all the rage in those long ago days, and the riding school sold her for big bucks as a breeding mare to thoroughbreds, and her first foal sold for $3,000. I was furious with the riding school because I thought it was irresponsible breeding. Upon reading your post, wouldn't it be curious if she could have been "cured" with vitamin E? Perhaps those foals were really not irresponsibly bred? We'll never know, but I did very much like reading about what you researched.
 

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Very interesting. I'm grateful to be living in these times where we can share information so easily with the world, and get expert advice from vets and researchers brought into our homes via the internet.

Being a draft horse, your mare also could have had shivers or PSSM I suppose. Did you ever notice if she held her hind legs up trembling sometimes? Did she have any difficulty backing up? What I learned was that some conditions can mimic shivers, and there are things that can help differentiate.

I could have sworn my mare had shivers until after she recovered, because her hind legs would tremble and shake. But this can be simply from muscle fatigue and weakness (apparently vitamin E deficiency disrupts the nerve/muscle communication so the horse can't use his muscles properly), while shivers actually causes the nerves to get the signals mixed up due to a lesion in the brain. So the nerves fire kind of randomly, as I understand it, and the horse can't control the muscles properly and they contract differently than the horse is trying to signal with her brain. Obviously this is frustrating to the horse, and could be upsetting too. I imagine the horse is trying to pick up the leg and hold it, but the muscles contract differently and the leg snaps forward. https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UU4xFPEzYwnCqRRK7jnY8kYg&v=blfVYwSl4Os
 
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