The Horse No Longer Needed

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We live in a very consumer driven society.  Buy what you need, use it until it no longer suits your purpose, and then dispose of the item.  People do this with cars, clothes, cell phones (get your newest iPhone today since your old one most likely is not “good enough”), and any number of other items.

Sadly…and most painfully I all to often see this with horses.  There is the horse that was not good enough for dressage, not good enough for cowhorse, not good enough for a rope horse, and not good enough for a trail horse.  Maybe the horse was the wrong color…maybe it was to tall, not athletic enough, maybe it just did not respond to the owner in the best possible way.  You have heard the stories…and I hope if you are reading my blog you have never disposed of a horse just because it was not perfect.

Two ladies that I met this past year have stories well worth sharing.  Both ladies have really nice horses.  One has a bit of an issue relating to soundness and the lady wrote me a great message when she shared this issue with me.  She said “My horse has some lameness issue and it has me concerned.  He may not make it as that Western Dressage Horse that I had planned on having but my goal is to help him get back to being sound enough that we can go down the trail together.”  WOW — here is a lady that really gets it — the relationship with the horse is more important than a goal she set for competition or in her mind….she took the time to adjust and work with the horse.  I actually think she just might make it back to the Western Dressage Arena since she has the right attitude and the horse she owns has some magic inside of him — how do I know — his eyes show it to all you look.

The second lady has an Off The Track Thoroughbred.  Her Dressage coach met the horse once and termed him “fractious” and told her that she would have to get another horse since this one was no good.  Well this second lady has taken her time and made a success of this horse.  She has walk, trot, jog, canter, passage, side passing, backing, haunch turns, rollbacks, turns on the forehand…and any number of other accomplishments.  A few weeks back I met up with her and we had a session and I asked her to work on making her circles more of a consistent size.  She stopped and said to me — “You are right and I will work on it but can I tell you I am just so happy to have achieved such a level of connection with my horse that we are working at the walk, trot, jog, canter, and all those other moves.  For two years I kept hearing that this horse was worthless….but I am so proud of him now…I am so glad I did not give up.”

In both of these examples these ladies could have easily given up and found another horse..it is so easy to do this in our consumer driven society…and perfectly acceptable in many barns across the country.

“The Horse No Longer Needed” is better referred to as “The Horse that No Longer Makes ME Shine”.

Horses require effort and time and patience.  Horses need to be heard.  If you stop and listen the horse might just be able to help you realize his or her full potential.  Sure — the horse may not be what you dreamed he/she would be, maybe he/she will not win each time in the event of your choice — but maybe if you take a risk and follow the horse — the journey will be more rewarding.

There are so many ways to evaluate what a horse can do…take the time to evaluate, then build the foundation for success and take the journey with your four-legged partner — you might be glad you did.  Many years ago I read a work by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” and the last lines do remind me of the journey with each horse — it is unique and the journey is the reward.

Although I am not as skilled as Robert Frost — my life is full of horses and I share with you a Poem that I wrote to celebrate those of you who take the time to get to know the potential of your horse.

My New Owner

I was born in the very early light of day,

To a home with horses and asses that bray,

But little did I know I would not stay.

One day I was traded for some feed,

To a man who did not have much speed,

Yet I walked away with him on my lead.

After a few months with him,

I started to get a bit slim,

And then I hurt my hind limb.

The veterinarian said I was likely no good,

He would do for me what he could,

All of a sudden I felt lost where I stood.

Next day a girl came to my field,

She watched me with her eyes peeled,

Then proclaimed that she could get me healed.

The man who got me back when,

Had some papers and a ball point pen,

The girl signed with the word Madeleine.

Down the road we walked,

All along this girl talked,

Til we reached a barn she unlocked.

Day after day I was tended,

Rubbed with things that were blended,

With the goal of being mended.

At last my leg was improved,

The veterinarian even approved,

He smiled and said he was disproved.

Today I am very glad,

With this New Owner that I have,

Cause I know things will never be bad.

————————

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Talking with Horses

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

I am a real chatterbox when I ride.  When riding young horses for the first time I am talking and telling them what we are going to do and that something we just did was not exactly right but that we will give it another try.  I also talk with them when I am in the barn grooming them and I grumble at them when their stalls are a mess and they could have easily gone outside to the paddock to leave me the overnight presents.  I talk to them as I am coming out to the barn and I know they hear me when they look up and walk to the fence.  They also talk with me — they nicker, whinny, grunt, and a few of them have their own noises they make when we are talking.

So it dismays me when I watch people ride or show and never see them utter a word to their horses unless it is a harsh word.  I shake my head at some of the rules that are imposed in a few horse show rings.  Rules are rules and if you want to get those points you follow the rules…but I think there is a cost to horsemanship that comes from taking away the talking with horses.

When we listen to stories or read books depicting the cowboy way of life from the past — we hear of the cowboy talking to his horse.  Likely it was to give him something to do but over time — they became partners and this was another way they got the job accomplished.

Why is talking with the horse something that can help your horsemanship?

1) When you speak you are breathing.  When you breathe it helps you relax.  Now for some riders they can find relaxation very easily but there are others that the longer they ride, the less they breathe and the more stiff their riding becomes…and the horse responds by becoming stiff.  This relaxation is so important for many horses and riders.  I watch the rider over think what he/she is doing…become stiff…and the horse falls out of relaxation and gets stiff…mistakes are made and then the stress level increases.

2) For some people if they take the time to talk to the horse while they are working with him/her on the ground or in the saddle it helps the human talk through the plan.  It helps the human prepare, then execute, then review what just happened.  This is a natural outlet to think things through and sometimes verbalizing helps people review what is happening.

3) While your legs and seat and hands can physically communicate with the horse .. there are times when they seek that verbal help (watch their ears) to help them make certain of what you are asking.  Horses are noble creatures and they are herd animals and they want to join with you in the work (this has been proven and demonstrated by any good horsemen and horsewomen) — so it is natural that they want as much communication as you can give.

4) If you want more proof that noise making communication is important — take a seat near the barn where you have a newborn foal and mother.  You will hear her talking with the baby.  As horses grow they have their own noise making communication that they use.  Isn’t it natural to use one of their forms of communication in your own riding program.

So do you talk with your horses?  Do they respond?  When I talk with them and I hear them make noise back at me — I warm up inside and I know that I am on my way to having a relationship that will last a lifetime.  Share with me your story on talking with horses.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Lunge and Round pen work — what you want to accomplish

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Here at home we have some pretty specific goals we work to accomplish with each horse when we work either on the lunge line or in the round pen.  For each horse these happen at different times.  I think back to the first horse I lunged >20 years ago and realize just how little I knew at that time.  When I go to horse shows and other equine events I am amazed at how many people really do not seem to have a plan for working a horse on the lunge line or in a round pen.

First and foremost I want to share my philosophy on lunge/round pen work.  I believe this is work that helps the horse and rider learn to communicate with each other in a safe environment.  Notice I am saying safety and communication.  Communication is the key.

Secondly — I want to share all the things I see on a lunge line or in a round pen that do not (in my opinion) help the horse and rider learn to communicate and be safe.  Here is that list of things that do not work for me 1) Loping the horse for 15 minutes or more in a circle, 2) setting a timer and working the horse one direction for let us say 8 minutes then 8 minutes the other way, 3) Chasing the horse in circles while telling him or her — “Bad horse and if you think you are going to do that to me again I am going to make you work really hard,” and 4) lunge or round pen work while the human talks on the phone.  I could likely go on but let me get out of the bad and into the good things we want to accomplish.

Here are Five things to accomplish in the round pen or on the lunge line.

1) Learn how your horse moves its ears and body as it tries to understand what you are asking.  Look for those signs that it is listening.  Ear to you, body bent to you, eyes on you.  This is learning how the horse wants to speak to you.

2) Obtain control of the feet at the walk, trot, and lope.  Here at home we must walk the horse in a complete circle with total calmness.  That is the first step in any lunge work or round pen session.  When that horse is walking it is in listening mode…start there and get him or her to pay attention to you.

3) Be able to ask for the walk, trot or lope at any time.  It should be available quickly and with ease.  When I ask for the lope it should not take 3 complete circles to get that gait.  Likewise coming from the lope to a trot should be 2 to 4 strides (or sooner).

4) Stop on the rail or at the end of the lunge line.  When I mean stop — I do not mean turn and face you (that is good to do for some of the time) but what I mean is to have the horse stop parallel to the outside of the circle you are working on.  Wow — lots of success there when you can communicate with the horse and ask for a whoa and get it nice and easy while having the horse stay on the rail.

5) Learn the natural way your horse carries himself.  See how the body moves at the walk and trot and lope. (Note — really helpful when you are trying to make sue your horse has balance and the feet and legs are in good shape) How does your horse’s body change as you transition between the gaits?  Taking all this into account helps you to know what sort of aides and guides your horse will need to be a success when under saddle.

These are a few ideas I have been wanting to share with all of you.  Again — think communication and developing a working relationship in the round pen or on the lunge.   What can you add to this list of good things to accomplish in the round pen or on the lunge?

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Five Basics Each Horse and Handler/Rider Needs to Know

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We will begin with the Horse and the five things each horse must know how to do.

1) Walking with respect from the ground.  This means walking without pushing on the handler, pull on the lead line, jumping all over behind the handler, and staying at a walk.  This also means that the horse will stop with the right pre-signals from the handler.  The horse needs to be respectful of the space of the handler.

2) Picking up the feet.  A horse that is not injured or having leg issues needs to stand and allow the handler or veterinarian or farrier pick up its feet.  Way to many times have I found owners who have horses that will not allow someone to pick up its feet.  This is a simple and basic activity that we must do each day to clean the feet and make sure they are in good health.

3) Load into a trailer.  Yes it can be intimidating to a horse to get locked into a big box but this is critical.  If you have an emergency and need to evacuate — your horse needs to load into the trailer quickly and safely.  There are so many reasons that this is important yet it is neglected by many.

4) Walk up to the handler and be caught (have a halter put on).  Horses that do not come when called or do not walk up to the person with the halter are showing major disrespect and a lack of training by the owner/handler.  Chasing a horse in a paddock, pasture or beyond is not a good plan.  Teach your horse to come and be haltered.  How do you do this — not with treats.  Rather, make the experience of being with the person a reward that the horse enjoys and you will see them come when called.

5) Learn to stand tied without pulling back.  There are just times we need to tie a horse up and each horse needs to be taught this from an early stage in life.

We will now move on to the Handler/Rider and the five things each person must know how to do.

1) Know how to saddle a horse properly.  This includes everything from putting on a pad, properly placing the saddle on the horse, putting a halter on correctly (and making sure you know how to tie the knot on the rope halter), fitting the bit correctly, and any other tack items.  Know how to use them correctly or you can hurt your horse or get yourself hurt.

2) Know how to give pre-signals and aides.  Pre-signals help the horse understand what you are planning on doing (moving your leg, half-halt, moving your shoulders as you begin to turn).  Aides are what we do to help guide the horse and each handler and rider need to know how to tell the horse what is going to happen and then how to make it happen.

3) Learn how to feel the horse. Whether you are leading the horse or riding the horse, the person needs to know how to sense or feel where the horse is putting its feet, or head, or body.  The horse is giving us signals about what they are planning on doing (most of the time)…do not ignore those signs or signals.

4) Know how to pick up a foot on a horse.  Yes, we need the horse to know how to pick ups its feet and we need the person to know how to ask for this to be done correctly.  It is not tug of war on the leg.  It is not pick it up and pull it out sideways.  Realize how much (or how little) flexibility is in the leg and do not ask for more than the horse can give you. Help the horse know to shift its weight and take pressure off that hoof so it can be picked up.  (Quick hint for helping pick up a front hoof.  Gently ask the horse to point its head towards the opposite foot you want to pick up.  This helps the horse move weight off the foot you want him/her to pick up.  Makes it much easier to help the horse by doing this because it helps the horse re-balance)

5) Learn and know how to get on and off a horse without pulling and yanking on the horse.  Far to many times I see people grab the horn and use that to help pull them up onto the horse.  That is yanking on the back of the horse and causing discomfort.  (If you need to feel this — have someone put a backpack on you then pull it to one side without moving your body — it is going to hurt some folks) Use a mounting block or be able to mount without pulling on the saddle or mane or reins.  There is never any shame with using a mounting block to be kinder to our horses.  Of course there are times when you cannot seem to find a mounting block and at those times you need to minimize how much you pull on the horse.

I look forward to some of your additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Three Life Lessons That Horses Remind Me Of Each Day

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

1) Build a relationship based on being positive and developing respect — and that relationship will last a lifetime.  With horses we are all reminded to reward the try.  Reward the progress.  Reward when it all clicks and the action is correct.  We also learn with horses that if we ask them to respect our space and set boundaries and that we respect what they can do without those boundaries, we can have a mutual agreement of how to behave around each other.

My horses remind me daily to be around people who are positive, associated with people who look for the good in a situation, learn from people who seek good in others.

2) Speak clearly and you will be heard. It is never ever the horse’s fault.  When we ask for a transition and it does not happen it is because the rider failed to communicate and coach the horse with the correct aides and pre-signals.  When we coach using the same aides, apply them they same way each day, and we are clear with our instructions the horse hears/feels and responds.

My horses remind me daily that the language people use is deteriorating.  Abbreviations, made up words in texting, curse and foul words (some four lettered (and there are quite a few here) or other words used to describe people or situations including the words stupid, idiot, etc., or referring to people as body parts), and poor punctuation are dooming us to become a society who misunderstands each other and is continually hurt because of a lack of clear communication.  My horses remind me to speak clearly and I will be heard.

3) Basics are the key to happiness. Horses teach us that we need shelter, food, water, some herd friends, and basic care.  I have never seen a horse in line at the store trying to purchase the latest iPhone.  Horses do not post pictures of their wins on Facebook, the are not on Twitter, and most find the Instagram system hard to use for self-promotion. Horses do not need the latest halter…in fact they seem to walk along nicely in a very pretty halter with jewels and silver and they walk along just as nicely with a piece of bailing twine fashioned into a halter.

My horses remind me each day that if I have the basics in life I can live and love, be loved and appreciated, and when I speak clearly, and look for the positive in life — I might just make it through many of the lessons in life, help someone along the way, and receive a pat on the back for a job well done.

So next time you feel yourself getting caught up in the world, overwhelmed by all the demands, worried about being trendy, lacking friends, and mis-understood — take a few minutes and check in with your horse.  15 minutes might with your horse might make the difference in your day and I am certain it will make the difference in your horse’s day.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).