Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Trouble with "Cowboys"

There are cowboys, and then there are "cowboys".

The former have a good hand with a horse, a good understanding of how big of an impact body language plays, respect the instincts of a flight animal, and successfully start and train wonderful animals.

The latter however? The latter are the complete opposite. They "accomplish" the same as the former, but the end result is something entirely different.

The "cowboy" trained animal results as one that holds onto fears and trauma because fear was used to start that animal. The same methods that a cowboy will use are abused when used by a "cowboy".

Flags, carrot sticks, and use of a rope by a cowboy can be valuable tools to direct, redirect, focus, and shape the behavior of a green horse. A cowboy knows how the tiniest of gestures from their body or the tool they use as an extension of their body can greatly influence the responding behavior in the horse. Through proper use of these tools, the cowboy and horse find a middle common ground where they communicate and work with understanding.

"Cowboys" over-use these tools. Their gestures are over-large and very threatening. They don't seek to find a common ground of understanding with the horse, they seek to dominate and force the horse to their will. The horse, fearful for its life, complies.


I'm sure many of you know just what I'm talking about. I'm sure you've witnessed it with your own eyes. And I know you can think of examples of horses that have resulted from cowboy training and "cowboy" training.

Q was trained by a "cowboy". The longer I spend time with my little mare, the more she tells me of her past.

We've managed to work through many issues:
  • she used to be incapable of standing tied; now she will stand for hours.
  • she used to be flighty and panicky when in the round pen, running herself in circles with the mere presence of a human in that shared space, staying always at the outer perimeter; now she is calm and relaxed and would rather follow me about than run away.
  • she used to be very nervous about being handled from the ground; now she's her calmest when being handled from the ground.
  • she used to be an absolute monster about trailer loading, nearly bowling me over to avoid getting on; now she's more apt to push past me to self-load herself - she self-loads at the very first opportunity.
But I'm still working through some and still uncovering more to work through.

That "cowboy" trained Q with excessive force. The fear he instilled in her sticks with her strongly. It's at her core. The first things she ever learned about riding and being handled she learned from him.

The scars from his rowled spurs on her belly scream about the force he exerted to "train" her to move laterally. The larger mark on her right side is likely why she moves as well as she does to the left now, he forced her harder to that direction and she still gravitates that way more now when she's scared.

But the worst of it? The worst if it is the extreme claustrophobia and fear she exhibits when you try to stretch and handle her hind legs or deal with her hind end. You see, that "cowboy" who trained her likes to break horses by tying a leg up because they grow tired faster of fighting when they've only got three legs. This information was a strong theory I'd developed over time, but it has more recently been confirmed to me by others who have been around that "cowboy" and horses "trained" by that "cowboy".

He definitely spent more time tying her left hind as she's far worse with it than the right hind. I can only wonder how long he left her tied up with a leg in the air like that. It kills me to think about it though, so I never ponder for long.


Fortunately, Q doesn't have a mean bone in her body, a fact that makes this all the more sad and makes me wonder how she would have been if she'd been brought up by someone kinder. It makes working through her issues a little easier to do though. She doesn't strike out in fear when you work with her. She always tries to escape; from small side steps to large jumps and whirling, she always seeks escape. (She's also never offered a buck or rear under saddle in our 3.5 years together.)

She's EXCESSIVELY better about things with her hind end now. She lets me trim her feet with minimal issue. Treating scratches last year on her hind legs was a bear of a task, but we managed (albeit with lots of screaming from me because of her escape antics when all I wanted to do was make her better).

But that fear is still very much there, evidenced by how Q is always at least a little on edge when you handle her hind feet. Or how she gets more nervous than any horse I've ever ridden about noise approaching her from behind, despite having a lot of experience with it because of endurance competitions!

Strides are being made and Q handles things better every day I spend with her, but it is still so sad (but not surprising) to me that she holds the fear so strongly after this time. Each season I've focused on a certain fear of hers to work through: first standing tied, then onward to being handled on the ground, then handling of her hinds for trimming, then the trailering, then her anxiety in the round pen. This next season we will be focusing on more extensive handling of her hind feet/legs with a goal of being able to stretch her leg standing behind her - this is something she fosters the most fear about. We'll take time and baby steps and I know we'll get there.


So, some queries: Do any of you have a horse that was trained by a "cowboy"? Or experience with them? Specifically, a horse whose legs were tied/likely tied like Q's? What did you do that helped your horse through its fears developed from this kind of "training"?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Many Much Jumping Media

Because I'm shameless (and desperate), I conned a friend into coming out and getting some photos of me jumping over the weekend. The most beautiful evening settled in after several days of questionable weather and I had to take advantage of it.

And let's be honest, the tripod video stills were getting old, amirite?

After a quick warm-up over cavaletti and smaller verticals for a time, we hopped over half of the 3' Swedish oxer I had set up.

Griffin says, "3 feet? Lawlz."

I seriously adore this little grey beast. He's 15hh, but his presence is so much bigger.

I am so obsessed with the above photo. Those knees. The dapples. He makes it seem so easy...despite my expression of extreme concentration.

Once again at 3' with ease.

His ears are always so happy. He really loves this job. He's executing his job better than ever lately. It's a direct result of being ridden more during the week (which has been all dressage-based lately with minimal jumping) and getting out on trail two days one weekend over some new terrain. His mind and body are growing.

3' Swedish oxer

And then, after we'd done the oxer more times than represented in media, I got a little crazy and popped that sucker up to 3'6" ...or maybe that means the pole was at 3'9"? (...Dom? Are the standards 4' at the top? If so then I guess the top of the pole as it rests in the cups set is closer to 3'9" ...)

I've lunged Griffin over this height before, but never had we tried it under saddle.

We've got cavaletti setup as a 18" oxer about 4 strides out from this jump. It's the same approach he had to the 3' oxer.

As we approached the mondoginormous now-bigger jump, I did my best to not think about how big it was at all. I focused past the jump and just tried to ride my horse to the best of my abilities.

Griffin's very first time ever under saddle at 3'6". My very first time ever jumping the height.
(My standards are only 4'. Dom's Mike made them for me.)

My leg slipped like mad, my back is roached, and there's oodles of other tiny things, but it's 3'6"! And it's the very. first. time. And we jumped it clear without even touching a pole. And we were centered over the jump. And just wow. This little horse. This is the most fantastic baseline footage.

I'd like to affectionately caption our expressions as:
Me - Ooohhhshitohshitohshit....
Griffin - Heave-ho!

We only jumped the height once. Griffin received many, many pats and much praise for his effort.

I really don't plan to jump that height again soon or frequently. It is a great baseline to have, however.

I'll revisit it again in a few months after we've had more conditioning.

Now, don't mind me. I'm just going to ride off into the sunset on my little grey dreamboat.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Northern Travels

I headed north to Maine for work and found some fun along the way. Here is a glimpse into the trip.

Paused in MD to see these ladies.
Gracie played, too.
The canal in downtown Frederick is very picturesque
Finally crossed this state off my list
Killed some Ethiopian with Hannah and Amanda in Mass.
Walked the breakwater (7/8 mile) out into the Penobscot Bay near Rockland, ME
I love the fishing / lobster boats so much
And the rocky coastline...I love that, too
And the conifer trees on the rocky coastline
I also love sailboats paired with the rocky coastline
And sunsets along the water
See the mist receding in the distance? I can't look at this photo and not hear music from the score for Pirates of the Caribbean. I feel like the Black Pearl is going to emerge from that mist at any moment.
This photo and the following one taken at Schoodic Point - newly opened/acquired NPS land.
Wish the mist hadn't been there so I could have seen the islands in the distance. Did you know there are over 4,600 islands off the coast of Maine?!
And again with the fishing / lobster boats. I adore them. Oh, and a lighthouse.
This bog not only looked like high elevation parts of WV (Dolly Sods/Canaan) it also had the same familiar smell.
This trail, too, reminded me much of the Sods/Canaan.
Except that trail ends with a view like this where my mountain trails would end with a cliff into a mountain vista.
Again with the mist... Again with the Hans Zimmer score...
Downeast Maine, I seriously love you.
The very rare photo of me attired for work.
South meets downeast Maine. Because YUM.
Two 2 lb. lobsters. Do you know how much they cost me? $19.94 that's not too bad at all. And they were delicious.
Sunrise over the Penobscot Bay.
A beautiful morning over calm waters...
...which was great because boat travel was much smoother! Island hopping time.
Metinic Island owned and managed by USFWS for seabirds - common, arctic, and federally listed roseate terns in particular.
The Owl's Head lighthouse with schnooner
The hell that was driving over the JFK bridge into NYC during a deluge at 11p.
I knew city folks sucked at driving in inclement weather, but dear god.
Driving 15 mph and stopping dramatically with no warning is a little excessive. Fortunately, I and my car survived.
(The dreaded bridge in the sunlight.)
I was in the city for the 14th anniversary of 9/11.
The Irish Rover in Astoria where beer is cheap (for the city) and I got into an argument with the two Irish owners about steeplechase horses...and it earned me a beer on the house!
Mi hermano y yo.
A very poor picture of the very best salmon I've ever had. Check out Isabella's on the Upper West Side.
Empire State showing off at night.
Technology vs. paper. Everyone biding their time on the subway in some fashion.
And then I made it home again. Where it was in the 40s (observe our attire) and rained for the first 3 hours I was back.
But it cleared up right before sunset making for a beautiful, beautiful [windy and cold] evening.
And it was so good to be home with this kid again. I missed him.
My mountain momma showing off why she's wild, wonderful and almost heaven.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

State of the Grey

Griffin is doing well. We're still plodding along steady as ever. September is total and complete chaos due to work (I'm gone something like 16 days this month due in some fashion to my job). I'm not riding as much as I'd necessarily like to, but c'est la vie. All is well regardless.

Our rides

While the frequency is erratic at best, I'm striving to ride Griffin at least 1x a week, though I always try for more. We'd been more focused over jumps for a month or so, but as more bobbles presented themselves in certain areas (nothing major in any fashion), I decided to dial back to more flat work for a time. (We always spend at least half the session (emphasis at the beginning to warm up) with flat work regardless.)

The back and forth nature of focus on flat vs. a blend of flat and jumps seems to be really good for Griffin's mind and body. He's grasping concepts more easily and his body is keeping up better than it did before. Areas where he would protest either mentally (herd members nearby distracting him) or physically (not strong enough) are far less than they were. We're both enjoying this as it is allowing me to build with new blocks now.

But I don't want to try to build with too many new blocks before I have some formal dressage lessons (coming in October, I hope!) just so I avoid building up bad habits that are harder to break in the future.

Top: June 11, 2015
Bottom: Sept. 15, 2015


Griffin is a lesson horse 1x a week. I've got my 4 year old student on Q (there is a lot of adoration on both sides of this partnership) and my new student, a 7 year old, on Griffin.

It's quite the case of kismet, these two paired together as they are. See, this little girl's mom was the one who gave me Griffin years ago. When the girl was little, I held her astride her first big horse for her first trotting moments. And now, the first big horse she's successfully ridden is Griffin.

She's had a miniature horse for several years now (complete with itty bitty bridle, itty bitty English saddle, and itty bitty breeches and boots and the whole get up...*cue "awww"*). She is right on the cusp of out-growing that mini though, and he's been thrashing her about as a result.

She didn't have great luck with "big" horses before Griffin. She's so very thrilled with him. He is attentive to her requests and they're becoming a good team. It helps that I am there to set both parties up for success, too.

I'm excited to see where things will go with these two. I'm also really proud of Griffin for being such a doll with a new rider aboard.

Yes, we mix it up with saddles all the time. It depends on what the goal of the day is. As of last night, she is trotting
on the bareback pad with arms extended out like a plane for up to 20 seconds. She's stable in her position and comfortable
with the Griffin's motion. A big change from 5 weeks ago when she was anxious about trotting more than 3 or 4 steps.

First float

Griffin got his first tooth float at the end of August. We've been over due for this since March, but with no great objections from Griffin so far as discomfort went, I wanted to wait until my vet's new 5,000 sq. foot facility opened up so I could trailer him over there for the float. I knew it would be easier on all involved.

Then summer happened and we all got busy for a time, but we did finally make it over.

It was quick and very routine. Griffin even walked right into the stocks first time with no more protest than giving it the stink eye at first. Griffin seemed to be a pretty cheap drunk, though he wasn't a sloppy cheap drunk. ;-) He just kind of blissed out and went with things. He didn't sway and flop about either during it all despite having some leeway with which he could have moved about in the stocks.

While we had him on hard, level ground, we sticked him so I could ascertain his true height. (Tape is always so questionable seeming.) He was right at 15hh. When he was a youngster, we string tested him to end up somewhere in the 15-15.1hh area at maturity, so he's right where I'd expected. It's still a little shocking that he's grown so much!! While I held hope he would be that big, I (and others) never thought he'd actually reach such a size.

Ugly duckling to beautiful swan indeed.

Investigating the hospital

"Lady..what are you doing back there?!"

I know I sound like a broken record, but I'm really, really pleased with this horse! He's so much fun. I love his temperament and his work ethic.

It's certainly taken a lot of time and effort on my end (and his!) to get to this point, but it's been so very worth it. I know starting horses from scratch when they're young isn't for everyone. It is a lot of work. For me though? I love the process of it and I love the rewards I'm gaining along the way. It's been, and continues to be, an absolute blast.