Best Foot Forward

Stop your horse from stumbling by keeping him focused and interested, writes Clinton Anderson. It’s normal for a horse to trip or stumble every once in a while. Just like us, sometimes they take a misstep, especially if the ground is rough or uneven. But if stumbling in the arena or on the trail is becoming a regular occurrence, your horse is in need of help. First, rule out any physical problems that could be making your horse trip such as poorly trimmed feet, soreness and lameness issues or EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeleoncephalitis is a neurological disease that often causes horses to lose coordination and stumble).

Once you’ve done that, then the culprit of the problem usually lies in a lazy horse not paying attention. And like everything we do with our horses, the more you let them trip the better they get at it, and soon it becomes an ingrained habit.

Who’s Responsible? No matter what you’re doing with your horse, he’s responsible for his feet – where he places them and how fast he moves them. Stumbling is a sure sign that your horse is letting his mind wander and not concentrating on the task at hand. If he’s not paying attention, you need to give him a reason to. When he stumbles, immediately pick up on one rein, bump his belly with the heel of your boot or apply your spur and bend him around in a circle, hustling his feet. Make it clear that he needs to wake up and pay attention.

If he ignores your leg, use your reins or a stick on his hindquarters. When he’s moving with energy, is alert and focused on you, put him on a loose rein and go back to what you were doing. It’s important to put your horse on a loose rein so that you dare him to make a mistake. Get out of the habit of babysitting him and trying to micromanage his every step. Put him on a loose rein and let him commit to the mistake. If he trips again, repeat the same steps. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. As long as he’s paying attention to where he’s placing his feet, you’ll leave him alone. But if he chooses to get lazy and let his mind wander, you’ll wake him up and make him feel uncomfortable by hustling his feet.

 Working-logs

Working-logs

Keep Him Interested When a horse constantly stumbles, he’s basically telling you that he’s bored to death. Keep things interesting and challenge him by incorporating more variety into your lessons. You’ve heard me say time and again that consistency and repetition are keys to teaching your horse, and that’s certainly true. You can’t expect your horse to learn anything if you’re only working with him once a week. But you also have to be sure to add variety and keep things interesting for your horse. Remember that if you include too much variety the horse will never learn anything because he never gets to practise a lesson long enough to get good at it. But if you have too much consistency (you practise the same thing every single day) the horse will get bored and resentful.

Set poles on the ground and ride your horse over them so that he has to think about where he’s placing his feet. Get out of the arena and ride him outside. Lope him down the road or around the pasture to free up his mind and get energy in his feet. Ride him over uneven terrain so that he really has to concentrate on where he’s placing his feet. I love working my horses over the obstacle course on my ranch because it allows me to work on exercises but offers a new challenge to the horses and keeps them on their toes. The more you can keep your horse guessing, the more attention he’ll pay to you, the more interested he’ll be in his work and the more fun you’ll both have.

Don’t be Part of the Problem Stay balanced in the saddle. Constantly leaning from side to side or back and forth can throw your horse off balance and make it harder for him to keep a steady pace without tripping.

Don’t put your horse on autopilot and just forget about him. Give him a reason to pay attention to where he’s placing his feet – practice serpentines, side passing or two-tracking. Not only will you keep your horse engaged, but you’ll be suppling his five body parts as well. You can never get a horse too soft or supple.

If you’re on a trail and going through rocky or rough terrain, give your horse his head and let him pick his way through. Horses use their necks to balance themselves, so having a free rein will allow him to raise and lower his head and neck as he needs.

For great ideas on how to train your horse on the trail and keep him interested in his work, refer to my Correcting Problems on the Trail DVD series. Visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com to learn more.

Prime Time

Clinician and trainer Julie Goodnight explains how she cares for and works her ‘prime time’ horses. I keep thinking about the three schools in the small town where I live and how those schools - elementary, middle and high school - translate to the wings of my barn and the young and older horses there.

 Prime-Time-Horse

Prime-Time-Horse

In the last instalment of this series, we talked about the elementary school and how what’s learned there equates to what the youngsters at my barn are learning. Now, I’m thinking more about the students who are outgrowing the strict confines of elementary school and are seeking independence. They are coming into their own and are ready to take on the world. The dedicated students in this wing of the school know their strengths and are eager to hone their skills. They are seasoned, active and ready to take on the world.

These horses tend to be aged between eight to 15 years old and are in the prime time of their lives. In my barn, they are almost all geldings. We have a lot of time and money invested in their training, seasoning and care. I consider these horses to be partners and assets in my business and they are total pros at what they do. Dually, my number one horse, is in this section of the barn. He leads up a team including my new-to-me mare Annie, and my husband’s gelding, Magic.

The prime time horses have pushed hard their entire lives to get to the level they are now. They work hard when required and they are very good at their jobs. These horses have to be ready with a moment's notice to pose for a photo shoot for a magazine article, to model for a catalogue or to make a training video or tape my TV show. I also use them for live performances at clinics and expos.

They are athletes who are well into their prime and they have used their bodies hard since they were very young. They need a lot of physical care to keep fit and pain-free and stretch out their careers as far as possible.

Behave Your Age Middle-aged, with successful careers, my prime time horses have come to value the sweeter things in life. They like their comfortably bedded stalls but also want to meander out in the fields, hanging out in the shade munching hay and socialising with their peers.

At times, they enjoy running rampantly and, true to their heritage, our cow-bred horses like to take turns herding and turning back another horse for fun. Although they enjoy the comfort of their stall when it is dark, cold or windy, they prefer to be outside when it is light and tolerable weather. True to the nature of the horse, they want to be safe and comfortable.

Having worked hard physically for nearly a decade, maybe more, they are ready to kick back a little and not work so hard - a desk job is sounding better and better all the time. However, they do enjoy and seek out the accoutrements that come with their jobs - the grooming and spa-like attention have become addictive and if left ignored for very long, these horses will become depressed and sullen.

Training Focus Our prime-time horses are fully trained - they know their jobs and do them well. Although they are occasionally required to learn new routines, mostly the training focus is about maintenance - keeping their bodies fit and their minds and skills sharp.

Scientifically, there are four stages of learning for animals and humans - acquisition, fluency, generalisation and maintenance. First the animal must be taught a new skill (acquisition), then practise the skill repeatedly until it is easy (fluency), then practise the skill in new and different contexts (generalisation). The final stage of learning is maintenance, when no further learning is needed but skills must remain fresh. This is where our prime time horses are.

For Dually, my emphasis is on keeping him sharp in his reining manoeuvres while maintaining the level obedience required for performing bridleless. We also have to focus on working cows correctly and I have to keep him tuned on the flag. I don't work on every manoeuvre every time I ride but instead focus on performing one or two really well.

Most of our training focus on our prime horses is in keeping them fit and legged-up, groomed and glossy. I may only ride my number one horse one day a week, which is plenty of time to maintain his training; I ride more when I want to work on something new or to prepare for a performance. On days I am not riding, the horses still have a great exercise programme.

 Working

Working

Fitness Because our horses get the same level of attention year round and have never been grossly out of shape, they can stay pretty fit by being worked three to four days a week. They don't need much practice at what they do, just a good fitness routine to maintain their figures. A horse that was totally fat and out of shape would require work for six days a week for at least 90 days to get in working shape.

Since exercising is the major point in their works outs, and since we don't want them to get bored with monotonous routines, we try to mix it up a little. I try to avoid the longe line altogether, which is not only boring but hard on the joints too. Instead, we'll put two or three horses in the indoor arena and free-longe them as a group, the way horses like to run. As they exercise, they have fun with and remain competitive with each other, showing off their mojo while I maintain the upper hand, driving and herding them around.

Other days, the horses will go out long-trotting on the dirt roads and trails for 20-30 minutes. Or they may be ridden through the obstacle course and hand galloped out in the grassy fields.

Health and Nutrition Some years, our horses eat hay 365 days. Depending on our snowpack from the winter, some years our horses may have a few weeks or more of a grazing diet in the summer. Once the irrigation ditches stop flowing, it is only a matter of time before we have to restrict the horses from the fields.

All our prime time horses are fed whole oats with vitamins each day - some only a pittance of oats, just enough to carry their supplements. Dually is not an easy keeper, so he gets a greater ration of oats plus several supplements and certain medicines to keep him healthy. He has always enjoyed the luxury of being able to eat as much as he wants without getting fat but his sensitive digestive system prevents him from having a vigorous appetite.

For supplements, maintaining joint health is our greatest concern and all of our performance horses are on the most advanced joint supplement formula for maximum support. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate plus ASU (avocado / soybean unsaponifiables), which has been show to work better than glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone in cartilage cell studies. The prime time horses also get an omega 3 fatty acid fish oil supplement which supports cardiovascular health and supports skin and coat health.

Dually and some of our other horses seem to benefit from a probiotic to encourage normal gastrointestinal function and health. All the prime time horses receive a probiotic paste when we are travelling.

Health maintenance is constant and expensive on these horses. I can relate to this being at the same stage of life myself! They are vaccinated twice a year to protect from the contagions they may encounter while travelling and often they need professional services like chiropractic, acupuncture and dental work. We tend to spend a lot of money to keep them in great shape and free from any pain. Like most horse trainers, I spend more on my horses than I do on myself and they see the vet a lot more often than I go to the doctor.

Our prime time horses are so important to us that we are happy to spend our time and resources on them. We don't mind going out in the barn late at night to switch blankets to make sure they are comfortable in the changing temperatures or to do one last check before lights out. I rely on them heavily for my business and am happy to invest in their wellbeing and fund their retirements. Now if only someone would do that for me!