Training Sophia Day 2

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Sophie and I were getting harassed by flies of all makes and sizes. Suddenly there seemed to be a calm in the storm of bugs. I looked around; the sudden lack of bugs seemed uncanny.  A sentinel of mini-helicopters had been sent to protect us. Actually, there were 10 or 15 dragonflies hovering around us. They only looked like helicopters. I wondered if I could recruit them for my needs at will. Well, maybe not. But perhaps (Lord willing) I can help Sophie become someone’s willing partner.

True confessions: I neglected to tell you everything about day one with Sophie.

My round pen is getting a little bit dilapidated. It’s old. Some of the wood is rotten, so temporarily I patched it. I was hoping it would look substantial enough to a horse. And in general, it worked, especially with horses that have been in the round pen frequently. I didn’t think about how new recruits tend to look for a way out on their first experience in the pen. I never had a horse escape unless a gate blew open, which has only happened a couple of times.

There was a hole in this dilapidated fence. It was only a little more than about 3′ x 3′ and it was over a rail about 2 1/2 feet above the ground. I’ve never noticed it as a possible escape route. But one of the times past that hole Sophie leaped over the bottom rail and through the hole neat as neat, clean through, she never even touched a rail. She ran out to join her friends in the bigger pasture.

I didn’t want to leave her out too long so I did a quick repair and caught her again. We went through the rest of the training with the results I described yesterday.
When we commenced our second day of training I could see that she was on the lookout for weakness in the fence and sure enough within 5 minutes she hit the same spot that was freshly but insufficiently repaired. She broke it all to pieces. I dropped everything else and went into the woods with chainsaw in hand and did some logging and cutting, and pulled in some ash and aspen poles.

I didn’t get back to Sophie until about 8:00 PM, and then she was really looking for escape holes. She didn’t find any. And so we continued our second day of training. I think she was wilder in the pen then I have seen before, frantic to find a way out. Finally, she settled down to trotting and acting like a regular horse. She received the saddle a couple of times from both sides. Then I took off the saddle and jumped on. I had a rope halter and a lead rope attached to the halter on both ends. Of course, she knows nothing about cues or what the pulling on her nose is supposed to mean.

After standing for a couple of minutes, as I was trying to loosen her up from the ground where she stood awkwardly resolute, she burst straight ahead toward the fence where she had escaped earlier in the day and then stopped again. With lots of coaxing, she was finally able to turn both ways and move forward a little.


So ended the second day of training.

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Sophie’s First Day of Training

August 17, 2013

August 17, 2013

July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016

Dancer was 20 years old when she gave birth to Sophie on August 17, 2013. During the later term of pregnancy, Dancer suffered with a horse disease called the heaves. A vet told me it’s a kind of horse asthma. She had suffered with it a little bit before the pregnancy but the pregnancy seemed to add more labor to the breathing. I thought she was going to die. She lost a lot of weight and I felt the foal might die even if Dancer lived. The foal and Dancer lived but they were both very thin by the time she delivered. However, the new filly was vigorous and healthy in all other respects. Dancer breathed normally after the birth, gained weight and went back to her normal health.

Sophie has tended to be on the thin side. She gained weight when the green grass came this spring but lost it again as the flies multiplied. Now that Sophie is almost 3 I decided to start her training. I may have started a little sooner but for Sophie’s small size relative to her family lines. I don’t think she is even 14 hands yet. I hope she gains weight but if she stays small in height that will be just fine with me.

Today was the first day of training. In the pasture, she comes up to me to be petted or scratched. I halter broke her when she was only two months. That’s pretty much the extent of her training. When I put her in the round pen today I walked up to her with a saddle blanket to put on her back and she fled, just like every other horse who has not been introduced to the saddle. I encouraged her to trot on. After about 10 min. she was getting pretty sweaty when she began to show submission by licking and chewing. I was adding stress by asking her to turn often. Sometimes I stop my movements and take a passive stance, including not looking at the horse anymore, which I did with Sophie. This passive body language takes the pressure off and the horse will stop running. When she stopped I attempted to lay the saddle blanket across her back but she commenced trotting again and I encouraged her flight.

Finally, she allowed me to put the blanket on. I did this several times from both sides. Then I tried the saddle. I placed it on her back and she continued to stand still. I tightened the cinch. I asked her to move forward. She took a few steps but did not, like almost every other horse, go off in a panic running and bucking. I turned her from the ground with the mecati’ (lead rope attached to the bosal). She was heavy but handled this without fear or panic. I took the saddle off. I repeated the saddling; she responded the same way. I jumped on her back but did not throw a leg over. She responded to all this with no worry or negative response.

Her calm response to the saddle was very unusual.

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Let’s Dance

balence 1 800There is no clear line between religion and horse training. Sorry. That’s not a perfect quote. It was (quote #1) “There is no clear line between religion and fly-fishing,” by Norman Maclean. I watched the Redford movie “A River Runs Through It”  the other night and I was inspired by certain lines which I assume were written by the author of the book, Norman Maclean.  The quotes 1-4 are his.

Here’s the truth that puts religion and horse training side-by-side: anything in nature that we carefully and honestly study and practice will lead us to the brink of the infinite. When you’re working with a horse, you are working with the creation. You and I and the horse are all a part of that creation. There, long-standing laws apply and these laws apply in many areas. Proud humans get into trouble when we try to force nature to fit our desires or fantasies based on personal ambition or ignorance.

(Quote #2) “Man’s nature is a damn mess and only by picking up God’s rhythms (balance/ harmony) are we able to regain power and beauty.” Left alone we human beings will try to control our way through a problem to our ultimate goal and finally destruction, but there is a dance going on. If I bash my way through to the other side of the floor while a dance is going on, the least I could do is disrupt the rhythm of the dancers or worse  wind up in a fight with one or more of the dancers on my way through. However, if  I adapt the rhythm of the dancers, I’ll waltz safely across the floor and perhaps even find some pleasure in the dance.

So it is with a horse. If anyone forces the breaking of a colt, the colt might break the breaker or the horse breaker may ruin another perfectly good horse. However, if you carefully see what a horse is and listen to his language, getting in step with who he is, you will join in a dance for your mutual pleasure.

(Quote #3) “All good things, including eternal salvation, come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” As we are attempting this dance with a horse, who is a completely unique individual but also continues a long tradition of what all horses are, we need our creativity and rhythm in finding our steps in the dance. The dance takes some effort and concentration, especially at the beginning with a new partner, but as we grow to know our partner the dance appears effortless.

(Quote #4) “The body fuels the mind.” As we’re going through the steps of round penning, touching the horse, picking up feet,  putting a saddle on and off and getting our partner used to things, our bodies are at work. Sometimes our efforts are quite strenuous; sometimes we’re in repose. Finally, we find our physical and mental balance.  Off or on the horse we are fully alive – body and soul.balence 2 800

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Farewell jihad, Welcome sunny delight



A friend of mine was out walking in our pasture. I watched as she was followed closely by Jihad “the horse”. When she got to our yard, she confessed that she had been afraid of this big, black horse named Jihad. I explained to her that “jihad” only means spiritual war, which I thought I had undertaken when I started training him shortly after his arrival at our farm.

There was clearly abuse in his past. Effects of abuse in a horse are difficult, if not impossible, to heal. When I rode him the first few times he bucked hard and long. He didn’t throw me but the next day I was sore from the bone jarring ride. After a few days, the bucking ended. He was afraid, perhaps phobic would be a better word, of odd things that he encountered as we rode. I could rarely figure out what he was afraid of. They were phantoms to me but seemed real enough to him.

I’ve been riding him regularly lately. I can still feel the effects of fear surfacing, but he’s holding himself together very well, especially compared to what it used to be with his sudden leaps as if trying to avoid an unseen enemy. The rest of the time he walks with his head down like a quarter horse: calm, collected, easy-going. It seems like whatever phantom he was carrying is either gone or greatly diminished.

The upshot of this is that I’m going to call him by a new name, or actually by his original, registered name “Sunny Delight”, which I think is some juice drink. I hope he carries this new name as well or better than his past alias. Goodbye, jihad!

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Horse Training Marathon

Red Pearl Cypriot

Red Pearl Cypriot

Over the years, I’ve unintentionally collected horses. Some of them wound up staying here because of past abuse and/or difficult temperaments. I don’t want to sell them at the sale barn where a lot of the horses are bought and sold to the meat market. I thought I might be able to bring them through their difficulties and then sell them. It is hard to sell a difficult horse and dangerous and unethical to sell a  horse without full disclosure. An example is Cypriot, who is quite difficult even for an accomplished horseman. I have spent a lot of time working with him and now he’s a favorite horse of mine but not without some frustrations along the way. He has become a real pleasure to me, yet even now finding the right human for him would be quite difficult.

There are many people like me with all kinds of varying degrees of horsemanship or lack of it, who have wound up with lots of horses to care for because they love horses or at least love the idea of horses. Some of these people can’t afford to take care of a bunch of horses but do it anyway because there doesn’t seem to be any good solution. The American government has had the same problem with the American Mustang. They have the adoption program now but I haven’t heard or read statistics about the degree of success or failure.

My plan for a personal solution is to polish up the training on the horses in my care. And then try to find good, human partners for them. From that goal came the “training marathon” idea. This is mainly about whomping up extra discipline to keep at it.

I’ve adopted training methods from various horseman, especially the California vaquerro method, which I think of as a kind of western dressage. One of those authors suggested that four horses at a time are about it as many as any one trainer can manage at a time. These four horses that I’ve picked to work with are all somewhat beyond the beginning stages, so I thought four at a time would be reasonable for me.

When I was 20 years old I was at my cousin’s for a birthday party in Livingston, Montana. I got to talking with this old cowboy. When I explained what I was doing, he said in an emphatic, gravelly, whiskey voice, “Horse break’n is the most dangerous profession a man can do!” I was flattered at being called a man and I believed what he was saying was true, excepting maybe being drafted and going to Vietnam, which was even more dangerous and was a very real possibility in those days.

Now I am 67 years old. Thankfully, I don’t feel old. So far as I can tell I am not very different in my health and strength then when I was 25, although I hope I’m a bit wiser. Somehow age factors into all the time I need to spend on a horse however. I’ve had a lot of close calls and injuries with horses. I just don’t feel like I want to spend the time it takes to heal up anymore. This week while riding Pearl she protested the rein on the left turn. She threw her head back and at the same time my head came down and gave me a fat lip. It wasn’t too bad, my wife never noticed. Nevertheless, stuff can happen.pd9 14 13_0298 (148) wc800


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