Tag Archives: lesson

I wanted a saddle for Christmas…but got something else.

Stacy rearing Misty- Stacy 11, Misty 21

Stacy rearing Misty- Stacy 11, Misty 21

That year all I wanted for Christmas was an English saddle but I doubted I would get one. We didn’t have much money and I knew that even owning one pony and one horse (my mom’s) was a tight stretch at times. We had ‘bought’ my pony for a penny when I was six and she came with a western saddle and bridle. In exchange we  promised to take care of her, otherwise we had to give her back. My mom got her horse a few years later when his leg was torn up in a fence and his current owner was less interested in caring for it than my mom was. We had horses but just barely. Still, I was eleven and had enough faith to hold onto a glimmer of hope.

Our tradition was to open stockings at our house and then spend the rest of the day at my grandparents will ALL the family, opening presents one at a time. Around fifteen of us would gather and they made us thank each person by getting up and hugging them after each present, even if it was a shirt. We also stopped at lunch time for a huge meal, so even though it was Christmas day it would still be hours before I knew. But my brother, who was ten, and I had become experts at analyzing presents.

When we arrived at my grandparents and we both checked out the tree. We weren’t allowed to move things around but we could circle the living room and view the presents from many angles. I felt the anticipation seep out of me. There was no present for me big enough to be a saddle. My brother felt the same way. He had wanted a ferret but there was no present big enough to be a cage. At least we both felt the same way. There was something consoling about knowing we had both hoped. It felt less like we had been crazy for even thinking it might happen. And things weren’t that bad. We would still get something special, mom always tried…even if we would get lots of clothes too.

I got a new Breyer horse. My brother got a new Lego set. I opened another box I had pegged as cloths but was surprised by hand sewn horse blankets for my Breyer horses, back then you couldn’t buy them. Judging by how excited the adults were this was my big gift for the year. My brother opened another, we accepted our fate and ate another cinnamon roll.

By now it was dark, we were full and ready to go home but the adults were still talking and finishing the last few presents. We were hovering around the food sneaking another piece of stuffed celery when I heard my mom call my name. I ran around the corner and she pointed under the tree to a present labeled for someone else. So she wanted us to watch the last present be opened. Ok.

“This one is for you.” she said.

“But…” I started to say. She smiled. I looked again. It was big. Big enough to be a saddle.

“I must have mixed up the labels, open it.” She smiled again. She hadn’t made a mistake. Everyone was watching and although I was shy, I was also excited. Could it be? I tore the wrapping and could smell the leather. Mom helped me pull it out of the box. She was so excited for me. I could hear my aunts, uncle and grandparents talking excitedly. I couldn’t believe it. I had my saddle. A real english saddle.

I glanced up and that’s when I also saw my brother. My heart went from flying to falling like a rock. There were no more presents under the tree. He didn’t say a word…but he didn’t have to.

I turned back to the saddle and my mom felt the change in my mood. She opened her mouth but then quickly scanned the room…and saw my brother. I think he might have cried but I didn’t look close. I didn’t want to know. I was so confused.

Lots of stuff happened that I didn’t understand. I thought my mom went for my brother but then she appeared crying, I think, and carrying something. It was also big but she was also trying to explain, to apologize. “I couldn’t leave it under the tree.” she smiled softly at my brother, “Open it, you’ll see why.” He tore the loose paper off easily as it was only draped over the cage. Inside was a ferret that promptly scratched at the bars. I giggled. My brother smiled shyly and my mom had tears in her eyes. “I didn’t think about how it would look to you when Stacy opened the last present.” she spoke softly. “I guess I knew I had more but I didn’t see how it would look to you.”

  •         *          *

It wasn’t until years later that I understood all that I had gained that day. Much of what I know about horses is a gift from my mom. Sometimes she taught me with horses, sometimes she taught me with life. Always she showed me that, we each view a situation from our own perspective, but we would be wise to try to see it through each others eyes.

May your Christmas presents be ones that you will continue to open for years to come.


Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Life, Thought provoking


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What time of day is the best for training horses?

Most of the time we choose to train our horses as our schedule allows, first thing on a Saturday morning, just after school on a weekday or in the hour before dinner on a summer night.

Others schedule to ride with their coaches once or twice a week, maybe 1:00 on Wednesdays or Tuesday and Thursdays at 4 pm. and they hope to do most of their training under supervised rides. But when is the best time to train?When is the best time to train a horse; Night time training

Answer: When the opportunity presents itself.

As much as we would like to make the ‘best’ training times fit into our schedules, it is often the worst times that offer the most opportunity.

Take this photo for example. This was taken close to midnight after a very long day at the Congress…but it happened to be the best time for training. I say that it was the best ‘time’ because it is the time that Newt, my horse, told me he needed to be trained. Earlier that day we had ridden in the arena but I noticed when I left the arena and walked down this alley, Newt was excited by the activity. What you cannot see in the photo is that to our left (the right side of the photo) there are horses being ridden..and their feet are at Newts eye level. It is a strange angle to view horses from…at least that is what Newt said!

When Newt got excited I chose to turn him back and ride up and down the alley until he calmed down. I even took him up into the arena for a little work. He ended up walking back to the stalls fine…but it left a lingering question in my mind. Did Newt really get over it?

So here I am, four hours later, double checking. I knew I wouldn’t sleep well without knowing the answer and I was hauling out of the show the next morning and would lose the opportunity to be in the same situation again. So I saddled up, just before midnight, to do some final training.

Turns out everything was fine. Newt walked quietly and the entire ride took only a few minutes…but if it had taken all night I would have been find with that too. The best time to train a horse is when the opportunity presents itself and I’m not one to skip that opportunity.


Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Performance horse, Thought provoking, Training


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The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation; book review and video

Snowman jumping over horse

National champion Snowman appeared in Life magazine and gave demonstrations

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation’ People have often looked to horses for inspiration. Most recently California Chrome was the horse with a story, the one the nation was talking about but he wasn’t the first.

I stumbled onto the book at Barnes and Noble because there was a horse on the cover. Then the title, ‘The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation’ had me hooked.

The book was written by Elizabeth Letts who came across an unusual photo of a horse, Snowman, jumping over another horse. Her search to find this mystery horse lead her to the even more unbelievable story. She interviewed many of the people in the story and researched the rest.

The shortest version of the story is that Harry de Leyer rescues a horse from the killer truck at an auction. The sweet gelding grows strong and becomes a great lesson horse but it appears will never be more that that. Harry sells Snowman to a doctor for his young son…only Snowman had other ideas. He begins jumping fences to return to Harry.

Snowman, The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation’  swimming

Snowman was also quiet enough to give lessons and take the kids swimming

Night after night Snowman jumped the fences and returned to Harry. In a last attempt to keep Snowman at the doctors Harry tied a lead rope to a tire to prevent jumping…but in the morning Snowman, the tire and a fence board. Maybe the horse can jump…

From the killer truck to Madison Square Garden the author was correct in thinking she had found a story worth telling. She also manages to weave plenty of history about show jumping, WWII, and the 1950’s into the story.

As usual my favorite parts were in the barn; Snowman jumping his way home, giving lessons, swimming and even his final walk with Harry. If you find yourself looking for a inspirational-horse-history book take a look at this one. I downloaded it on my Nook but I also saw it in hard copy in the store. You can view the book on Amazon by clicking here.



Posted by on June 8, 2014 in Inspiring


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Slow thinking horses can almost seem to have a learning disability in the beginning

“Hi Stacy-When I train horses and give them a break in between they normally seem to improve after the break…. BUT here and there is one horse you train and you give it a break and you have to start from scratch … truly from scratch … have you had horses like the last one if yes how often and what is the trick with these guys?”

I have trained both types of horses that you mentioned. I love to work with horses that I call ‘next day learners’ or horses that the next day come out and have really absorbed the lesson that was taught the day before. They may not be experts but they seem to have thought about what went on and they are applying the concepts at least.

Newt is a slow thinker

Newt is a slow thinker

Some horses, however, don’t come out the next day retaining the information. Some reasons for this can be; the lesson moved fast and the horse didn’t keep up, the lesson was unclear, the horse is a slow thinker, etc.

It sounds like you have trained a number of horses so we will pretend that the lesson was appropriate and that the horse seemed to absorb normally that day…which leaves us with the idea that the horse is a slow thinker.

These horses often require repeated lessons in the same subject. Yes, some days and weeks even it seems like you have been teaching the same thing over and over with little progress. The bad news is that the process is slow…the good news is that once these horses ‘get it’ they tend to hold onto it AND they tend to be solid. Generally slow thinkers don’t try to out think you.

Most horses thrive on consistency such as being worked 5-6 days a week. I especially find this to be true with the ‘foundation’ training. It is common to have some loss of retention after a long break especially earlier in the training.

As I get to know the horse I start to establish that individuals learning curve. I can remember training a handful of horses, like you described, where I actually chose during the first month to get them out everyday; it just wasn’t worth the regression of giving them time off. The work didn’t have to be hard, just consistent.

Once they reached a certain level, for example being solid at the walk/trot/lope and beginning of the spin, they seemed to level out some. They didn’t necessarily learn faster but they didn’t seem to back slide as much.

Interestingly, some of these horses have gone on to be very solid citizens later in life. As they don’t think quick they tend to almost never ‘cheat’ in the show pen or on the trail.

It makes me wonder how many of these horses are discarded early in training because of their slow thinking which at times can almost come across as a learning disability.



Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Members Question, Training


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Is it normal for a horse to “go backward” in her training? Soreness & missing signs?

“Is it normal for a horse to “go backward” in her training? My daughter’s horse…was doing amazingly well…and in the course of about 2-3 weeks is almost back at square one under saddle. She won’t put her head down; she won’t canter; she pulls “really hard” (per my daughter) at the trot. My daughter is in tears of frustration because nothing that we know of has changed. She doesn’t seem sore; same saddle; same bit; same everything! Granted, the horse is only 3 1/2 years old..but we are just confused!-Michelle”

The two strongest reasons for what you have describe are:

 #1- soreness

#2 -missing signs that this was coming

It is hard to say which of these two are more difficult to diagnose.

When I was in college I was training a mare who was progressing as expected for about two months. One day I took her out and she seemed cranky but everyone has bad days, right? The next day she was about the same, cranky, out of the norm for her. I had only know her for two months and it was spring and someone said maybe she was coming into heat, maybe that was the problem.

The third day when I put the saddle on she almost flipped over in the isle way!

Fistulous Withers

Horse with fistulous withers

The instructors didn’t have an answer. The vet on staff didn’t have an answer. Something was clearly wrong….but no one knew what.

The next day while brushing her I noticed something sticky on her withers. I tried to pick it off with my fingernails and the mare threatened to bite me. I took her back to the vet and his face lit up with understanding. He said she had ‘fistulous withers,’ an infection that was not visible to anyone the day before.

Training issues don’t generally ‘pop up’ over night. I’m not saying it is impossible but it is much more common that small signs are there along the way. This is one of the biggest reason for riding with a pro on some kind of regular basis even if it is only once or twice a month. A pro can see things coming and can also evaluate if your progress is heading in a good direction.

I wish it were more clear. There are horses out there who cause trouble because they lack consistent training. The sad truth is that there are horses who have soundness issues that people try to fix with training.

The best recommendation I have is to get a hands on professional opinion. This can be a trainer, a vet or an experienced friend…or all of the above. Also remember to check in with your gut as it often can help you with your decision.


Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Members Question, Training


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“People have problems with horses because they either don’t know or don’t pay attention.” Jesse Westfall quote

“People have problems with horses because they either don’t know or don’t pay attention.” Jesse Westfall quote

My husband, Jesse, was giving a lesson one day and I heard him say, “People have problems with horses because they either don’t know or don’t pay attention.” I quickly wrote it down and made a mental note to find a photo that would match it. There is so much truth in the statement. I don’t know anyone who chooses to have problems with horse. Most problems are caused because the human didn’t know;

  • didn’t know that running home every day would cause a horse who would run away
  • didn’t know that catching horses only to work them often ends in a horse who avoids being caught
  • didn’t know that rides either add to or subtract from the horses training…and a horse can be ‘untrained’ as well as trained

Sometimes ‘not knowing’ also is a lack of seeing the ’cause and effect’ which is part of the learning process. Someone paying attention would begin to notice when:

  • the horse begins to anticipate running home
  • the horse begins to avoid being caught
  • the horse is declining in training

Many things like rearing can be prevented or stopped if you can see the beginning…the head tossing, the refusal to go forward. Inexperience often causes people to miss these smaller signs. People who succeed with horses often:

  • ride with other experts-take a lesson, etc
  • watch videos of themselves riding to improve themselves
  • reflect on mistakes they have made and make a plan to improve

Everyone makes mistakes…but not everyone learns from them. Be one who learns.


Posted by on April 21, 2014 in quote, Training


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How would one go about choosing a bit to try? Should I just go ahead and see what works and what doesn’t?

“Hi Stacy (and others),
I am new here, so sorry if this is answered somewhere else on the site (if it is please direct me to it!)

This is great information and I have been struggling with this issue with one of the horses I ride – I think changing bits may help. The horse is educated but falls into the “Employee Three” category on a few tasks/skills (not all of them, thank goodness).

How would one go about choosing a bit to try? Should I just go ahead and see what works and what doesn’t? I don’t want to confuse the horse and/or make it worse in the process.

What signs should I be looking for – especially since I can probably expect some reaction and/or resistance, since we’re trying to change some long-standing bad habits? How do I tell whether I am working through resistance, or just making it worse with the wrong bit choice?

Thank you for the wealth of information on this website – it is very generous of you to share so freely with us. Love your work!-Kate”


Here is a review of methods I have seen- along with my opinion.

The most common thing that people do when looking for a new bit is they start buying and trying them out. Often this is because they don’t know who to ask or how else to go about looking.  This isn’t my favorite method but is the most common I have seen. The reason it is my least favorite is because, generally, if there is this much guess work going on it would indicate that the rider doesn’t fully understand the issue with the horse or which bit is likely to help. All bits have ‘side-effect’…strengths and weaknesses. For example a snaffle is AMAZING for lateral work but not as good for vertical (side effects could be and entire blog in itself).

The next method in searching for a bit, in my experience, is borrowing a bit to try it out. This is pretty common at horse shows that are several days long. People will talk and try out different bits during the off hours. Again, horses have preferences too. Last year at a mounted shooting show I loaned out my bridle. At the Congress last year the trainer down the isle from us loaned out his bit to another trainer several isles over. I like this better because it involves at least a couple of people discussing the problem and the possible solutions. For example, at the shooting show I was able to talk with the lady and based on watching her and her horse and make a suggestion. She was able to ride in the bit for two days. Later she bought one for herself.

My favorite method is when people come and ride with us, this could be during a lesson or during a clinic. The reason this is my favorite method is because I get to know the horses training level, the riders experience level and I can see things that are happening. As I stated before, all bits have side effects. It is not uncommon for me to suggest that a rider in a shanked bit tries out a snaffle and that the rider in the snaffle tries out the shanked bit. ask horse to back up from ground

With all bits, when I switch I do the following;

1) bending from the ground as shown at the beginning of Episode 16

2) bending and trotting as shown at the beginning of Episode 18

3) if it is a shanked bit-I also ask the horse to back up using rein pressure while I am dismounted, standing to the side

I suggest that you try to find a local pro to develop a relationship with. If that doesn’t seem possible my next choice would be to find a group of people that meets to ride, that could be a riding club or a group of friends. Attend a clinic if you can. The more hands on and face to face the better.

*          *         *          *

Also remember; One of my standard questions is, “Have you had him checked by a vet? Is he sound? Have his teeth been done?” For more on this please read this blog; Why the internet isn’t the best place….


Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Members Question, Training


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