Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 1

Once my colts are desensitized pretty well and I am able to lead them and pick up their feet, I start focusing on preparing them for that first ride.  Now I know there are cowboys out there who like to just hop on and see what they got. Not me.  I want to know what I can expect from my colt before I even think about climbing on his back.  That’s why I build my colts from the ground up.

Ground work is the foundation to all the colts I start.  It lets me teach them what is expected of them.  And if done properly, the foundation you put on your colts can make them faster learners.

Everyday Ground Work

What I consider “everyday ground work”, is work that you do with your horse pretty much every time to take him out of the pen.  If you have a well broke horse you may not even thing of this as ground work, but if you are working with a colt this “everyday ground work” is a big part of his training.  Tasks that I put in this category are leading,  grooming, and standing tied.  If you are having problems with any of these areas, they need to be fixed before you try to do any further training with your horse.  Problems in these areas typically  means your horse doesn’t respect you.  Without respect a horse can be very dangerous.

How do I know my horse is being respectful?  You want your horse to walk nicely with you when you lead him.  If he tries to run you over or rush past you, he is being disrespectful.  Both are potentially very dangerous behaviors and should be fixed as soon as possible.  To remedy a horse trying to run over you, you can simply shove the palm of your hand into his cheek when he crowds your space.  This will not make your horse head shy, it just gives him a clear message that what he is doing is wrong.  It is very similar to another horse nipping at him if he crowds their space.

To fix the problem of my horse rushing past me, I start leading my horse and the second my horse passes my shoulder while being led, I give a couple of backward jerks on the lead rope to stop him then immediately back him a couple of body lengths.  I’m pretty aggressive when I’m backing my horse I expect him to move freely and quickly.  I don’t want to have to drag him backwards.  The more energy you use the better the back will be.  This may fix your problem after just a couple of times, or it may take twenty times.  It just depends on the horse.

Disrespect while being groomed or tied up is moving around.  The same process can be used to fix both of these problems.  Basically we want our horse to  move our horses feet so that he will decide standing still is the best option.  I take my horse out to the middle of the pen equipped with a halter and lead rope.  I give my horse the chance to stand still.  If he stands nicely I praise him and let him continue to stand while I start to brush him.  The second he starts to move around I trot him in a few circles then give him the chance to stand again.  If he stands still great, if not run him in a few more circles.  Eventually he is going to decide that it is easier to stand quietly than to  have to run in circles.

If my colts aren’t doing well with the everyday ground work, I don’t go on with more advanced ground work.  I just continue to perfect the basics.


A Little Work on the Legs

It is so important to get your horse use to having his legs touched and his feet picked up.  More than likely you will at some point want to have your horse’s feet trimmed, and it’s also good practice to clean your horse’s hooves from time to time.  If you are working with a colt that has never had his feet messed with, you probably don’t want to just run up to him and try to pick up his feet.  Odds are you will scare your horse, and you may end up hurt.

Once my colt is okay with me brushing his legs, I start working on getting my colt use to more handling of his legs.  What I have found works the best for the following is a nice soft cotton lead rope that is around 15 feet long.  Your colt should be use to being touched with this rope on his legs if you properly desensitized him to it.  If he is nervous about the rope go back and do a little more desensitizing.  Horses tend to get a little nervous when we first start messing with their legs, so it is important to try to stay relaxed and calm when performing these exercises.  If you try to rush this you will stress your horse, which will increase your odds of getting hurt.

To get started

Before I will ask my colts to pick up their legs for me I want to be sure they are comfortable with their legs being handled.  I accomplish this by using my rope first then moving to using just my hands.  By using the rope as an extension of my arms and hands, I can handle my horse’s legs while remaining at a safe position should the horse decide to kick.  The following pictures are of me working on Cobain’s legs.

Notice when I start I’m standing slightly in front of his shoulder.  I have a hold of the lead rope next to his head with one hand, and I am touching him with the tail end of the rope with the other.  I’m making sure that he isn’t going to spook from the rope.  I rub his shoulder with the rope, then move down to the outside of his leg.  If he is remaining relaxed I see if he will let me rub the rope on the inside of his leg.  If at any point he becomes a little nervous I just go back a step and restart from there.

Once he is okay with the rope touching the inside of his leg I go ahead and loosely put the rope around his leg. I then move the rope all the way up and down his leg a few times until he is completely relaxed with this process.  If he is standing nicely and seems relaxed, I will remove the rope from his leg and step back a couple feed and let him stand.  By letting him stand for a little bit, you give him a chance to process what has just happened.  More than likely, after a couple of seconds he will like his lips (a sign that he is thinking), and if you are really lucky, he will let out a big sigh.  Repeat with the legs.

If you are unsure about wrapping the rope around the back legs, you can use the alternate method of getting the rope around them.  For this you will need something firm to drag the rope with such as a carrot stick.  Stand by your horse’s shoulder and swing the rope so it wraps around the ankle of  your horse.  If you have properly desensitized this shouldn’t be a problem.  If he seems a little jumpy just keep repeating until he relaxes.   Also you want to take your stick and rub it on his leg to make sure he isn’t going to swat at it when you reach for the end of your rope (in the picture to the right I am using a whip, it happened to be what I had laying around handy) Okay now you want to swing the rope around your horse’s ankle so that enough of the tail is sticking out between his back legs that you can catch the end of it with your stick.  Using your stick drag the end out towards you until it is far enough out that you can reach down and get the end.  Make sure to keep a good grip on the end of the rope attached to the halter so you can pull your horse around if needed.

Giving to pressure

After the horse is comfortable with having the rope around his legs, I start applying pressure to his legs and asking him to give to that pressure by lifting his leg.  I first do this using the rope and eventually move on to using my hand.  Once again I will put the rope around my horse’s leg.  Let it slide down around the fetlock.  Then I apply constant pressure on the rope.  For starters I ask the horse to give me his leg to the front.  The instant the horse makes an effort to pick up his foot, release all pressure on the rope.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  Continue to repeat until your horse will pick up his hoof with the slightest amount of pressure.  Then repeat with the other legs.  At this point we aren’t asking him to hold them up for any period of time, we just want him to get the idea  that when we apply pressure he should give to that pressure.

Finally Picking Up the Foot

After my horse is giving to pressure of the rope well, I start using my hands to ask him to actually pick up his feet.  To start I position my self by his shoulder holding on to the lead rope with one hand.  I then run my other hand down the leg I wish to pick up.  If all goes well I apply a little forward pressure to his leg and he will pick up his foot.  Then let him put it down right away.  Then repeat, this time when he picks up his foot move it back and hold it up for a couple of seconds.  You may have to start holding it low so your horse can keep his balance better, but eventually you should be able to lift it as you would if you were going to clean it.  I work all of the feet this way, starting out with holding the foot up a second or two and then adding more time.  The goal is to eventually be able to hold his foot up long enough to clean or trim it.





Never Enough Desensitizing

In my opinion, you can never desensitize your horse enough.  There will always be something new you can introduce your horse to.  And even with massive desensitizing there is still no guarantee that your horse will not spook. No matter how broke or old a horse is they still can spook.  However, we can  lessen the chances of your horse spooking by desensitizing them to many different “scary” things before we start riding.

After my colts are leading well, are comfortable with me brushing them everywhere and will let me touch them everywhere on their legs and body with the rope and a blanket, I break out the scary stuff:  plastic bags and tarps.

First I will work with the plastic sack because it is smaller than a tarp and easier to handle.  Begin with it wadded up in your hand and only a small portion sticking out.  Let your horse see it, and then crinkle the plastic a little so the horse can hear the noise it is going to make.  Warning:  this make spook your horse, so be sure to have a good hold on him.  Let your horse sniff the sack, then starting on your horse’s neck rub the bag all over his body.  Take your time.  If you rush you may cause your horse to get uncomfortable or to spook.  If he starts to get a little antsy, back up to a place where he was okay being touched with the sack.

Once he is comfortably being rubbed with the sack wadded up, unfold it a little and go through the process of letting him see it, sniff it and then rubbing it over his body.  After you’ve done this you can attach the sack to a stick and repeat the process once again.  Make sure to take your time.  If he is ever uncomfortable go back to a place where he is calm then work from there.

Desensitizing your horse to a tarp can be slightly more of a challenge, mainly because the tarp is a little more awkward to work with.  Also because it is a little bigger it can seem more threatening to your horse.  I start with a tarp that is around 8 X 10 feet in size.  When I first start introducing it to my horse, I fold it up so it’s a pretty small square.  Then I preform the same steps I use for desensitizing my horse to anything:  First I show them the tarp;

Next I let the horse sniff the tarp;

Then I will touch my horse’s nose with the tarp;

I then proceed to rub the tarp on the horse’s neck;

You need to be aware of your horse’s body language.  In the following photo you can see by Cobain’s body language that he is becoming extremely uncomfortable with the tarp.

When my horse starts to get nervous like this, I back off and let him sniff the tarp again and start the process over.

After your horse lets your rub one side of his body pretty easily with the tarp, repeat the process on the other side.

Notice in the last picture above how Cobain’s head is lower.  This is a sign that he is starting to relax.

Once I am able to rub the folded up tarp all over my horse on both sides of his body, I partially unfold the tarp and repeat the process on both sides of the horse’s body.

The ultimate goal here is to get your horse comfortable with the tarp touching anywhere on his body.  Eventually you will be rubbing your horse with the tarp completely opened up.  You are not done with this process of desensitizing until you can have the tarp opened completely and pull it over your horse’s back, head and through his legs.  It may take you several days to accomplish this.  Take your time.  Don’t get in a rush and skip desensitizing your horse thoroughly. After you’ve moved on to ground driving or even riding your horse, you may want to come back and work with the plastic sack or the tarp just to help keep him trusting you and well desensitized.  Remember you can never do enough desensitizing.



Selecting a Headstall

Trying to decide on a headstall for your horse now a day can cause some major anxiety.  Your choices go way beyond the single ear or the brow band style that I had to make as a kid.  Should you get one with a cow hide or crystal inlay, one with zebra stripes or giraffe spots, crosses or star conchos, or maybe the conchos with six shooters on them?  The new one I think I want is a brow band style bridle with Turquoise and Brown floral print ocerlay with copper spur conchos and nail heads.  It is just the coolest and would look great on Dollar.  It could be mine for only $259.95.  Before you get your credit card out and make that purchase, let’s go over some headstall basics.

For starters what exactly is a headstall?  A headstall is basically the part of the bridle that goes around your horse’s head and is designed to hold your bit or bosal in place.  Manufactures have been very creative over the years and have redesigned the headstall over and over again.  Really not making it any more effective, but making it more attractive.

When selecting which headstall would be best for you, you really need to take in consideration the type of riding you will be doing, the temperament of your horse, and your budget.

Basic Headstall Types

When looking at headstalls there are basically three main types:  brow band, single ear and two ear.  A brow band headstall has a band that crosses the horses “brow” or forehead.

A single ear headstall has a loop that goes around one of the horses ears.  There are several varieties of single ear headstalls.  The most common today is the sliding loop.  The advantage to this is that you can slide the loop to fit around the ear perfectly. There is also a slide ear that has a little piece of latigo that goes around the ear to hold the headstall in place, and a slip or slotted ear that simply has a slot in the leather for the horse’s ear to go into.

Two ear headstalls are similar to the one ear headstalls, but they have a slot for each of your horse’s ears to go into.  These are most commonly used in showing.  And this year they have even put a new twist on the two ear headstalls and make cross-crown head stalls.  These are the hot new items for showing this season.  They have two slots for the horse’s ears and they cross in the middle of the horse’s foretop.

Type of Riding

The type of riding you do should play a major role in they type of headstall you choose.  If you just ride for fun on the weekends and don’t do anything real intense then you could use any type of headstall you want.  However, if you are riding colts or doing heavy work on your horse, I suggest that you use a brow band headstall for the simple fact that they tend to stay in place better than most.  The other thing about a brow band headstall is that they are typically equipped with a throat latch.  This will prevent the headstall from slipping off of your horse’s head.  The single ear headstalls are starting to move away from having a throat latch on them, which to me seems like a major hazard if you are anywhere out in the open or on a young horse. Without the throat latch, it is easy for the bridle to slip right off the horse, leaving you with no real control of the horse.  Two eared bridles are typically designed for showing although I do have one that is just plain leather.  Like many of the one eared headstalls, the two eared bridle is usually not equipped with at throat latch, so I recommend using it only for arena work.

Temperament of Horse

The temperament of the horse can make a difference to me which type of bridle to use.  If I’m riding a really mellow, broke horse, I don’t mind not having a bridle without a throat latch on it.  However, if I’m riding a horse that rubs on things or tosses his head around, I definitely want a bridle with a throat latch on it.


Budget can really put a damper on which headstall you choose.  If you have a small budget and don’t ride too often, you probably don’t need a really fancy headstall.  There are some pretty cool ones out there, but if you don’t have the means to pay for them, you should stick to something basic.  A plain headstall, new starts right around $30 for leather, less for nylon.  Fancy headstalls go for just about any price you can imagine.  I’ve actually seen headstalls that cost over $1000.  You do need to be aware that if you are shopping on line, sometimes pictures make a headstall seem nicer than it actually is.  My rule is that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  There are many people out there selling “silver show” equipment that cheap tin and painted (not oiled) leather.  Also if you have a slim budget you can look at buying used tack.  Leather can last forever, and sometimes people get tired of their headstalls before they are even near wore out.  I have found many deals on tack in consignment shops and on ebay.  You just need to keep your eyes open and shop around.

There are thousands of choices out there when it comes to choosing a headstall for your horse.  Take some time and shop around to find the one that best fits your riding style and your horse.  And if you happen to run into this headstall (click for link) my birthday is in December. 🙂



Getting in Rhythm with the Feet

To become an outstanding horse person, you need to understand how your horse’s body works and how your horse moves.  Each gate your horse travels on requires your horse’s feet to move with a different beat.  Along with this change in beat comes a difference in weight distribution on your horse’s front and hind ends.  Hopefully this article will help you better understand your horse’s movement and help you “Get in Rhythm with the Feet”.

Your horse basically has five gates in which it travels: walk, trot, canter (lope), gallop and back-up.  Now we are just talking about average horses here.  Gaited horses travel differently and we aren’t going to try to cover that here.  By knowing how where your horse’s feet are in each gate, you can become a better partner with your horse and help him better maintain his natural balance.


The walk is a four beat gait in which your horse will care 60% of his weight on his front end and 40% on his back end.  When riding at a walk I try not to lean forward and sit in the seat. Doing this will help your horse by not adding unnecessary weight to his front end.  Counting the beats of the walk go like this 1. right back, 2. right front, 3. left back, 4. left front.  (By the way you are not aloud to make fun of my drawings)


In the trot your horses feet work in diagonal pairs making it a two beat step.  The beat of this gait goes 1. right hind – left front 2. left hind –  right front.  In the trot your horse will carry his weight equally on his front and back ends.  To make it easier on myself and my horse I like to post when I trot.  I stand when the right hind foot lifts and sit when the left hind lifts.  If you show western style horses you will need to learn to sit a trot.  When I sit a trot I just try to let my hips rock with my horse’s back.  When he lifts his left hind leg my left hip slightly rises, and my right hip rises with his right leg. If your horse has a rough trot you may want to stand if you are trotting a distance.

Canter or Lope

When your horse canters, the majority of his weight, about 60%, shifts to the back end.  We count the lope  starting with the opposite hind leg than the lead we are in.  If we are going to be in the right lead, we start on the left hind leg. Our count will go like this 1. left back, 2. right front, 3. right hind and left front, then a pause while all feet are suspended.


In a gallop your horse will be running pretty hard.  In this gait only one of his feet will be touching the ground at a time.  Then like the canter, he will have a moment of suspension.   Just to save you from more of my drawings, refer to the pictures of the canter,  but instead of his right hind and left front feet touching the ground at the same time they will hit the ground first the right hind then the left front.  Counting the beats of the gallop in the right lead go like this 1. left back, 2. right back, 3. left front, 4. right front, then a moment of suspension.


Like the trot, the back is a two beat gait.  As your horse backs the opposite front and back legs hit the grounds. Count in the beats of the trot will go 1. right front – left back 2. left front – right back.

As you progress as a rider, you will find more importance on knowing where your horse’s feet are.  By knowing where they are and how your horse’s body works, you will be better able to work as a partner with your horse when learning new maneuvers.  As you ride try to see if you are able to pick out the rhythm of your horse’s feet.Pictures is Emily Thompson riding her paint Nehi Charm.  They are on beat one of the canter.

It’s All in the Release

When training your horse, it’s hard to not get impatient and try to force your horse to do what you want him to do.  But lets face it  horses average some where around 1200 pounds, and there is no way you are going to make him do anything he doesn’t want to.  I think it is easy for us to get caught up in trying to cue our horse and press them into doing what we want.  But in all honesty the horse doesn’t learn when we apply pressure.  He learns when we release the pressure.

No mater what I’m trying to get my horse to do, I follow this simple pattern. I ask until the horse makes the slightest effort to do what I want him to do.  As soon as he makes a try in the right direction, I quit asking and let him rest a second.  This is the point where your horse’s head starts working.

Let’s say we want to longe our horse.  One of the first things we need the horse to do here is turn his shoulder away from us.  So we apply pressure to the horse by swinging a rope at his shoulder. The second the horse starts to make even the slightest effort to turn you need to stop swinging the rope.  At this point your horse thinks, “hey that person was swinging the rope at me, and when I started to turn the person quit swinging the rope”.

Again you will swing the rope at the horse’s shoulder.  Because you released pressure before when the horse move away from the swinging, your horse may make a bigger effort to turn.  Once again the second your horse starts to turn release pressure.  Now your horse is thinking “yeah I’m pretty sure that that person wants me to move.  When I started to move again he stopped swinging that rope.” At this point your horse is probably starting to lick and chew a little.

Now that the horse is starting to get the idea, you can apply a little more pressure and see if you can get the horse to actually take a step in the right direction.  After you get a step, release pressure.  You will repeat this until he takes that one step with very little pressure.  Then you will increase pressure again working toward two steps.

This method works with pretty much anything you want to train your horse to do.  I use it to get my horses to cross bridges, spin, flex, anything.  The key is to develop good timing and release all pressure at the slightest try from your horse.  Eventually your horse will recognize that you are asking him to do something and try to find the answer to get you to release pressure.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  Well here’s where it gets tricky.  Let’s say you are wanting your horse to turn left.  You apply your pressure and instead of left your horse turns right.  Frustrated you stop applying pressure and straighten your horse so you can start over again.  Now you’ve just taught your horse to do the exact opposite of what you wanted him to do.  You must remember to continue to apply pressure until the horse makes an effort in the correct direction.  If he starts to go the wrong way, you can not stop applying pressure, in fact you could even increase pressure to discourage your horse from doing the wrong thing. Then when he makes a try at the right direction, release.

Training your horse can be made more simple if you can recognize when your horse makes an effort to do the right thing, and you reward him for that effort by releasing any pressure you may be applying to him.  When you are working with your horse try to remember that your horse doesn’t learn when you are applying a cue, but when you stop applying it.In this picture, I have Dollar’s head almost touching the ground.  There is no way I could pull his head to the ground.  To get him to do this I would apply and release pressure on his poll and nose until he realized what I wanted.  Once he got the picture he lowered his head.



Flexing at the Poll-Using Aids

In today’s world of horses, we are told to soften our horse’s face or to collect our horse.  Or we often wonder how do those people get their horses to carry their heads so low.  Any of these start with teaching your horse to flex at the poll.  For someone who is just learning how to train a horse, this can be pretty tricky to do.  Teaching a horse to break at the poll without any aids takes a lot of practice.  In this post I will tell you about several different riding aids a person can use to help them teach their horse to flex at the poll.

Draw Reins

When I was training my first horse I used Draw Reins to help me teach him headset.   There are many different styles of draw reins, and different trainers each have their opinion on how to use them.  Basically, draw reins are a continuous line that runs from one side of your cinch, through the bit, to your hands, back through the other side of the bit and to the other side of the cinch.  They really are a  single movable pulley.    When you pull your hands back it causes the horses head to move inward and down.  I recommend only using draw reins with a mild snaffle bit.  Also because draw reins don’t offer much in the line of stopping power, I like to pair them up with a regular set of reins.  Where a person connects the draw reins to their cinch depends on the individual and the style of draw reins they are using.  I’ve seen people hook them to the  center D-Ring of the cinch, running the reins between the horse’s front legs.  I’ve seen them hook to the rigging of the saddle where the cinch fastens to the saddle.  I personally prefer to hook them to the center of the cinch, but run them around the outside of my horse’s legs.  By using them this way, as the horse walks it bumps the reins.  Therefore, when I ride without the draw reins, if I need my horse to lower his head, I can simply bump the reins in rhythm with his steps.  (The draw reins pictured above are ones I made.  I just took a piece of yacht rope and fastened snaps on the ends. Notice that the pony is flexing at the poll and the front of his face is vertical.)

Training Fork and Running Martingale

These are two similar devices.  The training fork is primarily for western disciplines and the running martingale is used mainly for English riding.  The only real difference is that the martingale has a neck strap that goes around the horse’s neck.

To use either of these you simply fasten them to the center of your cinch (or girth) between the horse’s front legs.  If you are using a martingale, you will fasten the neck strap around the neck of the horse. And finally you run your reins through the rings and then up to you.

These devices work by creating leverage through the reins on the bit and on the bars of your horse’s mouth.  This happens when the horse raises his head too high.  The pressure encourages the horse to lower his head.

Running Martingale

Training Fork

German Martingale

The final aid used in teaching the horse to flex at the poll, I would like to tell you about is the German Martingale.  This type of martingale works in much the same way that draw reins do.  You have rope (or some have leather straps) that runs through the bit to create a pulley.  Unlike the draw reins, the rope on the German Martingale then fastens to rings on the reins.  Because these reins are attached to the bit you have a little more control of your horse than you would if you were just using draw reins.  When you have slack in your reins, the draw rein part of the martingale is working to help lower your horses head.

The German Martingale has four parts: the chest strap, which fastens to the center ring on your cinch; the neck strap, which goes around your horse’s neck; the draw rein, which runs through your bit and then you have the reins, which have rings on which to fasten your draw reins.

Pictured is Dollar with the German Martingale on.  In the second picture you can see that he has dropped his head, and it is now vertical.  The German Martingale should only be used with a ringed snaffle.  (Dollar is pictured with a curb bit, but the picture was taken to show how the martingale operates. Please if you decide to use a German Martingale, use it only with a snaffle bit.)

There are many different training aids on the market.  I think that before you run out and buy any of these, that you should try to borrow one see if  that particular aid will work for you.  Training aids can be great tools when used correctly. If you are uncertain if you are using any equipment correctly, ask a trainer or someone with more experience.  If you have any questions about these training aids or anything else, feel free to ask questions in the Forum section of this website.


Getting in Shape

As the weather starts warming up, and it continues to stay late longer, many riders are going to pick up riding again after a long winter break.  It is tempting to just go out and ride all weekend when the temperatures rise, but remember if you haven’t ridden all winter you as well as your horse are probably a little of condition for a long ride.  For this reason it is important that you and your horse ease back into a riding routine.

Horses are natural athletes; however, when we ride them, we ask them to exert themselves more than they normally would.  If you just pull your horse out of the pasture and ride him hard for hours, it can leave him sore.  This in turn can make him grumpy the next time you go to ride.   I like to start getting my horses in shape with short 40-45 minute rides the first week.  During these rides I do a lot of bending, flexing, walking and trotting with a little loping thrown in.  Over the next few weeks I increase my riding time and increase the amount of time I spend working on loping, lead changes and other strenuous maneuvers.  I may even allow my horses a day off here and there after a particularly hard workout.  The day off would consist of some light ground work and maybe a little riding with only flexing, bending and walking.

It is also important to get yourself in shape for riding.  An overweight rider is more of a burden to your horse.  And if you are already in pretty good shape, riding requires the use of muscles that aren’t necessarily used in other exercise routines.  Riding requires a tremendous amount of core strength to help maintain your balance.  Also if you haven’t ridden in a while a long ride will leave you stiff and sore.

After winter filled with cold days and little activity, you need to start your horse off slow in the spring.  Begin conditioning your horse with short rides to start, then build up to longer rides.  By doing this you and your horse will be less likely to suffer injuries or soreness.  You horse will then find your riding sessions more enjoyable, and he will be more willing to do what is asked of him.

Be A Good Leader

All herds have a leader.  The herd leader is one that they trust to lead them safely where ever they go.  It’s the horse that the other horses respect and will follow any where.  To your horse you are part of his herd.  If you want your horse to go where you tell him to he must accept you as a leader.

There are three basic ways to get your horse to do something.  The first is to force your horse to do what you want.  You use intimidation as a tool and whip or beat your horse into doing everything.  The second way is to bribe your horse.  You use a bucket of grain on the other side of an obstacle to get your horse to cross.

Then there is the way that falls in between.  You are nether overly aggressive nor overly wimpy.  You earn your horse’s respect by asking them to do something, then applying enough pressure to get your horse to do the task at hand.  And as soon as your horse makes an effort in the right direction, you release pressure.  This person must be assertive so the horse will know exactly what is wanted from him.

If you watch your horses interact in their pen, you will see which one is the leader.  He will get first pick of the food, and if he goes somewhere the others follow him.  Now to get his buddies to go with him or do what he wants does he beat them or bribe them?  Of coarse not.  He may bite one of his herd mates to get a point across, but most of the time he will just lay his ears back and move his head to get the others where he wants them.

Pictured to the right is Mirandah and Dollar in a trail class.  The object of this obstacle is for the rider to dismount and lead the horse over the post.  If you’ll notice Dollar isn’t paying any attention to Mirandah.  And Mirandah is pulling on him to get his attention.  Now Dollar isn’t afraid of this obstacle .  He’s just pretty sure Mirandah isn’t his leader.    If she was just practicing at home she would have several options.  One would be to get a whip and smack Dollar around.  Another would be to get some grain and walk over the log and coax him over.  But perhaps the best way to get him over, would be  to stand at the log with her reins in her left arm extended over the log.  Then swing a rope (or stick and string or whip) with her right hand towards his rump till he decides to move forward.  She would start swinging pretty far away from him to start and continue to get closer.  He may even require a tap, but as soon as he starts to go she would quit swinging the rope.

The same would be true if she was mounted.  She could start by swinging the reins back and forth over the saddle horn.  Progress to snapping them on the leather of the saddle.  And if that didn’t work she could pop him on the rump.

It’s a little different if the obstacle is something that frightens the horse, such as a water crossing.  With something like this, I like to approach and retreat from the obstacle while progressively get closer. Eventually you will get close enough for your horse to check things out, and eventually he will cross.

Being assertive with your horse can help establish you as his leader.  Respect and trust are also major components that you must earn from your horse for him to look at you as his leader.  Once it is established that you are a good leader your horse will be willing to do almost anything for you.

Trimming Hooves

Hoof care is a very important part to maintaining your horse’s health.  You may have heard the phrase “no hoof, no horse.”  For the most part this is true.  If a horse’s hooves are not properly taken care of they may become lame.  If they become lame, it is near impossible for them to do their job, carry us.  Regular trimming of your horse’s hooves along with a proper diet can help your horse maintain healthy hooves.

Because of the economy, more and more people are resorting to trimming their horses themselves or worse not having them trimmed at all.  In this article, I’m going to cover the steps we use to trim our horses as taught to my husband by our late farrier.  If you have never trimmed a horse before, I recommend you hire a professional and watch how it is done.  If you make a mistake on your horse’s hooves you could cause them to be sore or lame.  There is a lot of science in trimming a hoof, and here I’m just covering the basics.  If your horse has special trimming needs, please, call a farrier. If you are unfamiliar with the parts of the hoof you can go to my “Hoof Parts” page.

Tools of the Trade

Hoof Pick-a curved metal instrument used to clean out hooves

Hoof Knife-a knife designed to help remove excess sole from the hoof

Nippers-tool used for cutting hoof

Rasp-file type tool used to remove excess hoof wall and smooth rough edges

Yes there are other tools out there to use on your horse, but these are the basics for a good trim.  I also recommend a pair of good gloves.  Your hoof knife should be very sharp, and a good pair of gloves may save you some blood if your knife should  happen to slip.

Clean Hooves

To start you need to clean out your horse’s hooves with a hoof pick.  To do this you pick up your horse’s foot and hold it with one hand while picking it out with the other.  Starting at the back work your way forward and out, picking out all the loose dirt and manure from around the frog and off the sole of the hoof.

Remove Excess Sole

Using your hoof knife cut away excess layers of the sole and any excess frog.  You want to clean away so you can see clean, bright tissue.  Don’t trim the frog too deep.  You just want to cut off any lose or ragged pieces.  The frog should actually almost touch the ground when a trim is done.  Also using your hoof knife cut the bars of the hoof level with the sole. 


Now that the hoof is pretty well cleaned out, you can start to trim.  Some people will say to start your trim at the toe and move back to the heels, while others will say to start at the inside heel and move down to the toe and back up the outside.  Really just start where you are most comfortable starting.  Try to keep your nippers level with the sole and move straight around the hoof.  You don’t want to trim the hooves too short.  If you leave a little extra length, you can easily shorten the hooves up with the rasp. When you are finished check your work and make sure both sides are the same.  Also while using the nippers don’t worry too much a jagged edges the nippers may leave or slightly uneven cuts.  Your rasp will take care of those.  Rasping

Rasping is the finishing touch to your trim.  Some people may think it’s not necessary, but it is.  It helps prevent splits in the hoof.  Also hooves that are not rasped can be very sharp, which could hurt another horse.

Have your horse stand on level ground and see where his hooves may be uneven.  Start  by picking up the hoof and rasp the bottom.  Hold your rasp flat against the bottom of the hoof and work to get the hoof level.  You can use the edge of the rasp to check your progress.  Once the bottom is smooth and level. You will work on the sides and front of the hoof.  We use a stand to place our horses’ hooves on. It just makes the job a little easier, but I’ve seen people use their leg to balance the hoof.  Our stand is hand made out of an old planter packer wheel and a piece of pipe with a little flat piece of scrap iron welded on the top.  When rasping the outside of the hoof run your rasp straight down towards the ground. I like to put a nice roll on the front of my horses’ hooves to help prevent cracks and splits.  At this time you will also want rasp off any flare your horse may have on his hooves.Trimming your horses’ hooves on your own can save you big bucks if you do it correctly.  You may want to watch a farrier a couple of times to see how he trims your horse before you just go out and start nipping away.  Incorrect trimming can put your horse in pain or can make him lame.  I find if you are unsure ask for help from someone who knows what they are doing.