Monthly Archives: June 2011

First Trail Ride with Mas


On Friday I met with Stephanie and Brandon in the morning to discuss the plans for the day.  We decided that Friday was a day for horses.  I would play with the new Choctaw pony and any other horses that I had time for and would go for a trail ride with Mas and with Brandon, who would ride Pete.  While we were discussing the day, Noel and Suzanne Dodge arrived with the riding mower that they were donating to The Center.  We were so excited to receive this donation!


The Center's new lawnmower

My plan with Mas was to work on my feel and timing of release. Pat Parelli talks about having hands that close slowly and open fast.  He says that this ability goes against our predatory nature and takes practice before it becomes second nature for humans.  For horses, though, it’s an excellent way to get them to respond and to understand what we are asking.

For instance, if you want your horse to lower his head you would first pet the poll area of the head; then you would pause and then apply a fly-like amount of pressure with your fingertips.  If you do not receive a response, increase the pressure to a mosquito.  Still no response?  Increase the pressure to a bird.  If the response still is not there you would increase to an eagle.  Once the horse responds to any pressure you would quickly release your hand (the pressure) which enables the horse to understand that you asked him to lower his head. 

If the horse started drifting his head around while you were applying pressure, but did not lower his head, you would not want to release the pressure because that would tell the horse that moving his head around (but not lowering it) is what you were asking for.  Instead you would drift with the horse until he gave you a try and began to lower his head.  As he began understanding what you were asking for, you would ask for a little more each time until you could ask him to lower his head all the way down.

Mas is getting pretty good at the lowering his head game; it seems to relax him and also helps him to think and pay attention to me rather than constantly worrying about the herd.  He gets quite upset when we leave the pasture and begin hanging out together, but after a few minutes playing the Seven Games he starts to use his brain and becomes more engaged with me. 

Prior to our trail ride, I played the Seven Games with The Center’s new Choctaw pony who is yet to be named.  The Center had a name game going for him, where for a five dollar donation you could submit your name suggestion.  

After catching him and walking him up the hill to the sandy area where the caboose (office) used to be parked, I played the Friendly Game, getting him used to the end of the carrot stick and having the savvy string run across his back.  He seemed a bit skeptical and not very relaxed.  We played all Seven Games, with a lot of Friendly Games in between, and because he was doing so well, I decided to stop while we were ahead, to finish on a good note. We played together for about an hour.

When I brought Mas to the Big Top (the new arena) he was very animated and whinnying like crazy (he has the loudest whinny of any horse I have met to date!).  I took him into a small pasture and asked him to lower his head a few times before deciding to release him in the neighboring small pasture while I ate my lunch.  I chowed on a turkey, lettuce, and cheese sandwich and slugged a Vitamin water while watching him pace the fenceline. Back and forth he went, whinnying, grabbing a bite of hay, trotting around, until eventually he calmed a bit and was able to eat some hay while standing in one place.

After lunch I caught him again and took him to the Big Top where we played the circling game and worked on disengaging the hindquarters.  Then I tested his bend to make sure that I could stop him while riding using a one rein stop.  Linda Parelli talks about a horse’s bend and says that if you can’t stop your horse by bending his neck you shouldn’t walk, if you can’t do it at the walk you shouldn’t trot, and if you can’t do it at the trot you shouldn’t canter.  Mas did very well with the bend and I felt confident that it was time for us to hit the trail.

After rigging up a saddle in the caboose (which functions as the office and tack room) I carried it and the horse blanket into the arena.  Instead of quickly placing the saddle on Mas, I asked permission by first playing the Friendly Game with the saddle pad and then by letting him smell the saddle before simulating placing it on his back a few times.  He gave me the go ahead so I saddled him. Before I got on I tightened the cinch in three stages, playing the Circling and Squeeze Games in between the tightening.

Brandon riding Pete

Finally, with all systems a “Go”, we were off.  No sooner had we started our ride than the clouds parted and the sky dropped buckets of rain.  We were soaked in less than a minute.  Brandon and I laughed and agreed that it didn’t matter, we were going riding either way.  We rode up to the top of the hill before heading into the woods and beginning our decent down a slippery slope.  I was a bit nervous due to the mud but Mas handled the footing well. 

My First Trail Ride with Mas

We rode on old logging roads before the woods opened up into small meadow filled with junk.  To Mas’s and Pete’s delight, the grass in this area was quite high.  It took a bit of incentive for the horses to continue on down the trail.  After crossing a couple of small creeks an navigating a washed out section of trail, we entered the Johnson State College campus. From here we rode through campus before hanging a right on the gravel road to head back to The Center. 

Good Boy!

Mas did excellent on our first trail ride together.  I do feel like I need to work on being more light with my hands while we ride—something to practice in the arena next time.  It sure was nice to get out and spend some QT riding time with Mas.

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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse

This weekend I attended the Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse clinic at The Center for America’s First Horse.  The clinic started at 9 am with two participants (myself and the Center’s new intern, Brandon) and about 7 auditors.

ShyAnne says, "Hi" to MaryAnne

As we settled in, ShyAnne, a Colonial Spanish who lives at the Center, roamed around the arena. After we were finished introducing ourselves Stephanie talked about ShyAnne’s horsenality (Pat and Linda Parelli call the horse’s personality their horsenality) and showed us how to get the horse to catch the human.

ShyAnne Meeting The Auditors and Participants

With halter in hand, Stephanie kept ShyAnne’s feet moving until ShyAnne stopped and faced her.  Once ShyAnne was facing Stephanie, she stopped asking ShyAnne to move her feet.  When ShyAnne started walking toward Stephanie, she would back away from ShyAnne, increasing the draw (drawing the horse to you).

ShyAnne Catchs The Human

When ShyAnne was close enough to halter, Stephanie rubbed her with the halter on the neck and around her face and walked away.  The point was to keep the horse’s interest and to keep your actions variable; this way when you enter the pasture with halter in hand the horse doesn’t always think that you are coming to catch them.  The other tip was not to hide the halter behind your back.  Horses aren’t dumb and can sense our intentions sooner than we think.

After Stephanie played this game with ShyAnne for awhile, Brandon and I each had a chance to do the same thing.  We kept ShyAnne moving until she faced us; then drew her to us; then rubbed with the halter and walked away before repeating the steps and, eventually, when she was calm and ready to be caught, we would catch her.

ShyAnne Drawn to Me

From the haltering game we moved on to catching our horses from the pasture.  I caught the new horse (who still does not have a name—you can enter your name into the draw via The Center’s Facebook Page) and Brandon caught Pete, a Colonial Spanish horse that is getting a lot of attention from Brandon every day.  Brandon really likes Pete.

Playing The Friendly Game with The New Colonial Spanish Horse

We played with the horses using different obstacles, my favorite being the tarp.  I played all Seven Games with my horse using the tarp until he could actually step on the tarp, and then even walk over the tarp.  It’s so interesting and rewarding to watch the horse progress from being afraid or unsure of the tarp to being totally accepting and confident.  To play the Seven games with the tarp you could do the following:

1)      Friendly Game. Walk your horse past the tarp with your body in between your horse and the tarp.  When your horse is calm with this you could then tap the tarp with your carrot stick as you walk back.

2)      Porcupine Game. Ask your horse to yield from steady pressure moving toward or away from the obstacle.

3)      Driving Game.  Drive your horse toward or away from the tarp or next to the obstacle.

4)      Yo-Yo Game.  Yo-Yo your horse away from the tarp and then draw him toward you while you stand near or on the tarp.

5)      Circling Game.  Circle your horse around the tarp or pass him by the tarp using this game.

6)      Sideways Game.  Move your horse toward the tarp using the Sideways Game.

7)      Squeeze Game.  Squeeze your horse between you and the tarp.

Getting Used To The Tarp

Playing these games with any obstacle in a variety of interesting ways helps them gain confidence with the obstacle rather than being afraid of it, and it makes things interesting and fun for the human too!  It was so rewarding when my horse felt confident enough to put one foot on the tarp.  When he did that we walked away and played the circling game using the barrels or simply walked around the arena for a couple of minutes before returning to the tarp.  Eventually, he stood with all four feet on the tarp.  Stood.  He didn’t skirt past the tarp or walk quickly over it (he did all those things in preparation for standing on the tarp), he stood on it and waited.

Elsie and ShyAnne with The Pedestal

Playing On The Pedestal (I don't think this horse has ever been on a pedestal with a human asking him to do so)

We used a variety of obstacles such as the pedestal, hoola hoops (that made noise), a ball, the tarp, barrels, and our Carrot Sticks to ask our horse to approach the obstacle calmly and confidently.  It’s amazing how engrossing spending the day with a horse can be.

Brandon and Pete.  Pete doesn't mind the tarp!

What I learned from this clinic was that the better we can get at the Seven Games, the more effective we can be with our horse.  The more effective we can be with our horse, the more he will understand our request and be confident in us as leaders.  It’s also important to learn horse behavior and to know why he may be responding in a certain way.  Is he not standing on the tarp because he is afraid or has he moved past his fear and is now testing you to find out if he really has to stand on the tarp? If he is testing you with the tarp, you wouldn’t “force” him to stand on the tarp but instead would make not standing on the tarp less appealing (by moving his feet) than standing on the tarp.  Pretty soon your horse will think, I want to stand on the tarp so I don’t have to keep moving my feet.

Stephanie Helping Me Disengage The Hindquarters Appropriately

Another thing that I learned was that we should take the time it takes so that it takes no time at all (remind you of the Parelli-ism?  Pat has all kinds of little saying and this is similar to one of his sayings).  If we invest in our horses and do things properly and calmly without reacting or using violence, and if we take the time it takes, our horses will be much more willing to particpate with us.  I noticed that once my horse understood what I asked and was confident, he was willing to do the task immediately.  He even offered to do it without me asking. An offering from a horse is pretty neat.

Saying Hi To Mas At The End of The Day

At the end of the day I walked up to the barn to greet Mas.  I couldn’t leave without saying “Hi” to him.  One thing I noticed immediately was how much more dominant he was than the gelding I had spent the day with.  Mas is more challenging for me because he has his own agenda and is more interested in the herd than in me.  It seems like Mas goes a bit extrovert (runs on adrenaline) until I can get him thinking.  I need to learn to get Mas more interested in spending time with me than with the herd.  This could be tricky, but I know it can be done!


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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse Clinic at The Center for America’s First Horse

Join us for another clinic at The Center for America’s First Horse in Johnson, Vermont.  I will be attending all weekend!

Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse Clinic

Working out problems

Date: June 18-19, 2011
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm
Cost: $350 for two day clinic. Space is limited to 6 participants/horses.  Stabling fee is included
Auditing: $30.
Camping and RV parking: $25 per day.
“My horse won’t… load into a trailer, pick up his feet, accept a bridle, let me saddle him, go through water, over a bridge, stand for mounting, go, whoa, …..etc. etc. etc”.   If you’ve ever said any of these things about your horse, there’s a chance there are some holes in the foundation of your training. Be a better leader for your horse and he’ll change his mind about you!   Attend this two day long workshop and learn how to be the owner your horse wants you to be. Old habits are hard to break for both people and horses. Often, just better communication is all the horse needs to solve some of these issues.   Stephanie Lockhart, natural horsemanship professional will work with you and your horse to unleash the potential in both of you. In a safe, fun and light hearted environment, amazing changes can take place in a short amount of time!   Don’t you owe it to yourself and your horse to start this riding season on a good note?
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


Saddling Mas

On Friday I spent another great day with Mas and Stephanie (who played with her horse, Morado).  We were fortunate enough to have an arena filled with sand (finally!) to play in.  The black flies, mosquitoes, and horse flies were thick due to the hot weather and plenty of rain showers so it was nice to be inside the arena where there were less bugs. This arena is well lit, too, so it almost felt like we were in an outdoor arena.

The new arena that can finally be put to use!

After putting on Mas’s new fly mask and applying salve to his sunburned nose we were ready to play!  I had a few tasks on my list that I wanted to try and began with those, well, I began with those after walking him around the arena a few times.  Stephanie was getting Morado used to the sound of her Carrot stick against the walls of the arena and I thought Mas would probably like to focus on that too, getting used to a scary sound!

Mas and I worked together going through my task list while Stephanie played with Morado, jumping him over upright barrels.  Morado is very athletic!

Morado jumping over three barrels

Morado jumping over two barrels

It was inspiring watching Stephanie and Morado work together with the barrels.  Stephanie started out circling Morado and doing other transitions before ramping it up to barrel extravaganza! I was excited to get such good photos of the two of them.

I brought some treats for Mas and a few carrots to entice him and see if I could get some life into his loins!  He is a left brain introvert, which according to Parelli means that he has more “whoa” than “go” and can get bored very easily.  Stephanie and the Parelli DVDs are helping to educate me a horse’s behavior traits, or horsenality. In some of the DVDs, Linda Parelli demonstrate tasks with her horse, Remmer, who is also a left brain introvert, motivating him with the use of treats.  The goal for me, though, is to know when is enough so that I don’t go overboard and spoil Mas with too many treats.  Luckily, I have Stephanie to guide me.  Mas was much more animated, knowing that the possibility of getting a treat existed.  I had fun placing the treats on the barrels and watching him slowly realize that each time we reached a barrel he could find a treat on top of it.  Eventually, when I was in the saddle I asked him to bend his neck around to my leg and offered him a treat when he did it; man, can that horse bend his neck much further than I thought.

Mas with his new fly mask (do you have a carrot Deanna?)

Near the end of the day we decided to put the western saddle on Mas.  Stephanie suggested that I play the Seven Games with the saddle as an obstacle.  This was the first time I have played the games using an obstacle, and the first time I have played all of the games in a row.  I had a bit of a brain freeze and couldn’t remember the order of the games.  It was one of those moments that showed me a hole in my skills–I need to learn the Seven Games in order and be able to use them in somewhat of a flow.  Since then I wrote the letters of the Seven Games–FPDYCSS–on my hand and have recited them many times as a way of remembering them.  Friendly, Porcupine, Driving, Yo-Yo, Circling, Sideways, Squeeze.  Got it!

We played all games with the saddle as an obstacle before placing the saddle on Mas’s back.  He was quite content to stand and allow me to learn how to saddle using proper technique.  After I had the saddle on I tightened the cinch in three stages with the third tightening being the last.  Then I got on Mas for the first time using a saddle.

Tightening the cinch in three stages

I rode using the lead rope in one hand and a carrot stick in the other hand.  This time I made sure I did not apply pressure to the delicate zone and instead applied pressure to the air or bubble around Mas’s neck.  He did great. We walked and turned around barrels before trotting.

One thing that I learned watching Linda Parelli’s DVD on Lead Changes this morning was that I probably should have done a number of transitions from walk to trot rather than trotting 3-4 circles each way with Mas.  He would have been more engaged and probably would have had more fun.  Something to try for next time.

While I was sitting on him I also asked him to bend his neck around and offered him a carrot when he did it.  I think he liked that game.

Mas bending his neck quite nicely (carrot!)

Riding Mas in a western saddle with a lead rope and carrot stick

After we rode around for about 20 minutes I got off and walked around the arena to find out if Mas would follow me.  He was very interested in staying with me and when I picked up the pace he trotted after me!  All in the name of a carrot.  I had so much fun with him and I think he had fun with me too.

The following two things felt like the main lessons of the day.

1) When you ask a horse to do something and the horse is doing something else, it’s highly likely that your body language is asking for that something else.  Each time that I asked something and it didn’t seem to work the way I wanted, I would ask Stephanie for help and she would point out how my body was in a position for something other than what I wanted.  When I moved and got into the correct position, bingo!, Mas would give me what I asked for.

2) Fun, fun, fun!  To me the best part of the day was when I got Mas’s energy level up and he began playing with me. Keeping it fun is important!

You have a carrot? I will trot for that!

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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


Friday with Mas

On Friday, when I arrived at The Center, Mas was in the lower pasture chomping on some hay.  It was so nice to pull into the driveway and see him right away.  It’s amazing how being in the presence of a horse can immediately bring you into the present moment.  I snapped a few photos and gave Mas some kisses.  He was chomping away and then he’d stick his head in his water bucket and swish around; then eat again.  He was making me laugh. His coat was soft and silky and the sun was reflecting on the brown spots, making them glow.  It was a special morning for me.

Good morning!

After greeting Mas I drove up to the top of the hill and met Brandon, The Center’s new intern, and chatted with Debbie, who helps out during the week in the mornings.  Stephanie asked me if I wanted to catch Mas and asked Brandon if he wanted to catch Pete.  Of course we wanted to!  I nearly ran full speed down the hill to see Mr. Mas.

Want to play, Mas?

Hey, those are my ladies!

When Mas and I arrived to the sandy spot at the top of the hill, we walked around a bit, and played the circling game to get settled in.  Then I pulled out my handy dandy Parelli task list to practice the things that I had played with last Friday, and tried a few new games with Mas.

Some tasks on my list asked the following:

-I can stand in Zone 2 throw the 12-foot Line over my horse’s head with rhythm and my horse stands confidently

– I can stand out in front of my horse and rub the rope with the Carrot Stick as a Friendly Game

– I can ask my horse to back up by tapping on the rope with my Carrot Stick

– I can draw my horse back into me by rubbing the rope with the Carrot Stick

– I can back my horse through a gate, then bring him back and rub his nose

Stephanie showing Brandon the Short-Range driving game from Zone 3

Brandon and I both asked our horses to complete the tasks while Stephanie watched and helped us to complete them properly, using more feel and less pull on the rope. She was showing us how to listen to the horse and correcting us when our bodies were out of position or causing our horse to do the opposite of what we wanted simply because of our body language.  According to Tom Dorrance “The best thing I try to do for myself is to try to listen to the horse.  I don’t mean let him take over.  I listen to how he’s operating: what he’s understanding or what he doesn’t understand: what’s bothering him and what isn’t bothering him.  I try to feel what the horse is feeling and operate from where the horse is”.

Mas jumping over barrels

After completing some of the tasks on my list I decided to stop for lunch while Brandon sat on Pete with Stephanie leading him.  Mas stood by me and relaxed as I ate my lunch.  It was nice just to sit and enjoy each other’s company and not feel like we had to do anything to learn more about each other.

Brandon sitting on Pete

After I ate, Stephanie asked me if I wanted to get on Mas.  I felt good about sitting on him and said, “Sure”.  I didn’t have any reins, which I’m sure was a good thing because I would have to learn to ride without them eventually anyway, and as Pat would say, pulling the horse left or right to turn and pulling back to stop is not the correct way to turn the horse.  Instead of using the reins to turn we should use our power of focus, our shift of weight, our upper body, and a little bit of leg, then the reins can come in.  Of course, for me it was difficult to figure it all out at once.  Stephanie suggested that I use a carrot stick to steer, incorporating some of the skills that I learned on the ground.

My first time horseback on Mas!

Unfortunately, my first thought was that I need to make contact on Mas’s face with the carrot stick to cause him to turn away from the pressure.  Shortly after watching me a couple of times, Stephanie suggested that I create a little pressure on his bubble (air around his body) first to see if that works rather than using so much pressure in the beginning.  If that was not successful then I could tap him with the stick against the neck.  I was mortified that I hadn’t thought of that in the first place!  It all made sense.  If I could ask him to move on the ground by applying pressure to his bubble, of course I could ask him to do the same while I was on his back.

It actually bothered me quite a bit that I hadn’t thought of that and that I was applying such an extreme amount of pressure to Mas’s delicate zone.  I thought about it off and on for the next day.  Stephanie reassured me that Mas is very forgiving, but I couldn’t help but feel bad. At least feeling so strongly about doing something incorrectly will help me to do it correctly the next time.

We rode around for a short while before walking the horses back to the pasture to turn them loose.

Brandon saying "Hi" to Adelentado

After we put Mas and Pete back in their pastures we watched Stephanie spend time with Morado in the indoor arena (it got quite windy outside and she decided that being inside the arena would be a bit more sheltered).

Stephanie and Morado

Stephanie played the friendly game with Morado using a carrot stick with a bag attached to the end of it.  She was helping him to not be as afraid of it as he normally would.  She used the approach and retreat method to help Morado gain confidence.

Stephanie playing the friendly game with Morado

Minko and Little Creek

Before I knew it the day was over and it was time for me to head home and spend time with Dave and the dogs.  I felt such gratitude to have the opportunity to spend most of the day with Mas.  In the meantime, I will continue to study up about natural horsemanship and try to remember to have a softer feel in everything that I do with horses. And, as always, to put the relationship first.

Mas de Domingo

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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse Clinic

On June 18-19 I will be participating in the “Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse Clinic” taught by Stephanie Lockhart at The Center. The clinic offers the option of either participating or auditing (watching).  If you are interested in learning more about natural horsemanship come join the clinic!

Working out problems

Date: June 18-19, 2011
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm
Solutions for You and Your Problem Horse Clinic
“My horse won’t… load into a trailer, pick up his feet, accept a bridle, let me saddle him, go through water, over a bridge, stand for mounting, go, whoa, …..etc. etc. etc”.   If you’ve ever said any of these things about your horse, there’s a chance there are some holes in the foundation of your training. Be a better leader for your horse and he’ll change his mind about you!   Attend this two day long workshop and learn how to be the owner your horse wants you to be. Old habits are hard to break for both people and horses. Often, just better communication is all the horse needs to solve some of these issues.   Stephanie Lockhart, natural horsemanship professional will work with you and your horse to unleash the potential in both of you. In a safe, fun and light hearted environment, amazing changes can take place in a short amount of time!   Don’t you owe it to yourself and your horse to start this riding season on a good note?
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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Uncategorized