Archive for October, 2008

Being a reining horse can be a tough job. Imagine being told what to do and remaining focused for sometimes hours at a time. I’d like to think that I have focus, but I know that my mind wanders quite a bit from minute to minute. If your horse’s mind wanders, he could get corrected – so he learns to focus and pay attention.

With all this focusing, a horse sometimes needs a brain break. You and I may pick up a “brain candy” book or chill out over a beer. Or, if work is tough, we might head out to the barn for a ride. Except that’s still work for our horse, right?

I know several reining horse trainers that believe strongly that their horses need brain breaks too. Several years ago I was watching a class in Lethbridge, Alberta and I noticed a woman riding a horse that seemed uber-calm. The horse had a really mellow way of standing. Not an old horse standing with a cocked hind leg and half-asleep, but a horse that just stood calmly, watching the horses around him, but not getting to worried when they came too close. Not like some of the other horses in the pen that stiffened and cast an ear fearfully in the direction of their neighbor. (This was a warm up for a 3 year old class.)

The rider was Sharon Gates and a while later I was able to intervew her about how she kept her horses so calm. Her secret? Trail riding.

If you head over to her site, Wildwood Reining Horses, you’ll see many photos of Sharon out trail riding with her horses. Most of these are either show horses or bred to be. In fact, under the photography tab you can see photos of horses crossing rivers, jumping logs and crossing bridges.

I’ve found in the past that the first few times you take your horse out on a trail ride, they are a bit nervous. Especially the younger ones that have spent their life from stall to round pen to arena. Up here in Canada when we’re starting our two year olds it’s sometimes the middle of winter. It might be May before there’s a day that’s nice enough to head out on a trail ride without slick mud underfoot.

The first few rides are “fun”, but gradually your horse will learn to be ridden in a stress-free environment. I try not to worry about collection or form, as long as the horse doesn’t do something like ignore a request or refuse to move off my leg. For the most part I just enjoy sitting and riding.

One of the largest trail riding organizations in North America is called American Trails. It’s an association for all types of trail users from hikers to bikers to horses. They have a complete listing of trails in the US and Canada.

What do you do for your horse’s brain break?

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When authors write fiction books, they often have something called “Backstory”. This is the background information on their characters that never makes the front page (or even in the book). It’s often used to help the author get to know the characters. What is interesting to me is the backstory that people and horses have. Everyone, and every horse, has a story. Of course they do: we’re all the main characters in our own story.

Recently I stumbled across some backstory about a horse that I’ve seen show: Lacy’s Dun Dual’n. Turns out she was orignally named Cowboys Delight. Lynda Smith, a retired reining horse trainer from BC, wrote a little background information on the horse. How she was purchased, who owned her, her name change and her training.

Go ahead and take a gander. I find it very interesting to read about how a horse has been trained – especially all the challenges and mistakes that happen along the way. That’s what I like to remember when I see a horse and rider moving like they have never made a mistake. EVERYONE has made mistakes and had challenges to get where they are today.

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The reining community lost a wonderful person this week. Please take a moment to watch this video and please consider donating to breast cancer research.

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