The Pre-Purchase Exam

Buying or selling horses can be a stressful experience as sellers work to find a perfect new match for their horse and buyers comb through hundreds of animals to bring home a horse that suits their needs. One important aspect of this process is the Pre-Purchase Exam.  This daunting vet check is exactly what it sounds, a thorough examination by a veterinarian prior to the purchase of a horse. However straightforward this may seem, there are several misconceptions regarding the Pre-Purchase Exam (also known as the PPE), which can make a seemingly simple process overwhelming for buyers, sellers and veterinarians alike.

In order to get the most out of the PPE, it is extremely important to understand what the exam entails, what the true purpose behind the exam is and how to use it to make an informed decision.

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Part 1: The Process of the Exam

Once a buyer has found a horse they feel is suitable for their needs, they should have the ability to have the horse examined by a veterinarian prior to completing the purchase if they so choose.

Sellers should give buyers the opportunity to have the horse vetted within a reasonable amount of time. The time frame allotted varies from seller to seller, but should give the buyer an ample amount of time to pick a veterinarian of their choosing and schedule the exam while not taking the horse off the market and unavailable to other potential buyers for longer than necessary.

The buyer requesting the vetting can decide how in-depth of an exam they would like the horse to undergo. Based on the horse’s intended use, buyers may opt for an overall physical exam, lameness evaluation or more in-depth diagnostics such as x-rays, ultrasounds, and more.

Basic Pre-Purchase Exams consist of an overall physical wellness check. This may include:

  • Checking Vital Signs such as heart, lungs, temperature
  • Checking eyes, mouth and teeth
  • Checking legs, feet and body, noting any soreness or blemishes
  • Watching horse move – walk and jog
  • Performing flexion tests to aggravate joints and ensure no soreness

If issues arise during the basic physical exam, the veterinarian performing the exam may consult with the buyer to decide whether to move forward with the exam or perform diagnostics to dig deeper into any issues.

Some buyers will opt to have a more thorough exam performed, even if no issues arise during the basic evaluation. More thorough exams may consist of:

  • X-rays of joints
  • Ultrasounds of soft tissue
  • Blood panel or drug screen
  • Other diagnostics as necessary

Part 2: Purpose of the Exam

The overall purpose behind the Pre-Purchase Exam is to ensure that the horse is healthy, sound and has no physical injuries or issues that may limit their ability to perform to the buyer’s standards. Most buyers make the incorrect assumption that a horse will either pass or fail the exam. The PPE is not meant to be a pass or fail test, as it is up to the buyer to determine whether any issues that arise are worth the risk of purchasing the horse for their intended use.

For example, a horse may appear sound while moving, being ridden or even after flexion tests but may have underlying issues that becoming visible during x-rays. While the horse is not bothered by the issues, it is up to the buyer to determine whether the horse may have problems performing in the future. A blemish like a small chip in a joint may not affect a horse that will be doing flat work only, but could cause problems for a buyer who intends to jump or event the horse.

It is also important to understand that Pre-Purchase Exams are a snapshot of a horse’s health in the moment in time that they are performed. As with all living beings, injuries and illnesses can occur at any time. While veterinarians do their best to provide insight into the horse’s health for buyers, they do not have precognition and cannot see into the future.

A horse that vets sound, has clean x-rays and shows no inclination that they may not be able to perform to the buyer’s standards may step off the trailer into their new home and injure themselves in the paddock.

The veterinarian’s job is to examine the horse in that moment and help the buyer determine whether the horse they see that day will suit the buyer’s needs. Buyers can always ask for a second opinion or request that a veterinarian examine the horse again at a later date if they have any concerns with the outcome of the exam on the day it is being performed. Buyers cannot and should not expect the Pre-Purchase Exam to act as insurance for their new horse’s soundness in the future.

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Overall, Pre-Purchase Exams can provided valuable insight into the health, soundness and overall condition of a potential new horse, but only if the buyer truly understands both what the exam entails and what they can expect to take from it. Buyers should use  the exam to make an informed decision prior to purchasing a horse while not falling prey to misconceptions such as a pass/fail outcome or insurance of future soundness.

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Managing Negative Emotions in the Saddle

For most riders, the barn is their happy place. The saddle, a spot to de-stress and enjoy life. But as with any sport, striving for perfection or working to obtain specific goals can result in anxiety, frustration and even anger. However, unlike other sports, an equestrian’s partner is not an inanimate object but a living, breathing being that can sense emotions and reacts accordingly.

Riders can easily fall into the trap of letting their emotions overcome them in the tack. When negative emotions, even anger, take over the ride both horse and rider suffer. Fortunately, there’s several tactics riders can employ to help manage their negative emotions and make their time in the tack more enjoyable!

  1. Breathe

When negativity comes creeping in, the first thing to do is breathe. Take a break from the task at hand and spend a moment on self-reflection. Notice how the body reacts to stress, as each person will have different reactions.

Physical reactions to stress are easily perceptible to horses. When a horse feels its rider is stressed, they too will become anxious and worried.

Were you holding your breath? Is your heart racing? Are your shoulder muscles tight or your jaw clenched? 

According to the American Institute of Stress, deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and promotes calmness. Inducing relaxation in your body has lots of positive effects including reducing heart rate, relaxing muscles and decreasing blood pressure. 11401589_4598290835227_6578559419215134109_n

2. Talk it out

Talking about issues as they emerge can make problems seem more easily solvable. If there is a trainer or other trusted equine professional available, brainstorming ideas with them may help in finding solutions to the road blocks that arise.

No one around to talk to? Try talking to your horse or yourself!

Opening a dialogue aloud with yourself can have the same beneficial effects as talking to a trusted professional. Chances are you already know the steps to take to solve the problem you are faced with. Giving yourself a lesson or verbalizing the necessary steps to take can help you systematically tackle any frustration your horse may throw at you.

Discussing your feelings with your four-legged partner can also help you overcome negative emotions. Most riders agree that their horse is a trusted confidant and close personal friend. Try opening up to them about issues to both overcome stress and reinforce the bond you share with your horse.

3. Shake things up

While working towards specific goals, riders can easily find themselves repeating the same exercises with their horses day in and day out. Drilling the same task during each ride can become boring and difficult for horses, as well as frustrating for riders when they feel there is little or no progress.

To combat stress and frustration from the feeling of stagnation, try shaking things up. A simple change in routine such as riding outside of the arena, riding bareback or going on a trail ride can bring the fun and enjoyment back to riding.

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4. Listen to music

Listening to music while doing barn chores or even in the saddle can help reduce stress or change one’s mood.  According to one study music can be used to promote a sense of well-being. It can also improve the listener’s mood and decrease anxiety.

Stressed from a long work day before heading to the barn? Your favorite song may help turn your mood around. Try something upbeat to boost your enthusiasm, or something slow and soothing to help you relax before you saddle up.

5. Ride with friends

Just like horses are herd animals and seem happier with a few buddies, riders can benefit from the company of other while in the tack. Having other people around can make schooling a horse a more enjoyable experience. From the ability to talk and bounce ideas off each other, to acting as a distraction from negative emotions that may arise, riding with friends can be a useful tool for the stressed out rider.

6. Forget the agenda

The pursuit of improvement, or even perfection, in the equestrian world is a frustrating one to say the least! When rides get difficult and negative emotions begin to set in, it can be difficult to walk away from the task at hand. However, anger, frustration and stress have no place in the saddle, so when these emotions overcome you it can be beneficial to end the ride and try again later.

Forgetting your agenda and doing what’s best for you and your horse’s mental and physical well-being will put you one step forward for the next ride.

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The Pre-Training Pyramid

Training horses for success in a variety of disciplines calls for an intelligent and thorough approach to their upbringing. Over thousands of years, horse trainers have created numerous systematic approaches in order to develop a horse to the best of their abilities.

One of the most well-known and respected of these is the German Training Scale, or “training pyramid”. It is a staple in the dressage discipline but can be utilized by any trainer to correctly and comprehensively develop a horse into a competitive athlete. Developed by German classical trainers and based on military training practices followed hundreds of year ago, this pyramid serves as a template for trainers to follow as they progress through the levels of Dressage.

The training pyramid seen below shows a set of sequential objectives for trainers, each building upon the next to produce a horse with a solid foundation.

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However, when you are starting young horses or re-starting a horse for a second discipline, like in the world of off-track Thoroughbreds, there is a lot that needs to be accomplished before one can begin to pursue the objectives detailed in the pyramid.

In order to address this, I created the “Pre-Training Pyramid” shown below. This new training scale focuses on the relationship with your horse and the mental goals you must achieve before working towards specific goals under saddle.

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Respect – The foundation of any good relationship is mutual respect. Defined as having due regard for another’s feelings, wishes, rights or traditions; this translates to your partnership with your horse as understanding each other’s boundaries and limitations. Before moving forward in your training, your horse must first see you as the leader of your two-being herd.

  • In practice – A horse that respects its handler does not invade personal space, is listening and reactive to the handler’s body language. A handler that respects their horse knows what they can mentally and physically handle, does not ask for more than the horse is capable of achieving and understands the horse’s body language.

Trust – Respect without trust can result in a fear-based relationship. When a horse begins to trust its handler, they have faith in their decision-making and begin to rely on the trainer to make decisions in their best interest. Gaining your horse’s trust tells them that you are not only the leader, but their friend. As training progresses, a horse that trusts their trainer will be a more willing and receptive partner.

  • In practice –  Horses that trust their handler will be more relaxed and receptive to cues. They will seek guidance from their trainer. You may find a trusting horse has a lower headset, ears that are flickering towards their handler and a calmer demeanor.

Confidence – Confidence goes hand-in-hand with trust. A trustful horse is confident in their handler. However, at this stage, the horse must start to become confident in themselves. The confidence we seek should come in the form of a horse’s self-assurance and ability to believe they can answer the questions they are asked.

  • In practice – Training must produce a horse that is not fearful or worried, but has been asked the right questions at the right time, so they are confident they can answer whatever comes next. A confident horse should not be overly nervous or reactive to its surroundings (spooky). Gentle desensitization that encourages curiosity and helps them problem solve will slowly build a horse’s confidence in themselves.

Focus – Focus is a necessary portion of the pyramid but must comes after the foundation has been laid. In order to reach our training goals, the horse must be in-tune to their trainer and able to concentrate on what is being asked of them. A focused horse is a working horse, one who can calmly and confidently tackle problems.

  • In practice – Young, green horses are easily distracted, may call to their friends, fall behind your leg or spook at an object. As a horse moves through training they should become more focused on their job. Before a trainer can successfully begin to pursue the German training pyramid, their horse must be able to concentrate on what their trainer is asking of them.

Only once you have achieved all the necessary pieces of the Pre-Training Pyramid is your horse ready to progress to more common training goals such as the rhythm of their gaits, acceptance of your aids and relaxation into the contact.

By overlooking the foundation that is created by good horsemanship, your training will crumble. You may have the most talented animal but if they don’t respect you, they will not listen to your aids; if they do not trust you, they will question the situations you put them in; if they are not confident, they will be worried and misunderstanding; if they are not focused, they will not be able to achieve goals.

You Are Wrong

There are times when everything just comes together, when the happenings of the days and weeks all add up to teach you some great lesson. There are times when everything seems to be pointing towards one moral, one takeaway.

Recently, the in’s and out’s of my life have led me to one conclusion when it comes to horses. This little phrase has become a mantra I repeat to myself time and again in the barn and in the saddle.

You are wrong.

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Repeat it with me… “You are wrong”.

Something a friend wrote days ago has stuck with me and keeps coming back. She said that we, as humans, need to take more responsibility for our horse’s shortcomings. We are so quick to blame the horse and so slow to recognize that we are wrong and we are the problem.

And as her words replayed in my head, I realized that I see it time and again, and am guilty of this myself. We all experience difficult situations with our horses – they “act up”, make mistakes and generally frustrate us. Our first instinct is to blame everyone else – the situation, the trainer, the horse.

But, the blame should never rest with the horse. They are never wrong – you are.

Horses did not ask for this life. They did not ask to be born into a world full of gigantic human egos and their even bigger list of expectations. Horses were not made specifically for sport, they do not come into this world able to speak our language yet we expect them to decipher exactly what we want through a series of kicking and pulling as we sit atop their backs.

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“That pasture looks delicious.. can we just go over there?”

As riders we set goals and have aspirations, we have a laundry list of things we want to accomplish. These ambitious are ours alone, yet the horses are the first we accuse when we fall short.

In the Eventing world I frequently see riders struggle to move up the levels or score well because of the battle that is the Dressage phase. Why do we find it so difficult to achieve collection, accomplish decent lateral movements and generally succeed in the sandbox?  In their pasture horses move laterally, extend and collect their stride, maintain balance and move fluidly. Horses do all of those things naturally, so it is clear our issues are man-made.

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What do you mean your horse won’t get off the forehand?

 

Equestrians need to change their way of thinking. We need to adjust the way we place blame.

Instead of saying “My horse won’t do a flying change” ask yourself “What am I asking that he is not understanding?”
Instead of saying “Stupid horse won’t let me catch him!” tell yourself “He must see me as a predator. How do I change that?”

The struggles we face and the issues that arise will continue to remain unsolved until we can truly seek the answers to our problems internally, until we can truly blame ourselves. Imagine the strides we could make if we just learned to tell ourselves “You are wrong, and you need to find the solution”.

The Equestrian’s Calculator

Today, I snapped. Today, I hit rock bottom and I’m proud of it.

Many of you have heard my stories about Lou, my gigantic, athletic, infuriating hunk of a Thoroughbred. But what many of you have not heard or seen is us actually going places and doing things, pictures of progress in our training and stories of triumph. Because, with this particular horse, those triumphant moments are few and far between.


For the last two and a half years, I have struggled to get Lou’s training on track. Although athletic, he is arrogant. Although beautiful and well-built, he is hot and defiant. Although oozing potential, he is tough. After consulting vets, farriers, chiropractors, acupuncturists, spending thousands in new saddles, trying different feed and supplements, working with upper level trainers, talking to friends, doing everything I could to figure Lou out, we only inched along in our training. Day in and day out I could see a difference, but it was slight. And after two and a half years, my heart was dedicated to figuring this horse out but my mind doubted if I ever could.

And after weeks of good rides, feeling better and better every day, I was finally starting to feel confident. That feeling of “Hey, maybe I can do this!” quickly disintegrated today and we slid down the hill that I had been slowly climbing for years. Just when I thought I could see the peak, we tumbled our way back to the bottom.

So, I gave in. I remembered what an old trainer had suggested and, tail between my legs, I got the Chambon out of my car -the one that had been sitting there for months, the one I wouldn’t let myself use. What happened next was pure magic. The gears turned in my horse’s mind and the tense, dragon-like beast figured out the system, lowered his poll and actually worked over his topline. I kicked myself for not using it before.

So, as a trainer who hates to take shortcuts, who feels compelled to do things the “right” way all the time, I’m here to tell you this loud and clear: artificial training aids are not Satan’s gift to equestrians. 

Artificial aids have a time and place in a horse’s training. Whether it’s lunging a young horse in side reins to teach softening to the bit, working a horse in a lunging system to develop muscles, or putting a Chambon on a difficult mount to help them understand to lower their poll and look for the contact instead of avoiding it. When used properly, meaning correctly adjusted and in educated hands, artificial aids can be your friend.

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Tiny, my Tiznow gelding, learning to soften to the bit using side reins

Think of it like a math equation. There are certain things you should be able to do yourself. If I asked you to solve 2+2, 7-10 or even 4*8, I better not see you pull out a calculator. Take your time, think about it, use your fingers – I don’t care. But you can and should be able to figure out the answer yourself without help from man-made sources. In these situations, short cuts aren’t necessary and relying on a calculator or Google to tell you the answer will just hurt you in the long run. But as the equations get more difficult, using a calculator can help you solve the problem in a more efficient way.

It’s the same with horses. There are lots of things we should be able to accomplish using our natural aids – leg, seat and hands. But, there are certain situations where artificial aids are not only helpful, but necessary.

Do you want to solve 10^3 – 7(3+5)/11 in your head? I didn’t think so.

 

 

 

 

First Impressions

As the Makeover is fast approaching and summer is coming to an end, I see dozens of sale ads flash across my social media pages on a daily basis. Sellers are scrambling to find new homes for their horses before buyers hibernate for the winter. From Thoroughbreds fresh off the track to Hunter derby champions, if you’re selling horses chances are there are dozens of horses on the market just like yours.

The truth is, social media and classified websites have created a buyer’s market in the work of horse shopping. It’s as easy as point and click, filtering through ads and comparing horses without ever leaving the comfort of your pajamas.

However, it seems some lucky horsemen have rigged the system and can’t keep sales horses in their stalls while others are left wondering why Ol’ Faithful who packs around a 3′ course and always comes home with ribbons is still in their barn after a year. What gives?

How do you set yourself apart from all the other sellers out there? How do you make sure your horse’s ad is seen in the sea of bay Thoroughbreds and eventing prospects filling the pages of Facebook and classifieds websites near and far?

The answer is simple- your photos.

Buyers have the daunting task of filtering through hundreds, if not thousands, of sales ads and most of them don’t make it past the first photo before they scroll on. You have a fleeting moment to capture the buyer’s attention and first impressions mean everything.

 

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher,

Both of these photos show the exact same thing – a young Thoroughbred mare ridden by me, trotting in an arena at the same point in their stride. Yet, the photos could not be more different. One is a screenshot taken from an iPhone video, the other is a professional photo edited to enhance clarity. Which one will buyer’s react to?

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

And again. Both photos are of the same horse and rider, jumping in the same arena over very similar fences. Once was taken with a phone, cropped and edited to the best of my abilities. The other was taken by a professional. Can you tell the difference? Which pony will you contact me about and which will you scroll by (even knowing they are the same horse)?

No matter how cute and adorable Fluffy is, or how many ribbons Fancy brings home, buyers rely on photos to help them decide whether a horse will work for them. What photos you choose to use to represent your horse can make or break your chances of selling them.

What can you do?

The simplest answer.. care! You put your time and energy into producing a well-rounded partner, writing an honest and carefully-worded description, don’t sell yourself short by throwing a couple of sloppy photos on your ad.

The easiest thing to do is hire a professional. There are extremely skilled equestrian photographers hiding in plain view if you just take the time to look! Most of them offer a sales package and will come to you and take all the shots you need in one appointment. The cost varies depending on your location and the photographer, but will be well worth the investment if it means selling your horse quickly!

For the photos themselves, present your horse and yourself in the best possible light. Groom your horse until they shine, pull or braid their mane and throw some hoof polish on their toes. Make sure to use appropriate tack for the advertised discipline and ensure that tack is clean and well-fitted.

And in the interest of not selling yourself short, make sure to wear professional-looking attire. That means clean, neutral colored breeches, a well-fitting shirt that has been tucked in and polished boots. Really want people to take you seriously? Put your hair in a hair net and up in your helmet.

And why?

This may seem like a lot of work for a few quick photos, but first impressions really are everything.  These photos are all the buyer sees before making the decision to click on your ad, which could be the difference between the right buyer contacting you or not even knowing you exist.

Exceptional photos not only grab a buyer’s attention but, by showcasing your horse in the best possible light, can increase demand and your horse’s price tag!

 

 

 

When Good Sellers Go Bad

Maybe it happens due to pure neglect, maybe it’s a lack of knowledge or just general apathy. Maybe people get into this profession for all the wrong reasons. We may never know, but the problem lies right before our eyes, and who is responsible for picking up the slack? We all are.


To say I’m mad is an understatement. My blood is boiling. My heart hurts and I just want to scream. The number of blatant lies being told, the amount of deceit and deception running rampant in the horse industry is appalling. It’s time someone said something.

I hear stories about horses that were misrepresented to buyers, people who ended up hurt and horses who stepped onto the wrong trailer because someone decided not to tell the truth. And the fact of the matter is for every lie that’s told, every excuse that’s made, and every attempt to cover up the truth, there’s someone who has to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. Someone like me.

I got into this profession for the love of a horse. I’m not one looking for a quick profit and it’s not about the money, it’s about the process of taking horses with uncertain futures and giving them the skills necessary to succeed. It’s about the joy that comes with every frustrating, thankless moment of finding them their perfect match or their next step in life. To me, it’s not a game, it’s not about coming out on top, or the pursuit of a dollar.

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No. To me, and to every other person out there selling horses, it’s a responsibility.

We are privileged to have these amazing animals come into our lives, to affect us in so many ways. And how do we repay them? It should be with honesty, integrity, and with every effort made to secure them a bright future and a long, happy life.  There is no animal in this world that deserves to be misrepresented and no buyer who should be blinded to the truth.

Misrepresenting horses is annoying at best and downright dangerous at the worst. Just yesterday, I was speaking to someone about a horse I have for sale. One I advertised as green but willing, with a solid foundation who would make a wonderful youth horse in the near future. So when the buyer asked me if the horse had a bucking problem, I was as a little taken aback. When he mentioned he can’t handle a horse who puts his head between his knees and acts like a bronco, I was confused.

Did he not read my ad?

Did the words “Youth Horse” mean something different to him? 

It hurt me knowing that this buyer had to question my word because it meant that, at some point, someone had lied to him. They had put him on a horse who was not a youth horse and had a dangerous habit. When buyers have to question the validity of my statements because somewhere along the road they were lied to, that’s not okay.

Here’s the thing- I understand the frustration, I know what it’s like to have horses that are hard to sell. In fact, I have two standing in my barn right now. Two horses that may live out their days with me because they’re unsalable. They’re tough, mentally and physically, and it’s my responsibility as their current owner, their trainer, and their person to see they never end up in a bad situation. I owe that to these horses. And so does every single other person with a horse they call their own. If you can’t offer a safe place until the right home comes along, if you can’t afford to wait it out and ensure your horse is placed in the right home, then don’t own a horse.

Because every time you resort to lying to make the sale, every time you cover up the truth or misrepresent your horse, someone is hurt. It might not be you and it might not be the person next to you but somewhere down the line there will be pain.

Perhaps it’s physical pain- broken bones on a person who was uninformed about the nasty flipping habit a horse had. Maybe it’s emotional pain- sleepless nights and tears cried over a horse that will never be what the buyer was promised. Financial pain- the money spent on vet bills for an undisclosed injury, or on professional trainers to fix problems no one told them about.

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Hits a little closer to home when you find yourself in this situation. (Me, circa 2008)

And if this is you, if you’re in the business of selling horses, you owe it to that animal and to every other horse owner out there- to every buyer, seller, trainer, and rider- to tell the truth, to be honest and let buyers make an informed decision about whether that horse is right for them. Anything less than that, even the smallest white lie or tiny misrepresentation, can have huge consequences.

 

Basics of Baby Jumping

Heels down… up in two point… hands pressed into a crest release, knuckles white around the reins. Eyes up… remember to breath… trot, trot, trot.. and pop over the fence. 

We all remember the first time we ever jumped. The saintly school horse that made us fall in love with the feeling of flying. The over-before-it-started adrenaline rush of the 6″ cross-rail that made us smile bigger than ever and beg our trainer to let us do it again.

There’s an art-like science to teaching the basics of jumping to a new rider. Building their confidence, keeping them excited for the sport, all while training their body and mind a very specific skill set. It’s no different when starting young horses over fences.

It’s getting to the point in Rebel’s training where it’s time to start popping her over small fences, building the foundation and laying the groundwork for an actual future in eventing. Every trainer hopes that first cross-rail will knock their socks off, leaving their jaw on the ground and increase their horse’s price tag tenfold. We all hope for a careful jumper, with a knack for seeing distances when the rider can’t, who is bold but focused, and when asked to jump replies with “How high!?”.

But, every horse slated for a jumping career has to start somewhere. With the first pop over a ground pole, the first steer towards a baby jump, with fingers crossed and a silent wish that the horse underneath you happens to put their feet in the correct place and keep their brain in their head.

In my years of training and the dozens of young horses I’ve held on tight and wished for the best with, I’ve compiled my insights in what I like to call “The Basics of Baby Jumping”

1. Start at the beginning

Like most things in life, we must start at the beginning. And if that’s not vague enough for you, here’s what I mean: Do not flip to the end of the book, do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.

This is the boring stuff, but it must be done. I’m talking ground work, lunging over poles, lunging over cavalettis, making sure the basics are instilled on the flat and under saddle before you ever even mutter the word “jump”. It’s imperative for the sanity of your horse that they can understand, without a rider on their back, that they can make it safely from one side of an obstacle to another without the world ending.

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Figuring it out without worrying about a rider.

And in laying the foundation for a solid citizen over fences, you must make sure your horse is able to perform basic movements on the flat. A solid walk, trot and canter, an understanding of steering, stopping, half halts and maybe even some bending and correctly using/balancing their body (if you want to get fancy!) need to be deeply ingrained in your horse’s mind. You need to have control over your horse on the flat before you can even begin to ask for it over fences.

Yes, I know dressage can be boring, but you’ll thank me later.

2. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, stupid.

The last thing we want to do is overwhelm and confuse our equine partners as they’re learning a new skill. You may have dreams of galloping down the to the water complex, dropping off the bank and soaring over the skinny brush, but for now let’s stick to single cross-rail fences. No crazy fillers, no weird distractions, just simple, easy, confidence-building fences.

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Milo learning how to stay calm and confident.

Keep in mind, cross-rail fences are the ideal jump for babies as they encourage horses to stay straight and in the center of the fence. Single obstacles are best to start out because the horse only has to focus on one thing at a time. When they’re ready for a line or a course, keep the jumps spread out with a straightforward approach as they have time to focus on their fence, recover and then focus on the their second fence.

3. Stay positive.

Just as all things in life, and especially where horses are involved, things may not go as planned. There will be road blocks- duck out’s, refusal’s, and weird deer-leap jump attempts. But no matter what your horse throws your way, keep your eyes up, your heels down and your tone positive.

The one thing I can’t stress enough is to keep trying and to keep an encouraging attitude. In order to build a calm and confident jumper, you need to overlook the missteps and the faults. A flat out refusal at a fence may feel frustrating and scary, but by reacting in a negative way, kicking and whipping your mount over the jump, they only learn to be fearful of the fence and non-trusting of you as a trainer.

So when mistakes happen and things go awry, adjust, give your horse a pat for the effort and keep trying.

4. Listen

In learning a new skill, your horse will be looking to you for guidance and support. When they are confused or misunderstand the question, make sure you’re listening to what your horse is actually saying.

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Channeling my inner “listener”.

A run-out doesn’t mean your horse is being “bad”, but rather that they don’t understand and you need more outside leg. A refusal doesn’t mean your horse wants you to jump the fence without them, but that they aren’t deriving confidence from you as their rider and that they aren’t in front of your leg. A rushing horse is probably one that is nervous or scared and just holding their breath and hoping they get to the other side of the fence in one piece.

There are a million ways your horse can tell you what they’re feeling and what they need. Attempts at communication from the flick of an ear to the swish of the tail. When you are able to pick up on these subtle cues and acknowledge them, adjusting your training methods accordingly, your horse will thank you in the form of their best effort.

And at the end of the day, you may not end up with a knock-your-socks-off upper level eventer. But, maybe you will. That first jump, and the dozens after them, will make or  break your horse’s confidence, directly affecting their abilities in the future.

So, there you have it. My insights into teaching your green bean how to jump. Oh, an one last thought… keep the wine handy!

 

The Not-So-Scary Side Rein

A week ago yesterday, Rebel Annie came home from the shedrows at Turfway Park to start her new life as a potential event horse. 8 days she’s been home and for 8 days she has been completely blowing my mind.

I’m used to re-training Thoroughbreds, this endeavor isn’t new to me. But usually, when I take them on, the horse has been off the track and standing in a pasture with no job for at least a few months. This is my very first time purchasing a horse directly from the track and bringing them home. I was a little worried about what to expect, but I treated her like every other horse I’ve worked with and just let her tell me what she was ready for and when.

Up to this point, Rebel has been game for anything. She thrives on human attention and loves to work. She is constantly asking me what’s next and is eager for a pat or a coo of “good girl” when she does something right. And because of her health and happiness throughout this transitional period, I’ve let the work begin.

All of the horses I work with learn how to lunge first and foremost. There are great benefits to a good lunging session. (You can read my HC article on lunging here.) And, after the basics of lunging have been instilled, I usually clip on the side reins. Now, before you all shun me for my use of training aids, let me explain.

On any given day, you can log onto social media and see someone up on their soap box about the horrors that are training aids. And I get it. In the wrong hands, training aids can do a lot of damage to horses both physically and mentally. I’ve seen horses with their heads forced into a position where their body looks almost morphed. I’ve seen the same side reins used on an 14 hand Arabian and then turned around and used on a 16 hand Percheron cross. I’ve seen it all and I’ve cringed at the sight. But yet, I firmly believe there is good that can come from the use of side reins, especially early on in a horse’s training.

Used correctly, side reins help horses learn how to correctly use their body and can help develop muscles needed for new sports. Side reins can teach horses the concept of recycling energy and help to build topline muscles, all without a rider getting in their way.

The intricacies of rein pressure, balance and energy are some of the hardest things to teach OTTBs. Coming from the track, most horses feel pressure on their mouths and brace against it, seeing it as a signal to run faster. Yet others may feel rein pressure and think it means stop. Finding that middle ground is a huge battle that can easily result in bruised egos, tears and frustration.

I, for one, want my horses to understand that rein pressure is a good thing. I want them to seek my hand, but have enough balance and muscling to carry themselves without hanging on me when they do find it. And that’s where my side reins come in.

The process:

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Side reins clipped on. Low placement, long enough that Rebel gets to choose where she puts her head. In these first moments, she’s braced and unsure.

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Then she starts understanding that she can alleviate the pressure. Notice she’s not tracking up here, and is more avoiding the bit than moving into it. I need to push her forward and encourage her not to move away from the bit.

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Now she’s starting to track up and move from behind. Notice the side reins are loose and not forcing her head down or in at all. She’s thinking and trying to figure it all out, but is not tense through her body or unhappy in any way.

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And we finally have excellent movement from behind. She’s pushing forward, reaching for the bit, realizing it’s not a bad thing at all. Yes, she’s hanging on it slightly and using the bit for balance, but the goals I set for this session have been accomplished.

All of this occurred within a 15 minute lunging session. Rebel is not nervous or tense in any way, and I’m not curled up in fetal position crying. So I’d call this a win!

Moving forward, lunging in side reins will become a part of our training routine. I will use them once, maybe twice, a week. They will stay long and low as she develops back and neck muscles to carry herself. I’m not going to push her too hard, nor am I going to force her into a position where she is uncomfortable or hurt. And I am no less of a trainer for utilizing the training aid, because I am using it correctly.

Following the Money

As a small-scale eventing trainer, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of a dollar. There’s good money in finding a diamond in the rough, polishing that horse until it shines and then finding the horse a spectacular person who will enjoy the fruits of your labor. But it seems this idea has attracted many riders looking to make a quick buck.

The issue is this: those trainers are less focused on correctly polishing their diamond, or truly training their project horse, and more focused on a quick flip and a fast profit. The result is under-developed, over-faced horses without a correct foundation of training.

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Milo figuring out baby jumps!

Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge on the part of trainers. Maybe it’s today’s society, with everyone expecting instant gratification. Maybe it’s buyer’s unrealistic expectations. It seems everyone wants a younger horse, jumping higher fences, with a lengthier show record… all on a smaller budget. But these things take time. And, in the horse world, as in every other industry, time is money.

Whatever it is, it’s causing a problem. And that problem is moral hazard. (Bear with me as I indulge my inner business student).

Moral hazard occurs when one person takes risks because another person is going to incur the costs associated with those risks. This is happening in masses in the horse industry. Trainers take on a young prospect with the intention of selling it. Knowing the extra profit they can enjoy if the horse is going at higher levels, the trainer pushes their project too fast too soon. They skip important, but maybe somewhat boring, steps in training and jump right in to the fun stuff. They jump higher fences, force “head carriage”, and ask more technical questions of horses that just aren’t ready. And why? Because once the horse is sold, it’s the buyer who has to deal with all the shortcomings in training. The buyer will pay for a broken down horse because it wasn’t correctly developed both physically and mentally.  These trainers are taking unnecessary risks with their horses because they won’t have to pay the price later on down the road. 

It’s really tough to sit by and watch it happen. I cringe when I see trainers making decisions knowing their motive lies somewhere other than the horse itself. But for every trainer taking shortcuts and ignoring the best interest of the horse, I know there are several trainers taking their time, listening when the horse says they’re ready for the next step and actually developing quality horses without over-facing them.

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Danger starting to understand self-carriage.

I hope that I am one of those trainers. I may be the turtle in this race, dragging along at a pace others find comical, while the hare zooms by trying to get to the finish line. Little does the hare know, there is no finish line and no one’s keeping score. I won’t judge my training by the number in my bank account, but rather by the health and happiness of my horses. And although it may be hard to make a living with these moral shenanigans, I know that following the money very rarely pays off for the horses in the end.