Monday, August 10, 2015

Have you seen our lost dog Freddie?

This has nothing to do with horses, but it has been a learning experience I do not wish on any animal owner.  We have lost our family dog Freddie.  He went missing off his ranch home February 11th and we have been consumed with trying to find him.  No, he was not wearing his collars or id tags...they were removed while fixing fence so he, his brother and sister would not get tangled up.  His mom (my niece) turned around and only Freddie was gone.  It has been a nightmare since then and a painful learning experience in the process.  I had no idea the lost animal problem was so huge.

There are many great organizations that help with information on what to do and many Internet services we faithfully monitor daily in our search.  Where we once thought micro-chipping was a risk...we now feel it is another tool in the box to help bring a lost dog home.  Hindsight is painful; but hopefully, we can remind another pet owner to chip their pet and increase the chance of them coming home IF the finder follows the law and does the right thing by trying to reunite a found pet with it's owner.  I can't believe the mentality we have encountered by some who think a collarless dog is a stray dog with no one searching for them.  Finders keepers, and the pet is theirs to give away, sell ,or keep.  My own dog regularly loses his collar on our ranch going through brush.

Facebook is loaded with local lost and found pet groups who network to get lost dogs back home with much success.  Freddie has his own Facebook page that chronicles our search and helps others identify him or where he has been sighted last.  Please visit Finding Freddie to follow and help in the search.

We created a You tube video about our dog Freddie and hope you will watch it and remember him....who knows where the connection will be made that brings our dog home.  Will it be you?  Have you seen our dog Freddie?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Greetings

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Value of a Complete Training Foundation

Having friends in the just completed 2014 Single Horse World Driving Championship in Izsak, Hungary, I followed the United States Team members closely through the FEI  and DrivingNews USA Internet sites.  Facebook kept me in touch with the personal stories by the players and fans.  I spent some sleepless nights over the last 3 days so I could have up to the minute results as they unfolded 9 hours ahead of my time zone.  It was an exciting weekend for this (now retired) armchair competitor.

What I want to talk about is not the results so much, but of an incident that happened that could have been disastrous if the simple step of foundation training had not been put in place and reinforced throughout this horse's career.  Here is what happened.  Our top ranking USA team member, Leslie Berndl of Newcastle, California was in fine position after the first phase of Dressage.  She had the 12th best test out of 77 competitors from 18 different countries in the world.  Dressage is her strong suit and she delivered a good one for the USA team.

Our three team members (Jacob Arnold, Donna Crookston and Leslie) were looking forward to a great marathon.  As luck would have it, the bit in Leslie's horse Travis broke in the second hazard while they were at full speed.  The bit fell out of Travis's mouth and Leslie acted with a verbal command to halt.  That big, on the muscle horse, came to a dead stop for her and stood.  He had been asked, and even though he was in the "heat" of the moment, he stood and waited.  It was no accident (literally) he stood.  He was trained to halt on command no matter what.  Everyone should want that in their driving horse.

Since there was no way to repair, they had to retire from their competition at that point.  Here is the point of my post:  I wonder how many carriage drivers make sure that important part of the training of the carriage driving horse is in place? When things go wrong with a horse pulling a carriage, it is very dangerous with the weight and bulk of the carriage, putting people on board, and people all around at risk of injury or death (not to mention the horse).

Understandably, Leslie is sorely disappointed at what happened after so many months of hard work and training for this biennial world championship.  Because she and her horse Travis have this wonderful relationship and complete trust in one another, she will rise to compete again with this great horse...because he listened to her, stopped on her verbal command alone, and stood.  It could have been career ending for both or worse.  That is great horsemanship.
Leslie driving Travis through a water hazard

As a final note...failure of equipment can happen even in the most quality made equipment, so I think the best form of insurance to protect one's huge investment in this sport (or any equine endeavor) is to train the horse to have the kind of foundation that ensures trust between horse/rider/driver so when something goes wrong...the horse does not question, but does what is asked.

There is a public video of the incident and when I figure out how to link to it, I will add to this post.  I will also follow with a draft I have been working on for awhile that this incident is related to:  "The Risk of Do it Yourself Horse Training"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

JMF Anna Beam Gone to Glory!

JMF Anna Beam with Tom Simmons at Gilroy CDE

  Last week, one of my favorite mares crossed into glory aided by her lifetime owner and trainer Tom Simmons.  She was a rare and unique mare that gave me one of my most thrilling moments in driving horses in sport. 

  It was at the last Myopia Combined Driving Event in 2000; and as far as I know, it was the last 5 phase CDE ever done in America.  After a run of 25 years, Myopia Driving Event, held at Groton House Farm, Hamilton, MA. was host to the AHSA (now USEF) National Pony Championships.  My Morgan horse, Lance was entered but had cut his fetlock two weeks before the event and could not compete.  My trainer suggested I use his Morgan mare Anna Beam who was no stranger to Combined Driving under Tom's direction.  At the time, Anna had been retired and became one of Tom's best broodmares.  She may have been a broodmare but she kept condition by putting on what we called "The Anna Show".  Tom would open the farm gates regularly just to have her trot by us at full speed for her joy of life and our thrill to watch it.  

  Once a Morgan horse has been conditioned over the years, it does not take long to bring them back into peak performance mode, and she was no exception.   She always had that special something that Morgan mares have that make them so desirable for sport.  Anna had willingness and ambition enough to rise above and beyond what was asked of her.  One has to be careful in the initial training of ambitious mares so as not to wake up the "sleeping genie" of speed performance, or it will be a lifelong trial to try and put the genie back in the bottle.  It is always need to make it a habit! 

   What had attracted Tom about her as a baby was her special quality of being able to trot like the Currier and Ives images of trotting horses.  The artists depicted what they saw with no exaggeration and it was real enough in Miss Anna Beam.  Tom couldn't resist allowing this mare to express her full brilliance and beauty of motion.  Her trot was so true that it had a special sound that still resonates in my head as I think of that day in the Fast Trot C Section of that event in 2000.  

Anna Beam being driven by Tom Simmons with daughter Renee Simmons navigating at Yellowframe Farm CDE in Southern Pines, North Carolina

  The total length of the marathon was just over 17 kilometers and the fast trot C section was 4.2 kilometers at 16KPH.  It felt exhilarating even as I was holding her back a bit until my husband/navigator told me we had met the minimum time allowed.  I let her go over that last stretch before the finish line and here came that memorable moment forever etched in my mind.  The sound she made with her hooves hitting the ground was unlike anything I have ever heard before.  It sounded like perfectly timed footfalls that struck the ground with a "phump" sound.  The crowds lining the course all stopped to watch this trotting machine fly by with their jaws dropped open.  I could barely see the finish through my watering eyes from the speed.  Tom has always said Anna is a Standardbred trapped in a Morgan body.  Tom never thought Anna was a great beauty but here he was wrong.  She had the great beauty of being a noble creature who was allowed to be who she was, and show what was in her to give.  At Myopia, more than one person came up to me to tell me she was the most beautiful horse they had seen.  Beauty is as beauty does!    

A year or so ago, I was talking with Jodi Cutler who was one of the judges.  She does not remember my dressage, done at a road trot, where I circled the arena prior to entering and almost took out the judges stand.  I remember seeing Jodi and Sydney Smith of Great Britain, standing up and stepping back as I flew by.  A seven minute test done in half the time.  Not very admirable in dressage, but awesome in marathon and cones.  Anna drove in those phases like a cat and snaked her way through the seven hazards at my mental direction.  She was thrilling to say the least.

We finished the event successfully even though we were just out of the ribbons.  The vets found her in good condition. I really want to thank Tom Simmons for giving me the opportunity to experience Anna in Combined Driving and in my life with horses.  

Me driving Anna Beam at Southern Pines

Anna Beam has gone back to where ever she came from; but her memory, along with her sons and daughters still grace this earth.  

I salute you Anna ... you will live forever in my mind and heart.  A grand old mare!

an additional note:
Looking at her pedigree, I see that back in 1918 there WAS a Standardbred, Pluto Watts, in Anna's lineage. He was a decendant of Hambletonian who was a decendant of the Thoroughbred, Messenger. So you see...speed was in her blood. What a mare!

Anna's son LH Harlan County 5 yr. old gelding

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders

Last week I read a great blog post written by Nancy Kotting entitled The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders.  I requested and got her permission to reprint here on my blog so I could share with you her wise words that apply to anyone wanting to be really good with their horses in whatever discipline they seek to do well.  Thank you Ms. Kotting...  N. Rojo

Ms. Kotting writes:

Over the years working a never-ending multitude of horses, great Dressage riders develop habits, ways of achieving consistently high performance and excellence in the daily work. These are not training how-tos but rather personal habits adopted by riders to set themselves up for success every day. While there are endless training pearls-of-wisdom the Masters kindly pass on, it is inevitably up to the student, through endless hours of practice, to confirm the path to success. There is no sport, nor art form more difficult than what we attempt every day as practitioners of Classical Horsemanship. None. It is up to us to support one another in this endeavor, giving and sharing what works and what doesn’t.
Below is my list of ten habits of highly effective Dressage riders. It is my hope that you find them helpful in your daily practice.
Good Luck and ride well-
Nancy Kotting

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders

1: An effective Dressage rider looks upon each failure as a ladder rung: step on it and lift yourself up.

Great riders know that failure is a constant on the road to success and they train themselves to use it in their favor. Failure provides us with critical information which we then use to improve our work. Embrace it. Welcome it. Study it and learn its lesson. Each time you fail, be thankful for the information, put it behind you, raise yourself up to the next ladder rung and try again. Failure is not the end, it is the beginning.

Photo: Nancy Kotting
Photo: Nancy Kotting

2: An effective Dressage rider leaves their personal issues on the ground, approaching each ride emotionally neutral.

What is energetically in us, goes into the horse. If you carry your emotional refuse into the ride, ie; bad day at work, family problems, etc., it will inevitably effect performance. Be very careful what you put in as horses are like computers, if you write bad code, you will have to rewrite it at some point. Learn to neutralize your emotions BEFORE you get on the horse. This will give both of you an opportunity to begin the ride clean.

3: Effective Dressage riders make themselves the calm baseline that their equine partner can rely upon at all times.

The psychology of the horse requires a partner willing to assume a leadership position.  This assumption of the leadership position by the rider in the partnership translates to the horse via the language of the body in all circumstances, all scenarios. A rider who remains mentally AND physically steady when the horse experiences confusion, fear and perhaps resulting chaos, will very quickly gain trust, confidence and devotion to the work from their equine partner. A skilled rider quickly proves his or her leadership ability to a new horse, who then, greatly relieved in such capable hands, will confidently trust his rider and attempt to work with and not against. Trust is earned not given; work to deserve it from the horse.

4: An effective Dressage rider owns their personal space both on and off the horse.

Closely related yet different from habit #3, maintaining ones space communicates leadership. A dominant stallion does not mosey into a herd head down, tail low, back soft.  Oh no, he is up on his toes, tail flagged, every muscle pumped full announcing his arrival…his presence is known. His body language virtually screams ‘follow me!’ This type of presence must also subtly be in a riders body language when working both on the horse and off. Our equine partners rely on us to lead them and we communicate our worthiness of this responsibility with our body language, with the feeling of resolve within our bodies. Effective riders maintain exemplary posture both on and off a horse, we carry ourselves, we own our space with a steely intention, communicating our empathetic power and ability to lead to those who rely on us: our equine partner.

5: An effective  Dressage rider has trained their ‘inner voice’ to be either positive or constructively negative, never defeating.

An effective Dressage rider approaches the ride with a sense of wonder: what will the ride bring? What is the legacy of yesterday’s work? Will it be fair to push the horse just a bit more today?  Problems, resistances that arise are addressed constructively, not reacted to emotionally. It is the supportive ‘inner voice’ of the rider that keeps the ride ‘on the rails’ and productive, ending always on a positive in preparation for continued success in the next ride. It is the burden of the rider to maintain an emotional ‘thru-line’ that directs the ride steadily toward completion.

6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.

The work is a continuum, each ride building upon the last. There are no short cuts. You cannot buy it, you have to make it with consistent, correct work, realizing nobody can do it for you. The amount of success you have as a rider is directly related to the amount of effort you put into it. Rome was not built in a day and neither is a Grand Prix rider/trainer, nor a Grand Prix horse. Get up, dress up, show up and put in another day’s work. Then do it again, and again and…again.  The river of trying never stops flowing.

7: An effective Dressage rider has the courage to be creative in their problem solving, the courage to go beyond the text-book and think independently.

An effective Dressage rider innately understands that every horse is different. Every rider is different. Every moment is a new moment, a new opportunity to create quality.
                               The Training Scale

An effective Dressage rider has the courage to experiment and try something different in approaching the problem, all the while adhering to the core premise of the Training Scale, placing the mental and physical well-being of their equine partner first and foremost.

8: An effective Dressage rider knows they must be an athlete in their own right before they can expect their equine partner to be one.

The foundation of the Training Scale is the rider’s seat. Every rider strives to be in control and command of their physical being, able to independently apply the aids effectively in both calmness and chaos.  A Dressage rider uses every single muscle known to man, and then some!  It is imperative that we cross-train, building our own strength, endurance and dexterity away from the horse. Cross-training keeps the muscles ‘fresh’ ie; not locked into the sole muscle memory of the ride itself but rather neutral, able to break old ‘muscle memory’ response patterns easily if required. Poorly trained horses effect the muscle memory of the rider just as poor riding effects the muscle memory of the horse. Cross-training assists the rider in both developing athleticism and neutralizing undesirable muscle memory.

9: An effective Dressage rider knows there is only one direction to go: forward!

Horses are built to move, they are born to move and most love to move. Effective riders know how to use this base instinct in the horse as a key ingredient in the work each and every day, much like flour to a baker. As it is in life, so it is in Dressage: if all else fails, GO FORWARD! In this way, an effective rider creates a fresh moment, a fresh opportunity to try again toward understanding and success.

10: An effective Dressage rider works for their horse, not vice versa.

Great riders do what they do for the sake of the horse… and nothing else. ‘Dressage’ encompasses all that we do from the moment we rise in the morning and enter the stable aisle to the final night check at the end of the day. Highly effective riders know they must stay close to their horses each and every day in order to build the intimacy required for the Grand Prix. They know their partner’s moods, their idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes. The transition from the aisle to the school is best seamless: true partners from the stall to the aisle to the schooling arena to the show ring and home again.
Remember, Dressage is an art form in motion, therefore it only survives as such when practiced correctly on a daily basis by both Master and student, through the grace of correctly trained horses. Strive to develop good habits, for the sake of the sport, for the sake of the horse and for your own future as an accomplished rider.
Written with gratitude to ‘the trainer’s trainer’, Michael Poulin.

© 2013 Nancy Kotting   All Rights Reserved   Reproduction by Permission Only 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

If the front door is closed, come through the back

We had a Tom Simmons horsemanship clinic at the ranch in June.  Being host caused me to miss most of the action.  I did get to see an excellent example of how horse training is "A thinking man's game".  Tom says that quote but it applies to anyone and every situation in life as well. A change in the horse's thinking has to be made and this is where thinking about how to go about it comes into play. 

A horse was brought to the clinic to get Tom's help changing the horse's mind about not wanting to go through water while being ridden.  This applies to driving as well as the concept is the same.  Yes, it is about establishing leadership and confidence in the horse's mind; but sometimes, you just need a horse trainer to get it done.

Previously, this horse had won many attempts to get it through the water to no avail.  The owner does trail riding primarily with this horse but also drives the horse as well.  Tom spent a short time in the round pen to gain the horse's respect as a leader, then took it out into the open arena on long lines to convince the horse to change it's opinion of going into water.

The water element in these photos is hard to see but it is 3 feet deep, 10 feet long and about 5 feet wide.  It is up against the granite wall but there is a 4 foot bank between the wall and the pool of water.  I'd like you to notice Tom's body language that shows how he allows the horse to make the decision to change himself with no forcing involved.  He guides direction with the long-lines and then allows the horse to make the decision.  It takes as long as the horse requires to give up previous resistance, affect a change of mind, and then comply with the request.  Tom persists and tries another tack to give the horse a new option by backing him into the water.  I'll let the photos and body language tell the story of giving up the resistance. 

asking to go right
keep it going forward

knocking on the front door

no answer

how about another option?

let's try going in the back door...

the battle is half won

well...what have you learned?

"ok...let me smell it"

here we go...

"ok...I can do this from now on"

Tom has to make haste or he'll go in the water too!

I recently came across the owner and asked how the horse was doing at crossing water after the clinic.  Great!  All it took was someone with a lot of experience reading how a horse thinks and having the judgement to present a situation in the right way to the horse to overcome a previous problem.

Sometimes you just need a great horse trainer...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Be the Captain of your Ship

 There is an attitude that every horse owner should attain before walking to the barn to greet their horse for whatever is planned for the day.  Like clothing, this attitude is the uniform that the horse will see every time.  It is calm, quiet, slow moving, consistent for every contact with the horse whether it be feeding time, training, pleasure time or competition. 

Stack the cards in your favor, every single time, so you will succeed.  This may not be the most fun part of working with a horse, but it is the most important part to insure safety for all. It is necessary every single time so that the fun part will be there for you when you have built the confidence for yourself and the horse has the same confidence in you.  Whether it be for riding or driving, this holds true for all equines, minis, mules etc. 

Ask your trainer or mentor for a protocol for each and every drive you make.  Go through that exact same routine every time.  You will know what to do and so will your horse.  I would not ride or drive with others until you can keep to your protocol even in the presence of others.   Stick to organized activities and lessons for as long as it takes to gain the confidence and skill to know how to react, better yet, avoid situations that can put an abrupt end to the sport you are pursuing.  It is work, costs a bundle in lessons, equipment and commitment....but, it can pay off wonderfully in a lifetime of accomplishment and pleasure.

You must be the Captain of your Ship.

Protocol is a definite set of rules or actions that one performs to insure a safe ride or drive.  It is understood by you and the horse.  If one step is missed, you are courting disaster.  Think of it as a "pre-flight check list" that a pilot does each and every time they take the plane out to fly.  There is a definite protocol to be followed by the law and by common sense.  In driving, protocol is the routine....Routine.  I can't stress how important it is especially for a new driver or an inexperienced horse.

Sometimes people think I am distant and not too friendly in public.  What is really happening is I am focused and following my routine to make sure my horse and I will have a safe and successful drive.  I try to analyze and make decisions about everything right down to who I choose to drive my horse near if I am in a group.  There is a reason I do everything I do with a horse because not only is my life at stake...but my horse and the people and animals around me.  Driving is serious business and can be great fun, but it is serious business and one must treat it as such.

It is good to take lessons from trainers.  Learn what their protocol or routine is for every drive.  Then here comes the thinking part of it for have to think and assess if it is correct for your situation and act accordingly.  If you have questions, ask your trainer but try and think for yourself.  You can't lean on trainers for ever.  You must try and gain the ability to assess situations for yourself and make decisions that will be best for you.  You know yourself better than anyone and by doing what is best for you, you are taking responsibility for you and your horse and being the "Captain of your Ship".

Things to consider are:

  • How often do you drive your horse and what do you need to do to prepare him for work?  If he has been out to pasture all winter, bring him back to the barn for a few days to get into "work mode" and re-establish your routine.  Remember how it is going back to work after vacation? can take a little time to get back into the groove...aka:  routine.   Get your equipment out and ready to use (don't do like I sometimes do and remember my sunglasses after I am hooked).  Think ahead to avoid having to leave the horse unattended or at risk of moving before giving the "go ahead" command. 

  • Groom what is only necessary to insure no dirt under harness parts.  In other words, don't spend an hour aggravating a horse getting him spotless before you go out and get him dirty.  Do the bulk of your grooming after work.  His coat is warm and releases hair, dirt and sweat more readily after work.

Teach horse to stand while harnessing and hooking.
  • Harness efficiently and exactly in the same way every time.  Never hurry and expect the horse to stand and wait until you ask for movement.  You don't see the passengers telling the captain to hurry up and cast off.  It is the captain's decision...every time. 

  • Lead the horse to the vehicle in the same way every time.  I lead by the reins near the bit and make a big circle to the left and stop in front of the carriage.  If at home, hook him in the same place every time.

Take your time and your horse will expect to wait.

The captain directs the helper every step of the way.
  • Make your actions exactly the same each time...your horse has a computer for a brain and wants routine.  He wants to be assured of what is coming next.  It is a secure  feeling for him.  It is like having a job description where one knows what is expected.  

  •  When hooking, do it yourself and don't let people stampede you into doing things differently or their way  (unless you are working on what is correct with your trainer or mentor).  If you need help, direct the person to take your orders and stress the importance of doing things your way.

  • Be careful of having headers for your horse.  Some people can bring their nervous energy to you horse's head and make your horse nervous.  They grab and hang on when they shouldn't, or do nothing when they should.  Just be careful and explicit in your directions if you have help.  Stress calm and quiet.

First time hooking keeping it short and simple.
  • Keep your initial drives short, purposeful and direct your horse every step of the way.  Don't "showboat" like the captain of the Costa Concordia or deviate from your plans. 

  • Keep working with a trainer or mentor and employ your own brain in the decision making process.  Just don't take orders.  Start taking command and know why you are doing what you are doing.  

  • Training (every time one touches a horse, they are training or UN-training) is a serious business.  I continue to learn from the best.  What is taught is so simple, yet so hard to achieve.  Simplicity is the challenge. 

I am still on my learning journey.  All I can do is give you something to think about.  It is your journey and your responsibility...wear it confidently like a uniform.

             Assume command of your ship! 

Driving my favorite ship "Lance"   photo by  grandson  Caleb Ott