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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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Buying a Horse Part 1
Buying a Horse Part 2
Buying a Horse Mismatched
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Soft Inside Light Outside
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TRAINING Ask Properly
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Train Outside the Box
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TRUST and TRAINING
Turning and Neck Reining
Use a Dummy do not be one
Winter Training Workouts


Buying a Horse Part I - Checklist



When people search for a new horse, the first thing they often do is make a list of attributes they want in the horse, such as size, color and markings. They then try to find a horse that closely matches the list.  When searching for a trail horse, my advice is to forget the list of those attributes. You shouldn’t care what color he is, how big he is (unless he’s way too big), how small he is (unless he’s puny), or if the horse is a mare or gelding. You shouldn’t care too much if his legs aren’t perfectly straight, if his neck doesn’t come out of his withers just so or his head looks like a briefcase. If you get too hung up on what he looks like, it will cloud your judgment when it comes to evaluating his abilities. Therefore, forget his physical attributes and go straight to checking his credentials. Can he do the job?  The only way to truly determine if a particular horse is the one for you is to spend some time at home and on the trail with him. The seller should let you take him on some trail rides. If the seller won’t, then pass on the horse. Take the horse out as many times as you can and expose him to as many different situations as you can before finalizing a sale. 


Buying a Well Trained Horse or sending it for Training

Here are some of the skills a good trail horse should possess:


·         Be trained or trainable to meet the riders skill set and goals

·         Have a good mind, willing to please, calm, light and accept humans as their leader, be forgiving, be patient. A horse that is in a hurry, is antsy or won’t stand still is annoying.

·         be willing to lead, follow or go his own way, when necessary.

·         must like to travel, enjoy going to new places and seeing new country.

·         must be social and get along with other horses. A trail ride is no place for a horse that kicks, bites or generally dislikes other horses.

·         willingly go over, under or around whatever is before him.

·         never jump what he is able to step over.

·         be willing to jump what he cannot step over.

·         accept encounters with strange objects and things he has never seen before as a routine part of his job.

·         have a very low flight response. Some horses will spin and bolt at the slightest sound or sight. They act first, ask questions later, which is not a desirable characteristic of a trail horse.

·         accept flapping jackets and the rattle of plastic bags.

·         And last, but not least, you must like the horse and it must genuinely seem to like you. The two of you are going to be spending a lot of time together. It’s important that you get along with each other.


Pre Purchase Vet Check and Training Evaluation

If the horse has the above mentioned credentials, then go on to the very important pre-purchase vet exam and pre purchase training evaluation.  During the pre-purchase exam, your veterinarian will check the horse’s soundness and ability to handle the rigors of trail riding. The vet will also check for conformation faults that may hinder the horse’s abilities on trail. However, the best trail horse I ever had also had the worst conformation of any horse I’ve owned. His neck was too heavy, his back was too long and he stood like a bulldog. Most people would take one look at his crooked legs and turn away. But he turned out to be a horse whose innate skills on the trail far outweighed his poor conformation. He wasn’t built to do what he could, and yet he stayed sound for years. For this reason, I have always weighed less-than-ideal physical attributes carefully against skill and disposition. I will always take a good-minded horse with a conformation flaw over a perfectly-proportioned nut case.

And speaking of unsuitable, some horses love the great outdoors, while others are scared to death of it. If a young, inexperienced horse is insecure about going out on the trail, he will probably learn to love it over time if he is properly exposed to it and learns in the company of a seasoned trail horse. However, a mature horse that is advertised as being a good trail horse but in reality isn’t, might not ever be. Just as jumpers, reiners, cutters and dressage horses have a certain amount of natural aptitude for their discipline, so, too, do trail horses.

A good trail horse deserves the utmost respect. He should be treated like he is the king of the mountain, and in return, he will take care of you. You can’t measure having a good feeling about a horse. But if it’s there, you’ll know it. That’s how I found my perfect trail horses.  I’ve owned and trained several horse breeds and have used all of them for trail riding. While practically any breed can be successfully trained for trails, some breeds naturally lend themselves to superior trailing because of their calm dispositions, even temperament, and physical agility. For a superior trail mount, you want a horse that doesn’t spook easily and one that will go willingly and safely through brush and water, up and down hills, and across uneven or slippery terrain.

It does not take age.  I have seen many 2 year olds that would go anywhere you pointed their heads. I have worked with 3 year olds for novice riders and they are still perfect trailhorses 10 years later.  I received 2 e-mails a few months ago from people that bought horses 3-5 years ago and keep me up on their adventures. Both of those horses were 3 year olds.  Almost' any horse will make a good trail horse. Some super paranoid, exceptionally spooky horses will always need a confident rider.  I trained good trail horses out of many spoiled horses, but that takes a lot more skill and riding ability than what many people have. Obviously, the nicer the prospect and the better the attitude, the easier it is to develop a nice horse for any purpose.  I know from experience novice riders should have that kind of horse because they are 'user friendly' and 'low maintenance'. Those are inherited characteristics.  Horses with 'big motors' like TBs and race-bred QHs and high strung horses also require more rider skill, but they cover a lot of ground and are really more suitable to those wanting to do endurance and long hard rides.  If you wanted a vehicle to go fishing and hunting in and drive into the back-country, you would not buy a Corvette or a Ferrari would you?  Hot horses are fast mounts and speed make barrel horses and other timed event horses. They just require a rider with greater skill.


If you are buying a young horse untrained or a trained horse

Whether you are buying a horse or sending it for training I suggest you ensure the horse as the temperament and disposition for you!  I recommend the compliant indifferent type and this horse is one of the most challenging horses to own, train and read.  They internalize their feelings and emotions until they all boil over and then everyone knows about it.  They care a great deal about their relationship with you, even if they don’t show it.  Trust, comfort and safety are what motivate this horse. They are very sensitive but can also be bossy and aloof. If your timing is out then they can go from being super quiet to explosive in milliseconds, causing you to feel very insecure.  When they are trained and once you have the trust and a solid relationship with this horse they are truly amazing, very reliable, calm and super responsive.  Some desirable and undesirable personality traits of horses are:

 

Desirable Traits:

Agreeable,
Light on the inside
Calm on the inside & Soft Outside
Easy going & compliant
Willing to please & love to work
Disciplined,
Bonding,
Confident
Quiet,
Responsive,
Reliable,
Kind,
Tries Hard,
Gentle.

Undesirable Traits:

Insecure,
Fearful,
Unstable,
Hard to Catch,
Disconnected,
Aloof,
Evasive,
Shutdown,
Doesn’t like to Move,
Reserved,
Defensive,
Explosive,
Robotic,
Solitary,
Unreliable,
Hides at the back of the Herd.

 
Here are a few tips and 'rules' I have for training a good trail horse

Responding positively is NEVER optional. A good trail horse is nothing more than a horse that does everything that a rider asks if it is safe.  100% compliance without an argument should be the goal.

Your job (as the rider) is not to allow your horse look at everything new and decide it is OK. That is your job.  You should show him that there is nothing to be afraid of.  Your job as an 'effective' rider is to teach him that he needs to focus on YOU and ONLY YOU -- not his natural instincts.  It is your job to teach him to pay attention to his job (doing whatever you ask) and not his surroundings.  Your goal should be to teach him to focus on you, reassure him and ignore anything he 'perceives' as fearful.

When a horse starts to hesitate and starts to show fear, keep his feet moving.  Never ride straight toward something that you can go around; if a horse is afraid of a big tree stump, do not ride him straight toward it because you are just setting him up to stop and back up. Remember, you are trying to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult and setting him up to stop and back up is not doing that.  Ride past it several times while taking his attention away from the stump and keeping it on you. I like to use 'leg yielding' exercises.  I will ride past an object with his head bent away from the object and my leg pushing his shoulders and ribs toward the object.  I watch his ear that it is away from the object.  I know I have his attention and respect for my leg when that ear stays 'cocked' back toward me. I will go past the object, switch my direct rein to the one nearest the object, will reverse directions toward the object.  I never allow to him turn his tail to anything he fears and I will leg yield back past it again using my other leg to bend him toward it.  I will go back and forth again and again until he walks right on by without looking at it or veering away from it -- just goes straight on by like it isn't there.

When you have an apprehensive rider that is possibly more fearful than the horse, you cannot expect that person to project a confident 'git-er-done' bold demeanor to the horse. So, the rider has to learn how to ride past their fears, focus on a place way past where they are and ride with determination to that place. You want to concentrate on getting to a place that is far beyond the object that the horse is trying to focus on. If the rider is looking at a 'booger', you can bet that the horse is going to be looking at it, too. Many people 'spook' worse than their horse. They are looking for scary objects down the trail before their horse is. If that is part of a rider's problem, they need to learn to ride far ahead of where they actually are.

I do not spend hours trying to desensitize a horse. A lot of people find this strange.  Allow me to explain why I do not put all my faith in this exercise.  It is impossible to duplicate everything that can scare a horse. Even if you did, they would encounter this obstacle in a different place on the trail and it would be different to them anyway.  You train a horse to trust, accept you as its leader and to respond to you and you train a horse to focus on you for anything new or scary. You train a horse to go forward when you ask no matter what is in front of them one of the reasons you need good forward impulsion and you train a horse to depend solely on you.  If they do trust and accept you as the leader you will like at you to make all of the decisions and they will be happy to comply. The more you take the leadership role, the less they think and worry. That is how you train a good trail horse any horse for any discipline for that matter.

These are my top 5 picks based on years of experience

The Arabian

Having owned and trained Arabian horses and they can be wonderful if they have been trained and handled properly!  The Arabian was developed in the deserts of the Middle East. These prized animals were treated like family members by their Bedouin masters and only the most docile animals were kept for breeding purposes. Because of this long, close association with humans.  Once you gain their trust Arabians are inherently easy to train, have a deep desire to please and are extremely loyal.  They are one of the few breeds in which the U.S. Equestrian Federation allows stallions to be shown by children. The modern Arabian is one of the top ten breeds worldwide and is used for a variety of purposes, especially endurance trail riding. The breed is compact, with only 5 lumbar vertebrae instead of 6 and only 17 pairs of ribs instead of the 18 pairs found on other breeds. This translates into a strong back, and even small Arabs are capable of carrying heavy riders with ease. They have very good feet, with strong, thick hoof walls and hard hooves. Even though they have a delicate appearance, the breed has strong bone and unsurpassed hardiness.  The Arabian excels at endurance riding because of their great stamina. These horses can go for longer periods without food, water, or rest than can other breeds, a testament to their desert history. In fact, Arabians and Arabian crosses dominate endurance competitions.  Arabians make wonderful trail horses not only because of their stamina and physical makeup, but also because of their willing nature.  They are especially alert to their surroundings and to cues from their rider.  Though some Arabians are high spirited, many are calm, making perfect mounts for beginners.  Additionally, there are many misconceptions of the Arabian horse. Many people think because Arabs are light boned and small they cannot “hold up” to the rigors of jumping. Do not be fooled: Arabians are very tough and generally very sound. Just like every other horse breed, conformation signifies soundness problems way in advance. Moreover, conformation “defects” of a particular horse are simply a product of poor breeding, not, in the Arabian’s case, a poor breed.  Another Arab misconception is their temperament is said to always lean towards spastic or hot. Certainly, Arab horses can be “spastic”, “spooky”, and “hot-blooded”, but I’ve met an equal amount of Arabians that were also quiet, calm, and very “dead broke”.  Arabians do seem to be more sensitive to their surroundings, and that also means their experiences. Unlike most other horse, Arabs generally can hold grudges against (bad) people and experiences particularly dominating trainers & riders!

If we generalize the strong points of Arabians, I would break it down like this.

·         Great Feet

·         Incredible Endurance

·         Incredible Stamina

·         Longevity

·         Above Average Soundness

·         Easy Keepers

The Appaloosa

The Appaloosa seems made specifically for trail riding. It has a strong, compact body and tough hooves. Characteristically, many Apps have front legs that turn in slightly, giving them a better foothold for gaining traction on steep hills. Appaloosas that haven’t been cross bred with other breeds like Quarter Horses also usually have thin tails that are not easily matted with briars and burrs, another plus for trail riding.  In addition, most Appys are calm and willing. They’re intelligent animals and easy to train. A well trained Appy that trusts its rider will go anywhere it’s asked to go. And as an added bonus, these horses come in a wide variety of coat patterns and colors.

 

The Quarter Horse

Quarter Horses make excellent trail mounts for several reasons. Their calm, easy going temperaments are legendary. They’re often selected as a first horse for children and for novice adults. Quarter Horses are powerfully built, with dense hind quarters that enable them to climb steep inclines with ease. They have tough hooves, resilient enough to withstand rocks and other hard surfaces.  Probably the most endearing quality of the Quarter Horse is its sweet disposition. It’s can be one of the easiest to train of all the breeds and it is not easily spooked, a definite requirement for trail riding. This is a versatile breed that will excel in any discipline if properly trained.

The Tennessee Walking Horse

For riders who want to combine comfort with trail riding, the Tennessee Walker is hard to beat. Their smooth, easy gait won’t wear out your bottom on long rides. Sitting a good Walker is like being in a rocking chair! The Tennessee Walker’s Cadillac ride isn’t the only reason they make good trail horses, however. They originated in the mountainous area of Tennessee and were bred for their ability to navigate hilly terrain and to comfortably carry plantation owners around their large estates. Their smooth running walk covers a lot of ground quickly.  The Walker is one of the most elegant-looking breeds, but don’t let the beauty fool you. Beneath this flashy facade is a tough, hardy animal with plenty of stamina for challenging trails and hard hooves that will hold up to the demands of trail riding. Their short backs and strong coupling give them added strength. They also have wonderful temperaments and are easy to train. Their naturally docile nature makes them a top breed for beginners.  

 

The Thoroughbred

This breed is often overlooked as a trail horse, largely due to its reputation of being nervous and high strung.  From my experience, however, a well trained Thoroughbred or a Thoroughbred cross makes an excellent companion for the trail, especially an older, more settled animal.  Thoroughbreds were developed in the 17th century by crossing English mares with 3 Arabian stallions. The breed was used for racing and fox hunting and still excels today in these areas, as well as in dressage, timed events, and jumping competitions.  Thoroughbreds are amazingly agile and athletic. Their small hooves enable them to maneuver and pick their way through difficult ground. Most importantly, the breed has what’s referred to as “heart.” In other words, a Thoroughbred will often tackle obstacles without balking or shying away. There’s an old saying about this quality: “The Thoroughbred throws his heart over a fence first; then his body follows.” This attribute is invaluable on especially difficult trails. A Thoroughbred will often go where other breeds fear to tread.  Thoroughbreds are prized mounts for steeple chasing, which requires the horses to navigate hills, water hazards, and difficult jumps, so trail riding Thoroughbreds makes perfect sense. The breed uses these same capabilities for trails, just at a much slower pace.