A Rescue Horse Named Luke

I have a friend that has REALLY been wanting a horse for a long time. They finally live on a nice little place with good grass and good fences. She always tries to get her dogs from rescue organizations, and this is where she began looking for her horse. She would text me questions like “how big is 15 hands” and “what does green broke mean”. And I happily answered them all because it made me sound really smart. Horses I know. After many days of this she finally finds a rescue about 30 miles away in Egan, TX that has several for us to go and check out. (We went first and just met Angela that runs the place, and she told us about each of the horses.) We like what we saw, so we decided to come back and ride another day.

Because I’m the “expert” as my friend calls (I really got my bluff in on her), I am going to check out and ride each horse to determine if it is safe for my her and her family. I load up my saddle and a few bridles, pull on my riding boots, and off we go. We usually have our two youngest boys with us at least-ages 3&4, and today was no exception.

The first horse I wanted to ride was a 10 yr-old, very thin, long haired sorrel named Troy. He had good strong bones, was a great age, and though he wasn’t the prettiest, he had a great temperament. Angela said his only problem, and it’s a big one, is that he’s barn sour.

She wasn’t kidding. He wasn’t too hard to catch in the pasture, and he was very quiet to saddle and bridle. I pulled his left rein around and he wasn’t the softest horse, but he knew what to do. I tightened my cinch just tight enough to be safe, but not too tight so he could be comfortable. We went for a ride and all was well-until about a hundred yards from the barn and he just wouldn’t go any further. I’m sure with spurs and some hard kicks he may have went, but that’s not how I roll. Instead, I turned him around which he happily did, and we continued-backwards. Once we passed the point where he stopped, we turned around and continued on our way. Every time he stopped and turned around I would allow him, and them we would continue the way I wanted to go, backwards. Ol Troy was pretty quick to learn that there was an easy way and a hard way to do this. Neither way was causing him and harm or stress. But he finally gave in and walked the trail forward. There wasn’t a trail for real, just the one I had pictured in my moms so that I knew exactly where I wanted to go. There was a huge puddle of water he crossed just fine. I decided he was going to be a lot of work for my friend, but he wasn’t written off, yet. I had noticed his gums were bigger than his teeth, so we left Troy for Angela to have the vet check him.

I pulled up another horse named Rowdy. His story was that he was a trained barrel horse. He was in much better health than some of the others, had a good coat, feet, and teeth. I was excited to try him out. Well, as anyone in the horse world knows, anyone can call their horse anything. He saddled okay, took a bit okay, but it was obvious he hadn’t done much more than that. When I pulled his head to the left he would not give to it at all. Same on the right. Well, a stop is a left and right turn at the same time. If he doesn’t have that, he isn’t going to stop. I opted not to ride this horse. We decided to travel down the road to check out a little Arab named Luke.

Luke was perfect! He was willing to go anywhere! He had so much training on him that I could not believe that he was a rescue. The only pictures we had seen before we met him was of him as a skinny little thing. Not the case anymore-he was fat and sassy. I just loved Luke and new he was going to work out. We were told he didn’t load, so we returned another day with no tile frame so that I could take as long as necessary to load him.

It took me about an hour and a half. In the beginning he wouldn’t even walk up to the trailer, but he was okay if we circled around to it. Whatever. If this was his comfort zone, we would start there. After some time there became a difference between him being uncomfortable with the trailer, and him acting up a little bit and getting a little aggressive toward me. I assume that in the past this kept him from having to load. Well, on this day he met patient, persistent, consistent, and self-controlled Mandy. That’s me. I even lifted his foot up for him to show him how high it was. I had my friend help Le keep him in line with the trailer by making sort of big motion when he true to back to the side or away. We had a little whip, but only to tap the ground with, and only for her to use as an extension of her hand. We didnt know this horse and wanted my inexperienced friend a little distance away just in case. Anyway, suddenly Luke decided all was okay and loaded his front end. I backed him out. He really liked jogging so I would jog him around. Kind of funny, but it was on opus he enjoyed that, so that becme his reward. Shortly after I had him loading and unloading with no problem.

Our test came after he had been in the trailer for 3 hours and then had to get a shot at the vet as well as an inspection. After all that he loaded right back in the trailer with no hesitation!! I’m the greater horse trainer in the world!!! Lol, just kidding, that’s just something I have always yelled after I taught a horse to do something and it worked. I’m humble like that. 🙂

I wish I could say that Luke has found his forever home, but that is not how this story ends. The vet asked if Je was a cribber. We said we didn’t think so. And he said we would know soon enough. Sure enough, once Luke got settled, he was a cribber. You can learn more here. We will never know for sure, but his poor health when he arrived at the rescue could be from cribbing, or cribbing could be result of his poor health. Whatever the cause, he was healthy now, but his future was too unknown, and he was the worst cribber I have ever witnessed first hand. Wood fence while I saddled him, metal posts as soon as you turned him loose. So sad. Even though my friend thought she could get past this addiction, the truth was that he was just too athletic for her and always wanted to go faster. Her saddle also didnt fit him well and she considered getting a new one for him, but the truth is there are sonny horses out there that she is going to try another. Also, Luke is VERY spoiled at his foster home and they cried to see him go and were so happy to hear of his return! He’s just a big pet there on a large acreage ranch with Jenny’s and Henny’s and donkeys and mules and goats and dogs. It’s like something out of a James Herriott novel!

Tomorrow we return Luke and she has decided she is going to foster Troy for a while. He’s more her speed and the saddle should fit. She can at least give him the extra care and riding and nutrition he needs. I will keep you posted.

The pictures are from me training Luke how to load.

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Mark Rashid Horse Clinic

I’m a believer in God’s perfect timing. If God doesn’t set up the divine appointment, I believe that he can use an appointment for His purpose. Either way, I know that when something is good, it’s of God-and that’s how I felt about attending the Mark Rashid clinic.

In the summer of 1995, I met Mark and had no idea that he would be one of the top 5 influential people in my life. I had left Texas and my family behind. I had a new Ford pickup, a two horse trailer-both black-and my first horse, Mitzi, in tow. We pulled into the most beautiful place I had ever lived-Wind River Ranch in Estes Park, CO. I was young and cocky and for the first time in my life-FREE. My first dream was coming true-I was going to be a wrangler on a guest ranch in the Rocky Mountains. It’s funny to me now that that was my biggest dream. I learned to dream bigger, especially after your first dream is realized. It was here that I learned who I was, and was introduced to the mustang horse. I had the privilege of learning how to train horses, and I learned first on a little mustang named Pecos. Together, with Mark’s lead, the three of us would end up featured in The Western Horse magazine for training the wild mustang for many issues.

So here I was, 17 years later, entered into the largest Mustang competition in history, the Mustang Million being held 40 miles from my current home in Glen Rose, TX. It had been 12 years since I had worked with Mark and I was excited to see my old friend. I made the 3 1/2 hour drive to Bryan, TX.

I cannot express how wonderful it was to reconnect with Mark, so I’ll talk about what I learned. Well, I’ll be talking more about what I learned and how I practiced, and applied it to my life and training horses throughout this blog.

Something that stood out was a man on a very well trained reining horse. The horse was going through the motions, and responding pretty well, but he really didn’t seem to be enjoying what he was doing. He pounded the ground when he loped, he trotted too fast, he bobbed his head when he stopped ans on and on. Mark worked with the man for a few days and the change was amazing! Mark told the guy that there is a difference between a horse that knows the mechanics and gets the job done, and a horse that is responding to a rider who is helping him. Example: this horse knew how to walk, trot, and lope. He knew how to catch a lead though one side was a little sticky. But the rider was using big cues and making the horse do what he wanted. When he wanted to go faster, there was lots of leg and kisses. When he wanted to slow down, the man would sit back an pull on the reins. Sounds right to me! So here was a difference-after working on his intention with the horse, by thinking about what he wanted the horse to do BEFORE he did it, his body and energy was already cuing the horse before the mechanics were needed-the legs, kisses and pulling of the reins.

The transformation I witnessed over the next few days was so exciting for me! This horse began to become softer in the poll. When he loped, he stopped pounding the ground and started to lightly canter atop it. When the rider started riding with intention, he would start thinking about stopping and the horse would surprise the rider and come to a stop! The rider would laugh and say how he was caught off guard and was actually thinking about stopping but wasn’t sure where he was gonna ask in the pen (but his body and mind had already communicated to the horse before his brain could make up its mind.)

What this means for me: imagine the difference in taking a wild horse who has yet had any reason to mistrust a human, and in a silent language teach him how to work with me. Instead of me forcing him into submission. What an amazing relationship I will have by entering a corral, leading my horse, riding him, and going over obstacles-with intention. With a purpose. There was so much more I learned at this clinic, but this was my biggest take home. I am to know what I want from the horse before I ever ask-and then figure out a way to help him understand and do it correctly. When you watch a horse in the pasture, they already know how to catch different leads, do flying lead changes, go over and around obstacles, move sideways, forwards and backwards. It’s up to US to figure out how to get them to do that in sync with us.

I just sold a horse this weekend and told the girl “He knows how to do all the leads and flying lead changes-you just have to figure out how to get out of his way and let him do it. Figure out a cue that makes sense to him, think about what you want before you get there and he’ll do it.” While I was saying that, I was in a 60′ round pen on the left lead in that tight circle and he did a flying lead change in that arch and back to the correct lead again! It was so cool!!

I told Mark that he should advertise as “People clinics” instead of “Horse clinics” because we are the ones that come in and screw it all up!

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I’ve Never Been a Clinic Person, but…

No, really-I’ve never been a clinic person. I went to one clinic in high school and I was 15. I was also the least experienced horse person with the least experienced horse. Both of us had about 60 days horse/person experience! We were basically pushed to the side and forgotten about. If I asked a question I was talked down to as if I didn’t belong. So, as far as I was concerned, I didn’t belong at any clinic. For the next 22 years I would not attend another.

Now, when I was 18, and worked on the guest ranch in Estes Park, CO, I would assist in hosting mini horse training clinics for the guests. I was working for Mark Rashid, and we were training mustangs. I remember one day thinking “I am living the ultimate dream. Now what do I do. I got to dream bigger!” Little did I know that this would come full circle to the Mustang Million.

Back on track to what I mentioned previously now that I was training again-something was missing. I knew I had the know how and experience, but something wasn’t right on the inside. The whole reason for the name of this blog-A Renewed Heart…-is because in the time away from training horses to have babies, I got to know God and his son, Jesus. I changed my life and started living for Christ, and no longer lived for myself or the world. This doesn’t mean I became perfect. It does mean that instead of trying to train horses for my glory and fame (which never did happen though I ran a successful horse training business for a while), I would train and hope in doing so I would somehow glorify God.

So, I can honestly say that I felt like I was being led by my God to attend my ol’ friend, Mark’s clinic in Bryan, TX.

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This is Mark and I on the last day of the clinic. Next time, I’ll tell you what I learned.

Days 2&3

Getting back in the saddle of horse training (bad pun intended), I continued working with Joe. I saddled him with a full sized adult saddle, without incident-meaning he didn’t buck, bolt, or jump. I also got him used to a plastic baggy all over his body. I attempted to get into the saddle, but he was really scared about this. Knowing that I have forgotten all my groundwork strategies, I backed off. It had been raining, and I was having a hard time keeping traction in the stirrup so that I could step up and get Joe accustomed to this simple motion anyway. I ground drive him with a halter and long ropes and he did very well. Again, very willing with no incidents.

I had placed a tarp in the round pen the day before the rain so that Joe could get used to something new on his own. On this day, it had water standing in it as well. As far as horses go, he was or was not going to cross that tarp regardless of the water. Because he had never seen one, he didn’t know the difference. So, I sent him around the round pen and eventually he jumped it, then stepped on it, then had no problem running over it.

People think that things you do from the ground, transfer to the saddle, and it isn’t always true. Similar in case here is that he would cross without a halter, but it was different when I asked him to follow me across.

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It didn’t take long, and eventually he followed me across as well.

I still was not feeling like I was doing something right. At this point, I felt like I was getting the horse to do what I wanted-but the horse was only doing it so that I, the predator, wouldn’t eat him! Something was missing and I was on a journey to figure out what was going on with me, and fast.

I have been keeping up with my old friend, Mark Rashid for years. He was the foreman, my boss, at a dude ranch in Estes Park, CO. He left the ranch a year or two after I did. We lost touch for a while as this was before everyone had a cell phone and Facebook. I went to equine college, and eventually moved back to Texas. I was married and had my two boys. Mark started a new family as well, and began traveling all over the world performing horse clinics. He also began to master the Martial Art of Aikido.

When I was browsing through Facebook one day I saw that Mark was coming to Texas, and it was time to reunite with my friend. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had expectations anyway. There is a song called House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert. I felt like seeing Mark again and attending his clinic would be like getting back to my roots and the house that built me in horse training.

I will write about it next, but I will tell you for sure that I was right. If you really want to change your perspective and interaction with horses forever, I highly encourage you to get to a Mark Rashid clinic or invite him to your place and host a clinic. Those three days fit divinely in with what I thought I was missing. The teachings from Mark also confirmed my thoughts that I have a renewed heart for training horses.

By the way, Mark has written many books, one of which is in the makings for a movie. Watch the trailer for Out of the Wild. You can also find him on Facebook under “Considering the Horse,” which is also the name of his first book.

A New beginning for Little Joe

As I mentioned earlier, I have this horse I call “Little Joe.” With all the horses I have met in my life, two were named Joe. Both were well-built, short, stocky ranch horses. One was the owner’s horse at 4UR Ranch in Creede, Co where I worked in the Summer of 1999 (I think.) The other belonged to a very rich man in Cranfills Gap, TX that has invented things that some of you probably have in your home. Anyway, I really liked both of these horses.
When my Joe was born he reminded me of them as all three were sorrel (red/orange) with a sorrel mane and tail with great Quarter Horse muscle tone.

(Read “The Reason for this blog” for Little Joe’s history).

The day had finally arrived for me to start training Joe. Since I couldn’t catch him in the middle of an open pasture, and because horses are naturally herd animals, I simply put a halter on whichever horse walked up to me first and lead the herd (which was 5 in this pasture) to the corrals. I caught them all individually and put three back into pasture, leaving Joe and our pony “Outlaw” in the pen.

I had decided that the pony would serve two purposes: he would be a companion for Joe, and my sons could start learning to care for and ride their own horse. It would be easier to have them both in the corral every day when we arrived.

The first thing I did was place a saddle on the ground in the middle of the round pen and let Joe in as well. Horses are prey animals and the first thing he did, was ensure himself that the strange, new object in his pen was safe and not going to eat him for lunch. Horse’s (prey) sight is different from ours (predators). Our eyes are in front of our head, and their eyes are on either side of theirs. This causes a blind spot, and their depth perception is not like ours. See image.
Because of this, Joe was very alert, and bobbing his head up and down at the saddle and snorting at it. Then he walked away and ignored it, but kept going back to it for reassurance. That’s what he is doing in these pictures. I did this so that he could introduce himself to the saddle, because at this point, I hadn’t even introduced myself.

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I first got Joe moving in the round pen to establish direction and to let him know that I was going to be asking him to do some things, but wasn’t going to hurt him. I got him to go to the right, and because of fear (horses number one motivator), he ran circles around me. I let him run until he calmed down and then sent him in the other direction.

Something funny happened. After I had established direction, and he began to understand that I was in control, I allowed him to stop and he swung around and stared at me. I was excited this happened. Now remember, I have started 100’s of colts, and it had only been 6 years since I trained my last one (after 17 years of training)-but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what to do next! Well, Little Joe didn’t have a clue either! We just stood there and stared at each other and I said out loud “Buddy, you’re doing great, but honestly, I don’t know what to do next.” Then I remembered my goal was to eventually get closer and halter him.

For the rest of our “session”, I worked him in the round pen and worked on him trusting me. I was able to eventually get close enough to get a hand on him, and then pet him, halter him and I even saddled him. I felt like that was way more than he probably needed, but he was just so willing, I kept going.

Over the next week I would learn that on this day I made some mistakes…

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The Round Pen Discussion

Training a horse, for me, requires a round pen. I have worked with many trainers over the years-started in Texas, but moved to Colorado where I trained with the most variety of trainers. My first trainer, Shelly, used a 60′ round pen. Maybe even 70′. I believe she used such a big one because after she did ground work with a horse, she would get on a “using horse”-a big, broke horse that wouldn’t let the colts knock him around. Then I, or some other “lucky” person, would get on the colt (honestly, I LOVED it). Sometimes this got pretty cowboy with bucking and rearing and snorting. I learned a lot from Shelly over the years, and even though I don’t “cowboy” my horses now, I got an extensive, useful education that every horsemen should learn. I can ride a bucking horse, usually. I can get bucked off a horse, hit the ground, and hit the ground in a way I don’t get hurt too bad, roll out of harms way, come up to my feet, and still have the reins in my hand and sometime still have a bucking horse attached to the other end. Sometimes it will freak the horse out that you are no longer on his back and both of you just end up staring at each other and recovering from the moment. It may seem dangerous to hang on to the reins, but where we were riding-on open Texas hills-it was a long, HOT, walk back to the barn for another horse. And you sure didn’t want to spend the rest of the day searching for your horse, and I was going to have to get back on regardless of WHEN I found him.

Where was I? Oh yes, the round pen. The next trainer I worked with was in Estes Park, CO. Mark Rashid opened my eyes to a whole new world of horse training. We didn’t really label it, but later I learned its what people call “resistance-free” horse training. Whatever, it’s just the way we trained. Mark used a 50′ round pen and I sure liked that a lot better. I believe we even had a 40′ round pen. Over the years and through many different ranches and trainers, the 50′ round pen became my comfort zone.

So I bought a 60′ round pen. I know this doesn’t make sense. I got an amazing round pen for an amazing price and I guess my thoughts were that its easier to pull panels out to make it smaller than it was to order more and travel to get them. That’s good logic.

Late one evening, as I proudly returned from Weatherford, TX with the best round pen I’ve ever owned (thanks honey!), I had to put it up! Each panel weighs 54 pounds. Lucas and Ely (ages 5 and 4) were with me and eager to help-for about half an hour. First they fought over who was going to bring me a pin, or help push the panel off the trailer, but that quickly turned to sighs and eye rolls when asked for help. They cowboyed up and helped me anyway. We were out long after dark and past their bedtimes, but my new round pen was installed!! The picture is of Fool (on the left, born on April Fools Day,and he reminded me of Tonto which means fool) and Little Joe in the new round pen the day I pulled them up out of pasture.

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