Sunday, October 17, 2010

A ride out alone

Well today I got the first opportunity to take Nova out alone and work with her. Britney was at work so I decided what better time to spend some quality training time with Nova and work out some recent problems without the distraction of another horse and rider.

Well we started out without normal warm-up around the property. First five minutes is bending exercises, next 10 minutes is whoa and backing up, and then whatever from there. Those are my two main focuses right now though. After this we hit the road. For almost the first 10-15 minutes there were a lot of times she wanted to turn back but I pushed her on. We reached the trail head about a half mile from home and she instantly relaxed forgetting what home was. This trail in particular runs along a shallow river up above it, and has an embankment that slopes down to the water. We rode for about a half hour down the trail and back up and then I decided to attempt to see if I could get her to go across the river. I've tried it quite a few times before but I could never get her within 30 feet of the water and didn't have any training aids to help. But this time I was on no time frame.

My thought on introducing a horse to something new is to always do it from the ground first. It helps them develop trust in their rider and helps them get through their next challenge even easier. So off I went and flipped the reins over her head. Pulling didn't do much of anything so I tried moving her back and forth in a serpentine and just getting her moving her legs forward which worked for all of 5 feet in 20 minutes. After this I made a crop from a tree branch and grabbed the reins with my right hand and used the crop with my left hand behind me tapping her on the hindquarters and butt. Within 10 minutes and a lot of "GOOD GIRL"s later we were only a couple feet from the water. A couple more taps on the rear and her feet and mine hit the water.

At this point she finally relaxed and I watched her posture relax realizing that the moving water wouldn't eat her. I jumped up on her and asked her to move forward which she did right out into the middle of the river which was all of maybe 2' deep. We turned to head down the river and rode off for about 10 minutes all while working her much the same way I do out of the water. We worked on flexing, stopping, backing up, etc. We even got into a very nice trot that ended up making her, me, the saddle, and everything else rather wet. After we got out I rode up the trail about 5' and turned her back towards the water and she went right back in. I did this about 10 times incrementing the distance away every time until I got all the way back to the trail head and turned around and went back and went right into the water again. I think I've helped her overcome this fear she had of rivers, but I guess we'll see.

Next up was the local bridge. When Nova first started training she seemed rather fearless, was never concerned about anything and nothing scared her. She led a seasoned gelding on her first ride for almost 15 miles. But since then she has developed a fear of bridges, no matter how big or small. So I went to the small bridge around the corner from our house and used the same technique as the river to help her get over it. She still needs a bit more work as the road is much wider than the trail head was so she has more ability to avoid moving forward, but we're getting there. I had her cross the bridge several times and after getting her on the bridge I worked with her on there, turning her, flexing her, etc to help her get more comfortable with it.

So anyways in a recap I was able to help Nova get over a couple of her fears today and hopefully instill some more trust into me so that when she comes to a nervous situation in the future she knows that I wouldn't take her into somewhere dangerous!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Snaffle vs. Leverage Bits

Well in my time with horses I've learned a lot, but one of the most valuable things I've learned is about bits. First let me give you the basic definition of a snaffle vs. a leverage bit.

Snaffle Bit: a simple jointed bit for a horse; without a curb

Leverage Bit: Bits that have shanks coming off the bit mouthpiece to create what is known as leverage

All horses should be started in a snaffle. They are the least harsh bit and give a horse an easy, direct message of what you want your horse to do. Snaffles are available in several variations including simple o-ring, full cheek, eggbutt, and d-ring, and normally I would start a horse in just a simple o-ring like this:

When using a bit like this your pull on the horse's mouth is equal to 1lb of pressure for every 1lb you pull. This mean you pull 3 lbs of pressure with your hand, the horse feels 3lbs of pressure. You pull 5lbs and your horse feels 5lbs of pressure. The best thing about this bit is there is just one clear concise message the horse feels and that is the pressure that you are pulling on their mouth. There is no poll pressure, no curb pressure, etc. like with other bits. I would always recommend using a snaffle bit to start a horse.

Now depending on what type of riding you plan to do, this is where you want to decide what type of bit you want to finish your horse in. I never recommend moving up from a snaffle until your horse is "trained." With my experiences this means Western and for this I would want my horse moving off pressures, neck reining, stopping with little force of the bit, walking, trotting, cantering, galloping, etc. Once I have accomplished all of this in a snaffle I would move my horse into a bit such as this:

This is what is known as a curb bit. Instead of hooking the bridle and reins to the same part as in the snaffle bit, we now connect the bridle to the purchase part of the bit, and the reins to the shank part of the bit. We will also use a curb strap on a bit like this. What this bit allows us to do is encourage a headset, use less power to cue our horse, and neck rein properly. A horse tends to be more responsive in this bit, but to an untrained horse it can be very confusing putting too many pressure points on the horse at once. A bit like this does several things. The most important one in my opinion though is the leverage pressure. While I told you before a snaffle bit puts 1lb of pressure on a horses mouth to every 1lb of pressure you use, a curb bit puts more pressure on a horses mouth. It's an easy calculation to figure out how much pressure your bit exerts. To do this you must know the difference between the purchase and shank. 

The part above the mouthpiece is called the purchase, the part below the mouthpiece is referred to as the shank. The calculation for a curb bit's pressure is simple, shank:purchase. For example let's say you have a bit with an 8" shank and 2" purchase. This means you have a 8:2 pressure ratio meaning for every 1lb of pressure you pull the horse feels 4lbs of pressure. So now for example we used 3lbs and 5lbs of pressure with the snaffle bit. With a shank bit (8" shank, 2" purchase) a horse would feel 12lbs of pressure and 20 lbs of pressure rather than 3lbs and 5lbs. A shank bit can obviously get harsh extremely quick so it takes a well trained supple horse and a rider with soft hands to be able to successfully and safely use a bit like this! Now think of a harsh western bit with an 8" shank and 1" purchase. That doubles the pressure your horse feels, so instead of feeling 12lbs and 20lbs they now feel 24lbs and 40lbs of pressure. I tend to stick with a bit of no more than a 6" shank and 2" purchase.

There are many other factors that go into leverage bits as well. For example, a simple tom thumb bit looks like a snaffle bit with the mouthpiece and are oftentimes marketed this way as a good training bit for your horse. Instead a tom thumb bit can be extremely harsh to your horse! With the nutcracker action accompanied with the shank a tom thumb bit can pinch the inside of a horses mouth and cause severe pain. For this reason I recommend when using a leverage bit only to use ones with a solid mouthpiece or a jointed port in the center. 

There are many factors that go into bits including how tight you have your chinstrap, how tall a port is in the mouth, what the design is of the curb, etc, but this should give you an idea of how harsh your bit you're using really is. Have a great ride!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nova Artwork

I'll continue to edit this post, but I wanted to post some artwork that people have done for me of our horses:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Something I forgot to mention...

Nova is pregnant...another reason that I started this blog was to not only track her training, but also to track her pregnancy. The lady that I acquired Nova from was what I call a backyard (irresponsible) breeder. As I said in one of my first posts Nova was in with about 9 other horses in the size of an outdoor arena, probably even smaller. Of of those just happened to be a stallion. Well at least he was a good looker I suppose! After buying Nova is when I found out that she was pregnant, the lady forgot to mention that one small detail. A few weeks later I decided to email her original owner to find out some more information on the stud, and of course I get another suprise...there's a possibility of two studs!! :O

The first stud is AQHA/FQHA Maximus McCue, a 15hh Grulla stallion. Most likely she is bred to him which gives me good odds for another Grulla. I'm pulling for a filly!!

Nova's other possible stud that she was in with was AQHA's DT's Golden Junior.

A step up in training

Well Nova was officially at the point that she was a trail horse, she would walk, trot, canter on the trail, stop, and back up. She was no longer opinionated on what she wanted to do or which way she wanted to go, she only responded to my wishes. So at this time I decided it was time to step up her training. We started working on figure 8's, tight circles in W/T/C, better neck reining, transitions such as walk to canter, stopped to canter, and several others. I have found weird things to do to push her boundaries such as flexing in the water, stepping up on logs, and several others. This is our current point in her training and she is very willing and progressing wonderfully! In fact yesterday I was able to put an 8 year old on her and let him ride her around without any issues.

*I have horrible position in these pictures, I know. It had been a while since I've been "under saddle"

Nova gets new tack!!

After saving for the summer I was finally able to buy Nova all of her Tack that was needed!!

Used 16" Bighorn Western Saddle
Red Saddle Pad
Black Leather Western Headstall
Black O-Ring Snaffle Bit
Red Roping Reins
Neoprene 34" Cinch
Red Performers 1st Choice Boots

A trip to Elba Equestrian Center

Nova was accustomed to terrain around the house, dirt roads, vehicles going past her, her pond in the back yard, and trails that we had found over the summer, but now it was time to get her out on a real trail. We live pretty close to Elba Equestrian Center which we had found online so we planned a day trip to go trailriding. The experience was amazing! The trails had many creeks, waterholes, a couple lakes, and a lot of hills and tight paths. There were several instances Nova refused to move forward but with consistency and control we moved through the trails actually leading a lot of the time. The terrain was some of the hardest I'd personally been on and even made me nervous at times while looking to a dropoff to your left and right that would send you plummeting down 500 ft. We had a great time though and I really look forward to returning there before the year is up, I can't wait to get our own horse trailer!!

Nova is up to weight

Through the summer I continued to put weight on Nova and muscling from free lunging and riding. I fed a combination of grass hay and Buckeye Growth (appx. 4 lbs per day). She gained a lot of her weight in the first few weeks here but in the last few weeks is when I decided that she was officially up to weight. Being on the better feed she has gotten a much healthier coat, has started to dapple, and overall looks much healthier. I'm very happy with the Buckeye feed and would recommend it to anyone with horses.


Through July and August I continued to trailride Nova around the house, on the roads and up to town, she was progressing nicely as a trail horse and becoming more and more calm and easygoing. I started to teach her leg pressures, neck reining, tight turns, etc. A friend came over and brought a saddle to borrow so I was able to use a saddle for the first time with her. She did not react at all to being saddled and rode no differently in a saddle vs. bareback. She was calm and accepting of whatever I asked of her. I could now take her through water, jump logs, trot and canter up hills, and slowly descend hills. She would go into each of her gaits except for gallop which I had not asked yet, but was still slightly aggravated when trotting and cantering. Her training was progressing...

Nova's beginning of training

For several weeks I worked with Nova on everything from groundwork to lunging to bareback riding. At the time I didn't have a saddle so I got accustomed to bareback riding and I found it much easier to train by doing so. It gave me the feel of everything she was doing and made me completely understand her. We worked on the basics like tying and grooming. At the time I couldn't touch the back part of her body but over several weeks I was slowly able to brush all of her, comb her mane and tail, and lean all over her. She was now slowly gaining weight too!

Our first ride off the property ended up being almost 14 miles as we got lost on the roads around our house. Nova was green, but entirely safe and not spooky in the least bit. I rode her in a non-mechanical hackamore and she responded amazingly to it. We also rode through woods, water, hills, and past cars, motorcycles, and semis. I was so amazed by her calm demeanor and easibility of training.

Nova's first time mounted

The first night my girlfriend's parents came over. So...what better time than now to climb on? I knew she was not broke but by just jumping on an unbroke horse it tells me so much on how her training will go. I'm not scared to be bucked or reared off, so why not. Here's a picture of the first time on:

Nova was somewhat of a handful on the ground, she was hard to catch, hated being groomed, pinned her ears and swung her butt at you, but once on top of her she was eager to please. She didn't know anything about her cues, but once she understood what you wanted she would do whatever she could to do so. I was only on for 5 minutes with a halter and leadrope that night and quickly decided that was enough, she was already doing better than I had ever anticipated. I didn't expect to be riding much all summer, only training. I quickly knew that training her would be easy.

Getting Nova Home

The owner called Monday morning and told us she was on her way and would be here in a half hour. Nova would have two companions in her pasture, Cami, my girlfriend's paint mare, and Kali, Cami's paint filly who at the time was only 3 months old. The trailer pulled into the driveway that morning and we unloaded her into the pasture where she immediately established her dominance over the other two by squealing, kicking, and biting. While most people don't like the dominant mares I loved it! I knew it would give her more spunk under saddle and watching her I knew she had some athleticism in her body. I knew I wanted to get started on her training as soon as possible but she did need a break in period so I gave her the morning and afternoon to settle in and start packing in some's a picture of the first day here.

Aquiring Nova

Well I wish I had started this a long time ago but it's always better late than never right? I got Nova at the beginning of summer 2010. Britney had found her online on craigslist and was only 20 minutes away from us. I was slightly looking for a horse, but hadn't made it a priority yet. She found a lady that was selling several horses and one of them was listed as a 15hh 6 year old grulla quarter horse which happens to be one of my two favorite colors. Now when you see a bay, a chestnut, etc. you at least have an idea of what the horse will look like, but with grullas there are so many different shades and I was sure this wouldn't be one I liked so why not email on it. Her asking price was $500 for an unbroke grade mare. I wasn't expecting much! Well a short time later I got my first picture of Nova.

After seeing this picture I had already fallen in love with her, well her coloring anyways, so we scheduled a time to go see her. Upon arrival I noticed that the horses weren't well taken care of. There were minis tied to poles with no grass around them and no water buckets, a paddock with 10 horses in it no bigger than the size of a riding arena, and some skinny horses. Smokey (original name) stuck out more than any horse there though in my eyes. She was spunky, full of life, and gorgeous!! The owner brought her out and I spent some time with her leading her, grooming her, and bonding. I was positive I wanted her! We settled on $450 delivered and scheduled delivery for the following Monday, May 31, 2010.