Training Horses

Mustang Makeover: Walk, trot, canter, & happy trails!

Argo the Mustang has learned to canter - Poudre River Stables - Fort Collins - Colorado - 80521Cayla Stone continues Argo’s journey from wild mustang to a horse with a job. Argo has learned to walk, trot, canter, and back. He also takes a mini-trail ride on our farm’s lanes. Argo learns quickly, and demonstrates a ton of athletic ability. We imagine him as a child's three-day event horse. Argo's goal? Compete in the June 2012 Fort Collins Extreme Mustang Makeover, and find a loving, forever family at the adoption auction. 

Read also:

Mustang Makeover: Argo leads! (video)

Mustang Makeover: Getting to know you (video)

Be sure to visit Argo's Facebook page: My Extreme Mustang Makeover

Mustang Makeover: Argo leads!

By Cayla Stone

Argo, named after the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed, and I are on the right track. He seems to be respecting my space a lot more. I've been working on moving him around the pen, both directions, and backing up and moving his forehand around. He's picked everything up really fast and seems to enjoy his work a bit more.

I actually hooked a lead to him and he did really well in his pen. I used a 20' lead so that no matter where he went in his pen he could still feel me on the other end of the rope. This worked great when he tried to pull away a couple times and realized that I still had him. He soon learned it was much easier just to follow me around.

Eventually we opened the gate and walked outside his pen a bit. We need to make it to the round pen, where he will have a job to do outside his pen.

Read also: Mustang Makeover: Day 3 - Getting to know you

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Mustang Makeover: Day 3 - Getting to know you

Day 3 Mustang Training

The first couple days went really well. I spent as much time as I could just sitting in the pen with "little horse" to get him more used to my presence, and he seemed to take it well. I make sure I'm in there twice a day with the pitchfork doing everyday chores, and walking in there to feed him. I got him to come close and sniff me a bit, and even take a little hay out of my hand. I was fortunate that the wranglers at the holding pens were able to get a halter on him while he was in the chute. This will make my job a bit easier once I am close enough to touch him. 

After having two days to settle in, I decided today I wanted to ask a little more from him. In the video you can see me trying to get him to move around me in the pen, and to go where I ask him to. I'm using a long Parrelli stick as an extension of my arm to move him around. As much as possible I try to let him sniff it, and once he is more comfortable I will start using the stick to scratch and rub him all over his body. While he's moving around the pen, I keep an eye on his ears, once they start flicking towards me and he seems attentive, I stop and ask him to face me. When I get the desired reaction (him facing me) I reward him by stepping back, or relieving the pressure.

He picked this up very quickly, and soon he was following my movements with his front end, which is the first step to ground work training. Today I did this about three times, with long breaks in between. At the end of the day I sat with him while he munched on hay, and he seemed to relax considerably. He even rubbed my legs and nibbled at my hat with his muzzle. Tomorrow I will do the same thing, continuing to work him in his pen, asking him to face me and follow my movements, slowly getting closer to him. For the first few days (maybe the first week) I will not try too hard to touch him, eventually he will come around, and it will be his idea.

18407_Cabela's Workwear: For any job, in any weather

High school students can letter in riding!

Responding to many schools’ refusal to acknowledge equestrian disciplines as true sports, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) offers a program allowing high school students to letter in riding.

"High school equestrians have earned their place among the most dedicated athletes," said John Long, USEF Chief Executive Officer on the organization's website. "Not only are they putting in long hours to train for and compete in the sport they love — they do so while taking the concept of teamwork to the highest level, forming a partnership with a horse to achieve their goals.

Requirements for lettering include USEF membership, 100 hours of riding and participation at two USEF competitions or five competitions at shows “affiliated with, or sanctioned by a horse show association.” Riders must complete a log documenting riding hours and competition results. Click here for complete application materials. Click here for more information on the USEF high school letter program.

And, if you haven't tried The Rider's Fitness Program, above, I use it, (and should use it more!) It compliments any riding program, does not require a gym (although having access to weight-lifting equipment makes it even better), and the exercises can be done at a variety of intensity levels. 

If you are a rider trying to lose weight, check out Horse & Rider blogger Sandy Denarski's tips.

Equestrian adventure: Molly Lake Trail, Colorado

MOLLY LAKE TRAIL, Colorado -- This ride reminded us that you should always be prepared with a good map, a compass and rain gear. More on that later.

We were headed for the Molly Lake trail, and it has been a few years since I took my horse to Colorado’s Redfeather Lakes area. Things have changed. New staging areas now provide safe access for horseback riders and hikers trying to get to Mount Margaret or Molly Lake, across from each other on 74E.

In years past, drivers had to practically park their rigs on the side of the road near an old gate that you could easily miss if you were not looking. Now, you can safely pull off 74E to find ample car and several horse trailer parking spots on the north and south sides of the road, along with restroom facilities.

The "main drag" on the Molly Lake trail ride features a lot of old logging road, double-wide accessibility.
Based on traffic, Mount Margaret is still the more popular destination, but we discovered on this ride that the Molly Lake trail is just as beautiful. What looks like a former logging road makes up the “main drag”, and provides plenty of opportunity to ride side by side, and enjoy the scenery. At least one of the gates can be done on horseback, which makes for good training. The elevation gain was steady and not too difficult for my 19-year-old gelding, at least until we took the unexpected turn.

In preparation for this ride, I had purchased the National Geographic Topo! Colorado software at Jax Mercantile in Fort Collins (about $80), and spent a lot of time zooming in and printing a ride map on the waterproof paper you can buy as an accessory. What I didn’t realize is that the Topo! software uses U.S. Geological Survey maps from about the 1960’s. Plus, USGS maps are more land-feature oriented, and not so much trail oriented.

About two hours into the ride, the sunny summer weather did the Colorado five-minute-weather-change, and it started to drizzle. The cool air refreshed he horses, and we kept going.

We came to a sign that said “Molly” one way and “Moon” the other. We took “Moon”, which sent us on a grand detour not featured on our map, but up onto a ridge. The horses were very excited, and acted like they thought we were headed back to the trailer, which in retrospect, I suspect we were.

Our stomachs grumbled, and thunder rumbled. It felt like a good time to get off the ridge in case of lightning, so we took the steep switchback trail down the ridge, and ended up in a boulder-strewn meadow. Your horse will need to be good at hindquarter pivots in order to negotiate these switchbacks. The rain died down to a drizzle, and we lunched next to an old barbed-wire gate and a metal “monument marker”. In hindsight, I think we were on a public/private property border.

Gregg works a gate wearing his Outback Trading Company slicker, which kept him warm and dry during the rain.
Before remounting, we donned our rain gear, an old poncho for me, and an Outback slicker for Gregg. We headed back up the switchback, and by now my gelding was feeling his flab and the work. The rain turned into a steady downpour, and about an hour away from the trailer, my poncho quit being waterproof, and I rode the rest of the way soaking wet. Gregg’s Outback slicker kept him dry and warm. As it was still summer, the horses kept plenty warm just moving.

We hastily untacked at the trailer, and drove east, back to home base in Fort Collins. On the way, we stopped at the Western Ridge Restaurant, which featured a sympathetic, friendly waitress, and a hot pot of coffee. The Western Ridge Restaurant is open for dinner, too, and I resolve to return for a romantic meal overlooking their valley.

My old poncho soaked up the rain like a sponge, leaving me cold and wet the last hour of our ride.
When I got home the first thing I did after seeing to the horses was ceremoniously toss the poncho into the dumpster. Gregg later put batteries in his GPS unit, and I now keep a spare change of clothes in the truck. I tried to get my own Outbacks slicker at Jax Farm and Ranch, but they were all out, so I found one online. In case Gregg’s GPS unit quits, I resurrected my pocket compass.  

This still does not solve the problem of the National Geographic Topo! map’s missing pieces, but I notice the Forest Service is updating their free online maps, which give you a pretty good idea of the Molly Lake trail network. Also, you can get a number of state and federal maps online for free.Google Maps does not name trails, but you can zoom in enough to see trail details. Stick to the Molly Lake main drag, and you’ll be fine.

Map links you may find useful:

USGS Imagery & Publications:
Forest Service National Maps page:
Arapaho Forest Map North:
Colorado forest service map:

Equestrian adventure: West Branch Trail, Colorado

West Branch Trailhead, COLORADO – We set out in search of adventure, and the West Branch Trail gave us everything we could have asked for, and more.

Located about two-and-a-half hours west of Fort Collins, Colorado, via the Poudre Canyon and Laramie River roads, the West Branch Trail proved full of surprises – in beauty, and in obstacles. It looked innocent enough when we started, but about half a mile in, after the initial creek crossing, we hit knee-deep mud and tricky deadfall. Billy and Hobbes rose to the challenge and took us to solid ground.

From then on, we climbed steadily through lush forest, flowers, greenery and lots of gurgling water obstacles. West Branch Falls were beautiful. As the trail climbed, dirt gave way to rocks and switchbacks. I would not recommend this trail for a barefoot or skittish horse. About an hour up the grade, we spoke with hikers and another pair of riders, who warned us that the toughest water obstacles were ahead. The pair of riders was about to turn back due to the difficulty of the trail.

Their warnings proved true. The puddles grew larger, some of them completely blocking the trail and requiring detours on a steep grade. Even though summer was well under way, this year’s tremendous snowfall left a huge spring melt, and ultimately we hit a deadfall-infested water obstacle for which there was no detour, and the bottom of which we could not see. We turned back, and lunched at the trailhead, which features chemical-toilet restrooms, and ample trailer parking. Total ride time: About 2.5 hours at a walk.

US Forest Service link - West Branch Trailhead

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'Working with horses, it's like, different than owning a cat'

Hobbes gets a few words of comfort mid-way on his "spin" to CSU Equine Center's parking lot, then back to Poudre River Stables, Fort Collins, Colorado. (Click photo to enlarge.)

On Easter Sunday, Gregg and I took another shot at getting Hobbes to go solo in our two-horse, straight-load, bumper-pull trailer. Hobbes is fine in our three-horse-slant gooseneck -- when he is with his friend, my Morgan gelding, Dell, but you can forget the two-horse trailer alone.

Contrary to Hobbes, I believe every horse should learn to travel solo in whatever carrier you choose. They might need to make an emergency run to the vet, go to a horse show alone, or live life without their friend.

It took hours of “friend” Dell loading by example, “friend” Dell standing nearby for moral support, the two of us reviewing Hobbes’ halter drills, backing, pivoting, giving any part of the body to pressure, and a turf-ownership review in the round pen. We punctuated the halter drills with attempted load-ups that promised grain at the end of the tunnel. Whenever Hobbes did something naughty his way, we assigned him another job our way. Hobbes reacts violently to the presence of whips, so force is not an option.

Hobbes’ real name is Sixes Daredevil, which as the story goes, he earned after jumping off a loading dock as a weanling. I wonder if this had something to do with his attitude toward the two-horse trailer, but we will never know.

As the sun began to pass overhead, Hobbes crept into the trailer. He “whoa’d” for our prescribed amounts of time, and backed out on command. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds: When Hobbes could load and whoa for at least a minute, we shut the back gate, started the truck, and took him for a spin – a nice, slow, peaceful spin.

Spanky was small, but ferociously built.

“You know, working with horses,” said Gregg as we drove home, “it’s like, different than owning a cat.”

Speaking of cats, we found our cat dead under the bed on Good Friday. No kidding. Spanky didn’t like to travel solo, either.

I cannot remember a barn cat before this little gray tabby, who wandered in to our workshop one February day more than 15 years ago. She was all ribs and had a blind, milky left eye. A client veterinarian blamed the eye on a fight. I could imagine other animals picking on this fistful of fur.


Spanky aced her barn cat job and dispatched many a mouse, but the next winter, she again pulled the pitiful card on a single-digit February day, and moved into our house. Spanky would still visit the barn as a volunteer, but preferred to spend her time as bed-lounger, confidant to my daughter, and oh yes, queen of the dogs.

As I said, Spanky didn’t like to travel either, and she outdid Hobbes in this department. Spanky would turn into a crazed maniac if you tried to put her in a carrier. Even if you wore gloves, you were in mortal danger because Spanky could wiggle out of any wrapped towel, knew exactly where to look for exposed skin, and didn’t care if it was your face or your neck. We learned to bring the vet and meds to her.

Spanky now rests under a rose bush. One little life passes, and another steps into the future.

Oh, and on working horses v. owning cats: 


  •  It’s a good thing cats don’t weigh 1,200 pounds.
  • They both like their faces scratched, just there, along the cheekbone.

Farewell, Spanky. Good job, Hobbes.

(Like this? Try 'Memo to boarders: Blood, sirens hay' -- This blog is available on the Kindle.)

Young horse - novice rider: Five tips for success

Hobbes, the Quarter Horse gelding purchased at Colorado State University's 2010 Legends of Ranching Sale, pauses on our suburban Poudre River trail.
Hobbes, purchased at the CSU Legends of Ranching Sale, continues to amaze us. Pairing Gregg, an owner new to horses, with a three-year-old was a gamble, but the other day, our suburban Poudre River bike trail proved no problem for this young Quarter Horse gelding.

Hobbes calmly and safely navigated cyclists, strollers, roller-bladers, pedestrians, wood and cement bridges, as well as a tree-root infested water obstacle. In the arena, he has mastered canter pickups, leg yields, and is working up to spins. Hobbes also spent an entire day recently herding cattle at a friend’s Wyoming ranch!

I credit much of Gregg’s success to the following:

  • Round-penning before riding
  • Using an experienced horse as a buddy
  • Being open to the voice of experience
  • Regular workouts for horse AND rider
  • Wearing a helmet. Yes, there have been a couple spills after we broke the workout routine, and it was cold, windy and close to dinner.

Stay tuned as we continue to work with this amazing horse!

Hobbes' purchase: Some rules were made to be broken
Buying a horse: 14 questions you should ask

(Karin Livingston was a career 4-H leader specializing in horses, and is the author of the young adult horse novel, Winning Bet. You can subscribe to this blog ad-free on your e-reader.)

Four things I learned from Greg Best

FORT COLLINS, Colorado -- (Oct. 23, 2010) I headed over to the Equine Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins for a couple hours of (free!) audit time watching the clinic by Olympic medalist, Greg Best. I learned four things:

    1. Stick a crop down the front of your breeches, so it sticks up in front of your face. Try riding at all gaits, AND over jumps. If you can keep the crop from hitting you repeatedly in the face, you’re probably doing a good job of maintaining proper, consistent body position. This isn’t just a parlor trick. Horses perform better for riders they can trust not to flop all over the place.
    2. Shorten your stirrups about three holes. OK, take this with a grain of salt. It is a fact though, that many riders attempting jump courses need to take up their stirrups.
    3. Use a tack taped to the rear quarter of your saddle to tell you whether you’re centered. Again, not another parlor trick, just a sharp way to remind your body about centered position, even while launching, flying and landing after a jump.
  1. 4. Get in shape. Greg Best clinics, which I have audited a number of times, are microcosms of the strength, agility, and endurance you will need to compete. You expect your horse to be in shape, and you should stay fit, too.
    Watch the video for a small sample of a Greg Best riding clinic.

The CSU English Riding Club hosts Greg Best about twice a year, and his next clinic is Aug. 9 & 10, 2011. Save up your money, and sign up. You won’t regret it.

More training: Foolproof flying lead changes

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'Winning Bet' pays tribute to Richard Shrake

I clicked on the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo site the other day, which by the way, is one of the best bargains you’ll ever find for useful horse knowledge, and ran into an old friend, Richard Shrake. Richard probably doesn’t know he’s an “old friend”, but I consider him one. I happily paid for and attended two of Richard’sOur gelding loves this Richard Shrake bit, which breaks softly in the mouthpiece. It is a legal western bit in 4-H. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Resistance Free™ clinics in Colorado and Wyoming, and I think I’ve been to every one of his presentations at the Horse Expo. (Just go. You’ll learn a ton.)

Our gelding, right, is wearing a Richard Shrake bit, which really softened his mouth. (Click on the photo to enlarge.) I see Richard is offering a bitting clinic Friday.

Anyway, Richard also probably doesn’t know that he influenced a lot of what happens in my teen-romantic-suspense-horse novel, Winning Bet. (Just buy it. You’ll love it.)

Here’s a Winning Bet excerpt that mentions, but does not completely give away, one of Richard’s best techniques. Here, it looks like Emma could also use Richard’s “Natural Movements Without Unnatural Aids” class Saturday. For the details on the technique below, you’ll have to ask Richard at the Expo. See you there!

Excerpt from Winning Bet:

If Bonnie blows the pattern, I’ll die.

A gust of wind scooped up a plastic bag and bounced it in a wild zigzag across the warm-up arena. Bonnie slammed to a halt, pushing her front

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