Into the Bridle – Part 3

A continuation from last week’s introduction into using long reining techniques from Dan James. You can find Part Two here, and Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Step 4 – Speed Control

Here, you will work on understanding body position in relation to your horse and the practices to have the most effective hands in order to control speed. Start out at the ¾ position and ask your horse to move forward into a walk, then a trot in a large circle. Set him up for a lope by stepping behind the eye and driving forward. Adjust your reins accordingly, ensuring there isn’t so much slack that it’s slapping the horse’s hind end, but loose enough that he can move out. Once cantering nicely, ask for a downward transition to a trot, ensuring you maintain the forward momentum so as not to have him stop completely, continuing forward into a walk.

Next, you will employ the foundation you have created so far to ask for a change of direction at a trot. Remember that you can take your time to set up the exercise successfully; it does not need to be a rush. You are working on developing the feel, technique and timing working both reins. Ask for a tighter circle and keep the forward momentum through the center of the round pen by holding the inside rein, switching in the center, then allow the outside rein the slide through your hands smoothly. Repeat this as many times as you need to until the flow is consistent and relaxed.

Step 5 – Body Control

Here, we utilize many of the techniques that we begin with our ground control training. Step behind to the side that you’re asking for flexion and use your whip to cue for the leg yield along the rail, with your horse’s nose tipped to the outside. Engage your outside rein, drive the flexion with your whip and keep forward momentum. When you first ask for this, be satisfied with three or four good steps, then release. If you get stuck, you will start over by asking for their nose to the inside and walking on. Re-establish the forward momentum, then step across and ask again. Again, accept and reward a good effort with a solid pat.

Step 6 – Moving to the Arena

When you move from the round pen to an arena, return to the set-up of one inside rein and outside direct rein. Move your horse out to a large circle, asking for a trot and then a lope. It is beneficial to ask for the lope in a larger circle if this is the first time that you are introducing this to your horse. Ask for a downward transition and gather the rein, hand-over-fist, circling him in closer to you. When you are ready to ask your horse to enlarge the circle again, ask by stepping towards the shoulder and extending your rein. As with all of these steps, make sure to repeat them in both directions.

Editor’s Note: watch for the final Part 4 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen. 

Into the Bridle – Part 1

Part two of a discussion with Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship on how to prepare your horse to excel both on the ground and under saddle. Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Long reining exercises develop a versatile, willing mount and a solid sense of feel for body control in the handler.


Last issue we spoke with Dan James, one half of the electric and talented team that makes up Double Dan Horsemanship, to fully understand the theories that the world-renowned performance and training team employ to successfully start their horses on the ground. This issue, we progress to the long-reining techniques that teach drive, impulsion and full body control.

To begin, James explains why long reining is an asset to any training program.

“We use long reining to re-educate problem horses, to start young ones in the bridle, helping horses learn to stand still and teach patience, as well as using it as a tool to teach collection and begin the basics of the lay down.”

Only raise your whip to cue then be sure to lower it once again. You don’t want your horse mistaking the whip for a disciplinary tool as opposed to simply an extension of your arm.

As with any discipline, long reining requires very specific tack in order to execute the tasks properly. Before you begin working on the Double Dan methods, you will need the following:

–  Surcingle (roller)

• Ensure that it is cinched as tight as a saddle would be in order to maintain its position through the exercises.

–  Full mouth or D-ring snaffle

• You want contact in the cheeks of the bit, avoiding loose ring snaffles and the possibility of the bit moving through the horse’s mouth.

–  Long reins

• Attach the outside (offside) rein first, placing the tail of the rope across your horse’s back so that it is in position for you to handle when you move to the inside.

–  Lunge or carriage whip

–  Traffic cones or barrels

When working on a keg yield in the long reins, be sure to stay consistent through your hands and use your whip to ask for the directional cue.

Step 1 – Long Reining Your Partner

Much like the early steps of the ground control exercises, begin your long reining with a partner at the end of your reins so that you can practice your techniques without confusing your equine student. It is just as important to experience long reining from the horse’s point of view as from the human’s point of view. Your human partner should close his eyes and rest his hands in his pockets while holding the reins so that he can truly feel the communication. This will serve to improve any lack of connection and direction from hands to horse’s mouth.

Begin by cueing with your whip for your partner to walk on. Track around behind him, employing your inside (left) rein to ask for a left hand turn. While at this practice stage, remember that you want to achieve consistent contact. When you come through the center of the arena, just as you would with a horse, ask for a change of direction by taking a hold of the lines with a ‘hand over fist’ technique. It is important to remember that you need to maintain a good distance between yourself and your ‘horse’, keeping direct, soft contact and keeping your feet slow.

Ideally, you want your horse collected in the long reins the same way that he would be under saddle; flexed through the poll and driving forward from behind.

Step 2 – Desensitization

It is recommended that you begin these exercises in a round pen, if you have one available. When you position yourself to begin working your real horse, be aware of your positioning, as it is crucial with these techniques. There are 3 driving positions to familiarize yourself with: directly behind, ¾ to the horse and to the center. If you are too far forward, you will block forward momentum and cause the horse to stop.

To accustom your horse to the feel of the reins, go over both sides of his body, allowing the reins to drape and hang over him anywhere that you can allow him to feel it; barrel, back, hind end and feet.

Once you feel your horse is soft and accepting the long reins, begin by taking him ‘inside-out’, by running your rein along the offside, down to his hocks and ask him to follow his nose. It should create a relaxed circle where he ends facing you. Repeat this both directions.

When you have successfully set a solid foundation for long reining, there are many tasks that can be schooled from the ground.

Step 3 – Lateral Flexion (1 Rein)

Next, you will move into your first long lining exercise. You will only have one long rein attached, with one direct rein on the outside. Fasten the long rein to the lower ring on the roller then take it through the cheek of the bit to your hand.

With the rein in your left hand and the whip in your right, ask your horse to move out, allowing rein to feed out as your make the circle larger, keeping your horse at a trot. Here you will be working on gaining control of the size and speed of circle. When you are comfortable that you are gaining feel at the larger circle, starting working him in and away, maintaining a consistent speed. When he is travelling well and you have control over both speed and circle, ask for a stop by stepping back, finding your horse’s eye and stepping towards him. If you have been successful in your application of the ground control techniques from the previous session, he should look for your shoulder.

You can now attach both long reins and begin working on further control at the center position. Ask your horse to move on, feeding out rein until he has moved into a large circle. With contact on both reins, pick up your inside rein, cueing your horse to tighten the circle around you. Maintaining consistent speed, then ask him to track back out to the rail. When he is accepting these maneuvers, you can go ahead and ask for a stop with inside flexion.

Now, you will move to the ¾ position to drive your horse forward and repeat the prior exercises. Once you have achieved the stop, follow your reins up to the horse’s hip, reassuring him and allowing him some praise.

Finally, you will begin driving the horse from directly behind. The reins should be following you between your feet, giving your horse the opportunity to familiarize himself with your new position. From here, you will ask for a change of direction at a walk by bringing him straight across the center of the pen, asking for the flexion with your inside rein until you reach the center. Here, you will use the ‘hand-over-fist’ technique to ask for flexion in the opposite direction, tightening your new inside rein and allowing the outside rein to slide through your hands. It can’t be stressed enough that proper, consistent use of your hands is imperative to the entire long reining technique. As always, when you approach your horse, follow your reins, gathering them as you shorten them to avoid them lying in a tangled heap on the ground.

Editor's Note: watch for Part 3 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen. 

Showing Your Horse At Halter

Mark Seridan Halter

Correct halter fit and chain length

Some helpful tips from Mark Sheridan:

After a few months, I’m back in front of the computer writing articles on some interesting topics that I feel will help people who are constantly seeking knowledge about training or showing their horses. Spending a lot of time showing and judging at quite a few shows, I get many ideas for articles from the questions I receive from exhibitors. At the end of long day of judging I like to take time to note the thoughts and ideas I encountered during the day that would be helpful information to competitors to make their chances of winning in the arena easier, fun and simple.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, when I’m judging I often find myself wanting to give a variety of clinics so I can help everyone who brings a horse to me for evaluation, regardless of the event in which they are showing. Unfortunately that is not an option, as clinics and judging are two separate areas. However, they both require education, and this is where I can hopefully give some positive feedback and give back to the industry that I love so much and has allowed me to make a living teaching horses and people.

This article will help people who are showing their horses in Halter competition. The new class of Performance Halter has hit most of the breeds over the last few years. In addition, versatility ranch classes and various competitions require showing your horse at Halter for breed and open shows and there has been a major increase in people exhibiting their horses in Halter and Conformation classes. Most of the tips in this article will help make your experience in Halter more enjoyable and more competitive. Most importantly, it will give you the tools that will make it easier for the judges to place you closer to the top of the class.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Halter class is usually in the morning. It is a great way to make a positive first impression with the judge. You want what you show to the judge to say, “Look at me and my horse close up; see that we are the best in the class and you are going to be seeing a lot more of us throughout the day.”  This starts with a smile and a confident look. Seeing a person having fun and enjoying what they are doing has a positive effect on other people, and in this case, the judges. Do your best to make a positive and confident impression on the judges and try to get in the arena first if there is not a work order. If there is a work order for the class, make sure that you are ready to go when it is your time to enter the arena.

Reading your rule book in detail, and knowing all of the rules is one of the most important things that exhibitors can do to help their chances of success. Every breed association or club will have the rules that will be enforced regarding lip chains, class procedures, and how the class will be judged. There are many rules that change from year to year, and judges are required to keep up on the rules. Class procedures are important, and make sure to always give the ring stewards, and gate people the courtesy that they deserve. Many of the show staff are volunteers or underpaid but provide an invaluable service to the shows; they deserve respect from exhibitors, judges, and everyone involved.

Correct halter fit and snap placement

Know your equipment rules, and make certain that your halter and leads are properly adjusted and fitted to your horse. Make sure that your halter is pulled up and fitted so that it is not hanging loose on your horse’s head.  I see this at every show that I judge on quite a few horses and it makes me want to walk up and tighten up the halter myself so that the horse’s head looks better. It is fine to have halters on a little loose at home when you get a horse out of the stall to saddle them up, but when showing at halter it is important to snug them up and create that clean look. I also want to note that the chains need to be sturdy chains and not the smaller chains that I often see that look like chains one would use to walk their dog. It is not so important that the halter has an abundance of silver, but that it fits well. We are judging your horse, not the halter. Just make sure that your halter is clean, well made, and fits your horse properly. Do your research and find companies or saddle makers that specialize in quality hand made show halters. The well-fitted halter on a horse is just as important as how well your hat is shaped.

Tracking the horse properly to the judge

On the class procedures it is extremely important to “WALK YOUR HORSE TO THE JUDGE”. So often, when an exhibitor walks to the judge, the judge has to step to his left to see the horse track because the exhibitor walks straight to the judge putting the horse a few feet to the judge’s left. It is important for the judge to see the horse track at the walk and trot, and if he cannot see them track correctly, he will have to either re-track the horse or move into position to see the horse track. In most of the breed and open shows there will be a cone where the exhibitors should track toward at the trot and then make a left turn, showing the judge the profile view at the trot giving him the opportunity to evaluate the horse’s movement and to detect any unsoundness. If you make a nice sharp turn and continue with your trot to the left and then line up under the direction of the ring steward, it allows the judge to properly assess your horse.

Mark Sheridan Halter

Proper sharp left trotting turn at cone

This leads to two more important tips, the first one being: make sure that your horse is broke to trot and leads well, and able to make the sharp turns and make it easy for us to judge him. Keep in mind that if a judge cannot adequately view and inspect your horse, he must place them accordingly. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first time weekend horse show or a five-time World Champion halter horse at the World Show; if we can not properly view and judge them, they have to be placed with that in mind. Years ago, halter horses could bounce around, kick out and misbehave and still win, but those days are long gone. It is important to train your Halter Horse just like you would a Performance Horse. Make sure that you set your horse up every day or as often as possible. The best way to do this is to set them up, or square them up, when you take them out of the stall, and again when you are finished working with them before you put them back into the stall or paddock. Horses are creatures of habit, and if you do your homework and practice often, they will square up fast and correctly at the show all the time. Get your horse broke to set up without handling his feet and legs. It’s fine to help them learn where their legs are supposed to be with your hands when setting up while first teaching them, but work to get them to set up without handling their legs at the show. I have a simple theory when teaching horses to square up; I teach them to start with the outside right hind first, then the hind left, then the front feet last. Remember to adjust their weight accordingly to be able to move their feet.  If they are leaning on a leg, they will not be able to move that particular leg. Horses are easy to train, if you just do your homework, be consistent, and spend the time.

Pet Peeve #1 – Completely improper

The second important tip is to make sure that you space your horse with enough room to make it easy for the judge to walk around him. This cuts down on the chance of horses kicking and, more importantly, allows the judge to have enough space to get a good view of your horse from the front and back. Use common sense; in a stallion class, for example, one must obviously give more room between the horses for safety issues. In a smaller arena the ring steward will most likely instruct you where to line up. Always keep in mind: To place your horse we must be able to see your horse. A pet peeve of mine that is relevant to these two tips is to make sure that you do not put your lead behind your back and reach back to set up a leg. This always drives me nuts! We all have our likes and dislikes, but this one is very improper and very unsafe.

Halter Class Mark Sheridan

Proper way to show bite

Moving on to more helpful tips, one of the most important ones is very simple, yet so many people struggle with it: mouthing your horse. If you show a mare or stallion, it is mandatory that you show their teeth or “bite” to the judge. A judge must be able to see where the incisors line up to determine if they are parrot mouth or have any other mouth issues. The proper way to do this is to put one hand on their mouth and separate upper and lower lips to expose the bite. I find it amazing how many people fight their horses with this simple maneuver. If you just spend a few moments every time you are around your horse, they will allow for you to part their lips and show the teeth. Most of the Halter horse trainers will show you their horse’s teeth upon approaching the horse for inspection and, as a judge, this make our jobs easier so that we don’t have to ask to see their teeth. If more people would watch the really talented Halter trainers show their horses, they could pick up a few pointers just by watching. If you have the opportunity to view the right professionals, watching and observing people who are experts can be as valuable as taking lessons.

My next tip is another very constructive and important thought. At most of the shows that I judge, there is always a horse or two that is acting up and rearing, spooking, misbehaving, and/or will not set up or trot. The comment I hear time and time again from the exhibitor is, “This is his first show”. I am very patient in these situations and I try to be helpful, however, if these horses went to a show a few times just for the ride and learned to be around different venues and conditions, they would show so much better the first time they actually competed. I never take a two-year-old pleasure horse or green western riding or trail horse to their first show and actually exhibit them on their first trip away from home. I will haul them around to shows and ride them around, and let the young ones get used to being on the road and different situations and arenas. There is not much difference with the Halter as well. Take them to a roping event, open show, or the neighbor’s arena and tie them to the fence and let them chill. This will go a long way in getting them to relax and show well at their first outing. Exposure for young horses is very important.

One of the most important issues that exhibitors must realize, is that if we cannot see their numbers, and if it very difficult for us to find their numbers, it can become a challenge. It is important for exhibitors to always make their numbers easy for the judges to see. When I show in the Halter classes, I put the number on my hip for two reasons: I can always see the judge and they can always see my number at all times. The last thing I want to do is make a judge hunt for my number or send the ring steward out to find my number. The second reason being that I don’t like putting pin holes in a $75 dress shirt! I understand that in the Showmanship class it’s mandatory to put your number on your back, but just make sure that in the Halter class that the judge can find your number with ease.  Many times in the Halter classes, the exhibitors will practice their Showmanship skills. This is fine as long as you make sure to let us judge your horse and don’t be bouncing around from side to side and obstructing our view. If your number is on your back and you have a ponytail that blocks the number, this could be an issue for the judge and ring steward when we are trying to find your number. It’s so important for a judge to be able to find the right numbers with ease in order to place the class correctly. Keep an eye on the judges, and be ready to show your horse when they arrive for the inspection. It’s very important to be aware of where the judges are, especially in a multi-judged event. As a judge I can say that we always strive to place the class in the right order and to get the numbers correct all day long; making it easy for us to do so will help you out as well!

In wrapping up, please keep in mind that these are my personal opinions and not those of any breed associations. I judge alongside many talented and knowledgeable professional horseman and horsewomen, and feel that these are the most helpful and useful tips that will aid in future success with your horses. I also suggest contacting the AQHA to find a talented Professional Horseman in your area who can help you with whatever guidance you might need for your horse, regardless of the breed, event, or type of training. Feel free to contact me anytime for thoughts or questions regarding this article or past articles and enjoy riding, teaching, and learning with your horse!

Western Pleasure Basics

A western pleasure line-up at an open show. Photo by Deanna Buschert

Published in the August 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.


The original western pleasure horse was one that could be ridden around the farm and down the road, giving the rider a pleasant experience as he or she walked, jogged or loped along the way. Many years and horse shows later, this horse should still be a pleasure to ride, but has become specialized to the degree that most pleasure horses are bred for this one event and haven’t seen a farm or a trail since they were foaled. The modern pleasure horse should have a free-flowing stride and cover ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a level topline while performing rhythmic and cadenced gaits. The horse should be clean and well-groomed, with hoof-polish applied and generally, a banded mane. Tail extensions are permitted.

The gaits of the western pleasure horse are: a natural, flat-footed four-beat walk, straight and ground-covering; a smooth, two-beat diagonal jog, with even strides front and hind; and a rhythmic three-beat lope with forward motion in the correct lead. “Forward motion” means ground-covering – not extreme speed. Horses must also back easily, in a straight line without resistance. Various rulebooks require that the judge ask for moderate extensions of the jog in some classes. Riders should sit the extended jog. The ApHCC rulebook gives the judge the option of asking for extensions of the walk, jog and lope.

Format: The western pleasure class is for all horses to enter the ring on the rail, starting in either direction. All three gaits will be called for in each direction, with horses reversing at the walk to the inside of the pen. At the conclusion of the rail work, the horses may be asked to back, either in position on the rail, or from a centre lineup. According to most rulebooks a judge may ask for additional work, but this is rarely called for. The rider will not be asked to dismount unless the judge wishes to check equipment.

Equipment: Includes a standard western saddle and bridle, with silver not to count over a good working outfit. A junior horse (five years and under) may be ridden with two hands, with a bosal or snaffle bit. The bosal must be flexible, braided leather or rawhide with no rigid core. A senior horse (six years and over) must be ridden with one hand and a curb (shank) bit. Check your rulebook for descriptions and measurements of legal snaffles and curb bits, as well as curb chains and straps. Optional equipment may include a rope or reata, hobbles attached to the saddle, breast collar, and spurs. Prohibited equipment includes boots, wraps and bandages, martingales, and nosebands. Attire required includes pants, a long-sleeved shirt, blouse, or jacket with a collar, western hat, western boots, with chaps optional in most associations. Hard hats or safety helmets are now optional in some associations.

Faults: These are scored according to severity. They include: Excessive speed or slowness; wrong lead; breaking gait; failure to take gait when called for; touching the horse or saddle with the free hand; head carried too high or low; overflexing (head behind the vertical); excessive nosing out; horse opening mouth excessively; stumbling; use of spurs ahead of the cinch; horse sullen, dull, tired or emaciated; choppy strides; too much drape in the reins; horse overly canted at the lope; bolting or bucking; and refusal to back.

Disqualifications: Fall of horse or rider; use of prohibited equipment; two hands on the reins (unless using a snaffle or bosal); changing hands on the reins; more than one finger between reins with split reins; and obvious lameness.

Divisions: All-ages or senior horse, junior horse, three-year-old (in Appaloosa and Paint shows with no cross-entry to junior horse) and two-year-old, as well as youth, amateur (non-pro), novice amateur and any other division offered by the breed association. Two-year-olds may not be shown under saddle before a set date specified in each rulebook: January 1 for APHA; May 20 for ApHC; June 1 for ApHCC; and July 1 for AQHA. Again, check your own rulebook.

Know the Class – Yearling Longeline

Published in the May 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review


Yearling Longeline

Photo by SilverHart Photographic.

This class for yearling pleasure prospects was developed a few years ago by the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) and has since been adopted by several of the stock horse breed associations. Many trainers and owners were longing their yearlings anyway, and saw a chance to exhibit them to future buyers with this class. A format was decided upon and rules for attire and equipment established. The yearling was to be shown for 90 seconds, approximately 45 seconds in each direction, at the walk, jog and lope in both directions. Hunter under saddle prospects could be shown with the handler in English attire, and the horse performing a walk, trot and canter. Originally, the horse was shown on the longeline first and then shown in halter-fashion for conformation. This procedure was changed as judges felt that the yearling should be inspected for soundness before being shown on the longeline. Now, the horse is set up for the judge(s) and trotted around a cone for soundness before beginning the longeline demonstration.

Yearling longeline is an approved point class for the APHA, ApHC and ApHCC, as well as several other associations, but is not approved by the AQHA. Rules have been adopted from the NSBA, with most classes at AQHA shows being held as futurities.

The yearling should be fitted for the longeline class as if it were halter class bound. It should be clean, clipped and banded – if that is the standard of the breed. Hooves should be polished to the breed standard, and tail brushed out. Most breeds permit a tail extension.

The NSBA does have an excellent video on the preparation and showing of a longeline horse. Remember to read your association rules as some may differ. The ApHCC, for example, allows a handler to show more than one horse in a longeline class, whereas other associations do not. Some organizations require that the judge’s scoresheets be posted. Read your rulebook before attempting this challenging and practical class.

Purpose: The objective of the yearling longeline class is to demonstrate that the horse has the movement, manners, expression, attitude and conformation to become competitive under saddle, and to reward these qualities. Yearlings are not expected to demonstrate the behavior or quality of a finished show horse.

Format: In this class, each horse is set up individually in front of the judge(s) to be inspected for conformation, and then at a signal from the judge, trotted off around a cone. Horses showing evidence of lameness are dismissed. The horses may all be kept in the arena, or may wait outside to be ready to start the longeline portion. A lead shank can be used for the conformation inspection, and then must be changed to a longeline.

The longing demonstration starts with an audible signal once the handler has the horse at the perimeter of it’s circle. The exhibitor is allowed a total of 90 seconds during which the horse must walk, jog and lope (or trot and canter) in both directions. A “45-second” signal is usually given as a guideline. The turnaround at the walk is considered as fulfilling the walk requirement in the second direction. The horse may work in either direction first.

Equipment: For the horse includes a halter only, plain or show-type. A longeline no longer than 30 feet is snapped to the halter, hanging free from the halter without touching any part of the horse (i.e. no chains over or under the jaw). A longe whip may be used, but a disqualification will occur if the exhibitor strikes the horse with the whip. (This does not mean that an exhibitor cannot subtly use the whip away from the horse to encourage movement.)

The exhibitor’s attire must be conventional western attire, unless the horse is being shown as a hunter under saddle prospect, in which case English attire should be worn.

Scoring: Movement 80 points; manners/expression/attitude 10 points; conformation 20 points; and use of circle 3 points. The movement score is broken up into 4 walk points each way; 16 jog/trot points each way, and 20 lope/canter points each way. You can see that as the lope holds the most points, it would be better as an exhibitor to show your horse more at the lope than spend a lot of time walking. The exhibitor is encouraged to make full use of the 25-foot longing circle, but only 3 points are allotted to this. As the conformation score is out of 20, obviously yearlings with better conformation, suitable to that of a pleasure horse, will add more points to their scores.

Disqualifications: Evidence of lameness, horse falling, improper equipment, abuse, disrespect to judge, striking horse with whip, horse stepping over or becoming entangled in the longeline, failure to show at all three gaits in each direction, horse becoming loose in arena.

Q & A Trailer Loading Headaches

Published in the April 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

Joch Nichol Trailer Loading

Josh Nichol offers no-fuss trailer loading advice.

Josh Nichol answers a reader’s question on a common trailer loading issue. Nichol, is a horse trainer and clinician who resides at Eagles Wing Ranch in Meanook Alberta near Edmonton. He once said: “Softness is the ultimate goal in everything we do with our horses, for only through softness can a horse be and give his best.” It’s been said of him that he understands the deeper way and greater way of horsemanship. Visit him online at

Question: We have five horses at home. We purchased a 12-year-old mare two years ago and we used her regularly at gymkhana and team penning events. When we first got her, she would walk in our stock trailer by herself and out (moving forward), without any problems. Then one weekend last summer, we used a slant trailer. She walked in without a fuss but when we asked her to back up, she was out like a sling shot. Following this incident, she panicked at various competitions while being tied to the trailer and even broke three halters. In an attempt to avoid any more episodes, we purchased a pen that attached to our stock trailer. A couple of months ago, we had to use a slant trailer again and just like before she got in without a fuss, but on the back up, she moved out so fast it was dangerous. Now, she is at a point where she is uncomfortable and nervous even getting in our stock trailer. I’ve had to park the trailer at the entrance of the round pen where she would need to get in on her own to get her feed, hay and water. With a lot of probing she finally got in again, but I can sense that she is not like she used to be. What can we do? Teach her that it’s okay to be tied in/out of the stock/slant trailers, and back out without danger out of the slant trailer? Please note, there is no ramp, it’s a step up.

~ Josée Martel, Clarence Creek, ON

Answer: Most of the time when a horse worries as they back out of a trailer, they will hurry. As they hurry the lead rope soon tightens up amplifying the horse’s anxiety, seemingly giving them more to fight against. To fix this problem we must break it down and fix it in parts.

The first part we have to work on is the definition of the lead rope. Most horses will lightly respond to the lead rope when there is nothing to worry about but as soon as a greater worry shows up, the lead rope loses its effect. I would start by seeing if your horse has the ability to soften her head down to the lead. Apply a small amount of pressure to the lead and see what you feel. If there is a large amount of resistance, ease off a little but keep a question of pressure in the lead until she thinks to soften her head down. Remember that there is a difference between lightness and softness; she can quickly throw her head down but this does not mean she is soft.

Next it is extremely important to have your horse understand your space. Take a moment to engage the space making sure she is staying soft. Most often when the horse worries you will then see if they truly understand your leadership. Ask her to stop to your space, back her up with your space, softening her head each time you stop her. Pressure can also be used to help her understand forward is the answer, if that becomes a problem. As soon as she steps forward, stop your pressure. Once this is working, walk her up to the trailer. As you are leading her to the trailer, do you get a sense that the space is no longer clear and/or is she still soft on the lead?

Now that you have your basics you can work in the trailer. You can start in the stock or the slant, which ever you are more comfortable in, although it may be a smaller question for her to start in the stock. When you ask her to step into the trailer see that she brings only her front feet and stop her. At this point ask her to soften her head and wait, then back her out. From here ask her to bring in all four feet and stop her; ask her to soften her head and wait, then back her out. It’s at this stage that she may rush out. If she does, keep only a small amount of pressure on the lead and go with her and ask her to soften her head once she’s out, proceeding back into the trailer.

Often we do not earn each step, we take them the whole way into the trailer. Work towards breaking the problem down into small parts and help her stay soft each step of the way into the trailer. Take her into the trailer two steps and back her out, then three steps and back out. The back feet are usually the big struggle, so once you have gotten the back feet in stop her, get her soft then back out and let her take some time if she needs to figure out her feet.

Usually a pulling problem is a horse that does not understand to soften to the lead. It is the same reason she is pulling backwards in the horse trailer. If you can get her to soften to your lead and your space at each step of the way, as well as getting her to soften under pressure, you will be able to get ahead of this problem.

Friday's Q&A: Bridling Issues

Published in the June 2007 edition of the Western Horse Review. 

Bridling a horse

Photo Credit: Cowgirl Creations


My horse puts his head way up in the air when I bridle him. How can I make him stop?

~ Karen Talmed, Cochrane, AB


Generally the reason a horse’s head is up is an act of self preservation. Regardless of the circumstance, he is trying to escape. Perhaps he had his teeth banged when he was bridled in the past, or someone was rough with his ears.

First, you need to teach him to bring his head down to your level. Put pressure on the halter, pulling directly down. When he gives, even just a little bit, release immediately. Then try again until he is at your level.

If this method isn’t bringing his head down, use the same pressure, but side to side to help him understand the pressure and release.

If he throws his head, try to keep your hands on his face, but keep your hands soft and gentle. If he is flinging his head he generally is saying he doesn’t like his head being touched. Try to make it enjoyable for him by remaining soft and calm.

Ask his head to come down to a workable level when he has grasped the concept. Make sure you can rub his mouth, face, and ears all over, while keeping his head down. If you feel that he is nervous about the bit, try putting a rope in his mouth first, then just a bit, then with the bridle. When you do bridle him, try to be as smooth as possible by not poking him in the eyes accidentally, pulling on his ears or letting the bit hit his teeth. It can help to put the far ear in first.

Every time you bridle, don’t be rushed. Forget the rest of the world, and take the time he needs. He will get better as time goes on and as you remain soft and calm with his head.

~ Stevi Weissbach, natural horsemanship practitioner

Six Tips For A Successful Clinic

Al Dunning's 3-Day Visit

Al Dunning and Erin Shields.

This past weekend was a busy one for Clay and I. We had a special event taking place in our arena for the last three days – World Champion, AQHA Professional Horseman and judge, Al Dunning was conducting a clinic. Of course, Dunning has many more credentials than what I just named, so participants took every opportunity they had to glean information out of the Arizona horseman and his assistant, Jade.

The clinic was divided into three main segments: reining, cutting and fence work. Each portion was featured in a day’s worth of exercises and discussion.

Of course, there was lots to do to prepare for such an event. Doug and Rocky Sapergia were the clinic hosts and put a tremendous amount of work into bringing the event to fruition. Meanwhile, my husband got busy moving panels, moving buffalo and making way for 80 head of cattle to move onto our property temporarily.

But what a great turnout it was and what a great bunch of  people! Thanks goes to our buddies Sam (pictured below on his trusty steed Isaac) and Clayton for their assistance with the cattle.

Here’s Arley Elliot making some moves down the fence.

And Bob Lee and his awesome horse:

Here Rob Palmer gets some show tips from Al’s perspective as a judge.

Here’s Laurel Scharien taking  a trip down the fence:

And Walter Reti and CD Ben.

I even had the chance to sneak in for a photo-op…

Then there was this little contest…

Noticing the climbing rope on the one end of our arena, Rocky jumped at the chance to post a challenge to the crowd. Whoever could climb to the top in the fastest time would receive a coveted prize. So there were lots of challengers. Here goes Patti Taylor…

Erin Thomson Shields makes it to the top.

Anne Thomson gets a little assistance from Al himself.

And Sam gave it a go…

He showed us some of his Cirque du Soleil moves:

While the crowd looked on.

Sam made it to the top in the fastest time.

After many laughs, I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all. Stay tuned to Western Horse Review future issues for some upcoming training information with Mr. Dunning himself. Happy Monday!