De-Spooking Shadow/ Update on Episode 909

The Key to De-Spooking Shadow    annettejulieIMG_0139
Desensitizing had failed. Could a new approach help this gelding—on camera, no less?

By Annette Nole Hall

Our beautiful, kid-broke Tennessee Walking Horse is a spook. His name is Shadow and he’s afraid of it. We weren’t expecting that part of his personality when we purchased him, and I’ve spent the last three years trying to figure out what to do about it.
When something frightens him, he’ll drop down, splaying all four legs. Then he turns and bolts–into you if you’re leading him, or carrying you off if you’re mounted. Worse, what spooks him one day might not spook him the next. Then, the day after that, he’ll spook again. He’s like Groundhog Day.
His previous owners say they’ve never experienced his quirky side. But no matter how many times we’ve desensitized him to every tarp, bucket, flag, bag, and lead rope, there comes a point where he’ll act as if he’s never seen those horrifying things before.
I worried that keeping him was putting my family in danger. Selling him, though (to someone who might not be willing to work with his special needs) could put him at risk. What to do?

Shadow’s Last Hope
I saw an advertisement for RFD-TV’s “Horse Master With Julie Goodnight.” For a chance to be on the program, people could send in a video of their horse demonstrating a “behavior challenge.” I took a camera out to see if Shadow would show his spooky side on video. He would and he did–so much so, in fact, I knew whether we were accepted for the show or not, this could be the end of my relationship with this unusual horse.
An email from Julie’s producer informed me Shadow and I had made the cut. Soon we were making plans to transport Shadow from Nashville, Tennessee, to Gillsville, Georgia. The Grove River Ranch is where we’d meet up with the woman I considered Shadow’s  last hope.
On our first day on the set, he nearly pulled my arm off when I tried to lead him past some tractors. Then he ran back to the barn. Julie explained that rather than sacking out or desensitizing, I was to learn to encourage Shadow’s investigative instincts.
This meant keeping his nose pointed at whatever frightened him–a cone with bags attached, for example–until he calmed down and his curiosity prompted him to want to investigate. Then, I held him back a bit longer when he actually wanted to step toward it; this really switched him into “investigative mode.” There was a noticeable change in him in that moment.

Bravery Games
The next day, on camera, Julie rode Shadow toward a waving flag, making him stop and look until he was interested and wanted to move toward it. It wasn’t desensitizing; it was getting him into investigative mode. And it kept him from turning and running to the barn for safety.
Though I came to the filming well versed in equine fight-or-flight reactions, Julie was the first to introduce me to the “investigative side” of a horse’s brain. Shadow and I learned to turn potential spook situations into bravery games, working first with Julie, then under the direction of her able assistant trainer, Twyla Walker-Collins.
The day after our segment, Julie finished off her 200th episode of “Horse Master.” Clearly, she’s dealt with some serious horse situations. When Shadow and I were with her, though, it felt as if our problem was the most important one she’d ever addressed. She wouldn’t give up until we got the help we needed.
I left the experience fully prepared to keep Shadow and confident I knew how to deal with his spookiness. And, on our first long trail ride since our visit to Georgia, he only spooked twice, both times for a pretty legitimate reason. This is a huge improvement! I’m excited about his progress and I can’t wait to work with him more, more, more.

Annette Nole Hall is an Emmy-award-winning freelance television producer, writer, and on-air guide for an outdoor adventure show. A Certified Horsemanship Association instructor, she lives near Nashville, Tennessee, with her family, five horses, and two dogs. When not riding, teaching, or training, she writes an inspirational blog for women at


First seen in Horse & Rider, March 2016 issue. Used by permission of the author, Annette Nole Hall.

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How to take the challenge:

Find a friend (or friends) willing to take the challenge with you—or join our online friends who are joining me in the challenge, by signing in below (hit the comments link at the end of this entry and share your successes and frustrations! This is your place to join the community).

The “Rules”

  1. Agree that you will lose five pounds over a certain period of time—we decided on one month, but it could be longer or maybe even have no time limit at all.
  2. Then agree on what the prize will be when you reach that goal—it should be something you’ve been wanting for a while but haven’t yet treated yourself to. We decided on a manicure this time, but also considered massages, a new pair of shoes, a day at the lake, Sunday brunch at our favorite restaurant, a lesson/clinic with your favorite instructor, a day-ride with your friends.
  3. Next have the weighing-in ceremony and document your starting weight—everyone on the same scale. Write it all down—starting weight and goal and everyone signs it. We followed our weighing-in ceremony with a rigorous hike up “butt hill”, kicking off our five-pound campaign.
  4. Then go to work to lose the weight—keeping in close contact with your fellow challengers and spurring each other on. Sharing ideas, recipes, successes, agonies and defeats, with a hard eye on the goal. One idea: Keep yourself accountable by making rules for yourself and reporting in by text or email to a friend (or post here in the comments) each day!
  5. Want to make it official and start a real deal with yourself? Sign our commitment form:
  6. Some tips (as I’ve been working to keep in shape before our next TV shoot): Dieting need not be so hard—there’s lots of ways to make it easier. There has never been a shortage of faddish new diet plans, each with its own gimmick. But at the end of the day, any successful diet always boils down to two important factors: eat less and move more. The trick is to finding the right system for you—whether it’s a proven formula like South Beach or Atkins, or a customized formula to meet your personality, lifestyle and blood type.

I hope you’ll sign-on. Please comment below to join the fun and share any ideas you have that make it fun and easy!

Enjoy the ride,



Note from Julie: October 2015 Logo

Dear friends,

We’ve just returned from an incredible 4-day ranch-riding clinic at the C Lazy U Ranch and soon I am headed to Spanaway, Washington, for my last 2-day horsemanship clinic of the year, then I get to go back to C Lazy U for the riding and yoga retreat (treat is the operative word!). Soon we will be releasing my 2016 clinic schedule, but you can always check my website for details on my full clinic and expo schedule.

I am also excited to be going to Amarillo, Texas, in October for the CHA International Conference and to visit the AQHA Hall of Fame; to Springfield MA, in November for Equine Affaire; then on to Las Vegas with the good folks from Cosequin for the equine vet tech conference, held in conjunction with the AAEP conference and the National Finals Rodeo (this is the time of year that Sin City becomes Cowboy Central).

We’ll be doing our fall TV shoot at the Grove River Ranch in Georgia the first week of November. I’m excited to head south to my old neck of the woods! This is a gorgeous facility and a place where you can trailer in to stay at their cabin, fish and ride!

The fall is always busy for me but I still manage to get some good riding time on my horses. Dually, my number one horse (and the most high-maintenance horse we own) is fully recovered from his near fatal bout with Colitis in the spring. In fact, he’s gotten a little cocky and full of himself—a good sign that he is feeling better but also a sign that we need to get back to more structured training. It’s back to school time for Dually!

Eddie’s Pick is my junior horse and he would love to step  into the number one spot. He comes off the renowned 6666 Ranch, by their World Champion stallion, Sixes Pick. Eddie, a handsome reflection of his daddy, is one of the most eager-to-please and hardworking horses I have ever ridden. Now, as a 6 year old, he has matured physically and mentally (especially the latter) and is becoming a good working partner for me. I don’t know that he could ever fully replace Dually—those are some BIG shoes to fill—but he is sure giving Dually a run for his money!

Although I was sad to say goodbye to summer, I love the fall and getting back on the road and working with horses, and their humans, is very rewarding for me. I enjoy getting to know all the horses I meet, even the naughty ones. Maybe especially the naughty ones—helping horses and their humans get along better is a fun challenge to embrace. I hope to see you on the road this fall and together we will talk horses!


Enjoy the ride,



For No Apparent Reason: Learning to understand why horses behave the way they do Logo

When folks tell me about problem behaviors, I hear one phrase often. I admit I’ve even said it myself when I was a young trainer. “For no apparent reason, my horse….” You can fill in the next part with any frightening horse behavior. Choose from a list such as: bucked me off, kicked me, bit me, ran away, spooked, refused to get in the trailer, refused to go in the arena, reared. The list of behaviors that follows this phrase is long.

This one little phrase—for no apparent reason—seems to absolve the human of all responsibility. Surely the horse was to blame for his unexpected reaction. The phrase implies that there’s something wrong with the horse’s behavior. But there’s an important word buried within this phrase: apparent. Just because the human doesn’t yet know what caused the behavior, doesn’t mean the horse didn’t sense something real. It wasn’t apparent to the handler, but the horse knows what caused the behavior. It’s our job as horsemen to find out what was apparent to the horse.

Behaviors Have Purpose

All behaviors have a reason or purpose. There is always some purpose or meaning behind the behavior that a horse displays. It doesn’t always seem purposeful to us, but it is to the horse. You cannot watch a horse more than a minute without seeing behaviors.

Let’s get this fact straight: just because we do not like a horse’s behavior doesn’t mean that it is a bad behavior. For instance, a horse that kicks is not a bad horse; he’s a horse—they all kick. Horses may kick when they are startled or feeling the need to defend their space—or to ward off a predator. Or it may be an aggressive move to gain dominance. Kicking does not make him a bad horse and it is not a bad behavior from the horse’s point of view. He actually finds it quite useful. It’s just a behavior we humans don’t like, so we think of it as bad.

There should not be any value judgment when observing a behavior. Behaviors that are undesirable to us humans are not bad they just are. The challenge we as horse people have, is to promote the behaviors we want and try to eliminate, or extinguish the behaviors that are undesirable, unsafe or unmanageable– not to get caught up in the horse’s drama and react in an emotional way or take his behavior personally.

I talk a lot in my clinics about horse training—teaching the horse manners, cues, obedience and responsiveness. We are all horse trainers—anytime you interact with a horse, you are either training him or un-training him. It’s just that some people are better at training –or promoting the good behaviors– than others.

Find the Motivation

To me, after a half-century of training horses, the most effective way to have an impact is to first understand the natural and instinctive behaviors of horses. Then try to understand the motivation for the specific behavior. Only once you have an idea of the motivation, employ well-known, science-based training techniques that are proven to be effective (such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning, negative and positive reinforcers, replacement training vs. punishment, finding the amount of pressure needed to motivate change, etc.). If you understand the behavior first, you’ll see that it doesn’t come “out of the blue.” You’ll think of reasons that may have caused the behavior and choose your plan to teach the horse to act another way.

You will always be more effective in changing a horse’s behavior if you can understand the origins of that behavior: is it instinctive or learned behavior; how is the horse benefitting from this behavior; how motivated is he in this behavior; and how engrained or habitual is the behavior (how long has he been doing this)? These answers are sometimes hard to know, but the more you understand about the horse’s behavior, the easier it is to affect change.

Calm and Carry On

Noticing the horse’s body language and state of mind can only happen if you’re calm and paying attention. There is often a mystique around some horse handler’s ability to “read” the horse. You know, some people are nicknamed “horse whisperers.” But reading a horse and understanding his language doesn’t have to be confusing or mystical. If you understand the communicative language of horses (they speak through postures and gestures), they are actually pretty transparent. But you do have to be aware and pay attention. Even a person that has no experience with horses ought to be able to look at one and tell you whether it is relaxed or nervous, attentive or distracted, agitated or content. The information is there—all you have to do is observe and think about what the horse may be sensing.

But keep in mind that because they are herd animals–and prey–they are hard-wired to take on the emotions of the other animals in the herd—and that includes you! If one animal becomes frightened—all the horses in the herd will tend to respond the same way. So when things get tough, it is incredibly important that we humans try to keep our emotions in check. No matter how you feel on the inside (scared, angry, frustrated) keep your body language and emotions in check and remain calm. No need to throw gas on the fire.

Instincts Rule

Recently, the results of scientific research into horse behavior proved something that horsemen have known for centuries. Horses are prey animals and as such, they instinctively hide their pain. Think about it—which horse gets eaten first by the predator? It’s the one in the back of the herd—the slowest, sickest or lamest horse. Horses don’t want to show pain if they can mask it because showing pain shows weakness. This one fact of life explains a lot about horses.

Some horses have a very high threshold of pain and will mask any discomfort they feel (while others, like my horse Dually, will let you know if a hair is out of place). That means it is up to us to become the investigator, to know each horse as an individual, and also we have the responsibility to address every problem as a pain issue first, and rule out any possible physical cause for undesirable behavior before we address it as a training issue. After more than three decades of training horses, I can tell you that more “training problems” originate from physical problems than most people realize.

Also, related to this same instinct, is the horrific instinctive fear that most horses have about being left behind. If you only have two horses at home and you take one out of the pen to ride, it is the horse that is left behind that throws a fit. If you try to hold your horse back in a group trail ride while the others gallop off into the sunset, you are picking a huge fight with your horse that you may not win. The horse’s desire for safety and to be part of the herd is strong.

Horses are herd-bound according to their instinct—it is called gregarious behavior. They simply want to be friendly and be around the herd. Yet we tend to speak of herd-bound, barn-sour behavior as an affliction. The behavior is deemed bad by humans, but it’s simply a typical horse behavior. It is a simple fact of horsemanship that unless and until the horse gets the same sense of security and comfort from you that he gets from the herd, he is not going to want to leave with you. It is not the horse’s affliction—it is your lack of leadership and authority that is at issue; you have to change, not the horse.

Listen to the Horses

We owe it to our horses to understand their behavior and learn more about effective training techniques and to be the strong leader that they need, including accepting responsibility for our own actions or failures. Nothing happens “out of the blue.” Nothing happens “for no apparent reason.” The horses are telling us something with their behavior and we need to help them by finding out what doesn’t feel right.

A great example of this concept happened at one of the shoots for my TV show. In this instance, it would have been easy to blame the horse, but he indeed had something to tell us. His behavior only seemed “out of the blue.”

Several of us were fussing with a horse to get him ready for the segment we were taping (wiping his nose, adjusting the tack, checking the microphone on the rider, etc.). Several people rushing around a horse at one time is a recipe for disaster indeed. But this was a horse we knew and he’s known to have a calm and accepting attitude. Still, it’s just too easy to not notice something that you would see if you were the only one checking tack and doing all in a slow, intricate order. We were saddling the horse with brand new tack—fixing the cinches, adjusting all of the new leather. In the mix and chaos, one of my crewmembers was suddenly kicked.

Some may have said the horse’s kick was “for no apparent reason.” It did seem out of the blue for this horse. But a little investigating showed us it was us humans, not the horse who needed a lesson. As it turns out, the new saddle we placed on the horse had a back cinch that wasn’t connected to the front. In the chaos and hurry, we hadn’t noticed that the hobble had come untied. The back cinch slid back to an uncomfortable position for the horse. It was in the position of a bucking strap! To the horse, the reason for his behavior was obvious. His kick was a behavior to get that out of his space.

Later that evening, my crewmember called his wife—who happens to be a horse trainer. He told her he had gotten kicked. I’m sure he was expecting her to say, “OMG, are you ok?” Instead, her response was, “What did you do to the horse to make him kick you?” (A woman after my own heart!) The fault was with us humans. What wasn’t apparent to us was apparent to the horse. And we now have practices in place to make sure that we slow down and check details instead of being in such a rush to hit record. Only two crew members attending to a horse at any given time. It was a lesson for us to learn. Slow down, notice, and think about what the horse is experiencing.

We, as humans, must accept responsibility for understanding horses better. We must think about why and how our interactions with horses work or don’t work. Horses will never study human behavior or effective training techniques. It’s our job to learn about them. Embrace it—horsemanship is a journey— and the more you learn, the more rewarding it becomes!

Enjoy the ride,


Horse Master TV Schedule for RFD-TV

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Julie’s Tips On America’s Horse Daily Logo

Find Julie’s tips from the AQHA publication.
Tips about riding a rough trot, dealing with a head shy horse, links to safety videos, cantering tips, manners at feed time and more. Videos and articles await>>

Horseback Riding Basics: Using Your Aids, Part 2 from AQHA Daily Logo

Clear, consistent communication is the key to smooth transitions with your horse.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explains that your horse comes to understand how you’re moving with how he’s moving and that you can use this concept to have seamless transitions.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight in America’s Horse

In Part 1 of this series, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explained the importance of natural aids and focused on the seat as the most vital of the natural aids. In this final part, she moves on to cover transitions and keeping the attention of your horse. Read more>>

Your Horse’s Quiet Place; Teaching the head down cue Logo

Getting your horse to drop his head gives him a serene, quiet place to be. It’s a great horse-training technique.

From AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Certified Horsemanship Association instructor Julie Goodnight.

Your horse’s head is like a needle on a gauge – it can signify your horse’s mental state. When his head comes up in any increment, the horse is tensing; when the head lowers, he is relaxing. When the horse is poised for flight, the head is all the way up, and when he is most relaxed, his nose is all the way to the ground. Signs of relaxation in the horse are synonymous with the signs of subordinance, because once the horse accepts your authority, he can relax and doesn’t have to worry, think or make any decisions.
Dropping the nose to the ground signals a horse’s willingness to accept your authority and his desire to be allowed into your herd. When you show good leadership to your horse, you should see this gesture often, and you should learn to watch for it.

We can teach the horse to drop his nose on command, giving him the same feeling of relaxation and subordinance. This cue comes in handy especially for highly nervous or irritable horses.

The Method

    • With your horse in a rope halter, simply put two fingers on the fiador knot (below the horse’s chin) and put light pressure on the halter. The amount of pressure you apply is equal to just putting your index and middle fingers on top of the knot. Don’t try to pull the horse’s head down – just apply a tiny amount of pressure and wait for the horse to give you the correct response to get the release.
    • When the head drops in any increment, even just a fraction of an inch, release the pressure and praise him, then ask again, releasing the pressure immediately at the first sign of movement in the right direction.
    • The first 4-6 inches of head drop are the hardest to get, but if your release is immediate, your horse will quickly understand what you want. Then, you can hold the pressure a little bit longer until you get more drop. Soon, his head will plunge all the way down with the lightest pressure.
    • In the beginning of this training procedure, squat down as your horse lowers his head, praising and comforting him. But don’t kneel or sit around a horse; you should always be on your feet so you can get out of the way if things go wrong.

Trail Solutions

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From finding and evaluating the right trail horse to trailer loading, to working with a horse that’s barn and buddy sour, to approaching any obstacle you may face on the trail, Julie Goodnight and the Horse Master cast members will help you learn from real-life challenges such as getting in the trailer, refusing to leave the barn, walking off before you ask, balking at obstacles (such as tarps and water) and more.

  • Horse shopping
  • Trailer loading
  • Stand still for mount
  • Refusing & rearing
  • Approach scary obstacles

Troubleshooting Behavior Issues

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Whether your horse refuses to be caught and haltered, tosses his head while you ride, kicks and bites when you place the saddle, constantly stops at the gate, or in general has a bad attitude, these worst-case scenario episodes of Horse Master will help you see how to handle most any troublesome behavior. Watch the episodes you loved on TV–all based on one training theme! You’ll have step by step directions from Julie and over 90 minutes of instruction!

BONUS: Behind-the-scenes footage from three different episodes!

  • Don’t Cinch Me In (cinchy) Cinchy behavior
  • Can’t Make Me (refuses to cross tarp) Refusing obstacles
  • Rules of the Game (hard to catch) Hard to catch
  • Mustang Mascot (gate sour, balky) Gate sour
  • Bad Medicine (de-worm) Refusing medication


Canter Master

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Cantering can be the most fear-inducing gait—if you let it. instead, find out how to relax and trust you can control the speedy gait. with these 5 episodes, you’ll learn how to feel your leads—so you don’t have to look down in the show ring—then work up to perform flying lead changes. Julie Goodnight teaches in real time as cast members learn the skills and master their cantering goals.

  • What’s my cue? (cue for canter) how to cue
  • Hooked on a feeling (feel canter leads) feel your leads
  • Southern comfort (slow down the canter) slow the gait
  • Straighten up and fly right (flying lead changes) lead changes
  • Lost in transition (bucks at canter) troubleshoot bucking

Advanced Maneuvers

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Going beyond the basics, you’ll learn the technicalities, execution and cues for more advanced maneuvers. Learn feel and timing and be able to cue your horse lightly for specific maneuvers ranging from collection to lateral movements.

  • Feeling Correct Posting Diagonals: Posting on the correct diagonal is important for your horse’s balance at the trot. Learn to feel when to rise so that you never have to look down.
  • Leg Yielding: Julie works with an English collegiate equestrian to learn the cues and training progression for leg yielding/ two tracking.
  • Canter Collection: Julie works with a rider to take the horse from head up, hallowed and choppy at the canter to head down, rounded and collected through his body.
  • Pivots and Spins: A young English rider buys a finished reiner from Julie and needs to learn the cues and proper execution for a 460 degree pivot on the hindquarters.
  • Proper Gate Opening from Horseback: There is a specific procedure for proper and safe gate opening from horseback. Learn the sequence of movements for easy opening and higher scores.

Run time: approx 90 minutes plus a bonus segment from Julie’s Refinement and Collection DVD!

Raised with Manners

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(Unless you are receiving this free streaming version as a part of a DVD sale special, you will not receive a DVD with this purchase. You will be able to watch repeatedly with your online account. To opt for the DVD delivered by mail, click here to shop >>)

You only have one chance to raise your young horse right. You want him to be mannerly, respectful and safe to handle. With these five lessons from the reality TV show, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, you’ll learn techniques from halter training the foal to dealing with fractious adolescents.

  • Halter Training Foals: Julie shows a Friesian breeder how to train a two-month-old filly to lead and have manners in preparation for her breed inspection.
  • Lead Line Manners: Julie helps the new owner of a two-year-old Arab filly who has very little handling and is pushy, headstrong and unsafe. She’ll learn boundaries, manners and respect.
  • Safety and Respect: Julie works with a fractious yearling filly who kicks, strikes and walks all over her owner when leading. Learn how to keep yourself safe and establish boundaries and respect.
  • Longeing Obediently: Teach your young horse to longe without throwing a fit and to listen to you without pulling on the lead or trying to get away. Your work will prepare your horse for under-saddle training.
  • First Saddling: Teach your youngster to accept the saddle or any new stimulus with Julie’s advance and retreat lessons. Watch more under-saddle training with the Ready To Ride DVD preview included.