February 2020 Horse Report

We are in the midst of a long, hard winter! Typical this time of year, one day might be sunny and warm with highs in the 40s or 50s, and the next is single digits, snowy and high winds. If it weren’t for the indoor arena, not much riding would be happening at all. But even with a cozy indoor, when high temperatures are single digits or below, we do not work horses. One reason is that when the air is that cold and dry (often below 20% humidity), it can “scorch” the lungs of both horses and people if they start breathing too hard. Also, if the horses work up any kind of sweat when it’s that cold, it’s very difficult to get them to dry before nightfall. But even on the coldest days, it doesn’t hurt to get the horses out, tie them up, give them a good grooming and do a little slow-paced ground work (see my blog this month on Winter Whoas).

Rich’s new horse, Casper, is in-training as a mounted shooting horse and although gun-fire is not his favorite thing, he’s accepting it just fine with a little positive reinforcement. He’s now starting to associate the loud noise and strong smell with the good feelings he gets from eating a delectable treat. It will be a while before Rich can haul him anywhere, since our hauling truck was stolen in December. It was recovered a month later, but with a lot of cosmetic damage, so it remains in the shop. Don’t get me started on this subject…

My horses, Dually, Annie and Pepperoni, are all doing great. Dually is in full retirement now and although he still enjoys a high status in the herd, it’s gradually slipping with his age. Annie has become my go-to horse and is the only finished horse I have. She’s an awesome little horse—uncomplicated, fun to ride, and just my size at 14.0 hands! Not much to “work” on with her—she’s pretty finished but we ride her daily to maintain her fitness. My youngster, Pepperoni, is maturing nicely as a four-year-old. After his latest accident back in December (kicking out in his stall and entangling his foot high up on the stall grate, ultimately ripping the stall wall down), he seems to have become much more sensible during his moments of exuberance. Fortunately, he did not sustain any significant injury from that episode, but it did seem to have a positive effect on his maturity and sensibility.

Pepper is still relatively green for a horse of his age, partly by design and partly because of his propensity for injury. I intentionally bought a young horse because I enjoy training colts but also because I want to control how much pressure is put on him in his youth. Without a competition deadline looming, I’ve been able to ease up on his training and take breaks when needed for physical reasons. Currently, Pepper and I are working on collection at the canter, bending, shoulder-fore, haunches-in and leg yielding at the walk and trot. He’s naturally a big stopper and not something we’ve worked on much, but we are starting to work on the slide. Same with pivots. In preparation for starting him on the cutting machine (a fake cow suspended from cables that you can control with a remote, so that it stops and turns like a cow), we are working on stop-back-turnaround. This all comes pretty easy to Pepper since he is line-bred to work cattle. It’s in his DNA.

Speaking of DNA, I was excited to find out that Etalon Genetics www.etalondiagnostics.com was doing additional research on Annie’s DNA. The domestication of horses is a fascinating subject to me and one I’ve been studying a lot lately (as well as the domestication of dogs). This additional information from Etalon includes an Ancestry report and a lot of factual information on breeds around the world. Just as with an ancestry report on humans, if you go back far enough, horses are all related! And just like with humans, my ancestry report might vary slightly from my sibling, in terms of which genes expressed themselves. I’m including Annie’s ancestry report here, so you can see what it looks like. The initial DNA report includes color genetics, health markers and behavioral traits—very fascinating! This is a supplemental report.

Winter “Whoas”

Pepper walking in the snow between two tree branches.
Unless you have the luxury of loading up your horses and heading to Arizona or south Florida for the winter, chances are good your riding activities have been seriously curtailed by winter weather. Whether you’re dealing with rain and mud, snow and ice, or sub-zero temps and bomb cyclones, the winter months can put the brakes on your horsemanship, if you let it.

This time of year, I hear a lot of frustration in the voices of the riders I coach online, because they have assignments they want to complete, but can’t do much with their horses until the weather improves. I grew up in Florida, where winter is the prime riding season, but after decades of living in the Rocky Mountains, 7800 feet above sea level, I can certainly relate to the winter whoas.

Truth is, there are plenty of things you can do to advance your horsemanship and increase your horse’s training, no matter how bad the footing gets. I think it’s important to keep your hands on your horses daily—for health reasons, for bonding, for leadership. Even if the winter weather restricts you from riding or groundwork, just grooming your horse in the barn, is time well-spent.

With just a little bit of ground with decent footing– in the barn aisle, a stall or the driveway—there are ground exercises that will keep your horse tuned into your signals and interested in what you have to say. Even with no footing at all, you can engage your horse enough to maintain the relationship (and authority) you’ve built. 

The heart of winter is a great time to reassess your riding goals and your horse’s training. Evaluate and plan. And while you’re at it, think about improving your own self too! Horse sports are physically demanding, so fitness matters. 

Finally, while there are some skills that require getting your hands dirty in order to learn, there is much about riding, training and horse behavior that can be learned didactically. Winter is a great time to read, study, take online short courses and gain knowledge. There’s a lot to learn about horses; you need to gain knowledge every way you can.

Grooming Time is Bonding Time
Even if you can’t ride, it’s important to visit your horse and remind him of your relationship. Here in Colorado, some people hardly touch their horses all winter and by Spring, the horses are incredibly herd-bound. Getting your horse out, separating him from the herd and reminding him who you are, will help a lot.

Horses are mutually-grooming animals and they won’t groom on just any horse—it’s a behavior that only occurs between bonded horses. Giving your horse a thorough grooming reminds him of your special relationship and gives you an opportunity to remind him that you are still the one in charge. 

I like to lay my hands over every square inch of my horse’s body, legs, neck and face. It’s especially important in the winter when their coats are long. Winter coats can mask health problems, like weight loss, plus, I like to feel the skin for any scabbing or injuries. I give my horses a thorough head-to-tail curry with HandsOn Gloves, just for this reason. I can kill two birds with one stone—while I curry and clean, I’m also feeling the skin and searching for sore spots. It’s a great massage for my horse and it mimics the way horses groom each other.

Grooming promotes health and well-being in your horse in many ways. Since I cannot bathe my horses all winter, yet we’re still riding and causing sweat buildup, I use a waterless bathing product called Miracle Groom. It also cleans manure and urine stains, without requiring any rinsing.

Get Grounded
Even if you don’t have suitable footing for riding or active groundwork, there are still things you can do with your horse in the winter to maintain your leadership and authority. As I said, just getting him away from the herd and alone for an hour or so will help. Tying your horse for grooming reminds him to be patient. You can work on ground tying exercises in the aisle of the barn.

If your driveway has some dry areas or even some snow-packed areas, you might be able to do some leading exercises with your horse to keep his ground manners sharp and to keep him tuned into you. Check out my Lead Line Leadership video for ground tying and other exercises to work on. 

We try to keep our horses barefoot in the winter because it’s better for their hooves and an unshod horse has better traction in the snow and ice and is less-likely to get snowballs under his hooves. Hoof boots can be useful for shod or unshod horses, when you need more traction. If we have a horse that must remain shod in the winter for therapeutic reasons, we use snow pads for added traction and to prevent snowballs. Sometimes people use studded shoes or borium welded onto a steel shoe, for added traction in the winter.

If you have an indoor arena or suitable footing outside, you can include lungeing and circling work with your horse, which will not only keep him responsive, but also improve his fitness. If your riding activities are restricted in the winter months, spend whatever time you can on groundwork and relationship building activities. If you keep the relationship strong between you and your horse, you won’t miss a beat when the good weather finally arrives.

Goal-setting and Training Plans 
Winter is a logical time to look forward and decide what you will accomplish with your horse in the coming year. Feats to accomplish, skills to master, trail rides, horse shows and clinics to attend. Get a calendar and fill that thing up. Set your long-range goals now.

The next step is to think about the skills and resources you will need to acquire, what steps you will take, how you will condition both you and your horse. Back-track on that calendar, thinking about how many weeks it takes to impact fitness, training and performance. What skills are you and your horse lacking and how long will it take to fill the holes? Break down the skills and set a training schedule.

Training and performance goals are accomplished over months and years, not hours and days. Looking forward, six to twelve months in advance, will help you chart a course. My Interactive Academy curriculum begins with assessing the current skill level of you and your horse, then setting realistic goals for the future.

For instance, if you’re planning to attend a multi-day rigorous trail ride in July, start by getting that date on the calendar. Calculate how many weeks and days-per-week of riding t will it take to condition your horse. Now you can back track on the calendar and set your riding goals.

Maybe you need to acquire some new skills for the trail ride… ground tying, tying to the trailer, trailer loading, crossing water, riding in a strange location. Identify the skills/experience/resources you need and make a plan. Take lessons, go on shorter rides, fill the holes with training—all that requires planning and time to accomplish.

In Pursuit of Knowledge
Most accomplished horse people are curious and insatiable learners. It’s a good sport for people that crave learning because if you devoted every waking minute of your life to learning more about horses, you’d still never learn it all. There’s no such thing as a perfect rider—never has been, never will be. And even after more than five thousand years of domestication, there’s still an awful lot about horses we don’t know. 

The professional horse trainers that I admire, all have cross-trained in other disciplines and/or taken any opportunity they can find to study classical horsemanship. Certainly, riding horses requires a lot of physical skill, but there is also a huge body of riding theory that can be learned by reading, studying and taking lessons, clinics or online courses

I’ll never grow tired of studying horse behavior and the science behind behavior modification. Sometimes a small piece of information can connect a lot of dots in your understanding. Personally, I look to science-based, peer-reviewed research and avoid fluffy, anecdotal books that tend to romanticize horse behavior. 

Recently I wrote a blog sharing my favorite horse books, so if you’re looking for books that will increase your knowledge base, check it out. Also, if structured learning is important to you, check out my Interactive Academy. Each set of assignments includes a study problem (complete with all the study resources you need), a groundwork exercise, an equitation exercise (to improve riding skill) and a horse training exercise (mounted). It’s self-paced and for all skill levels and I personally coach you through the program. It’s not for everyone, but for self-motivated, insatiable learners, this program is perfect!

Fitness Matters
Horse sports are physically demanding and getting in better shape will always make a positive difference in your riding and in your self-confidence. The winter months are a great time to reassess your fitness and think about improving your conditioning in ways that impact your riding. 

Balance is the #1 skill required of riders—a critical skill that must be constantly honed through exercise. We reach our peak ability to balance at the age of 18-20. Balance decreases with age, unless you work on it. Fortunately, balance improves quickly with exercise and practice.

My fitness regime always includes exercises to address core strength, increase aerobic capacity and improve my balance. I find that cross-training in my fitness routine is important—I might hike one day, bicycle or ski the next. I like to start my day with a 30-minute Pilates workout because it involves core strength and dynamic balance. Of all the exercises classes/videos I have done, Pilates relates the most to riding because it connects your core strength to body control and balance.

Consider your horse’s fitness alongside your own. Inactivity affects all of us. If nothing else, maybe you can go on walks with your horse in-hand. Stretch your legs, jog a little bit, work on your horse’s ground manners and get him away from the herd and more focused on you.

From “Whoas” to Goes
Don’t let the winter months bring your horsemanship to a sliding stop. Even if you only find one thing from this entire blog that you can employ, it will help you further your goals. Just imagine if you picked one thing from each category and then dedicated time each week to work on it! Without question, both you and your horse will feel a positive impact. 

Stay connected with your horse through grooming and groundwork, even if it takes place standing in the barn aisle. Take time to assess where you and your horse are in the training continuum, where you’d like to go, then chart a course to get there. Great accomplishment stems from evaluation, planning and taking small steps. 

Finally, invest in yourself. Improve your balance and strength—even just adding one new component to your exercise regime can make an impact. If you cannot spend time in the saddle, the next best thing is to study riding theory, watch videos, take online courses and read, read, read. 

Horse sports are some of the most complicated, physically demanding and difficult-to-learn activities out there. To excel, you must give it everything you’ve got and attack it on all fronts. My husband likes to tease me by saying I can relate any subject in the world to horses, and he’s right. I look to all areas of sport, exercise, philosophy, psychology, science and behavior for knowledge that can inform my horsemanship. 

Go ahead and take the plunge.  Change the narrative from whoa to go. Make a commitment to advance your horsemanship and don’t let winter slow you down!

February 2020 Letter From Julie

Dear friends,

Is it Spring yet? Once the holidays are behind me, I’m always eager to get the year underway. I’ve got places to go, people to meet and horses to ride! I’ve been busy making plans for the year, both professionally—with clinics, vacation retreats, horse expos and TV shoots—and personally—setting goals with my horses, starting new projects on the farm, living up to my NYs resolutions!

I’m looking forward to the start of the Spring horse expo season this month! I’m headed to Murfreesboro TN, February 21-23, for the Southern Equine Expo . I’ll be busy all three days, with multiple presentations each day about improving your riding, building confidence and letting horses be your guide. I’m eager to be back in Tennessee—I’ve got lots of good friends there and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see my nephew perform in Nashville—he’s a successful base player/backup singer there and it’s always a treat to hear him play.

February 27-March 1, I’ll be in Harrisburg PA for the Horse World Expo. I always enjoy this event—it’s one of the best for shopping, especially if you’re in the market for tack, equipment, barn or arena construction. I’ve got clinics and lectures scheduled all four days of the event, on topics ranging from collection, lateral movements and canter, to overcoming fear and riding ‘til you’re 90! I’ll be riding my favorite demo horse, Smoke, the beautiful champagne cremella stallion that you’ve seen me ride at many events. My job does come with certain perks!

As Spring approaches, I’ll head to Oregon for the Northwest Horse Fair & Expo, then Wisconsin for the Midwest Horse Fair. In May, Barbra Schulte and I co-teach the Women’s Wholeness & Riding Retreat at the C Lazy U Ranch—a fabulous riding vacation and an inspirational weekend for everyone. For details on all these programs, plus my September riding tour in Ireland, please check my schedule online: Julie’s Events

Later this month, I’ll share what I’ve been working on with my own horses and I’ll drop another installment of my podcast, Ride On with Julie Goodnight. The podcast has been growing by leaps and bounds, now that accessing podcasts is so easy. You can find it anywhere you get your podcast or at JulieGoodnight.com/podcast . Be sure you hit subscribe, so you won’t miss a single episode! And if you like it, rate and review so more horse lovers like you can find the podcast.

Enjoy the ride!

Julie Signature

January 2020 Horse Report

All of the horses are currently healthy, hairy and happy. And for that, I am grateful. Even old Dually (now 20 years old and retired from active duty) is occasionally spotted running and bucking in the field, such is the spirit in our herd of seven head.

It’s been a very cold and snowy winter here in the high mountains of Colorado, and in the past month we’ve lost quite a few training days simply due to cold temperatures. Once the temps are below zero or even single digits (Fahrenheit), working horses can become harmful. Super cold air can “scorch” their respiratory system and cause inflammation. Also, if a horse gets sweaty when it’s that cold, it’s nearly impossible to get him dry. I couldn’t stand the thought of one of my horses wet and shivering under the blanket at night. That’s a big reason why I use blankets with moisture-wicking lining and high-tech insulation. High-quality heavy-weight winter horse blankets are a big investment, but well worth it, because of the comfort our horses get.

Pepperoni, my now four-year-old AQHA gelding, is back to work full time and has settled into his training regimen well. I’m always astounded by the change in maturity level between a 3 and 4 year old. It’s almost as huge as the difference in a 2 year old and a 3 year old, in terms of training. His long layoff hasn’t affected his training much, we’ve picked up right where we left off—working on collection and extension in all gaits, shoulder-fore, haunches-in, leg yielding, pivots and canter departures. Pepper is a naturally big stopper and it’s something I’ve been avoiding in the last year, for two reasons: one, no need to drill on a skill he’s naturally good at it; and two, trying to keep stress off his hocks and stifles (those joints only have so many hard stops in them, so why waste them?).

Annie, my sweet little AQHA mare, is enjoying her status as my top horse—my fallback horse, our media star and my only finished bridle horse (I went from three bridle horses to one last year). She gets moderate exercise and lots of pampering daily. Her training is at the maintenance level, which means we don’t need to teach her new skills, just keep her fit and sharp. Mel rides her most days, bareback and bridle-less, so it’s more fun for everyone. Melissa (barn manager/assistant trainer/photographer), Megan (heads up my marketing team) and Rich (hubby) are all doing mounted shooting with their horses now, and Mel is also shooting off Annie (who seems particularly inclined to that sport, so why not add it to her resumé). Rich’s new horse has settled into the herd and worked his way almost to the top of the pecking order. He and Rich are working well together and Rich is slowly introducing him to gunfire. He’s a finished Reiner, so he will handle well as a shooting horse, once he accepts the noise.

So for now, the horses are all well, both physically and emotionally. I’m enjoying this time and hoping it will last forever (knowing full well the reality—they are delicate creatures!).

My Favorite Books of the Year and Decade

As a voracious reader, I often reference books when I’m teaching or public speaking. Typically, that leads to questions from other voracious readers about what horse books I recommend. With the start of a new decade, I thought it would be a good time to share my favorite books on horses and animals. While I’m at it, I may as well share all my favorite books with you.

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. In fact, my fantasy vacation (which I’ve yet to take) always involves endless reading on a beach or a boat. I read myself to sleep every single night, but I’m lucky to get through one paragraph. To sit down and read a book, for the sheer pleasure of reading, is the ultimate luxury. 

I read for a lot of different reasons: education, edification, entertainment, and personal betterment (call it self-help, if you’d like). I try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction, but nothing is more entertaining to me than curling up with a fast-paced spy novel.

For more than a decade, I’ve been reading almost exclusively on my Kindle. It travels with me everywhere I go, and it literally sleeps in the bed with me. Occasionally I read hard copies—often they are books about horses or obscure titles that are not available in digital format.

Although I prefer the written word over listening to audio books, lately I’ve been using the “Switch to Listening” feature on my Kindle, so I can consume more books—listening in the car, the hot tub or while doing chores. I’ve learned not to listen to books at night in bed, because I awaken to a finished book that I’ve slept through. 

If I really fall in love with a book, I often buy the hard copy to add it to my collection and so I have something to loan to others. I prize my library of real books. They surround my desk—most of them titles about horses—and I enjoy perusing the titles and thumbing through them. When it comes to books, I suppose I’m moving into the 21st century, slowly but surely, since the titles in my personal Kindle Library now outnumber those on my book shelves. 

Below, I’d like to share with you my favorite books of the year and of the decade! In case you are only interested in one type of reading, I’ll divide them into the categories of horses, nonfiction, fiction and self-help.

My Favorite Books of 2019

About Horses

Whole Heart, Whole Horse, by Mark Rashid
Mark Rashid is one of my all-time favorite authors; he’s also a friend and colleague. Not only a talented and engaging author, Mark is an exceptional horseman and a stellar person. In this book, he emphasizes the importance of not placing judgment on a horse’s behavior. As with all of Mark’s books, this one will change your perspective on horses and people.

Nonfiction

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, by Pat Shipman  
This may be my number one read of 2019. Lately, I’ve been very researching the domestication of dogs and horses and their roles in human society. This book offers a scientific look at the evolution of homo-sapiens and how they collaborated with wolves to become the apex predator. The author lays out a compelling case for humans as the most invasive species on earth and how the domestication of wolves may have played a role in the extinction of many species, including Neanderthals.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
This is a beautiful work of fiction set in coastal North Carolina. The story is full of the wonders of the coastal environment; it’s a beautiful love story and a compelling murder mystery. Kya, the main character, is abandoned as a child and forced to survive on her own in the swamp. With a few characters to guide her, she not only survives, but goes on to become self-educated and highly successful. But will she survive the cruelty of the people in her own community?

Self-Help

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
As a confirmed introvert myself, this book spoke volumes to me, in terms of the value of listening and the importance of quiet and solitude. According to the author, at least a third of humans all over the world are introverts; they are the ones that are listening, not talking. She talks about the rise of the “Extrovert Ideal” in the 20th century and how deeply it has permeated our culture. 

My Favorite Books of the Decade

Online, I can scan through hundreds of digital books that I’ve read over the past ten years. The best books stand out in my mind like I read them yesterday; others evoke vague memories of pleasant reading, while some are completely forgettable. Here, I will list my most favorite books that I have read or re-read in the past 10 years on horses, works of nonfiction, novels, and personal betterment.

Books on Horses and Animal Behavior

Evidenced-Based Horsemanship, by Dr. Stephen Peters & Martin Black. This is a short book and an easy read, but it will teach you a lot about how horses think (and don’t think). It’s about the neurology, physiology and behavior of horses and how that relates to the ways we train them.
Equine Behaviour: Principles & Practice, by Daniel Mills and Kathryn Nankervis. This is my favorite book on horse behavior because it’s science-based, with textbook content, but it’s relatively easy to read. The author’s British wit made me chuckle throughout this comprehensive look at horses.
Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists, by Paul McGreevy. Widely regarded as the definitive work and the “Bible” of horse behavior, you’ll need a highlighter, a dictionary and plenty of time to make it through this book. Caveat: It’s very expensive and only for the obsessed student of horse behavior.

Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses, by Allan J. Hamilton, MD. In many ways, the simplicity of this book on horse behavior is in stark contrast to the work above. Written more for the horse owner, it combines a scientific look at behavior, both horse and human, with simple and effective training techniques that promote harmony in both.

Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind, by Dr. Robert Miller. I love this book—it’s a quick read, chock full of science-based behavior, and it offers the reader a much deeper understanding of the horse’s perspective and it will give you a greater ability to think like a horse.

Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. This book is about the behavior in many different species, including humans, and brings insight that only Dr. Grandin can give. She’s a renowned animal behaviorist at Colorado State University, primarily known for her work in the cattle industry (and the HBO movie about her life), but she has, and is currently, researching horse behavior as well.

Equine Science: Basic Knowledge for Horse People of All Ages, by Jean T. Griffiths. This is a comprehensive reference book for horse owners, with everything you need in one place: evolution, behavior, coat colors, senses, gaits, genetics, nutrition, health, disease and anatomy. This book should be required reading for all horse owners.

Nonfiction

Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover. For me, this book ranks as one of the best reads of the decade. It is a fascinating autobiography that reads like a novel. It’s a story of cruelty, survival and amazing accomplishment.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama. An intriguing and inspirational memoir about the former First Lady and the path that led her to the White House.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder. Honestly, I thought it was a novel when I first started reading it; but sadly, it’s true and factual. This books sheds light on the entrenched corruption and murder in Putin’s regime. 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. This renowned historian takes us through the evolution of modern humans, starting about 70 thousand years ago with the appearance of modern cognition, through the cultures and conquests of history, to the state of affairs today.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. A true story about a culture in crisis—the white working class—and the loss of the “American Dream.”

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by Chris Kyle. This is the deeply personal story of a young soldier from Texas, a former cowboy and bronc rider, who went on to become an Army sniper. You may recall the tragic real-life ending of this story, which occurred after the book was published, when the author was tragically murdered by a fellow Veteran. 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, by Chris Hadfield. This is a light-hearted, but fascinating read on what it takes to become an astronaut and the harrowing stories of real-life space travel. It is a motivating tale of determination, perseverance and ingenuity.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. From the author of Seabiscuit, one of my ‘books of a decade’ from the 2010s (also a must read), comes this true-life story that proves life is stranger (and more fascinating) than fiction.

Fiction

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. A moving love story steeped in southern culture and institutionalized racism. It’s a compelling story that opens your eyes to some ugly truths.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. This is a charming and heart-warming story about the “neighbor from hell,” a grumpy old curmudgeon, and how the actions of others can have meaningful impact.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult. A moving and gut-wrenching look at racism, privilege, prejudice and justice in American society.

Spilled Milk, by K.L. Randis. Based on a true story, this book offers a disturbing look at child abuse and one girl’s pursuit of safety and justice.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. A psychological thriller with many twists and turns; a serious page-turner.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. A riveting and unique plot about a marriage gone bad. I love plots that are unpredictable and this one keeps you guessing.

Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins. Okay, I admit it. I often read young-adult fiction. This trilogy has everything I love—it’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi, and futuristic all in one story. And, it has a strong female heroine.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. One of my favorite books of all time, this novel is narrated from the voice of its main character—a dog. On top of the unique point of view, the plot is as intriguing as the setting—the life of a race car driver. BTW, it’s a major motion picture now and the movie is almost as good as the book. Bonus book: Ephemeral, by Andie Andrews, is a charming novel written from the first-person voice of a horse named Sonny, and how he deals with his novice rider. 

Personal Betterment 

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by The Arbinger Institute. I first read this book to increase my business acumen but soon realized it also has a significant impact on more intimate relationships too. I’ve gifted this book to quit a few people; I’ve read it several times and reviewing it now, makes me want to read it again. 

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. A fascinating look at the neuroscience and psychology behind making good decisions and snap judgments. Filled with anecdotes and scientific research, it is both fascinating and entertaining.

The Happiness Animal, by Will Jelbert. This book explains the painful truth… that happiness comes from within. It helps us become accountable for our own happiness and to train our minds to think positively.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. I’m an organization freak, so I loved this helpful book on organizing your business and personal life. I read this almost 10 years ago and I still use these techniques daily.

Mulling over and describing these books to you is like reliving the joy of reading them all over again. I love that about a good book and it’s the reason I like to keep hard copies around. I like to highlight meaningful passages or beautifully crafted prose, to make it easy to enjoy again later.

Maybe you’ve found some books in my list that you’ve read already—I hope you loved them too. Perhaps there are a few titles that interest you and maybe you’ll find some new gems. Be sure to comment below if you’ve read, or want to read, any of these books or if you want to share your favorite books of the decade with me!

Enjoy the read,

January 2020 Letter From Julie


Dear friends,

Happy New Year! I’m reluctant to see another year end, but I’m enthusiastic about the opportunities the new year brings. I’m a planner, so I like looking ahead; I’m an overachiever, so I love to see how much I can accomplish and plot the new directions I will take. Each New Year represents a fresh new start. That’s why I like to make multiple NY’s Resolutions, in different categories of my life. That way, if I slip one resolution, I still have a few to conquer.

This year, I’m sharing my resolutions with you—always a risk, since now I am on public record with my good intentions. I plan to rise to the occasion! I hope that you, too, will make and share your resolutions—get them on the record, say them out loud-—and you’ll be more likely to achieve them! 

Here’s a look at my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions…

Health: In 2020, I resolve to get a mammogram and a colonoscopy. This will be my hardest resolution to conquer since I am generally healthy and tend to avoid doctors, so it’s easy for me to neglect these important preventative measures. But not this year!

Fitness: In 2020, I am going to acquire roller blades and add that to my cross-training regimen. The aerobic activity is great for my fitness and for heart health and it conditions my legs for skiing. The balance required to stay on my feet keeps me tuned-up for riding horses. Plus, it’s very high on the fun meter!

Personal Betterment: In 2020, I resolve to consume fewer disposables, in every corner of my life—from the office, to the house, to the airport; from printer paper to coffee cups, to everything plastic. I’m committed to the environment, and I’m enacting change at the individual level, starting with me.

Professional Achievement: In 2020, I will develop new online training programs with a goal of helping horses all over the world, one human at a time. My online horsemanship academy has opened doors for a lot of horse owners. I will expand that platform with online short courses on the handling, care, riding and training of horses, to help horse owners everywhere increase their knowledge and skill-level.

Personal Horsemanship Goals: In 2020, I will start Pepperoni, my now 4-year-old gelding, working cattle and haul him on at least four road trips. It’s not necessarily my goal to be competitive or attend horse shows, but to further his training so he develops competitive skills, and to increase his road experience so he learns to be a better traveler. This horse was bred to work cows, so I’m excited to finally start down that path with him.

Household: In 2020, I resolve to clean out all the expired condiments, spices and cooking ingredients from my refrigerator, cabinets and pantry. I do so little cooking anymore, yet my cabinets and appliances are full of peculiar one-off ingredients. I’m guessing there’s stuff that’s been in there for more than a decade. ‘Nuff said.

This year is shaping up to be busy for me, and not just because of my ambitious resolutions list! I’ll also be a headline presenter at horse expos in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Wisconsin. I’m teaching at horsemanship clinics in Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts and Ireland. See my full 2020 schedule here

I’m excited about our new programs at the C Lazy U Ranch—the Couples’ Riding Retreat (co-taught with Barbra Schulte and her husband) and the Horsemanship Immersion program. And I’m thrilled to be returning to Ireland for a fabulous riding vacation and clinic. I hope you’ll join me on at least one of these adventures!

 

 

Now that I’ve revealed MY New Year’s Resolutions, it’s YOUR turn! 

Step 1: Decide on your resolutions (some hard, some easy, some fun, some serious) 

Step 2: Go to the #HorseGoals or Bust Facebook Group and post your resolutions (post them on your fridge too) 

Step 3: Make it happen! And share your success stories with me.

Let’s do this together! It’s a whole new decade—the 20s! This year and this decade will be what we make of it. I wish you peace, happiness and success in the coming months and years.

Enjoy the ride,





Hi Julie,

I just read about your NY resolutions.

Regarding your health goals and tests, please do them sooner rather than later.

Last year at this time I was in  ICU, fight to stay alive from a  ruptured colon and
septicemia. As you say, we horse gals tend to ignore things. I  had been
symptomatic for about 6 months but blew it off to “eating too may
peanuts” or change of diet. Turned out I had Diverticulitis and the
“healthier” I ate, salads with nuts and lots  of raw veggies, 21
grain breads, etc is what ruptured it!

I never really felt  “sick”, just a little cramping a d low grade fever, but
would rest and  seemed to resolve. Even the day I went into the hospital,
I didn’t feel bad until I started vomiting uncontrollably. If a friend hadn’t
answered my text for help in minutes, I’d be dead.

Had Colostomy bag surgery, then intestines quit functioning. 2 surgeries and 6 months in bed.

All because I ignored the fact that I “just wasn’t right”…..Take care!

Best to you!!

Jeanna Santalucia 

Hi Jeanna,

I’m so sorry to hear
of all the health problems you’ve encountered this past year. OMG, what a
nighmare. My sister had septicemia stemming from a bladder infection and she
nearly died. Was in a coma for days. Jeanna, you have really been through a
lot! I hope you are on the mend now. Thank you for sharing your story and this
would be a great comment on the blog itself. Do you mind if we post the comment
wihtout your name on it? I think this really illustrates the point of what I was
trying to say. Us horse women are tough and stubborn, not always good traits.
Alright, I am on a new mission now, to get my appointments made.

Thank you for
sharing. Take care of yourself!

Best,

Julie

December 2019 Horse Report

I’m happy to report that after several cycles of injury/treatment/rehab and two months of stall rest and hand-walking, the Adventures of Pepperoni are back in full swing! Thankfully, we were able to start turning him out with the herd and riding again last week, because stall-rest and hand-walking was getting old for Pepper (and for those of us on the end of the lead trying to stay clear of his “airs above the ground”).

The good news is that he is now sound and healthy, and his under-saddle training is picking up right where we left off. Pepperoni is coming 4 years old now and his maturity is starting to kick in—less silliness, more coordination, more responsiveness. Time off doesn’t cause a horse to lose its training—it stays right where you left it. Poor handling and riding will un-train a horse fast (or train him something different) but leaving him alone does not. Sure, he may be a little fresh when you return to riding, but he knows exactly what he knew before the layoff.

Pepperoni is an unusual horse in many ways. He’s wicked smart and a lightning-fast learner. Be careful what you wish for. If you don’t make many mistakes, the smart horse excels in his training. But mistakes are often illuminated in a very smart horse. Pepper is exceptionally aware of his surroundings. Not in a distracted way—he’s very calm and focused and he’s always taking stock. He rarely displays fearful behavior; but he has an intense curiosity. These are traits bred into the cow horse, and while they may sound good when you read it on paper, do not be fooled. These are the very traits that cause some to say cow horses are “difficult” and “challenging.”

Pepper also has a very strong sense of right and wrong (some might call this bull-headed, but it is a trait I like). Most of the time we agree on what is right, but occasionally there is a dispute. At times, when he believes I am wrong and he is right, his red-headed temper flares. In those moments, I’ve learned to 1) check to see if I was wrong (it happens) and take responsibility, and 2) do not yield to a tantrum but do not throw gas on the flame.

Sometimes us riders find ourselves at odds with a horse and in those moments, it’s important that we prevail, lest the horse learn he can do whatever he wants. But it is never wise to start a fight with a horse, because it may be a fight you won’t win. At the end of the day, they are much larger, faster, more athletic and more lethal than humans.

Pepper is not argumentative, difficult or challenging to train. In fact, he is full of enthusiasm for the job—any job, eager to please and a joy to ride. But he is not a horse that will suffer fools and not a horse you want to fight with. Most of the time when he gets testy, there’s something I’ve done to contribute. I’ll admit that on occasion, I am the one that gets testy or impatient first, and his subsequent ire is justified. I can always count on Pepper to let me know when I’ve made a mistake. He makes me a better rider.

I’m super happy to be back on track with Pepperoni and I am hopeful that he will stay out of trouble for a while. He’s lost a lot of conditioning in the past few months, so we are in a rebuilding state now. We lose conditioning much faster than we gain it, so I expect that it will take 2-3 months to get him back into shape. Right now, our daily rides consist of a long walking warm-up, then 10 minutes of long-trot on a free-rein, followed by 5 minutes of collected trot in a “training frame,” followed by five minutes of canter on each lead. If he’s not completely gassed out by then, I’ll work on bending, shoulder-in and/or leg-yielding at the walk and trot.

By this time next month, I hope to be back to collection at the canter, departures and lead changes. But I am patient, and I have no deadlines looming. It’s all about the joy of training, about building a strong relationship and developing a high-level athletic partner. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Consistency Counts

Photo by: Tina Fitch

On one of my many visits to southern California, I was conducting a horsemanship clinic in the town of Norco, renowned for its horse-friendly lifestyle. On any given day in “Horsetown USA,” you’ll see horses being ridden on the dirt sidewalks along Main Street  or parked at a tie rail in front of a shopping center, or even in line for the drive-up window at McDonald’s.

While there, I was invited to tour the Circle D Ranch, home to Disneyland’s herd of gorgeous draft horses. Having worked behind the scenes of the horse operation at Disney World, on the other side of the country, I was not surprised to find an immaculate, state-of-the-art horse facility, that was custom-built to suit the exceptionally high standards of Disney.

The ranch is home to 18 draft horses, who work 3-4 days a week in the theme park, some thirty miles away, where they are stabled in a similar barn while “on duty.” The horses come to the Norco ranch for rest and pampering on their 3-4 days off. Aside from the incredible horse flesh and the five-star facility, I was most impressed by the consistency with which the horses are handled. Strictly enforced, detailed policies and procedures are designed to make sure the horses get handled exactly the same way every day, by each of the many employees tasked with their care, both in the theme park and at the ranch.

From the way the horses are haltered and led, to how they are tied, to the order of the brushes used, to the process for turning them out or to their daily hand-walking– it was done exactly the same by every handler, in the same order, at the same time, in the same places. There’s almost no stress for these horses, because of the consistency. They always know what to expect and what is coming next. They never have to guess or question. There is great comfort in order and predictability.

Horses are prey animals and it’s easy for them to feel like victims in a chaotic world, when there is a lack of consistency or predictability. Small changes in a horse’s known environment can send him into a tailspin. For the same reasons, horses thrive on routines, law and order and consistency. It makes them feel safe and calm when they know what will happen next.

Horses always do better with consistent handling and regular routines. They learn patterns quickly and they love to be able to predict what is going to happen next. Most horse owners have learned the benefits of feeding and turning out horses in the same order, and how quickly you can train horses to a routine. Professional horse trainers tend to be very consistent and systematic in the way they ride and handle horses, and their horses are usually a reflection of that. But I often see a lack of consistency in novice horse owners, particularly when it comes to establishing boundaries, communicating clearly and displaying consistent leadership to the horse.

Draw a Line in the Sand
If a dog has poor manners and jumps on you, rubs against you, roots his nose under your arm so you’ll pet him or jumps in your lap uninvited, it may be obnoxious but it’s probably not going to kill you. When a horse has no boundaries and no manners, it’s downright dangerous and is a problem that will snowball. Remember, one way that horses establish dominance is to move the subordinate out of their space.

My horsemanship clinics typically start with groundwork. This is my opportunity to get a feel for the horse’s temperament, to evaluate the relationship between horse and handler and to refine (or establish) the horse’s ground manners. Since horses basically do what you’ve taught them to do (for better or for worse), it’s often the way that a horse is being handled that is leading to the problems.

Typically, in groundwork sessions I see a lot of inconsistency in boundaries or no boundaries at all. Sometimes the person stands too close to the horse, constantly in the horse’s personal space, and choking up on the lead. But when the horse gets irritated and starts throwing its head or nipping, it’s often wrongly concluded that the horse is the problem.
People are sometimes totally unaware of space and boundaries when it comes to horses. Just like a toddler, horses will push on you until they find the limit of their boundaries. If the person is unaware of her own personal space and has no boundaries, the horse will react to that by pushing until he’s slinging his head at you, dropping his shoulder into you and moving you out of his space. Even then, sometimes the person is unaware of their own boundaries.

It’s unfair to be in a horse’s face, kissing all over his muzzle, and standing up under his neck, but then get mad at him when he crowds you, nips at you or worse. To be effective (and safe) with horses, you need to be very clear of your own personal boundaries and diligently enforce the boundary.

My personal boundary is as far as I can reach around me with my arms outstretched. If the horse moves any part of his body into my space uninvited—even just his nose—I will correct it. If I’ve set a forward boundary of where the horse should be while I am leading him and he crosses the line, I will reinforce the boundary—100% of the time. A boundary is

only a boundary if it is consistently enforced. If you are clear on where the boundaries are and you consistently enforce it, the horse learns quickly.

Say What?
Horses are very communicative animals—that’s a big part of why they became domesticated to begin with and why they have remained an integral part of human society for thousands of years. Although they have some communication through sound (audible signals), most of their communication is through postures, gestures and gazes. Yes, it can be subtle, but the information is there if we look for it.

Horses are more adept at reading people than people are at reading horses. As verbal communicators, we put far too much stock in the spoken word and often miss the subtleties of body language—both in our horses and in ourselves. Learning to be in command of your body language and use appropriate gestures, will help you send the right message to your horse.

For instance, when a horse is shying away from something or refusing to go in a certain direction, the rider often does the opposite of what they should do—staring at what the horse is spooking at or looking in the direction the horse wants to go. What you do with your eyes is very meaningful to the horse in these moments—your eyes will reveal your determination (or lack thereof), your intentions (where you want to go) and your confidence level. If you say one thing with the reins (go this way) then the opposite with your eyes, you’ve contradicted yourself.

When doing groundwork with horses, our goal is to move the horse out of our space, in order to reinforce who is in charge. Yet, time and time again, I see handlers approach the horse as if to move him off, but then withdraw if they think the horse is not going to budge. Often, the person is completely unaware that they are withdrawing or even stepping back—but the horse always sees it. Always. Even the smallest retreat will be detected. Being in command of your body language and sending intentional nonverbal signals to the horse will bring your communication to his level.

Perhaps the biggest area of miscommunication with the horse comes when we are riding. Complex cues for movements and guidance require skill from the rider, yet it’s usually the horse that’s blamed for a poor response. A horse can only perform to the level of the rider and when the horse is not performing well, it’s usually the rider that needs fixing.

Conflicting signals and inconsistent expectations are often to blame for a horse’s poor performance. Pulling back on the reins at the same time you want the horse to move more forward is super frustrating to horses and I see it in every clinic I teach. Pulling on two reins to turn is another frustrating example of miscommunication, often seen when people are riding two-handed. If I want to turn right, and I pull both reins to the right, my right hand is pulling his nose to the right, but my left hand is pulling his nose to the left, once it crosses the withers. How can he respond correctly to that?

Another example is when I do training demonstrations on canter leads at horse expos, most of the time the “lead problem” is fixed by simply clarifying the cue the rider gives. The horse doesn’t have a lead problem, the rider has a cueing problem. Clarifying your cues and using a consistent sequence in your cues will get you the response you want. You could teach a horse almost any cue, by consistently applying the cue and reinforcing it. But if the cue is a little bit different every time or if you fail to reinforce your cues consistently, the horse will fail to respond.

Think about the cues you give to your horse when you’re riding—cues to walk, trot, canter, stop or turn. What are the precise aids you use? In what sequence do you apply the aids? How is the trot cue different from the canter cue? How do you prepare a horse or warn him that a cue is coming? How does your body change when you are tense, upset, tired or nervous that may change the clarity of these cues? When you are clear and consistent in the way you cue your horse, your horse will respond like clockwork.

Following Your Lead
You don’t have to be around horses very long to figure out that you want to be the one in charge. It’s not a good idea to let a one-thousand-pound scared rabbit call the shots. Horses seek out leadership because it makes them feel safe and protected. But there is never a void of leadership in a horse herd. If the leader falls down on the job, either figuratively or literally, another horse will immediately step in to fill the void. You’re not the leader unless you act like the leader all the time.

A comment I often hear from horse owners is, “every day, I feel like I am starting over with my horse.” They do the groundwork exercises, designed to establish authority and control, and get a good response in the moment, but the authority does not stick. The next day, the horse is challenging their authority again. It’s not the horse that’s the problem—he’s just doing what horses do. It’s a lack of consistency in their leadership (and therefore a lack of leadership).

If it is a daily battle to be in charge of your horse, you’re doing something that is eroding your own authority. Are you controlling the actions of the horse? Or are his actions dictating what you do? It’s a simple equation—action and reaction. If you are making an action, to which the horse is reacting, you are in charge. If the horse is making an action, to which you are reacting, the horse is in charge.

It amazes me how often I see handlers work hard in the arena, during the clinic, to establish good ground manners and authority over the horse, then throw it all away the moment the session is over and they leave the arena. Walking back to the barn they let the horse get in front and pull them to the barn or get impatient and start fidgeting and fussing. Rules of behavior must apply all the time and be enforced all the time, or they are not rules.

Little things can erode your authority or leadership with the horse– letting him grab the hay out of your arms when you feed him, hand feeding treats, letting him rip away from the halter when you turn him loose, stepping back when he moves into you. Being the leader to your horse is a full-time job.

Without question, horses will make us better at being humans, if we rise to the occasion and resist the temptation to blame the horse and instead look to ourselves. Consistency in defending your boundaries not only keeps you safer around the horse, but also helps the horse accept your authority. Achieving command of your body language and the subtle signals you constantly send to your horse, helps you communicate to the horse and may help you receive the subtle signals he’s sending you.

Nothing is more important to your horse than your consistency of leadership. Horses yearn for a strong and fair leader, but it’s not always easy to be the one at the top. As the leader, you’re not really allowed any down time. It’s a hard job—to be consistent in praise and reinforcement, to be consistent in your rules and expectations of behavior, to be consistent in your emotions and confidence, to be consistent in the way you communicate. It’s not an easy job, but the payoff is huge. When the horse puts all his faith in you and is willing to follow you anywhere, it’s a feeling like no other.

December 2019 Letter From Julie

Dear friends,

As the year ends, I’m resisting looking back and wondering where the days/weeks/months went, and instead I’m focused ahead on what the new year will bring. I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, and I’m already busy crafting mine. I operate with multiple resolutions—personal betterment, professional goals, horsemanship, household, recreational—that way I am sure to accomplish some of them! Next month I’ll share my New Year’s resolutions with you—at least the ones I can share publicly.

2020 is shaping up to be a busy year for me, with horse expos in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Wisconsin. I’m also offering two new programs at the renowned C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado. In addition to the Women’s Wholeness Retreat that I co-teach with Barbra Schulte, we are offering a ground-breaking program—The Couples Riding Retreat—which will be led by Barbra and her husband Tom, and my husband Rich and me. We’re super excited about this vacation program for couples and already getting tremendous response.

Also new at C Lazy U for 2020, is the Horsemanship Immersion program– five days and four nights of immersive study of riding, horse behavior, conformation, training and health care, with a herd of 200 horses as our laboratory! The Ranch Riding Adventure program at C Lazy U is back by popular demand; I think there will be some openings in this program, for those of you who have patiently waited to get in. Your dream vacation awaits. www.juliegoodnight.com/clazyu Click Here – C Lazy U Ranch

I can’t wait to go back to the magical country of Ireland in September 2020, for a fabulous riding vacation sponsored by Connemara Equestrian Escapes. We had so much fun there in 2018, that I just had to go back. We’ve had so much interest in the Ireland trips, and space is quite limited, so I wanted to go back to Ireland and offer this ‘trip of a lifetime’ to more of you. With an intimate group of eight riders, we get to know each other well. In addition to spending our days in lessons and hacking through the Irish countryside and seaside, we’ll also enjoy cultural tours, dining at authentic Irish pubs and getting to know the local characters. Imagine yourself riding in Ireland! Click Here – Ride with Me in Ireland

For now, I plan to make the most of every day that’s left of 2019. Rich and I are getting a jumpstart on the ski season and the snow conditions are epic! Since I won’t have to get on an airplane in the immediate future, I’m able to get caught up on some back-burner projects and ride my own horses more. I’ll spend a few days teaching up at Colorado State University Equine this month, helping with the Legends of Ranching colt-starting classes. It’s always a treat for me to work with young horse professionals and help the colts progress through the program. And occasionally I become smitten with one of the Legends colts, and they end up in my barn after the Legends of Ranching Sale (Eddie and Pepperoni both came from this horse sale). Click Here – Legends of Ranch Riding

Don’t forget to think about your horse as you shop for Christmas gifts! We’ve got a lot of great items that your horse will love and that will make your horse life easier. I hope you enjoy some quality time with friends, family and horses over the holidays and don’t forget to think about your resolutions!

Enjoy the ride,
Julie

Looking Back: The Journey of Goodnight Training Stables

Photograph of Pepsea and Julie

Photograph of Pepsea and Julie

It was about 34 years ago that I took the big plunge and started my own business, Goodnight Training Stables. Back then, I simply imagined a fun and active life, training and caring for horses. Little did I know, that a few decades later, I’d be a TV personality and own a media production company. I didn’t really see that coming.

Horses are still our central focus, but my how times have changed! Keep in mind that when I founded my business, the internet had not been invented yet, football-sized cell phones were just coming on the market and most people didn’t even use computers. Business operations were much different back then!

I graduated from college in New Mexico in 1984 and moved to Colorado to chase my other passion—snow skiing.As was always the case with me, I got offered horse jobs as soon as people learned I had experience (there’s no shortage of horses that need help with their humans). I worked as a trail guide and hunting camp wrangler, then as a trainer and barn manager at an Arabian breeding and show barn. All the while, I was trying to figure out what I should do for a living. If not horses, then what?

Eventually, two important thoughts became clear to me: 1) since I am now two years out of college and still working horses, perhaps I should consider a career with horses, and 2) if I am going to last in the horse business, I have to be working for myself—doing things MY way. That is the basis on which Goodnight Training Stables was founded, clear back in 1985.

I was fortunate to find a vacated stables owned by a property owners association and I got a great deal on the lease—all I had to do was provide trail riding to the public and fix up the run down facility. It was a win-win for all of us and in no time the facility was ship-shape and full of happy horses there as boarders, training horses or dude horses.

A few years later, I started a girl’s riding camp—a popular program for horse-crazy little girls (a subject I could relate to), and I knew exactly what they wanted—to eat, sleep and breathe horses. Soon, the moms started asking me to do riding camps for adults, and a new aspect of my business emerged. Eventually I was conducting eleven week-long clinics for adults each summer, managing about 20 school horses and training outside horses on the side.

Photo Credit: Lucy Koehler

As the demand grew, I began traveling more and offering clinics on the road. Soon it became clear that it made more sense for me to travel to the horses than to make them come to me, in this remote little Colorado mountain town. About 15 years ago, I stopped doing clinics at home, re-purposed all of the school horses, and started teaching exclusively on the road. Today, I travel about 130 days a year, teaching people and training horses, both domestically and abroad.

Early in this business game, I learned that developing products to help people ride and manage their horses better, would be important to sustaining and growing a business. Just so you know how long ago that was, my very first product was an audio cassette tape. We thought we were really going high-tech when we switched to CDs. And yes, my first videos, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, were only available in VHS tapes! Fast forward to today, even DVDs are dinosaurs as we all learn to consume our media online and through streaming videos on-demand.

The information and education on horses and riding are just as pertinent today as it was then, it’s the technology and how we consume the information that has changed. My entire career’s worth of work– every article I’ve written, every audio I’ve recorded and TV shows and training videos are available online, by subscription.

Who knew that having a horse business would require you to stay on top of technological advances and the changes in human behavior that result?

In 2008, I had the opportunity to start a TV show, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, where I took the biggest detour in my business and jumped into broadcast TV with both feet. There was a steep learning curve at first, but fast-forward eleven years and 260 episodes, and we had it down to a science. Horse Master became a super popular, unscripted, how-to horse training show, where I work with a different horse/rider pair in each episode.

The TV show has opened a lot of doors for me and set the stage for bigger things to come. We’ve now begun production of a brand new TV series about the horse lifestyle and how horses have remained relevant in our society, more than a century after the combustion engine rendered them obsolete.

Today, I operate an online retail sales and a media production company, all centered on horses. I train horses and teach people almost every single day, but the engine that drives my business is retail sales and media. We will never lose sight of how important horses are in our lives and in our business. Everyone on my team is a horse lover and a rider.

We all love going to work every day and we’re fortunate to be involved in a business that we’re passionate about. We’ll never lose sight of the fact that our customers are passionate about horses and that this is a labor of love. We focus on products that make your horse life easier and better. Our motto is, “Helping horses, one human at a time.”

Thank you to everyone who has supported my small business for the last 34 years and counting!

Horse Report – Nov

Since this time last month, I’ve been away from home for 25 days, in the normal course of my job attending clinics, expos, conferences and teaching at CSU Equine. Fall is a busy time of year for me. Needless to say, it hasn’t left me much time to work with my own horses. Fortunately, Melissa manages and rides my horses in my absence and helps keep them fit and pampered (and she occasionally stands in as my body double, LOL).
Pepperoni is still confined with no-turnout, lest he get wound-up, running hog-wild, and re-injure something. It’s probably just as well because we’ve had a lot of snow, ice and single-digit temps in the last few weeks and the footing is sketchy at best. He gets 30-40 minutes of hand-walking in the indoor arena every day and for the most part, he has settled into his new reality. He’s a little froggy at times when he gets bored with walking and airs-above-the-ground seem more appropriate. Fortunately, those episodes are short -lived and he is happy to get back to walking. In a few days Pepper gets his next checkup from Dr. Potter, Elite Equine, and we hope he is cleared for riding.
Annie, Dually and our newest herd-mate, Casper, are all fat and happy and hairing up for the winter. Rich and Casper are still getting acquainted and Rich is introducing him to gunshots (in preparation for mounted shooting). I haven’t even had a chance to ride Casper yet, since I’ve been gone so much. I hope to rectify that soon.
Annie remains my go-to finished horse and she is a sweet ride, as always. Often I only have time to ride one horse a day and I usually opt for the youngster (I’m a glutton for punishment), so Mel keeps Annie tuned-up for me. Dually doesn’t do much these days, but keep the herd in-line and occasionally pose for photos. He’s earned his retirement and he’s enjoying it fully.

November 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

Winter has descended on us rapidly, here in the high mountains of Colorado—we’ve already had several snows and single-digits. We always appreciate the snow (not so much the single digits), no matter when it comes, but especially now since we’ve had a wildfire burning in the wilderness near our town for several months. It’s a fire only Mother Nature can bring to an end. We’re reliant on snowfall for skiing and white-water rafting—the lifeblood of our area. And more importantly, for the water and irrigation that the snowpack provides. So let it snow!

Last month, I had a fabulous clinic in northern California—fun people, beautiful horses and a awesome clinic facility. Can’t ask for more than that! Then we headed up to Granby, Colorado, to the C Lazy U Ranch (recently named the 2nd best resort in the country), and as always, a good time was had by all. In 2020, I’ll be doing four programs at C Lazy U, with two brand new programs that I am really excited about—the Couples’ Riding Retreat and Horsemanship Immersion. Check out the details on my 2020 programs at C Lazy U here. www.juliegoodnight.com/clazyu

I’ve got one more event this year—the grand-daddy of horse expos here in the U.S.—Equine Affaire, November 7-10 in Springfield, MA. I’ll be doing clinics and demos on horse behavior, riding the horse with too much go or too much whoa, riding without the bridle, becoming the rider your horse wants, safety checks, and re-training the high-headed horse. I’ll offer personal Q&As and autographs at both the Cosequin booth and the WF Young booth, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring you all some FaceBook Live posts from the event, so even if you cannot come, you can experience some of the fun.

After Equine Affaire, I settle into winter mode. Looking forward to enjoying some skiing, winter hiking, and the holidays. This time of year, we are grateful to have a toasty indoor arena and be cozy while riding inside. After a few months of that, we’ll be ready for the thaw!

Enjoy the ride,


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

Spring is almost upon us, and my team and I are getting ready to tackle our goals for this year in earnest! It’s easy to set the goal and promise yourself that you’re going to work with your horse X days a week, or practice really hard to get ready for a big ride or competition. But it can be really hard to actually START—whether it’s Day 1 or Day 25. Life happens—we get busy, things come up, and we excuse away making ourselves and our horses a priority.

If you need a little extra encouragement and support to meet your goals, join my new #HorseGoals Or Bust Facebook Group! This is a community where you can come to share your goals and updates, find support through frustrations and set-backs, be a cheerleaders for others, and celebrate accomplishments. See you there!

 
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Do You Have a Codependent Relationship with Your Horse?

Horses are very clever animals—quite adept at training people to do what they want. If you think you’ve never been trained by a horse, you probably aren’t paying attention. In every clinic I do, I see riders that have developed what I would call a codependent relationship—a horse that is constantly threatening disobedience and a rider that is playing along with the horse’s threats.

I see riders that cannot keep their horse going at trot or canter—the horse is constantly threatening to break gait and the rider is constantly saying, “No, don’t do that.” I see horses cutting corners and the rider pulling the outside rein. I see horses pulling toward the gate/barn/buddy and the rider seemingly oblivious, pulling the horse in the other direction but never confronting the issue.

Horses are sneaky about this stuff and long before the rider realizes she is playing along, the horse has trained the rider to keep pedaling the horse to go or keep pulling the outside rein to stay on the right path. By playing along, the rider is complicit in the horse’s disobedience and proving to the horse that she will tolerate the disobedience, rather than address it. Or worse, demonstrating to the horse that she is unaware of its disobedience.

Generally, the biggest problem in a codependent relationship is that the rider is unaware of the horse’s behavior—riding in a way that tells the horse that she is blissfully ignorant about the way he is supposed to act. It helps to know how a properly trained horse is supposed to act, but the most important thing is to become aware of the horse’s disobedience, call him out on it and break the cycle of codependency (often easier said than done).

What is an Obedient Horse?
A properly trained saddle horse should travel in the speed and direction the rider wants, until the rider says to do something different. Once you tell the horse to do something, let’s say slow-trot in this direction, the horse should continue trotting in that direction, at the speed the rider dictates, without pedaling or pulling, until the rider says to do something different—like turn, slow down or speed up.

Obedience in a riding horse means that it goes on the path dictated entirely by the rider, at a speed chosen by the rider, without micromanagement from the rider.  The horse should have no decision-making authority in this regard (imagine letting a thousand-pound flight animal go in the speed or direction it wanted). If the rider is constantly telling the horse to slow down, speed up or stay on the path, it means the horse is constantly threatening disobedience. The horse is holding the rider hostage and making the rider complicit in its disobedience, while the rider seems blissfully ignorant of the horse’s actions.

Everyone who has ever taken a horsemanship clinic from me, has heard me talk about “The Golden Moments.” It’s the time at the beginning of the ride when the rider should test the horse’s level of obedience and make her expectations abundantly clear to the horse. If the rider is not proactive at this time, the tables will turn. The horse will test the rider to see what it can get away with, and how aware the rider is of the horse’s actions.

Awareness is the Answer
Horses are herd animals and are very aware of the actions and emotions of the animals around them—including humans. Since most of their communication with other horses is through postures, gestures and body language, they are particularly adept at reading others—again, including humans. They are relationship-oriented animals, so they have a high level of awareness of how other animals are acting.

Humans, on the other hand, are often oblivious to the vibe they are giving off to a horse. The rider often lets her self-doubt, lack of confidence or lack of skill/knowledge show, by not following through on directives and overlooking small infractions. The rider tends to be overly focused on herself, how she’s sitting, what she’s doing with the reins, heels down, eyes up, hands in front of the saddle…. Gradually, the horse starts pushing boundaries, to see what it can get away with, until the rider notices.

Once the rider becomes more aware of the horse, its actions and its motivations, the game is over for the horse. It’s the rider’s lack of awareness that gives the green light to the horse to act however he wants.

Turning the Tables
Once the rider is aware of the horse’s disobedience, it’s easy to bring the game to an end. Part of his strategy involves the rider’s lack of awareness, so simply calling the horse out on his behavior—treating it as a violation—will go a long way to stop the behavior. In general, horses do not want to get in trouble. The rider should scold the horse in such a way that he gets the message, “I know what you are doing, now knock it off!” 

In addition to recognizing the disobedience, it’s also important to understand the motive. Why is the horse acting this way? How does he benefit? What does he want? By understanding the horse’s motivations, it will be far easier to correct him in a manner that takes away all the benefits. Perhaps a few examples will help.

If I detect a horse is veering from the path I dictated by pulling toward the gate/barn/buddy, I now know that 1) my horse is in a disobedient frame of mind, and 2) that he wants to go in a certain direction. My first goal is to let the horse know, I know what he is doing. So instead of politely steering him back to the path I chose, I will scold with my voice (calling him out) and maybe bounce/slap my leg on his ribs, perhaps bump one rein. Then, and most importantly, I’ll make sure I turn the horse a few times—with each turn being AWAY from his objective. I want to be very careful that my horse does not gain any ground and in fact ends up farther away from his objective.

If I am riding in the arena and the horse is pulling toward the middle, refusing to stay on the rail unless I hold him there, my first step is awareness. If I just go around the arena holding the outside rein so his nose is to the wall and he’s going around the arena counter-bent, the horse thinks I don’t know what he’s doing. So I may bump the outside rein as I bump/slap with my inside leg and scold with my voice. Then, I will make a few changes of direction, turning him into the fence each time—never turning him toward the middle. The changes of direction are abrupt and cause him to come closer to the rail with each turn. Then I’ll put him back to the rail, relax my hands and see if he decides to stay there without me holding him. If not, scold and turn into the fence a few times. Once he learns that every time he leans into the middle, it will buy him 3-4 abrupt turns into the fence, he will give it up.

Beware of Whack-a-Mole
When horses misbehave, they generally do the same thing at the same place, every time. They tend to be predictable in their disobedience. This is good because it gives the rider the opportunity to think ahead of the horse and be proactive—take charge BEFORE the horse does his little trick. Being one step ahead of the horse lets him know that the rider is onto his antics.

However, there is a saying in horse training… “it always gets worse before it gets better.” This refers to the fact that if a horse has been getting away with disobedience for some time and you address it—call him out on it—he is unlikely to just stop and never do it again. Especially if it’s a tactic that’s been working well for him; he’s reluctant to give it up so he might put up a little fight before he totally caves. It’s important to stay-the-course, even if he gets mad.

Often, when a horse is acting up at a specific place—either in the arena or on the trail—and you address it, that same disobedient behavior will pop up in a new place. This is quite normal; it’s a tactic the horse has reason to believe will work again, so he tries the same thing someplace else. When you call him out on that, he may try it again someplace different. But eventually, he will give it up.

If a horse has gotten away with disobedience for some time, it may make him mad that his tricks aren’t working. It may temporarily exacerbate the disobedience or cause a bit of a tantrum. The job of the rider is to stay the course without throwing gas on the flame. In other words, be insistent and persistent, but do not agitate the horse further. No need to fight; just wait for the horse to give it up.

Horses may not be great problem-solvers, but they can be very clever in their disobedient tactics and very manipulative of others. Often this manipulative behavior leads to a co-dependent relationship, causing the rider to hold the horse on the path or hold the horse in a speed. But once the rider is aware of the horse’s manipulations, calls the horse out on it, refusing to succumb to the tactic, the game is usually over for the horse. 

Horse Report Oct. 2019

I rode my horses a lot less than I’d hoped last month, since I was on the road more than home. We were not able to take the horses up to C Lazy U for the Ranch Riding Adventure, due to an outbreak of Strangles at the ranch and because of an outbreak of contagious disease elsewhere around Colorado (vesticular stomatitis). All indications were that it was a good time to leave the horses home. I really missed having my horses there, but I also have a great horse at the ranch that I enjoy riding. So, it just was not worth the risk to our herd’s heath.

Speaking of health, we’ve had our ups and downs around the barn, recently. My three-year-old, Pepperoni, is proving himself to be a high-maintenance horse. No sooner did we get his S-I joint feeling better and his back strong enough to start riding again, than he developed some minor soreness in his suspensory ligaments (possibly from some exuberant bucking in the round pen). Right now, he is on stall rest, with 30 minutes of hand-walking daily. That can be a bit of a wild walk with a young horse that’s full of himself! People often ask me how to deal with this type of situation (hand walking an injured horse that is wound up), so I thought this might be a good time to make a video on the subject.

The other horses are great. My little mare Annie continues to be my go-to horse, since she’s the best trained and most sound horse I have. At 14.0 hands and quick as a rabbit, she’s a blast to ride. Although guilty as charged, as far as being a mare, we’ve managed to train her away from most of her “mare-ish” behaviors. She’s a horse I can put almost anyone on, at least temporarily, and she’ll take care of them. If it’s a novice rider, she’ll eventually figure out she can get away with stuff but at least for a while, she’ll be a good mount. I don’t do that very often, but it’s nice to know that I can.

Dually, one of the best horses I’ve ever had, is fully retired now. He’s got one crooked knee that has serious arthritic changes, and it is now bone-on-bone. He runs around and carries on out in the pasture, but riding isn’t really an option anymore. We’ve done years’ worth and thousands of dollars’ worth of advanced medical treatments, which bought me a few more good years with him, but now it is clearly time for him to rest on his laurels. We still get him out occasionally, to model in front of the cameras, and it makes him feel important. He still occupies the best stall in the barn and gets all the preferential treatment, so in his mind (and in my heart), he’s still #1.

Rich’s new horse, Casper, is clearly becoming the dream-horse he thought he was when he bought him last month in Montana. He’s settled in nicely to our herd and Rich is really enjoying riding and getting to know him. It takes a long time to get to know a horse, especially one with a lot of training (a lot of buttons you must find). This horse is kind, steady and has a solid work ethic. Over the winter, weather permitting, Rich will start hauling him about, maybe to a reining show or two, since that is his primary training. His goal is to start mounted shooting off this horse, but he will take his time to introduce him to that sport. It’s best to stick with what the horse knows while you get in-sync with him, before venturing off on a new path.

Winter is rapidly approaching up here in the high mountains of Colorado, so the riding season is winding down. We’ve already had our first frost (which was late this year) and the pasture is changing slowly from green to brown. Thankfully, we have a toasty indoor arena to keep us going through the winter and I am hoping that over the coming few months, I can get Pepper back into shape so that we can start him on cows later this winter.

October 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

It’s a busy time of year for me, traveling to conferences, clinics and horse expos from one end of the country to the other. We had a fantastic clinics in Minnesota and Colorado last month, and this week I am heading to central California to work with a new bunch of horses and riders. I’m fortunate that the people who attend my clinics are dedicated to improving their horsemanship and being a better leader to the horse. Horses are amazing animals because when the person changes (improves), the horse changes right along with them. It’s rewarding for me to see the increased connection between horse and rider and the drastic improvements to the horse’s performance, when we just tweak little things in the rider/handler at a clinic.

Later this month, I head to upstate NY for the CHA International Conference, where I will offer a workshop on developing a good work ethic in both horses and riders, a mounted keynote speech on achieving collection, and a keynote speech at the awards banquet called “Trainer to TV,” were I’ll talk about my journey from a horse trainer to producing TV shows. Anyone is welcome to attend the CHA Conference; it is a place where riding instructors, trainers and barn managers, as well as the general horse-loving public, come together to network and study.

Next month I head to Massachusetts, for Equine Affaire, for one of the best horse fairs in the country. Four days of clinics, seminars, demos, and shopping (plus the best fair food anywhere!). This year, I have presentations on horse behavior, regulating your horse’s speed under-saddle, becoming less reliant on the reins (riding bridle-less), improving your equitation, tack and safety checks, and fixing the high-headed horse. That will keep me busy! Additionally, I’ll be signing autographs and answering your questions on the trade show floor– visiting with attendees when I am not in the arena teaching. I sure hope to see you there!

Enjoy the ride,


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

Spring is almost upon us, and my team and I are getting ready to tackle our goals for this year in earnest! It’s easy to set the goal and promise yourself that you’re going to work with your horse X days a week, or practice really hard to get ready for a big ride or competition. But it can be really hard to actually START—whether it’s Day 1 or Day 25. Life happens—we get busy, things come up, and we excuse away making ourselves and our horses a priority.

If you need a little extra encouragement and support to meet your goals, join my new #HorseGoals Or Bust Facebook Group! This is a community where you can come to share your goals and updates, find support through frustrations and set-backs, be a cheerleaders for others, and celebrate accomplishments. See you there!

 
#HorseGoals or Bust Community
Public group · 43 members

Join Group

 

New Kid on the Block: Introducing a new horse to the herd

Whether you keep your horse at home or at a boarding facility, there will be times when new horses must be integrated into an existing herd. Generally, this involves a lot of posturing between the horses– chasing, biting, and hooves flying. Horses take this event quite seriously and it’s a scary proposition to the new horse and its owner.

Horses are herd animals by nature; they form bonded relationships within the herd, vie for status and fight amongst themselves. Acceptance of a new horse is never granted easily by the herd and the addition of one new individual can totally disrupt the hierarchy of the herd. 

The more you understand the horse’s herd instincts, and the ways that domestication complicates matters, the easier it is to make smart decisions. Taking the time to introduce horses slowly and strategically will help the integration of the ‘new kid’ go smoothly, reduce the risk of injury and keep fireworks to a minimum. 

Herd Dynamics

Horses are instinctively gregarious animals, meaning that by nature, they’re drawn to the herd. A horse banished from the herd will always seek acceptance in another herd, because his survival is at stake. A horse is dependent on the herd for its own safety and comfort.

Gregarious behavior is present in all horses, it’s one of their strongest instinctive drives, although we often speak of it as an affliction (herd bound, barn sour, nappy, etc.). Although a horse without a herd will always seek acceptance into a herd, the existing herd always rejects a new member, until the new horse proves it is worthy of acceptance. The new kid is guilty until proven innocent.

A horse herd has a distinct structure and hierarchy of leadership. What horse owners often refer to as the “pecking order,” animal behaviorists call a “linear hierarchy.”  Simply put, every individual in the herd is either dominant over or subordinate to every other herd member. There is no equality in a horse herd; there’s a horse at the top, and one at the bottom, the rest are lined out in-between. Even amongst bonded individuals (buddies), one of them is dominant and the other is subordinate.

The most dominant horse often becomes the leader of the herd and this horse is designated “Alpha.” The next horse in the line of hierarchy is called “Beta.” The horse all the way at the bottom of the pecking order is designated “Omega.” Truly alpha horses are strong, fair leaders that the other horses admire and feel secure in its presence. Alpha individuals may be male or female, an unusual trait in the animal kingdom. Beta horses tend to challenge authority and may act like bullies, but often do not have the leadership qualities of a true alpha horse. The omega horse usually accepts its fate at the bottom of the hierarchy, it rarely challenges authority and tries to stay out of the fray.

By nature, horses are born with a temperament that may be high or low on the scales of fear, confidence, curiosity or dominance, among other traits. A horse is born with its temperament, which will largely dictate where it sits in the hierarchy. But horses are extremely fast learning animals as well; they may learn to manipulate other horses to gain more status. Sometimes horses gain status in the herd from an affiliation with another horse, so adding or subtracting one individual can often disrupt the hierarchy.

An existing herd is always reluctant to accept a new member, unless and until it shows contrition and a willingness to respect the leadership and be a good citizen in the herd. As predictable as the tides, when a new horse seeks acceptance into the herd, the existing herd members will aggressively drive the horse away, as if to say, “We don’t like you and we don’t want you.” 

The new horse continues to seek acceptance, feeling as if his life is dependent on being accepted. He lowers his head in a contrite and subordinate posture, as if to say, “Please, I’ll do anything if you let me in. I’ll follow the rules, respect the hierarchy and be a good herdmate.” 

Eventually, the existing herd members will back off and allow the new horse provisional membership in the herd. The new kid will work his way up the hierarchy to its rightful place and may become bonded with other herdmates. 

Relationships are Complicated

In a stable herd of any size, feral or domestic, the horses all know their position in the herd and are accepted members. Large herds of horses usually have factions, or smaller sub-herds of horses that like to be together.  

Within a large herd there are horses that like each other and others who do not; there are friends, rivals and enemies. Horses prefer to hang out with their buddies and bonded horses will have each others’ back. There are many cooperative and philanthropic behaviors that occur between bonded horses, including protection and fighting off an aggressive horse.

Within any herd of horses, individuals may form a specially bonded relationships with one or two other individuals. In natural herds, bonded individuals (who behaviorists refer to as “associates”) are often related by blood. Stallions can be extremely possessive of mares and entirely hostile towards marauding stallions. 

Horses in the herd, either domesticated or feral, can be possessive of some horses and jealous of other horses.  Sometimes domesticated horses may become possessive over their humans and are jealous or combative if another horse approaches or gets attention from its human.

Forced Marriages

In domestication, horses don’t get to choose their herdmates. Usually humans make that choice, organizing herds according to their own convenience, often without regard to the horse’s natural behavior. Consequently, the horses may not like each other, sometimes bullies are in charge and/or the hierarchy can be unstable. Often, adding or subtracting one individual can change the herd dynamic in surprising ways, because there were false or forced relationships to begin with.

There is never a void of leadership in a horse herd, either domesticated or feral.  If the alpha individual is suddenly removed, another horse will immediately step in as alpha—theoretically, the strongest natural leader emerges, either male or female. 

But what happens if none of the horses in a forced herd are natural leaders? What happens when there are multiple beta horses, all scrapping for dominance? In domestication, although there will always be a leader in the herd, it may not always be a good one. 

Geldings, although neutered, can often display stallion-like behaviors when it comes to possessing mares, fighting off other geldings and even mating. Of course, mares are usually not neutered and therefore may display unpleasant behaviors in estrus, wreaking havoc in the herd for a 4-5 days every few weeks. Interestingly, in feral herds, the mares usually only come into heat once a year, shortly after foaling, then are pregnant again for the remaining 11 months of the year. Domesticated mares that are not bred may cycle most or all of the year, causing a lot of frustration and angst in the herd.

Many large horse operations segregate horses by gender, to avoid the unpleasantness of a mixed-gender herd. I’ve seen it plenty of times—a large group of geldings co-existing peacefully, and the same of mares. But put one gelding in the mare pen or one mare in the gelding pen and there’s kicking, squealing, chasing and hair flying. But for many horse owners, segregating horses by gender isn’t a realistic option.

Even horses that don’t like each other may become a tight-knit herd, when that’s their only choice. But they may never become bonded associates. A horse’s preference or disdain for another horse can be hard to know in a small, forced herd where they have no choice but to hang out together. In larger herds, it may be hard to know which horse are enemies because horses that dislike each other don’t have to interact. 

A manger of a herd of 200 saddle horses once told me that they bought about a dozen horses a year and those horses were quarantined together, then at some point, integrated to run with the larger herd. Because the horses were quarantined together and then were pitted against the whole herd as the “unwanteds,” they often became their own faction, staying together as a sub-group for the rest of their tenure at the ranch, as if that traumatic experience had bonded them for life.

Relationships between horses can be complicated and the preferences or disdain they show for others can play out like a B-rated soap opera at times. This makes integrating new horses into a herd a huge challenge. It pays to be very deliberate, move slowly and test the waters carefully, so horses don’t get hurt.

Flight or Fight

Flight is the most defining characteristic of the horse, a trait that made the equine species difficult to domesticate some five to ten thousand years ago. Horses generally choose flight over other options, but when motivated to fight, they are very well equipped. 

Horse fights are extremely violent, and stallions may even fight to the death. In a normal herd setting, horses constantly make threatening gestures to others or lash out with a kick or bite. Minor horse-on-horse aggression is normal; but if the herd is in a constant state of argument and aggression, some rearrangement may be needed.

A horse has three weapons in his arsenal—his teeth, his front feet and his hind feet. Biting, striking and kicking are the horse’s arsenal and his teeth are his most deadly weapon. When horses fight to kill, they generally bite the jugular. Consequently, when male horses spar, or play-fight, they often bite at the throat.

It’s important to distinguish between aggressive kicking and defensive kicking—most often it’s the latter that we see. When a dominant horse attacks a subordinate, the subordinate kicks out in defense, often with one leg, and then runs away. The kick buys him time. 

Aggressive kicking is typically accompanied by squealing (a terribly loud scream) and the horse is usually kicking double-barrels and backing into the other horse (who may be doing the same). Horses kicking butt-to-butt are very serious about the fight and this is a very dangerous situation.

When two unfamiliar horses meet, they generally come nose-to-nose and smell each other’s breath, then go nose-to-genitals and smell there before coming back head-to-head. At that point you may see aggressive posturing (raised neck, arched back, swishy tail, stomping) and hear a squeal, which means aggression may ensue. 

Any result is possible when two unknown horses meet: they may be indifferent to each other, like each other, hate each other or want to kill each other. Most often, horses are indifferent or get along. When they don’t, sparks may fly and horses may get hurt.

Mitigation Techniques

Introducing a new horse into a herd is best done slowly and with calculation, to minimize the risk of injury. There are so many variables in the herd size and dynamics, the facilities available and the temperament of the horses, that it is difficult to offer suggestions that work in any situation. But over the decades, I’ve learned some tricks that may help ease the transition.

First, I like to quarantine the new horse for a week or two. Not only does this help reduce the spread of illness, it also allows the horse time to get used to his new environment and become acquainted with his new human family. It allows me time to get to know the horse and evaluate his temperament before introducing him to the rest of the herd. 

Next, I like to let the new horse be in a pen that shares a common fence with the herd. I want the fence to be tall (at least five feet) and solid (to hold up to kicking, striking and leaning on both sides). I may only do this for short periods while I observe what horses are friendly and which are aggressive. I may leave the new horse next to the herd for days, as he gets to know the players.

Since more horses are friendly than aggressive, chances are good that some of the horses in the herd will be interested in making friends with the new horse. As I observe the initial interactions over the fence, I can determine which horses will be jealous or possessive and which horses are interested in the new horse. 

If I can, I will allow the new horse to meet one or two of the friendly horses without the fence in between—turning them out together for some time before introducing the rest of the herd. That way, the new horse may have a friend when he meets the whole herd. Sometimes it’s feasible to add one horse at a time to the new horse’s pen, until the whole herd is together.

Often, identifying the one dominant horse that is causing the conflict and removing that horse from the equation, allows everyone else to get along just fine. I would keep that horse isolated from the herd for a week or two, while the new guy settles in and finds his place. Be careful not to break up alliances in the existing herd, as you introduce the horses one at a time. A jealous, dominant horse may come uncorked when he sees his BFF with the new guy.

If I have any concerns about aggression when I put the horses all together, I’ll recruit help from one or two friends. Armed with training flags or whips to wave and make noise, we’ll referee the first meeting. If the horses become aggressive, we’ll shout and wave the flags to break them up and then remove the trouble-makers. A little solitary confinement may make the aggressive horse rethink his behavior next time, while the new horse gets comfortable with the rest of the herd. Fighting horses are scary and dangerous, so proceed with great caution. 

Most importantly, take your time when integrating a new horse into a herd and employ a strategy. Do your best to know the temperaments of the horses and who the main players will be. Most of the time, horses will work out their differences and find a new order in the herd, in a matter of hours, but occasionally, horses can be injured. Whatever you can do to reduce the risk and stress level, will help the horses.