Summer came to a screeching halt around our ranch, just two days after record heat on Labor Day, when we were hammered with well over a foot of snow and temps in the low 20s and highs in the 30s (yes, Fahrenheit). We went from fly sheets to mid-weight winter blankets in one day (we save the heavy artillery for true winter). We will certainly still have some warm, summer-like days ahead of us (I hope), but most likely our nights will get colder as the days shorten.
My young horse Pepperoni and I, alongside Rich and his horse Casper, took a trip to my friend Lucy’s ranch where we did some high-mountain riding in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. I was super pleased with Pepper’s performance on the rough, steep and (at times) treacherous trail. He was strong, sure-footed and willing; we rode in every position in the line-up—he even led bravely the descent. The trip inspired me to write a blog series on the making of a great trail horse.
Normally I haul two horses (Pepper and Annie) to clinics at C Lazy U, where I am in the saddle all day. But I’ve decided to take only Pepper to the next clinic—a sure sign of his maturity and reliability. It’s a good thing Fall is such a glorious time of year here in the Rockies, because I’ll be in the mountains, conducting horsemanship clinics for the next month.
I have three programs at the C Lazy U Ranch in northern Colorado and one in Jackson Hole Wyoming, for the winner of the Equus & W.F. Young Win A Day contest. I’m excited about the two new programs we are offering in October—The Fall Getaway (a fun mountain vacation hosted by Barbra Schulte and her husband Tom, and my husband Rich and me) and Horsemanship Immersion (an education-intensive program for insatiable learners, covering equitation, groundwork, training, health, saddle fit, etc.). If you are looking for an adventure—there are still a few openings in both programs. Find out more.
My little mare Annie (14.0 hands in high heels) still carries the load when it comes to media production. She’s a finished cow horse, in her prime, and still my go to horse (although Pepper is creeping up on her). Last week we recorded video for some virtual events this fall. The Certified Horsemanship Association’s annual conference has gone virtual and is happening on October 30th. The conference is open to anyone, and will offer educational horsemanship clinics—both English and Western—from a variety of nationally known presenters, including yours truly.
My clinic is called Lead Changes: Simple and Flying, and we recorded the riding portion last week. I rode Annie in the clinic, plus I had two English riders and one Western rider. The horses (and one pony, not counting Annie) and riders were all at different training levels, from a youth rider to a pro rider. In spite of having about 15” of heavy wet snow on the ground the day before and high winds during the shoot, we pulled off a great clinic! Certified Horsemanship Association’s Virtual Conference is open to anyone. It’s chock full of horsemanship education, and you can participate right from the comfort and safety of your own home! You can register here at the discounted member rate by entering the priority code JG ($60 off!).
Here in the high mountains of Colorado, there’s not much left of summer. But I’m looking forward to a fabulous fall riding season and getting back on the road with my horses. It’s certainly been a strange year, and one we all look forward to seeing in our rearview mirrors. I think many of us horse lovers are grateful to have the stability, connectivity and grounding that horses and the accompanying (never ending) chores give us. I know I am.
My youngest horse, Pepperoni, just successfully completed his first high mountain ride in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area, a steep mountain range in southern Colorado. It was an arduous test of his skills and I’m super proud of his accomplishment.
He proved his mettle in handling the toughest terrain, and we gained a great deal of confidence in each other. And even though it required extreme exertion on his part, I think he may have liked it (except for the scary parts).
Rich, our horses and I loaded into our living quarters horse trailer and drove to our friend, Lucy’s ranch in the San Luis Valley. (Many of you know Lucy because she assists me on the road a lot.) It’s a large parcel on the edge of the mountains that borders National Forest and overlooks the expansive alpine valley. We found a picturesque campsite, complete with a water feature to lull us to sleep. And we were faithfully guarded by the ranch’s bear-alert system, a Great Pyrenees named Honey Bear.
The first day, we rode warm-up trails on the ranch, testing the waters (literally), to see if our horses were ready for the wilderness trip. Lucy and her horses know the trails well, and provided an excellent guide service. This is not terrain you want to travel unless you know what you’re getting into. I’ve ridden in these mountains for 30 years, so I already knew that.
Major Creek comes down out of the steep mountains, runs through the middle of the ranch and into the valley. It’s rushing and wild, and we knew the mountain trail we were planning to ride the next day would have numerous creek crossings—some of them complicated by bogs, logs, thickets, boulders, and steep banks.
The Sangres are rocky and treacherous in places, but the rewards surround you in the pristine high-altitude wilderness. The scree slopes are steep, with loose rock in some places and solid rock in others. The terrain ranges from vast and open to closed-in, claustrophobic and thorny, where it’s not unusual to encounter traces of bears or mountain lions. I can imagine that to a lot of people this may seem both impossible and exaggerated, but it is typical of the terrain in this area.
The Major Creek trail is not highly traveled (off the radar and not easy to get to), and therefore not highly maintained, so the challenges are abundant. Before riding into terrain like this, you want to make sure you have a solid, mature horse underneath you. One that has the right temperament and maturity for the job, the physical strength and experience, plus the training and requisite skills necessary to be an extreme trail horse and a supreme trail partner.
Is a Good Trail Horse Born or Made?
The short answer is both. But I’m not known for giving short answers.
Think of being a chef—you must know what you’re doing, and be both adventurous and pragmatic with a dose of creativity. But the key to making an exquisite dish is to start with the best ingredients, and then the results are far superior. However, keep in mind that even with the very best ingredients, the dish must be built from scratch and crafted with skilled hands, or it flops.
There are quite a few ingredients in the making of a supreme trail horse:
Thinking rather than reactive
These are all important qualities that a horse is born with. Horses are both instinctively flighty and investigative, but they generally come down strong on one side or the other. Surefootedness, in my experience, comes very natural to some horses, and not at all to others. All of these traits can be enhanced through training, but starting with a naturally talented horse sure helps.
There’s No Such Thing as a Thirty-Day Wonder
The “finished” trail horse, like any other discipline of riding, takes years—not weeks or months—to develop. The green horse might go out on its first trail ride very early in its training, but to negotiate a wilderness trail like Major Creek requires a mature horse with exquisite control and perfect obedience.
According to veterinary standards, climbing and descending steep mountains is not an activity for horses younger than four years of age. This is why it was Pepper’s first trip. He’s done quite a few rides in the foothills and around the ranch. Even though he was started under saddle as a 2-year-old, he wasn’t ready for the high mountains until he had the physical strength, the mental maturity and the strong foundational training that gives me complete control and authority—stem to stern.
Pepperoni’s two years of training and experience hauling to clinics and trail rides prepared him for this day. He had some scary moments when he questioned himself, and then me. But when I asked him for effort, he gave it to me. When I asked him to be brave, he was. He came to trust my judgment over his own as he got more careful with his feet and focused his mind on the mission.
There were times when full body control was necessary to negotiate tight and dicey terrain. There were places where stepping over logs and rocks required deliberation, and places so steep he had to work hard to rate his speed. With every mile of our trip he got better and better, embracing his role as my supreme trail partner.
A lot goes into training a horse to be your partner at this level, no matter what your chosen equestrian endeavor, but there are a few things unique to the trail. After thinking on the subject, I realized it’s too much for one article, and worthy of a blog series on the making of a good trail horse.
Consider this part one, and please join me for later installments of The Making of a Trail Horse, as I share my personal experience and my pet peeves about training for the trail. Here’s a sneak peek at the fun we’ll have…
Requisite Manners and Skills: Tie, load, stand, highline, obedience, work ethic, rating speed, and body control
To Lead or Not to Lead? That is the question: Training your horse to accept all positions in the line-up, and ride calmly away from the herd when asked.
Sure Footedness: Evaluating natural talent (or lack thereof), and developing good habits
Navigating Natural Obstacles:Water, bogs, timber, scree, thickets, and exposure
Live Hazards: Lions, tigers and bears—Oh My! De-spooking the trail horse
This fall brings a transition like no other. Normally, I take a break from business travel in the summer and ease back into full swing, traveling to horse expos, clinics and conferences in September. Of course, this year, I’ve had a five-month stretch with very little business travel. Like a lot of people, back in March I went from shock, to wandering in circles, to settling into a new normal. I love traveling, meeting new horses and helping them with their people. At first, I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I couldn’t travel—all I could think about was when things would get back to normal. Then came a period of adjustment; then came a new normal. I’m sure many of you can relate.
Now it’s time to dust off my suitcases, pack my bags and hit the road again! Although a part of me has become content staying at home, I’m super excited to get back to what I do best—teach horsemanship! Although my fall schedule does not look like it used to, I’ve still got some trips on the books, and I’m excited to get back in the arena with three clinics at the C Lazy U Ranch, plus my Equus Win-A-Day clinic in Jackson Hole, WY. Apparently, many of you are eager to travel, too, since our clinics at C Lazy U are filling fast!
The Ranch Riding Adventure in September is full but the Fall Getaway (co-taught with Barbra Schulte), October 8-12, still has a few openings. This is a new, vacation-oriented program, where guests can pick their own agenda each day, choosing from all the ranch amenities (riding and non-riding), plus lessons with Barbra and me each day and plenty of social activities (outside and social distancing). Bring your spouse or a non-riding friend for this fun, action-packed outdoor program. October 22-26 is Horsemanship Immersion—a program you’ve asked for, specifically designed for insatiable learners. This will be a hands-on, 4-day program that covers riding skills, groundwork, health, first aid, conformation, saddle fit and bits, behavior and training, plus trail riding in the Rocky Mountains. These clinics are filling fast, so if you’re ready to venture out, check out these fabulous programs.
This month I’ll be conducting a recorded clinic for the CHA V-Conference on October 30th. The conference is open to anyone and will offer educational horsemanship clinics, both English and Western, from a variety of nationally known presenters. I’ll be offering a clinic on lead changes, which will be pre-recorded and viewed on October 30th, with live commentary from me. The Certified Horsemanship Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes safety and effectiveness in horsemanship instruction. I’ve been a proud member, spokesperson, and certified Master Instructor with the organization for decades. This virtual conference will certainly be chock full of high-quality horsemanship instruction. Please join us!
This year has been like no other. We’ve learned a lot about human nature and how quickly our society can change and how well we can all adapt. I’ve found some unexpected treasures, with more time to do the things I love. I’ve found new strength in my ability to pivot. I’ve had a lot of fun with the Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework and found a lot of satisfaction in foster-training Doc Gunner (please visit MyRightHorse.org to find out how you can help horses in need). If you asked me back in early March if I would be willing to give up traveling, I would have said no. But now that I see that even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we can find joy in the smallest things ,and opportunity where we didn’t know it existed. I have a new perspective. I know many people are hurting, and I am heartened by the kindness and generosity of others. As we ease back into “normal” life, there will be more bumps and recalculations, but I do have faith in the positive outcome and I hope you do too!
Here we are at the peak of riding season and I’m happy to report that our horses are all healthy and sound, even our foster horse, Doc Gunner. For the last 90 days, Gunner has more or less been the center of attention around here. He likes it that way. Gunner is a kind and gentle four year old whose magnetic personality stems from his deep need to belong. Gunner was born completely deaf, which makes him special in several ways—he’s way more communicative than most horses, he seeks acceptance more, and he’s far more interested in people than a lot of horses. While all horses learn fast, Gunner tries so hard to get along that it seems like he learns and absorbs faster too. Find out more about Gunner’s story here.
I am learning more about the genetics of deafness in horses and soon we’ll have a full genetic workup on Doc Gunner that will tell us a ton about his health, his pedigree, and even his behavior. We sent off genetic material (tail hairs) to Etalon Diagnostics. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some confirmation about his breeding, which may lead us to his beginnings. We’ve made tremendous progress in getting him healthy and started under-saddle; soon we’ll begin the search for his perfect home. To find out more about how you can help horses in transition and horses at-risk in your area, visit MyRightHorse.org.
We’ve been live-posting with Gunner at least once a week, and a lot of people wonder why I don’t adopt Gunner. First, my job as a foster parent (or in this case, foster-trainer) is to help as many horses as I can, not acquire more horses for myself. Secondly, I have two fabulous riding horses already, Annie (my pretty little diva) and Pepperoni (my young, athletic training project). That’s about one and half more horses than I have time to ride. Thankfully, I have Melissa to help me keep the horses going strong.
Annie is a mature AQHA mare, finished under-saddle and a solid working partner for me, in all the media production that we do on a weekly basis around here. It’s been my ambition to train her into being a gelding, and we are getting closer all the time. Pepper is super fun to train; he learns lightning-quick and is always game for an adventure. With Gunner getting so much attention lately, I haven’t ridden Pepper as much as I’d like, but I’m happy with his training level. His classical training foundation is solid and strong. For the most part, he is 100% obedient to my aids, when I am riding mindfully. Of course he’s more than happy to let me know when I make a mistake—and that’s when his red-headed temper kicks in. I love riding this horse; he keeps me honest.
We’ve been fortunate to have a great summer with our horses so far and I’ve got fall riding retreats coming up soon at the C Lazy U Guest Ranch. I’m looking forward to getting back on the road with my horses and helping riders develop their skill set. Here in the Rocky Mountain west, we’re having a terrible drought and wildfires are raging everywhere. It’s a stressful time for everyone, especially those of us that might have to evacuate with our horses. God bless the firefighters and let’s all pray for rain. Hay already is at a premium, due to low yields, so grab up what you can.
These are challenging times, to say the least. Thankfully, we have horses to keep us grounded and strong. And remember, riding is a great sport for social distancing!
Article by Absorbine: Professional Julie Goodnight weighs in with some tips
Whether you’re headed out to the first show of the “season” or keeping a horse quarantine clean, with ShowSheen® from Absorbine®, you can get the job done quickly and easily. While ShowSheen is well-known for putting the finishing touch on horses’ coats, adding radiance, conditioning and protection, this barn grooming staple has many other uses.
Trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight says her favorite use for ShowSheen is prior to clipping. “Using ShowSheen before clipping helps reduce the friction on clipper blades, allowing them to glide through the hair better, reducing clipper lines and helping keep clipper blades sharper longer. Before clipping, thoroughly curry and brush the coat up before applying ShowSheen. This will ensure that the underside of the hair is also treated.”
Want to produce your own professional-looking results? Try these tips for using ShowSheen:
To reduce burrs and sand spurs, apply prior to heading out for trail rides and before turn-out
For more comfort using fly sheets, use to reduce rubs and static cling
To helprepel dust and keep horses cleaner longer, use liberally all over the horse’s body
To prevent skin and hair from drying out, let the pro vitamins and silk proteins work their magic and keep horses’ coats and hair deep-conditioned
When summer showers lead to the possibility of muddy legs, keep mud from sticking by spraying legs before turn-out.
“For more than 40 years, ShowSheen has been world’s number one detangler and grooming aid,” says Amy Cairy, director of marketing for Absorbine. “Horse owners are always looking for ways to make the grooming process easier – and have the results last longer. ShowSheen is a staple for every horse owner’s grooming box.”
Discover why professionals and horse owners worldwide rely on top-rated ShowSheen to keep their horses’ coats and hair shiny and healthy. To purchase ShowSheen, click here.
Tack and equipment play an important role in riding and training horses. Knowing the options and making the right choices can make a huge difference in your riding. The four natural aids of the rider that allow communication between horse and rider are the seat, legs, hands and voice. The reins are an extension of your hand and the connection with your horse.
Reins are the conduit between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth, and they can play a critical role in communication. Reins come in a variety of types and styles and are made of many different materials. Depending on the discipline that you ride (English, Western and the sub-disciplines within), the activities you do, your ability level, the training level of your horse and your personal preference, you’ll want to choose the reins that fit your needs best.
Usually when we think of riding disciplines, we think English or Western. But within each basic discipline, there are many sub-disciplines—an English rider may be doing dressage, hunt seat (jumping), endurance or saddle seat. A Western rider may be cutting, barrel racing, roping, reining or pleasure riding.
Reins are generally designed and constructed to fit the specific riding activity you are doing at the moment, so you may need more than one set of reins. For instance, if you are training for barrel racing, the reins you use may be totally useless or even counterproductive for trail riding. The length of reins, the materials they are made of, special design features, the quality and durability all play a role in what type of rein suits you best.
English tack has been around for thousands of years longer than Western tack and we see much more standardization in reins, in terms of length, design and the materials of which they are made. English reins often come with the bridle and are made to match the headstall. English reins usually attach to the bit the same way and are a closed-loop formed with two reins attached in the center with a buckle (hence the term, “riding on the buckle,” which means the rider has made the reins completely loose and is only holding onto the buckle at the center.
While most English reins are made of leather, depending on the type of riding you do, you may choose a different material. Rubber coated reins are popular on the racetrack and for cross-country jumping— they offer better grip for fast and furious riding in variable weather conditions. BioThane® (a synthetic leather substitute) is another popular material for both reins and headstalls and is particularly useful in climates where humidity, rain and sweat are a problem. Reins made from webbing are common and are easy to care for and affordable.
English reins are usually laced or braided, for better grip by the rider. Since it is common for English horses to be ridden on direct contact, sometimes a lot of contact, the reins are made for gripping. Rainbow reins have different colors between the rein grips to help young or novice riders know where to place their hands. Since many English horses are ridden in running martingales, often English reins will have “rein stops” that prevent the rings of the martingale from sliding up the rein too high.
The standard length of an English rein is 54 inches—you want just enough length that when you hold the buckle, the horse can completely relax and lower its head without coming to contact. English reins also come in pony size (48”), cob size (“cob” is a term used for a small horse, and cob reins are 52”) or large-horse size for really big/long-necked horses (60” length). Getting the length of your reins right is important for your horse’s comfort but most horses will do well in a standard length.
Western tack has more variety and less tradition than English. With cattle ranching at its roots, a lot of Western tack is designed for working purposes. However, modern sub-disciplines such as speed events, reining, Western pleasure, trail obstacles, mounted shooting and Western dressage are growing in popularity, with new sub-disciplines popping up regularly. Each activity has specific needs for reins.
With a greater variety of riding activities, and with less standardization and tradition than it’s English counterpart, Western reins come in many shapes, sizes and configurations. In the working Western tradition, the reins would progress along with the horse’s training level, from riding 2-handed on a green-horse, to riding 1-handed with little or no contact on the finished horse.
Traditional Western Reins
Mecate Reins are traditionally made of a long, braided horsehair rope, but today they are often made of marine rope. The bristly texture of horsehair reins is good for both teaching the horse to neck rein and giving the rider a good grip on the reins when the riding gets rough. The mecate rein is 22-26 feet long and designed for 2-handed riding with either a snaffle bit or the bosal. The mecate is tied onto the bit in a specific manner, depending on which bridle you are using, to give a closed-loop rein, with a long tail coming off the left side of the bit or bosal, to use as a lead rope when you jump on and off the green horse (the finished horse would ground tie when you need to get off). Mecate reins are often attached to the snaffle bit with slobber straps, which protect the reins and help the reins drape, but can sometimes be bulky and cumbersome. The mecate rein has experienced a surge of popularity in the past 20 years, with the trend of natural horsemanship, because they offer a classic Western look. However, if you are not using the lead rope (mecate), it can be a lot of rope to manage. The closed-loop, yacht rope rein like I designed is easier to use and less bulky.
Split Reins are the training rein of the Western horse and the most ubiquitous, due to their versatility and usefulness at every training level. The highest quality split reins are made of heavy harness leather and are 7-8 feet long, attaching to the bit with a water tie (like a thin slobber strap) that protects the rein and offers a soft feel of the horse’s mouth. For the uninitiated, split reins are complicated to use. There are a variety of ways to hold split reins, one-handed or two-handed, depending on the horse’s training level and the activity of the rider. Split reins should be long, with a weighted on one or both ends, to help balance the reins so they come to a drape fast at the bit-end and hang quietly on the tail end. When split reins are held improperly, they can easily fall to the ground if dropped and they are complicated to shorten and lengthen, therefore they are not the best choice for children and novice riders.
Romal Reins are the finished rein of the Western horse and typically made of braided rawhide and used with a high-ported, long-shanked bit, and a horse that is so well trained that the rider’s hand will barely move. The romal is a closed loop rein with a long tail that has a quirt or popper at the end (to aid in moving cattle and in training the horse). The rider holds the reins in one hand (traditionally the left hand), with no fingers in between the reins, and with the other hand holding the romal. The reins attach to the bit with a rawhide or leather loop, but rein-chains may also be used to help the reins drape faster.
Food for Thought on Reins
When it comes to rein choice, there are many styles and considerations for the rider. The material the reins are made of is a matter of function, aesthetics, and personal preference. The length, width, weight and feel of the reins relate to the size of the horse and rider, how they are used and the intangible values of the rider.
To me, ease-of-use is often the most important consideration in rein choice, particularly for the novice rider. Balancing on top of a thousand-pound moving animal and controlling the forward motion is complicated enough. The reins should be easy to hold in your hands, easy to keep even, and easy to shorten/lengthen. Safety is always a consideration for both horse and rider. Reins that stay on the horse’s neck when inadvertently dropped by the rider and reins that have a breakaway feature (particularly when synthetic materials are used), improve safety for both.
The most specialized reins, designed for high performance in a specific sub-discipline, like team roping or polo, are also designed for ease-of-use and functionality. But what is functional when running at high speed, riding one-handed, swinging a lariat or mallet under rapidly changing circumstances, may not be functional for taking a leisurely trail ride on an old, semi-retired horse.
Reins may be made of natural or synthetic materials. Leather is probably the most common choice, for its feel and give (breakaway), but the range in leather quality is huge. To me, tack is a critical component of performance, so I always want the highest quality Hermann Oak harness leather. The higher the quality of the leather, the heavier it is, the better the feel and the longer it lasts.
BioThane® is a popular leather substitute used for bridles and reins. It’s a coated polyester webbing that has a similar feel and look to leather and also comes in bright colors. It’s waterproof and more durable than leather in corrosive environments (from humidity, sweat, salt water, etc.). It wipes clean and is more hygienic for horses. It’s often used in racing and endurance riding and for some riders, it carries the bonus of being a vegan product.
Most reins come in a standard length, specific to the activity they were designed for and would work for averaged-sized horses doing that activity, but may not accommodate an exceptionally long-necked horse. If the reins are too short, the horse pays the price with too much pressure on his mouth and a hollowed out frame. I like my reins to be long enough for the horse to stretch his nose to the ground.
Weight and balance are important for reins—how they feel in your hands and how quickly they offer a release of pressure to the horse. Many reins come in different widths. For instance, split reins can be a half-inch to a full inch wide. What feels best in your hands depends on the size of your hands and how it feels when you close your fingers on the reins. I have small hands but half-inch feels too narrow and a 5/8th inch rein feels just right, while one inch is hard for me to close my fingers on and still have a soft feel.
I ride my bridle horses in split reins, but I prefer a closed-loop, 9-10-foot, marine rope rein for green horses or when I am teaching from horseback. I designed my closed-loop, cross-discipline rope reins for comfort in your hands (soft feel), ease of use and safety. My rope reins are truly my best product, as many users will attest. I designed them with the novice rider in mind (they’re easy to shorten and lengthen and have a convenient center marker so you always know where you reins are) but I find their ease of use is appreciated by expert riders as well. Marine rope reins may not be perfect for every sub-discipline, but novice and recreational riders love them!
Rein Handling Do’s and Don’ts
Make sure the reins (and/or headstall) have a breakaway component for your horse’s safety.
Make sure riders know how and when to shorten and lengthen reins.
Make sure riders know the appropriate length to hold the reins and how to hold the reins properly.
Always give the rider the means to control the horse (the reins), even when the rider is being led.
Lead the horse by looping the reins around his throat latch (or use a halter under the bridle), not by pulling on the bit.
Wrap reins or ropes around your hand or any body part. Never attach yourself to a horse or saddle with a rope or rein.
Allow closed-loop reins to lay on the ground or in front of a horse to prevent entanglement.
Lead the horse by pulling on the reins. Use a halter to teach proper leading manners.
Hold the horse by clamping two reins together behind his jaw. This hurts his mouth and you cannot hold him still this way. Teach your horse to stand still with groundwork.
Tie the horse with reins. This will hurt his mouth and break your reins. Keep a halter on or use a “get down rope” around the neck if you need to get off and tie up frequently.
I’m not sure whether I’m sad to see summer wane or glad to see this year halfway behind us. The not-knowing-what’s-next is hard for everyone, myself included. I miss helping horses with their people. I miss the hundreds of horses I encounter in-person each year. In fact, I consider it a perk of my job and I want it back. How else does a trainer master their craft, other than working with thousands of individual horses?
When will we get back to the horse-business-as-usual? Who knows, really, but I think for large events like horse expos, it’s looking like 2021 will be a remake of what we’d planned for 2020. It’ll be like we skipped a year; sort of like suspended animation. For 2021, I’m booked at all the events I planned to attend this year, and I am looking forward to that day! See my full schedule here.
In the meantime, and maybe permanently, I’ll be doing a lot more private/small group clinics. There’s nothing quite like working with horses and their people, up-close and personal, and seeing the dynamic between them. After all, if the person could articulate to me what they were doing wrong, we could handle it on the phone. Without seeing the interaction between horse and human, I miss a lot of information that I need to help solve problems. If you think you and your horse are ready for a house call, get more info on private clinics here.
This fall, I’ll be teaching three “vacation clinics” at the renowned C Lazy U Ranch, near Granby, Colorado. This “5-Spur” guest ranch is operating at reduced capacity this summer; with almost all of the activities outside and with well-established covid precautions, they are staying safe while offering outstanding family vacations. I was there in June for a clinic I co-taught with Barbra Schulte and everyone was smart and we had a great time. While my September program at C Lazy U is full, the two October programs still have openings. So if you’re ready to venture out, this may be your ticket…
Ranch Riding Adventure, September 17-21. Includes trail riding, daily lessons with Julie, trail obstacles and cattle work. This clinic is full for 2020; if this program fits your needs, call and ask to be on the waitlist for 2021.
Fall Mountain Getaway, October 8-12. Join Julie Goodnight, Barbra Schulte and their husbands for a vacation for fun-loving adults. Plan your own schedule each day, choosing from a menu of activities, including lessons with Julie and Barb, incredible trail rides, plus many fun activities for riders and nonriders alike.
Horsemanship Immersion, October 22-26. With a laboratory of over 200 horses to play with, this program is for insatiable learners of all ability levels. It involves concentrated study and hands-on practice, including riding, groundwork, conformation, behavior & training, saddle fit & bits, health & first aid.
As spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association, I’m excited to be participating in their virtual conference, on Friday, October 30th. The CHA Conference is geared toward horse professionals, but is open to anyone and is often attended by non-professionals that wish to expand their knowledge. For the v-conference, I will pre-record a clinic with both English and Western riders called, “Simple and Flying Lead Changes,” (a tall order). I’ll present the video of the clinic on the 30th and answer your questions.
If you’re an English rider interested in bringing your horse and riding with me at my ranch in Salida, Colorado, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
With more time at home than ever before, you’d think I’d get my horse ridden every day. I guess it’s not surprising that having to totally reinvent the way you do business might take some extra time. We’ve been so busy producing new videos for my training Library, doing live posts with Doc Gunner and developing educational content for equestrians, that some days riding gets shoved to the back burner. I’m sure some of you can relate to the fact that life sometimes interferes with your riding plans.
Pepperoni, my 4-year-old gelding is coming along great and has matured into a different horse. Gone are his “exuberant” outbursts and his need to be in a hurry to get wherever it is we are going. If I miss a few days of riding, or even a week, he doesn’t require a reboot; instead, I just pick up where I left off. I’d like to be getting more time on him, mainly so he is more fit, but so far we are making progress even if I only ride him 2-3 days a week (he gets exercised on the days I do not ride).
Annie, my cute, fat little mare (14.0 hands and round as a barrel) has become my go-to horse, now that Dually is retired. She’s pretty reliable when we need her, but she can be a bit of a silly at times—busy-bodied about the other horses with a tendency to be marish at times. But she knows when she has to buckle down to work and she generally gives it her all in those moments. She’s a finished Western horse and a blast to ride (if you like little, quick-footed horses like I do) and only requires maintenance in her training and exercise for conditioning. She’s been spending a lot of time lately babysitting our foster horse.
My other training obligation at this time is Doc Gunner, my foster horse. He’s a 4-year-old Paint gelding with special needs. He was born deaf, and although we don’t know what happened to this horse during the first three years of his life, he clearly has not had it easy. He was saved from a kill pen back in December and wound up in the rescue pipeline where it was determined he would need some training before he is ready for adoption—that’s where I came in. Through the efforts of many dedicated individuals, some major resources are being put into this sweet young horse in order to give him a bright and secure future. We agreed to take the horse into temporary custody for the purpose of saddle training, the idea being that if he is trained and desirable, he will never be at risk again. Gunner is exceeding our expectations on the training end but we are still working hard to get him completely healthy (another requirement before he is eligible for adoption). We’re fighting ulcers, poor stamina/conditioning and an ugly wound on his gaskin that refuses to heal (we know for sure the wound is at least eight months old and has been aggressively treated twice, to no avail). We are grateful to Dr. Casey Potter from Elite Equine and ReNoVo®, a liquid allograft for equines that promotes healing. This treatment has shown miraculous results for various issues in horses, but particularly in wounds that will not heal. Dr. Potter will first x-ray the wound to see if there are any foreign objects in there, then debride the wound to get rid of all the “proud flesh,” then treat the wound with ReNoVo®. We should see major results in a couple weeks. I cannot wait!
We’ve been either live posting or recording every training session I’ve had with Gunner and he has many fans around the world. Everyone is captivated by his sweetness, his willingness and the unique characteristics that stem from his deafness. He’s a fearful horse but he’s quite adept at hiding it behind a calm and mellow exterior. He apparently had not been handled much, as evidenced by not being able to touch his belly, his hind legs, or anywhere on his off side. He did not tie, had minimal ground manners, was hard to catch and very leery of strangers. But that is all far behind him now. He comes right to us to be caught, he ties, and most of the time he lets us touch him anywhere. We’ve been saddling him with no problems (perhaps he’s been saddled before?) and just this week I started sitting on him. I’m beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, and thinking about selecting the perfect human for him. It’s a fun and satisfying project to be part of and once we get Gunner settled in his new home, I’ll be ready to help one more horse in need.
You might wonder why my (and your) help is needed? The truth is, on any given day, there are about 150,000 horses in the U.S. at risk of becoming homeless of neglect or abuse, or ending up on a truck headed over our northern and southern borders to slaughter. There is an army of people across this nation who are dedicated to helping horses in transition. If everyone who loves horses would step up to help just one horse, every single one of these horses could be saved or their suffering could be brought to a humane conclusion. With the tanking of our economy, even more horses will be at risk, and the rescue and sanctuary operations need our help. Maybe you have an empty pen and the experience to temporarily foster a horse that has come into the rescue pipeline and is awaiting a permanent home? Sometimes these horses need respite care, evaluation of their training or additional training, and a month or two of care and handling will make all the difference. There are other ways you can help, through tax-deductible donations, donating hay or equipment, volunteering at a rescue or even offering your services to transport a horse to his new home. If you want to help, and I hope you will, please go to MyRightHorse.org, where you can find out more about horse fostering and get connected with the people in your area that are doing the hard work. It takes a village, and we need your help.
In the meantime, if you’ve missed the Training Doc Gunner videos, you can find them here. We are also working on a video series called, “Saving Doc Gunner,” which will chronicle his journey from the kill pen to his new forever home (TBD), and will include some dramatic footage that you have not seen in the live posts. The first episode will be coming out soon, so make sure you are on my email list so you’ll be the first to know!
It’s definitely been an interesting summer so far. Like so many of you, I’m getting used to a new way of doing business, and so far, I’ve managed to fill in the holes in my schedule that came from cancellations of events everywhere. My days have been filled with live posts and daily video lessons, coaching online students and recording podcasts and voiceovers. Believe it or not, the planning and preparation consumes just as much time as the doing—especially with half of my team working from home.
But our efforts have paid off, and we’ve increased our online content while managing to stay connected to our audience. Many of you have been following the story of Training Doc Gunner, which have come to you over the last six weeks via live posts on Facebook. Gunner is a 4 year old deaf Paint gelding, rescued in Kansas, ending up in Oklahoma City, and then sent to me in Colorado for fostering. His story is compelling, and people have enjoyed watching his training real-time. We are using this social campaign to bring awareness to the hundreds of thousands of horses at risk in this country (now more than ever) and how you can help. To find out more about organizations doing the good work to save horses in your area, and how you might help, visit www.MyRightHorse.org.
At the end of May, Barbra Schulte and I conducted a fabulous riding retreat at the C Lazy U Ranch, and I am happy to say that everyone was smart, observed social distancing, and wore face coverings when appropriate. We all stayed healthy and had a great time (read about it in last month’s blog). I’m looking forward to the three riding programs I will offer at C Lazy U in the fall (2 of them are brand new programs!). I’m hopeful that I will also be traveling to College Station, TX, in October, for the CHA Conference; and if my luck holds out, I may be in Myrtle Beach SC in November for the AHA Beach Ride. Even with the unusual schedule changes happening lately, you can always find the most accurate information about my public appearances here.
Adjusting to the covid crisis has meant modifying the way I operate and looking for new ways to connect with horse lovers. One day soon, I’ll get back to traveling, and already we are seeing an increase in the number of people interested in private horsemanship clinics at their own facilities. All of the big events I had booked to be a presenter at in 2020 that were cancelled have rebooked me for 2021, and the producers are looking forward to next year. We are looking at platforms to offer virtual horsemanship clinics where I can help you with your horse from a distance and at live-streaming horsemanship clinics so viewers everywhere can benefit.
Meanwhile, we continue to invest in our robust online streaming services and membership programs. Horse people, widely known to be late adopters of technology, are clearly availing themselves of it now. I am proud to say we have some of the best tech support and customer service out there—Diana spends a lot of time helping our customers navigate the unknown, so even the techno-phobic horse lovers can learn and study online with ease! If you haven’t checked out my Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework, they are still available online for free, so get it while you can. And I hope you will join me on my weekly live posts on Facebook, Training Doc Gunner.
There may never be another summer quite like this one (let’s hope), but I’m a big fan of looking on the bright side. I’ve got more time at home now to do what I love doing, I’m involved with some exciting new projects and I’m still seeking the opportunities that I know are out there waiting for me. I hope you too are healthy, safe and able to find some goodness in all the gloom.
I grew up in central Florida, riding year-round in the steamy heat. As a young girl, most of my summer riding was done bareback, barefooted, in a bathing suit (much to my mother’s chagrin). As a teenager, I spent summers training hard for jumping competitions, often wearing a black velvet hard hat, tall boots and chaps. Living in a climate like that and riding horses, you learn a lot about surviving the heat.
For three decades now, I’ve lived in the high mountains of Colorado, where we lose more days of riding each year due to cold rather than heat. The harsh, high-altitude, desert-like conditions that I live in now bring their own environmental challenges. Horses are highly adaptable to the climate they live in, but good horse management practices will keep horses safer, more comfortable, and more capable at their jobs.
In some places, it’s too hot to ride in the summer, and the primary riding season is winter. But for many riders, summertime offers the best riding opportunities—like trail riding, camping, horsemanship clinics and competitions. We dream, scheme, and plan through the winter months about the riding we will do come summer. If you’re active with your horses in the summer, chances are good that you will run into overwhelming heat at times.
To navigate hot weather riding, you need to know when it’s too hot to ride or too hot to transport your horse, and how you will monitor your horse for signs that he’s not coping well with the heat. There are many things you can do to manage your horse better in the heat, and keep him safe and comfortable when the mercury rises.
Too Hot to Ride
Every region has its own environmental challenges to consider, but the most challenging conditions for horse sports are the combination of high heat and high humidity. Here in the high mountain desert of Colorado, we often have days with less than 10% humidity. Even when it’s blazing hot outside, it remains comfortable in the shade, and sometimes it feels cooler than the actual air temperature due to the low humidity. But when you add high humidity to the equation, conditions can get dangerous—fast.
High humidity affects the horse more than the hot air temperature because it interferes with the body’s ability to cool itself down by sweating. If there is so much humidity in the air that the sweat does not evaporate, the body loses its ability to cool itself. The heat index is a measure that combines the effects of heat and humidity to tell you how hot it feels (also known as the apparent temperature).
According to the National Weather Service, when the heat index reaches 103°F, conditions become dangerous for both you and your horse. A summer day with an air temp of 88°F plus humidity of 75%, means the heat index is 103°F, and you and your horse are at risk of heat exhaustion. A temperature of 92°F plus 85% humidity gives a heat index of 126° and puts you and your horse in extreme danger of heat stroke.
Since the heat index chart tells us how hot it feels in the shade, if you are out in the sun it’s far worse, so you must factor that in too. A black or dark colored horse in the sun will struggle even more than a gray or light-colored horse. If the horse is already covered in sweat before you saddle, it could be a warning sign that the heat index may be too high to ride.
The heat index chart is derived from a complicated formula, but even without the chart, you can make simple calculations by adding the heat and humidity. When the sum of both is more than 150 (e.g., 80°F with 70% humidity), your horse is at risk of heat stroke, and you should take precautions.
Too Hot to Box
Even when it’s cool outside, horses can get easily overheated in a horse trailer (often called a “box” in other countries). When you add excessively high air temperatures outside the metal box, the body heat coming off multiple horses inside the box, and the excessively high heat coming off the asphalt road in the middle of a hot day, the horse trailer can quickly become an oven.
When transporting horses in the summer heat, we often travel at night or early in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day. If it’s a fully enclosed trailer, we make sure the overhead vents and all windows are open, to ensure good air flow. With our seasoned travelers, we avoid leg wraps or shipping boots in the hot weather to help keep the horses cooler.
Since many horses won’t drink as much on the road, dehydration is always a concern when traveling with horses. Add to that the heat of the trailer on a hot summer day, and that road trip can be quite hard on the horses. We make sure to offer horses a clean, cool bucket of fresh water every time we stop and monitor the intake on each horse.
Look for Warning Signs
When exercising in extreme heat, both you and your horse are at risk of heat exhaustion, muscle cramping, anhidrosis (non-sweating) or even the life-threatening condition of heat stroke (when internal overheating occurs, and blood flow shuts down). The best thing to do is avoid riding in conditions that present a risk to your horse, but it’s also important to know what signs to look for and how to deal with an overheated horse.
First, be alert for excessive sweating—a horse completely wet from head to tail with sweat pouring from his body is a sign that the horse’s body is losing its ability to cool itself. You may start to see lethargy, stumbling or a lack of response from your horse.
Rapid breathing (almost panting), fully dilated nostrils and a rapid pulse are signs that the horse is struggling, and your intervention is needed. As the horse loses its ability to cool itself through sweat, its internal temperature begins to rise, and the horse is at risk of heat stroke.
Anhidrosis, or a failure to sweat, is a serious, but poorly understood condition in horses that can lead to heat stroke fast. It is most often seen in horses in hot, humid climates like Florida, and it seems like some horses are more prone to it than others. Be watchful for horses that are dry when exercising in the heat—they may be more lethargic and breathing hard. When a horse fails to sweat, we must take immediate and aggressive external measures to cool him down before his internal temperature rises too high.
Cooling Down a Hot Horse
There’s nothing complicated about cooling a hot horse. Get him in the shade, stop exercise, hose or sponge him down with cool water. In extreme conditions, or for horses with anhidrosis, ice packs or cool packs can be placed on his neck and jugular veins (specialty cooling garments are also made for horses). Running cool water from a hose over the large veins on the insides of the legs will help a lot. Misting fans, shade and air circulation will also help keep horses cool.
Make sure the hot horse has access to drinking water. There was a time when it was believed that you should not let a hot horse drink too much. That crazy idea flew right out the window after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where they researched cooling off hot horses and found that the faster you cool them off, the better. Sure, if it appears a horse is bolting down very cold water, you might want to slow him down a little, but it’s not a good idea to restrict his intake.
Proper hydration is critical to a horse’s health, and salt and electrolytes can play a big role in hydration. My horses always have access to a salt lick, even when we are traveling. If a horse will not consume the salt, we may consider top dressing loose salt in their grain. If I think a horse would benefit from electrolytes, I give them in a separate water bucket, along with a bucket of plain water so that the horse always has a choice. He will consume the electrolytes if he needs them (no need to force feed), and I don’t want to restrict his access to water.
At the End of a Hot Day
The bottom line is that a well-trained horse will do whatever you ask of him, even if it’s dangerous to his health and well-being. The fact of the matter is that it’s the rider’s responsibility to keep the horse safe, to monitor the weather conditions and make appropriate decisions about when it’s too hot to ride. It’s the rider’s job to watch for warning signs that the horse is not coping well with the heat and to take immediate action to bring him relief.
Even though our horses are always willing to give, it doesn’t mean we should always be willing to take. Sometimes that means we must change the plan or wait for a better day to ride. If you’re armed with the facts about how your horse copes with the heat, it will help you make responsible decisions to protect your horse.
All the excitement around my barn in the last month was about Doc Gunner, my new “foster horse.” He arrived at our place on June 18th after a long haul from Oklahoma City. Doc Gunner is a 4-year-old Paint gelding (no papers) who was rescued from a kill pen in December. He is completely deaf, in an unthrifty condition, seemingly untrained, but very sweet-natured and compliant. The first week he was here he literally slept and ate, slept and ate, nonstop. I’ve never seen a horse sleep, flat-out and snoring, for so many hours of the day and night. Perhaps his deafness is a bonus here?
We have been live-streaming all my training sessions with this young horse, from his arrival at our farm to the first time I took him out of his pen, to now—four weeks later. He’s such an interesting horse, full of character, wary, but extremely willing. My job as his “foster trainer” is to give him the foundational training he needs to be successful, and wanted, for the rest of his life. So successful, in fact, that he will not only find a perfect home when I think he is ready, but that he will never be at risk again, for as long as he lives—no matter how many times he changes hands.
Maybe you have an empty stall in your barn and the experience to care for a horse that needs TLC or rehab? Maybe you have the skills to evaluate the training of a horse that has come into the rescue pipeline with no history whatsoever, and needs to be matched with a perfect adopting family? You could jump into the game with me and help horses in need, starting with just one foster horse.
Before the economic shutdown started, there were already more than a hundred thousand horses at risk in this country. Many of them end up going over our borders, north and south, to slaughter. The good people that work in horse welfare need your assistance, because more horses will be surrendered during economic strife. If everyone who is qualified would step up to help just one horse, think of the good it would do! If you want more information about fostering a horse in need in your area, please go to MyRightHorse.org.
The last three months have been a whirlwind of disappointment, worry, having expectations, lowering expectations, exploring options, reinventing business, getting used to a new normal and gradually gaining hope about the future. Like everyone else, I’ve adapted to the times and learned to accept a new pace of life. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel! I just completed my first post-covid horsemanship clinic and you can read all about it in my blog.
Throughout this ordeal, my team and I have worked hard to stay connected to our audience, by producing educational content that will keep you learning and growing in your horsemanship, even if you were separated from your horse during the shutdown. We’ve had a lot of fun with the “Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework,” and you can find eight weeks’ worth of horsemanship lessons here. I believe firmly that what goes around comes around, and by offering this free educational content to everyone, we have gotten much in return. So thank you for your kind comments, your thoughtful questions and for sharing our message.
I’ve been working with The Right Horse Initiative for some time, to spread awareness about the hundreds of thousands of horses at risk in our country right now and this message has taken on a new urgency during this economic crisis. Horse Rescues are bracing for an increase of horses coming into the adoption pipeline and The Right Horse has launched a new program to ask horse people for help, including the fostering of horses in need. Find out how you can help at MyRightHorse.org
After months of asking others to help, I’ve put my money where my mouth is and we’ve taken on a four-year-old, untrained gelding for foster training. He’ll stay with me here at my ranch, while we give him the training he needs to be safe and desirable for adoption. If we all stepped up and helped just one horse in need, we could totally turn this thing around. You can watch me train this horse—live and unedited—and follow the story of one deaf horse called Doc Gunner here.
I look forward to the day when I can travel to clinics and horse fairs again, connect with my people and help horses first hand.
In the meantime, I am content to stay safer at home, to behave in smart ways and respect the health of others. I’ll get my full share of relaxing and recreating, and continue to develop new online content and grow the connection with riders through our online training programs.
After almost two decades of being a road warrior, traveling 20-30 times a year to clinics and public speaking at horse fairs and conferences, I suddenly found myself grounded when travel came to a screeching halt in March. The writing was on the wall a week or two before the shutdown, when events on my calendar started cancelling one by one. By the time the shutdown was official here in Colorado (March 16th), I was already starting to panic about how I would make a living if there were no live events for me to attend.
At first, my normal weekly rhythm—pack, travel, work the weekend, fly home, unpack/laundry, then start packing again for the next trip—was completely disrupted. For a week or two, I felt like I was going in circles—not knowing what to do next or even what day of the week it was. At first, like a lot of people, I thought it would be great to have a break from travel, to be at home more, have more time to ride my horse, garden and complete scores of back-burner projects. I eased slowly into this newfound freedom, but it never seemed to fit me quite right.
Can Someone Please Explain What Just Happened?
It was scary—not knowing when I would travel again or how my business would suffer—could we pivot to find a new revenue model to replace the losses? I enjoy being on the road, meeting new horses and their people, seeing new places, eating at great restaurants. I missed networking with my peers, doing training demonstrations for the public, seeing old friends, making new connections, and helping horses. We were suddenly pitched overboard into unchartered waters. I couldn’t help but fear that these things that I so loved would no longer be part of my life.
But then, something changed in me. A new normal took hold. I got used to the slower pace. I found more time to ride my bike, hike, boat, and fish. I no longer missed traveling and forgot about eating at restaurants. I got stuff done around the house, and yes, I was able to pivot my business model and keep my team gainfully employed by doing daily posts of horsemanship homework 7-days a week, throughout the shutdown.
At first, it seemed like all the events I was booked for through the summer, and even beyond, were going to cancel. It was a strange relief, finally accepting that staying at home was the right thing to do. But at the same time, it was disconcerting—surrendering instead of fighting for my business. And it was with this uneasy feeling of ambivalence that I greeted the news that my first post-covid public event—a riding retreat at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado—would be one of the first such events to happen as we approached the reawakening of our economy.
Life Resumes But It’s Not Exactly Normal
The Women’s Riding & Wholeness Retreat—an innovative 4-day program that includes horsemanship, personal empowerment, and confidence building—is a program I co-teach alongside Barbra Schulte. The C Lazy U Ranch is a “5 Spur” guest ranch, nestled in the Colorado Rockies, with a herd of over 200 saddle horses. They offer all-inclusive luxurious vacations, steeped in horses, the Western lifestyle and outdoor adventure.
I’ve been conducting horsemanship programs at the C Lazy U several times a year, for more than a decade. I was totally confident in their ability to navigate this new germ-conscious world, knowing that during the shutdown they were working hard to figure out how to reopen safely. I knew, in typical C Lazy U fashion, that they would exceed governmental requirements and offer a shining example for hospitality businesses planning to reopen. Intellectually I knew this to be true. But in my current state of sheltering in place, withdrawing and retreating, I had very mixed emotions.
Is getting back to work important? Yes. Is it too soon? I don’t know. Can we do this right? Yes. What exactly does that mean? I don’t know. Who will come? Will they fly across the country to get here? Will it be life as normal? I doubt it. Can I speak over a microphone with a face mask on? (I would soon discover that you can’t).
At the start of 2020, this program was full, with 36 guests. When the shutdown occurred, each guest was given the option of getting a refund, moving their registration to one of my fall programs, or staying enrolled for the postponed dates. Surprisingly, there was about a 30/30/30 split, and we ended up with 22 participants still registered for the clinic.
About a third of the guests were from Colorado (like me, driving a few hours to get there) and the rest were from out of state. Several women drove all the way from Tennessee. Some flew in from California, Georgia and Florida. There was certainly an atmosphere amongst those of us that made the trip that we were going to make this happen—and have a great experience—come hell or high water.
Let’s Get This Party Started!
The C Lazy U made extensive plans and procedures for protecting their staff and their guests. Following county, state, and CDC guidelines—in fact exceeding them in most instances—I felt confident in the Ranch’s attention to detail. Prior to the event, Barbra and I had several video conferences with Ranch management to discuss the procedures so that we presented a united front to our guests.
Prior to the start of the program, we were all asked to read about and agree to the procedures the Ranch outlined and be prepared for appropriate social distancing and wearing face coverings. Five days before the start of the program, we completed affidavits online about our current health and recent exposures. We completed the same forms again upon arrival at the ranch.
And so it was, that on Thursday, May 28th, we started our first post-covid horsemanship clinic, with 26 of us coming together, but staying apart. Barbra and I could not have hand-picked a better group of participants. We were all brave but cautious; excited to be there, but uncertain how to act; not letting covid define us, but being incredibly careful to respect and protect others—especially the staff at the ranch.
Horseback Riding is Perfect for Social Distancing
Turns out, once you are up on a horse, social distancing is easy! No one wants to get closer than six feet anyway, for fear of getting bit or kicked. We knew that once we were up on a horse and riding outdoors, we would have fewer concerns. But the fact remained that mounting and dismounting those horses could be problematic for maintaining proper distancing. Eating meals together and having workshops indoors were issues we had to mitigate.
Barbra and I were both confident in the extensive precautions the Ranch had taken. We felt strongly that we had a duty to set the right example for our guests and to get business functioning again. The precautions taken by C Lazy U (exceeding government guidelines) are far too extensive to list here, but I’ll give you an idea of what we, as guests, experienced…
Face coverings: Everyone complied with the requirement to cover mouth and nose with a face mask, bandanna or buff (tubular neck gaiter) at all times when social distancing is not possible—indoors or out.
C Lazy U staff ALWAYS wore face coverings and gloves, indoors and out. We learned to recognize them by their eyes and body shape. Their temperatures were taken daily and everyone was very conscientious to look for signs of infection.
Instead of everyone meeting at the barn to mount, we were spread around the ranch at three separate mounting locations to reduce the number of people congregating in one area. Everyone (guests and staff) wore masks during mounting and dismounting, but once underway and away from others, we could pull the mask down.
Initially, we thought we would require riders to keep their masks on during riding in the indoor arena, but quickly discovered that would not work. Riding can be an aerobic activity, and with the high altitude at the ranch, breathing is hard enough without a mask. Keeping the end doors of the arena open and with half the number of riders as normal, it felt safe.
In addition to masks, riders were expected to wear their own riding gloves and each horse’s tack was fully disinfected each day after use. You knew that your tack (and all other items around the ranch that may have been touched) had been disinfected because it was flagged with orange surveyor’s tape each morning.
All our meals were eaten outside, around the pool (it was cold and rainy one night, so we retreated indoors for dinner). Seated at tables of four or six (which normally held 10 or 12 people), we were served gourmet food, family style. We developed our own policies at the table, like once one of us had touched a serving utensil, that person would serve everyone else, so as not to share utensils.
When you checked in (outside), you were asked how you prefer housekeeping to be handled. Guests had three choices: regular daily service, just replace towels and coffee, or no housekeeping. Whatever your comfort level, the Ranch would accommodate.
Small bottles of disinfectant were everywhere around the ranch, at your dining table and in the workshop room. Spray bottles of disinfectant were in the public bathrooms, along with instructions about how to spray, wash your hands and exit without contamination.
For our indoor workshops, we were relocated from the normal conference room to a larger building that would better accommodate social distancing. The big converted haybarn allowed the ranch to place comfy, upholstered chairs, spread around with plenty of space in-between. Hand sanitizer was always within reach.
We Did It!
Although I initially had some ambivalence about having the clinic, that uncertainty melted away once we arrived at the Ranch. As always, it felt like coming home. I had complete confidence in the C Lazy U staff and management, and they didn’t let me down. We felt safe and taken care of, the whole time. The flexibility of the staff to meet the needs of each guest was amazing, but they never compromised on safety.
I will say that as guests, we were all very conscientious about face coverings at first, but as we ate our meals together, rode together and participated in workshops together, there was some erosion to the policy. By the middle of the clinic, many guests were forgetting their masks or getting lax, particularly when amongst ourselves.
Still, we worked hard to respect the health and comfort level of the people around us—staff or guests. We so appreciated the C Lazy U staff and their willingness to put themselves at risk for our personal benefit, and we always made a point of pulling our face coverings up when around them.
Everyone in our group had a different level of comfort in terms of wearing masks and being close to others and we all respected one another. Afterall, covering your mouth and nose around others is a sign of respect and a selfless act.
What Happens Next?
Sadly, this was not only my first post-covid horsemanship clinic, it was my last one for a while. All my other events have been cancelled or rescheduled for 2021 until the next time I go to C Lazy U in September. I normally take time off in the summer anyway, so for now I am content to stay at home and train horses in front of a camera instead of an audience.
I am still ambivalent about getting “back to normal,” as it relates to getting on a plane and traveling from coast to coast. But I love my job—going to where the horses are and helping people get along with them better— and I look forward to resuming my travels. I’m doing my best to stay informed of the facts, listen to the experts, to resist falsehoods/rumors/conspiracy theories, and to keep an objective view.
In the meantime, my team and I are working hard to stay connected with our followers around the world and to grow our business in new directions. Our online streaming services and online training programs are enjoying a surge of activity. And one day soon, we’ll all be participating in horsemanship clinics, horse fairs, horse shows, and group trail rides again—albeit with modifications. I am confident and I am patient.
This too shall pass, and when we get to the other side, we’ll be stronger—both as individuals and as a society. I look forward to seeing you at a horse event soon!
For my horses, not much has changed during the pandemic. For me, I’m adjusting to a new rhythm that does not include packing and unpacking. Being stuck at home, I thought I’d have more time to ride, but it turns out running a business during a shutdown and producing daily content is more time consuming than I originally thought.
My two personal horses, Annie and Pepperoni (both Quarter Horses; 13 and 4 in age, respectively), get ridden or longed five days a week. Annie is a finished cowhorse and as such, just needs enough riding to maintain her skills and enough exercise to keep her from looking like a Thelwell pony. At 14.0 hands, with a curvaceous figure, she leans that way.
Pepperoni has matured nicely as a 4-year-old, after a challenging adolescence where he seemed determined to injure and maim himself. I love training young horses but it’s even more rewarding when they mature into reliable, hard-working adults. I’m not saying he’s fully mature yet—he’s still prone to an occasional burst of adolescent exuberance every now and then, but he seems to have grown a brain this year. I’ve even been able to use him in video production, which proves he’s come a long way and is actually making himself useful.
Pepper has advanced in his basic training enough where his higher level skills are developing nicely. Currently, we’re working on pivots from a standstill, canter departs, collection at canter and lead changes. He’s gotten pretty good at bending, counter-bending, leg-yielding and he’s starting to neck-rein. Recently, he had a light bulb moment about doing a jog trot on a loose rein—it was as if he finally realized we’re not really going anywhere when we ride in the arena, so there’s no need to get in a hurry.
We have been getting the horses out on the trail and up in the mountains more (shutdown bonus), which has been a lot of fun for us, great experience for the youngsters and refreshing for the older horses. I’ve enjoyed working with Melissa’s colt, Woodrow for groundwork sessions in the Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework. He’s a brave, bold horse that’s not afraid of much and he’s quite expressive at times! But he learns fast and has been an ideal demo horse with his dramatic and righteous behavior.
In a few days, I’ll be picking up my new foster horse—a 4-year-old deaf QH named Doc Gunner. He’s in need of some training before he’s suitable for adoption, so I’ll have a new training project to report on soon. Stay tuned to Facebook and YouTube to watch the journey of this colt as he transitions from a rough start to what I hope will be a brilliant future.
This is a story about one horse that needs our help, and the dozens of people stepping up to help horses in need every day. But the truth is, he is only one of hundreds of thousands of horses at risk in the United States. The latest figures from the Humane Society of the United States are that roughly 80,000 horses cross into Mexico or Canada, bound for slaughter each year.
If that seems like a lot of horses, you should know that the number is down significantly from a few years ago when it was around 130-150,000 each year for more than a decade. Keep in mind that these slaughter-bound horses are just a partial reflection of the number of horses at risk of homelessness, starvation, neglect or worse each year. We have two million fewer horses in the United States today, than we did in 2005, as evidenced by the numerous shuttered horse properties all over the country. What happened to all those horses?
How Did We Get Here?
Dr. Tom Lenz, one of our nation’s top veterinary experts on horse welfare, authored this fact-based article on the history of unwanted horses in this country. I encourage you to read this article yourself, so you have a realistic perspective on the depth and scope of this issue. Recently Dr. Lenz said, “I think the smaller number of mares bred today, the industry’s awareness of the problem and the re-homing of horses by many organizations have contributed to the lowered numbers [of horses going over our borders to slaughter].” But we have a long way to go.
Dr. Lenz explained further, “The horse industry will never completely eliminate unwanted horses. Horses will always age, sustain career ending injuries, or not meet their owner expectations. However, I’m optimistic that the future is brighter for these horses because the horse industry has turned its attention to the issue and continues to develop strategies to both reduce the number of unwanted horses on the front end through responsible care and breeding as well as on the rear end through rescue/retirement programs, retraining for alternative careers, and low-cost euthanasia options. Horse owners today are more aware than ever of how their actions affect the welfare of their horses and an ever-increasing number consider the consequences before they breed, buy, or discard a horse.”
Awareness and Action by Others are Saving Horses Every Day
According to The Right Horse Initiative, a horse in transition is any horse who is currently in transition from one home, vocation, opportunity or owner to the next. Throughout their lifetime, most horses will have multiple homes and owners. Often, these horses find themselves in transition due to no fault of their own, rather, as the result of a change in the owner’s circumstances (time, location, finances, need, etc.).
Because horses are long-lived animals, on average a horse is re-homed seven times in its life—and at each transition, it may be at risk of homelessness or worse. This is where we pick up the story of Doc Gunner. For us, the story begins in December 2019, when the then 3-year-old gelding was purchased in Kansas by a woman who found the horse via a social media post. Her sole reason for acquiring the horse was to rescue him from a bad situation. This woman courageously stepped up to help one horse, and through her actions, it’s quite possible his life was saved.
The gelding was quarantined for 30 days, then trailered to Oklahoma City, where he resided on the woman’s small farm until April 2020. He was vetted, vaccinated and dewormed. His neglected teeth and feet were treated and healed. But as is often the case with neglected horses brought back to health, it became increasingly obvious the horse had little handling and training. Although this gelding was fortunate to have one person step up to help him out of a bad spot, his fate was not yet secure.
Meet Doc Gunner
He is a 2015 or 2016 sorrel overo gelding, reported to be registered with APHA (papers lost) and apparently the progeny of Colonels Smokin Gun (aka Gunner), an AQHA/NRHA reining champion from the late ‘90s and a NRHA Hall of Fame inductee. Certainly, the young gelding strongly resembles the sire in color and movement, plus he was born deaf, as some Gunner foals are. We are investigating his alleged registration with APHA. We know there is a Paint horse registered by that name, we just don’t know for sure if it’s him. We will run some DNA tests soon,
Doc Gunner arrives at the ASPCA Regional Support Center in Oklahoma City to be vetted before he comes to Colorado.
which will give us more information about his color, breeding, health, and behavior (and possibly something about his deafness, too).
Although the horse seems quiet and kind, he ultimately proved to be too much for the 75-year-old woman to handle. She contacted the ASPCA Regional Support Center in Oklahoma City, a no-cost, open-door center that provides options for horse owners who need to surrender a horse or seek euthanasia if that is what’s best for the horse. At this point, a second set of people have now stepped up to the plate to help save one more horse.
It Takes a Village
Tom Persechino, Director of Equine Welfare at the ASPCA, who helps operate the Regional Support Center, worked with Nexus Equine to get the horse into the adoption pipeline. Persechino indicates the horse is quiet and cooperative with relatively good manners, and although he does not tie and is slippery to catch, he is good with having his feet handled and trailers well. According to Persechino, “The only thing standing in the way of this horse having a happy home and a purposeful life is basic training in ground handling and a solid start under-saddle.”
Apparently, this is where I came into the conversation, due to my involvement with the Right Horse Initiative and their efforts to increase awareness of the huge need for foster homes for horses. According to Christie Schulte-Kappert, Program Director for The Right Horse Initiative (and the mastermind behind me taking Doc Gunner for foster training), “This young horse is just a perfect example of a horse in transition. We like to say horses like him ‘get lost in transition.’ Horses can be at risk when they transition from one career to the next. Training can often be the missing link that increases this risk.”
In mid-April, Christie gently prodded me to put my money where my mouth was. “He’s cute and athletic and apparently pretty well bred – we think he could really flourish in the right home, but it will take some training to get him there,” said Schulte-Kappert.
“So when Tom brought this gelding to our attention this week,” she continued, “your name came up as a possibility to help him become a good citizen and transition to his next career. His story is an amazing example of a ‘horse in transition’ – not a rescue case, but a horse that needs help to get from point A to point B, and could be at risk in between there. He’s a great example of how any horse, regardless of parentage or background, can be in transition at some point in their lives and the programs we’re working to build to stand in those gaps.”
Doc Gunner Starts his New Journey
On April 24th, Tom Persechino and Katrina Friend, a horse trainer from Nexus Equine, picked up the young gelding from the woman who first saved him and delivered him to the vet clinic that works with the Regional Support Center, where a thorough health, dental and lameness evaluation was completed. A benign mass was removed from a hind leg (possibly a sarcoid or proud flesh), and no other health issues were found. Before valuable resources (in short supply) are spent on a horse, we want to make sure its training will be successful. If not, another horse may need those resources more. Currently, Doc Gunner is at Nexus Equine, awaiting the results of his vet work while Persechino works on his travel logistics to Colorado.
Like the dog and cat world, in which animals in the system are routinely transported to different locations, horses are also transported from state to state, with a goal of giving them the best opportunity to be adopted. Horses, as in the case with Doc Gunner, may be transported to receive specialized training, or in some instances, there may be a higher demand for certain types of breeds of horses in different parts of the country.
“For example, gaited horses may move into new homes faster in states like Missouri, Tennessee or in the Northeast, so if one is sitting in Texas or Oklahoma, we would consider transporting that horse to increase his chances of finding a suitable adopter. We also have learned that some re-homing organizations have become highly skilled at re-homing either certain breeds or types of horses, or have programs that might benefit different horses,” said Persechino. “We’ve seen this with older horses or horses with minor medical issues who still have many good years left in them, however, the key is finding adopters willing to take on horses like this, so we might move horses to a re-homing organization that specializes in finding homes for what one might deem the more difficult to adopt.”
Persechino goes on to explain that once they ensure a horse is fit for travel and have its Coggins updated and health certificate in order, the actual transporting is relatively straightforward. “However, we think a key to transporting horses is to try and be as efficient as possible, so we have this understood rule of trying not to leave any empty slots in trailers when we transport! Last year, through the Regional Support Center, we had a group of five horses that we needed to move from Oklahoma to Minnesota. As our luck had it, waiting in Minnesota were 10 miniatures that were having a hard time in the adoption process so as our luck would have it we were able to send five horses north from Oklahoma and load 10 minis up for a return to Oklahoma where they were able to receive some much-needed training and gentling.”
“With Doc Gunner, as we’re working to bring him up to Colorado, we’re also working with a couple of other groups in the area to send them a horse or two and receive some back,” said Persechino. “Again, the whole goal of transporting horses is to move them to a location where they have the best opportunities for success!”
The network of individuals and organizations working together to help horses is both amazing and inspiring. This story has left me wondering what would happen if every horse lover in this country made one single effort to help. Would there still be horses at risk?
My Turn to Help
Doc Gunner is awaiting his journey to Colorado, where he will begin training to become a solid equine good citizen and a reliable and safe riding horse. I am taking the gelding into my barn for foster training.
Once here, we will evaluate his training and temperament, then make plans to fill in the holes in his ground manners and start his under-saddle training. Once he is more manageable and rideable, he may go to a foster home as an intermediate step, while his training continues under my supervision, and where his life will more closely resemble the pace of a real home, in preparation for a non-pro adopter (as opposed to the regimented life in a horse trainer’s program).
In time, Doc Gunner will be matched with the perfect human to adopt him and who will give him a purposeful and secure life. Fortunately for Doc Gunner, he will always have the safety net of Nexus Equine should he ever find himself in bad circumstances again.
Come with Us on This Journey
We will document Doc Gunner’s journey via a social media campaign on Facebook, YouTube and at JulieGoodnight.com, to bring awareness to the needs of horses in transition and how horse people everywhere might help at-risk horses in their area.
We will video this journey and post regularly, so you can follow the gelding’s progress as he works his way through the training, fostering and adoption process. With any luck, he’ll be on the road soon, headed from Oklahoma to Colorado, and we are eager to welcome him into his temporary home, here at my ranch. My crew and my friends are all excited to help out where they can and it will be rewarding for all of us to see this young horse blossom and have a secure future. It will take a village.
You Can Help Horses Too
If horse owners everywhere made a commitment to help even just one horse a year, imagine how we could reduce the numbers of horses at risk. There are many things people can do to help, even if you’re not a horse person.
Now more than ever, adoption is critical—more and more horse owners are affected by the pandemic and are facing loss of jobs or income. Shelters and rescues have limited capacity and even in the best of times are often full or pressed for space.
The American Horse Council and United Horse Coalition both have great COVID-19 information hubs on their websites. UHC has a nice overview on cost-saving tips for horse owners which we encourage owners to implement before seeking surrender options.
Folks can search for adoptable horses at org or visit TheRightHorse.org and click on “Partners” to find an adoption partner near them.
Contribute money to a local horse advocacy organization if you can. If not, maybe you can offer in-kind donations of hay, grain, equipment or services
If you have experience caring for horses, and have space for one or two horses, you could play a vital role by providing a temporary Foster Home for horses, helping to bring them back to health as they work their way through the adoption pipeline.
If you are experienced in riding and training horses, you could be a Foster Trainer, like me, and take on a project like Doc Gunner for training or evaluate a trained horse for the type of home he is most suitable for. There are many trained riding horses that wind up at-risk.
If you have a truck and horse trailer, perhaps you could volunteer to transport horses to their new homes or to their temporary foster homes
Horse owners can also reach out to friends and neighbors in their horse communities and offer their help. Seniors or owners with health issues may need temporary help with basic care for their horses, or a place to keep their horses for a few weeks. The more we can help in our local communities in small ways, the more horses we can keep safe and keep in their homes through the crisis.
And at the very minimum, we can all keep our eyes out for horses at risk, that might exist right before our very eyes. Maybe a neighbor needs help. Maybe you see horses that have fallen through the cracks. Be proactive on behalf of horses and contact your local animal control or horse rescue. Who else will advocate for them if the owner isn’t?
If you want to help horses like Doc Gunner, be sure to visit MyRightHorse.org to find a horse to foster, adopt or share on your social media.
Another month has gone by while we all do our share to fight the spread of this awful virus. Here in Colorado, we are slowly rebooting the economy and I am hopeful that people will continue to be smart and not erase all the sacrifices we have collectively made in the past eight weeks. For the most part, I am staying at home (“Safer at Home” is the new motto in our state) and I have a suitable array of home-made face masks that I wear when I must go out.
I do see some silver linings. Certainly, people everywhere have become more aware of the importance of personal health, good hygiene and are altering social norms so we don’t contribute to the spread of disease. I think we’ve all become more empathetic of people that may not have it as good and we’ve changed our perspectives about what workers are important and essential in our society. And dare I hope that people around the world will see the obvious and positive impact this shutdown has had on the global environment and come to realize we can stop climate change if we work at it? Also, many of us have reshaped our relationships with those closest to us, hopefully in positive ways.
Some of you, like me, are forced to stay at home, but we are happy to have more time with our families and our horses. Many of you have shared with me on Face Book that you’ve been separated from your horses for way too long or maybe you’re able to go back to the barn now but riding is restricted. In both instances, perhaps we are finding new appreciation for our horses.
I’ve been offering a Daily Dose of Horsemanship Homework, 7-days a week for the past six weeks, to help you ease through this challenging time and further your horsemanship goals. We’ve been doing LIVE posts several days a week where we can all connect and where I enjoy answering your questions. Since I have not been able to make presentations at horse expos or teach horsemanship clinics since this thing began, this is my way of continuing my work and staying connected with my audience of horse lovers. In case you’ve missed out on the Daily Doses, you can find them all here Daily Dose’s
I look forward to the day when nonessential travel resumes, events are rescheduled and I can start teaching at clinics and expos again. At the end of this month, I am co-teaching with Barbra Schulte for the Women’s Riding & Wholeness Retreat, at the renowned C Lazy U Ranch. I’ve got lots of clinics, expos and conferences in the fall and my schedule is always current online, if you want to find out more.
I’ve got lots of open dates to fill in my calendar now, and I haven’t said that in a very long time. If you’re interested in hosting a horsemanship clinic or hiring me for a private clinic at your facility, please contact email@example.com.
I’ve learned a lot about individuals, about society and about myself during this pandemic, as our emotions and opinions have evolved over the past two months. I’ve enjoyed a different pace of life and my crew and I have proven that if we work hard, we will succeed. I’ll be ready to get back on the road, and pick up where we left off, once its’ safe to do so.
Be sure to check out this month’s blog to meet my new foster horse project, Doc Gunner. We’re all in this together and we need each other’s support, so be smart and set a good example.