January 2021 Horse Report

Remi and Momma Joy turned out in the arena.
Remi and Momma Joy turned out in the arena.

Winter is long and hard, here in the high mountains of Colorado and although the days are getting longer now, subzero temperatures, wind and ice, make riding outdoors a challenge. Thankfully, our indoor arena has passive solar heating and is comfortable for both horses and riders to hangout. We usually bring the horses in from their turnout in the early afternoon and they spend a couple hours with us—fortunately they enjoy their pampering, petting and praising enough that they don’t mind the workout. On most days, all the horses are saddled and ridden (except the geriatrics), and any horses left at the barn are not happy—preferring instead to come inside to stand on the wall and wait.

If the weather is reasonable outside, we may take a trip around our “virtual trail course” (I don’t know why we call it that since it is a real trail course that Rich built out in the pasture), but this time of year we are relegated to walk-only because of the footing outside. Going round and round in the indoor arena is a little boring for everyone, horses and riders, but we try to mix it up a little by dragging logs, playing with ground poles, or working on the cutting machine. Some days we play follow the leader (to teach the horses to rate speed and maintain a certain distance) or work on riding without the bridle. By the time the ground thaws in the spring, I can assure you, we will all be ready to ride outside!

Our temporary residents, the Clyde Family, are doing great, and the handsome and thoughtful colt, Remington, continues to grow like a weed. Right now, he is a week shy of 4 months old and is already wearing a regular horse-size halter. We don’t know much about Remington’s sire, since no one even knew the mare was pregnant until just a few weeks before she foaled in October, but the mare came from a Clydesdale farm and one look at the colt—size, shape and color—makes you think he’s all Clyde. At the rate he’s growing, he could be a wheel horse.

Joy, aka Big Momma, is a giant and gentle Clydesdale mare, who was acquired by the C Lazy U Ranch in March 2020 (a month that will forever go down in infamy) as an addition to their remuda of riding horses. She’s sweet and well-trained to both ride and drive. We don’t know much about her past, but I’m guessing this is not her first foal. She’s an awesome mom—protective enough, but never frantic. She puts up with a lot of Remi’s shenanigans, but isn’t afraid to discipline him when needed—which is good, because he is a rambunctious colt! Remi was born on October 1, 2020, shortly before one of my clinics at the Ranch. When he was three weeks old, the entire herd of 200 horses were evacuated from the ranch because of wildfires. The following week they were evacuated again as the massive fires swept through the valley.

Obviously taking care of a mare and a newborn foal was the last thing the C Lazy U wranglers had time for, as they dealt with 200 horses in temporary accommodations, so Remi and his mother came to live with us for the winter—making this his fourth home in just four weeks of life. Thankfully, the C Lazy U Ranch was largely spared in the fires, and they are set to reopen in the spring. I have four clinics scheduled at the ranch this year—two of them brand new programs—and I cannot wait to return!

We have not exactly been “training” Remi but he gets handled every day and learns by doing. He’s learned to greet you politely at the gate and wait patiently for his halter, to walk more or less beside you without crowding, and to keep his mouth to himself (most of the time). Rather than trying to actively train such a young horse, we focus more on letting him figure things out in his own time (like to stand and wait for the halter to go on and off) and not letting him develop bad habits (like putting his mouth on your, crowding your space or leaning into you—one day he will be a 1600# draft horse!). There’s plenty of time for ground-training, since it’s going to be a few years before he’s ridden. I am not an advocate of over-training or over-handling young foals.

Remi is bold and smart and he needs to learn the kind of manners best taught by other horses. In the past couple of weeks, we gradually introduced Joy and Remington to our entire herd of six geldings and one mare, with little to no fireworks. Remi needs to be socialized because once he returns to his home ranch, he’ll be running with hundreds of horses. In our herd, Rich’s gelding Casper is the most interested in playing with Remi, like a cool uncle that loves to wrestle and play catch and never grows tired. Dodger, the cranky old Sheriff in our herd, keeps an eagle eye on Remi and lays down the law or referees the sparring as needed. When Joy gets uncomfortable with the party, she lays her ears back, bars her teeth and charges through the group like a bowling ball, scattering the horses to every corner.

It’s been fun to watch this colt grow up and learn to navigate his world—he’s been a constant source of laughter in our lives, at a time when we needed to laugh! One day, when he’s much older, he’ll be a treasured saddle horse at the CLU, but for now he’s enjoying the good life. As he approaches weaning, we’ll start working a little harder on his ground training, so that he leads well and loads in a trailer. We’ll be sad to see him load up and go home in a few months, but for years to come when I go up to C Lazy U for my clinics I’ll be able to keep tabs on his progress and follow his training throughout his career.

Be sure to check out my Facebook page and YouTube channel if you want to track Remi’s progress. I hope the days are getting lighter for you too, and that you and your family (2-legged and 4) are healthy and happy. I am looking forward to traveling to clinics this year in the hopes that our paths will cross soon, and that I can get to know you and your horse and help guide you on your journey.

Until then, enjoy the ride!

Julie Goodnight (signature)

Conquer the Canter | Part 1 of 2

Julie cantering a warmblood in an arena.
Julie cantering a warmblood in an arena.

Five Canter Hacks for Green Horses and Green Riders

The natural gaits of the horse are walk, trot and gallop. The canter is a slow, collected gallop, developed over time, through training. Rarely do you look out into a pen full of horses and see them making slow bendy circles at the canter. Instead, they prefer to run full speed straight ahead, then drop their shoulder, wheel around, and take of in the other direction. Balancing the rider enough to canter slowly and arc turns at the canter, comes with time and training.

Canter and lope mean the same thing. Canter is the more traditional term and lope is a slang term used in Western riding, derived from the Spanish word gallope. Whether you ride English or Western, learning to sit the canter smoothly and control the horse’s direction and speed is a goal of most riders, even though it is a gait that can be intimidating to ride.

Whether you’re just starting out and learning to ride the canter for the first time, an experienced rider dealing with a loss of confidence, or an advanced rider training a green horse, these hacks are for you! I’ll discuss some of the most common canter problems I see in less-experienced riders and green horses, I’ll give you some quick fixes, and I’ll share some horsemanship secrets that you may not know. It’s not likely that you’ll need all these hacks, but it is likely that at least one of them will help propel you and your horse to a higher level.

#1 Confidence to Canter

There’s an old saying in horsemanship (thousands of years old, in fact) that says, “The best way to improve canter is to improve the trot.” This simply means that if you wait to canter until you have truly mastered the trot, cantering will be easy. The trot is actually a harder gait to ride, with a lot of vertical motion that tends to throw you up and out of the saddle.

There is a lot to accomplish at the trot: you can ride it sitting, posting, and standing; none of which are easy. You can ride a working trot, collected trot, extended trot. You can ride changes of direction, circles, serpentines and execute many maneuvers at the trot. I encourage riders not to get in a big hurry to canter. It will be much easier when you’ve mastered the trot.

When riders approach the canter with trepidation, the horse will read the reluctance of the rider and be reluctant to canter himself. Most horses have learned the hard way that when a rider is reluctant, they usually get hit in the mouth in the canter departure. He doesn’t want to canter anyway, so if the rider is not committed, the horse will not be either.

It’s best to wait to tackle the canter until you’re ready to commit and you want it! Work on your skills and confidence at slower gaits. I offer a short course on developing confidence, which may help you address your fears, so that you come to cantering with the right mindset.

#2 Sitting the Canter

If you’re just learning to canter, it’s hard to know what to teach you first—how to get the horse into the canter or how to ride the gait when he does canter. It’s an awkward stage! I prefer to set the student’s horse up to canter in the easiest way possible so that the rider can focus on sitting the gait first.

To sit the canter smoothly, your hips make a circle—forward and down, up and back, like they do when you push a swing to go higher. There’s a moment in the stride, when the horse goes into complete suspension (all four feet are off the ground), when your shoulders go behind your hips—if you are sitting back far enough.

The biggest mistake I see in riders learning to canter is that they sit too far forward and the lift in the horse’s back throws them up and out of the saddle in a posting motion. Therefore, I encourage riders learning to sit the canter to lean back, with your shoulders slightly behind your hips. But make sure you reach forward with your hands as he starts, so you don’t accidentally hit him in the mouth when he departs.

One of the easiest ways to learn to canter is out on the trail, with steady horses in front of and behind you, on a flat sandy surface. With good communication and more experienced riders supporting you, it will be easy to get the horse into the canter and you can focus on the feel of it without having to steer.

My number one selling training video is Canter with Confidence, and it can be especially useful in learning to ride the canter smoothly and it thoroughly covers how to cue the horse for canter and how to get the correct lead.

#3 Controlling Direction

Riding straight lines at the canter is far easier than riding turns. In the arena, horses tend to drop their shoulders, cut corners, and lean into the middle. It’s what horses do, and these natural tendencies are often exacerbated by the rider.

Often, when a rider is learning to control the horse at the canter, the horse breaks gait as soon as a turn is attempted. The rider leans into the turn, throwing the horse off balance and into the middle, then the rider pulls back on the rein to turn, instead of opening the rein to the side. The backward pull equals opposition to forward movement and causes the horse to break gait. In this common scenario, the rider’s errors are causing the horse to canter fast and out of balance, and rider error trains the horse to break gait.

Set up a cantering scenario where you can canter a long straight line at first, then come back to a controlled trot before you make a turn. Once you can ride the straight lines and upward and downward transitions well, then think about tackling turns. But first, you must conquer the straight line on the long wall, with balanced upward and downward transitions. Your next goal in the arena for controlling the canter is being able to canter around the short side and past the gate, without breaking gait; then all the way around the arena.

Be aware! There’s a fine line between a rider learning to control the canter and a trained horse being disobedient. If the horse is refusing, shutting down, diving into the middle, or slamming on the brakes at the gate, you may be dealing with disobedience. If so, go back to walk and trot and regain your authority. Address the disobedience before coming.

back to the canter, but keep in mind this kind of disobedience is often a result of a horse’s frustrations over the rider’s mistakes and may lead to worse behavior is the mistakes of the rider are not addressed.

#4 Controlling Speed

Green horses cannot canter slowly—that is a skill that is learned over time. Young horses will usually need to carry a little speed because sometimes balance requires speed. Some horses are more talented in this area than others. In my experience, people often complain about their horses going too fast at the canter when the horse is actually moving well. If the horse is green, you may have to accept a little speed.

One thing I know for sure, you cannot control speed by pulling on the reins. Pulling on two reins to make the horse go slower at the canter will almost always result in the horse going faster and “running throughout the bridle.” This is a ridiculously hard concept to comprehend for novice riders, but often the horse will slow down when you loosen the reins.

For me, the two most effective means for slowing the canter is first to put the horse on a wide arcing circle. Lift slightly up and in with your inside rein and energize and lengthen your inside leg, so the horse lifts his inside shoulder and tips his nose into the circle. Gradually bring the horse onto a smaller circle, with a lot of bend in the horse’s body—which will physically cause him to slow down. As soon as you feel the horse gear down, release him from the circle on a loose rein. Gradually, through circling and bending, the horse develops better balance and coordination and learns that going slower is easier and gets him what he wants.

Another useful hack to slow down the canter is with trot-canter-trot-canter transitions. Start by just cantering 3-4 strides, then coming back to a slow, collected trot. After many repetitions of that, start going 5-6 strides, then 6-8 strides, always coming back to a slow collected trot. Soon the horse begins to anticipate the downward transition, so he prepares by going slower. This is a classic example of “replacement training,” a highly effective means of training horses, where you replace one thought or behavior with another. Soon, every time he speeds up, he will think about slowing down.

These training lessons are also a part of my online training course, Goodnight Academy, which offers a complete curriculum of groundwork, equitation lessons and horse training, and personalized coaching from me.

#5 Breaks Gait

Which brings us to another common problem, mostly caused by the rider—breaking gait. It’s a cardinal disobedience for the riding horse and it may Illuminate a hole in the horse’s fundamental training, a lack of authority from the rider, or gross errors of the rider that impede the horse’s ability to continue the canter. The latter is often the cause of the aforementioned frustration in the horse (see #3).

If the horse also breaks gait at the trot and walk, the horse is lacking basic training, or the rider has no authority, or both. For thousands of years, we’ve known that forward motion is the basis of all training in the horse; without it, the horse cannot be trained. A properly trained and obedient riding horse continues at the speed set by the rider, until the rider cues the horse to speed up, slow down or stop. If the shoe fits, go back to basics and come back to the canter once it’s resolved at the walk and trot.

Horse often learn to break gait simply because the rider allows and condones it. Most horses don’t want to keep cantering circles with a rider on their back. If the horse breaks into trot, most riders politely re-cue the horse to canter, as if breaking gait was not a problem. But the disobedience continues indefinitely because the horse benefits from breaking gait (rest) and pays no penalty. Re-cueing to canter, without admonishment or ramifications, tells the horse that you condone his breaking gait.

If the horse breaks gait at the canter, give him a good scolding, with your voice and other aids, to let him know you disapprove. Then put him immediately back to canter and make him work harder for a 10-20 strides. If you feel the horse starting to falter in his stride, drive him forward into a hand gallop and only let him stop and rest when you feel him moving freely forward. If you only stop the horse when he is moving forward willingly, he’ll stop breaking gait.

Don’t Worry, You’ll Get There!

The canter is the most complicated of gaits to learn to ride and it takes time to develop good skills in both the horse and the rider. In a perfect world, people learning to canter would only ride easy, well-trained horses, and untrained horses would only be ridden by high-level, experienced riders, but that’s not always how it goes.

Whether you’re just learning to canter for the first time or you are training a green horse, I hope you found some help with the canter hacks listed here. Tackle your issues one at a time—start with the most basic and work toward the more complex skills. Give it time and practice deliberately. Get help from an instructor or a more experienced rider, so you have some external feedback.

Next month, I’ll give you five more canter hacks for the more experienced horse and rider, working to perfect the canter. We’ll look at how to keep the horse from dropping his shoulder in turns, how to deal with the horse that trots faster instead of stepping smoothly into canter, preventing bucking, perfecting canter departures, and collecting the canter.

Until then, enjoy the ride!

December 2020 Horse Report

Here in the Colorado mountains, we love snow! The more, the better. And it looks like a white Christmas is in the forecast. Our valley is the headwaters of the Arkansas River; our snowmelt sends drinking water to millions downstream. Snow fall impacts our local economy in many ways. We rely on snow and snow melt for our two biggest tourist draws—skiing and whitewater rafting. We rely on snow for irrigation water to grow hay and crops. But on the downside, super-cold temps, snow and ice make horse care a challenge! Without an indoor arena, we might go months without riding. In the midst of our winter wonderland, it’s easy to imagine that it’s full-on winter everywhere, although I know many of you are enjoying perfect riding weather this time of year. What is your most challenging season for horse care?

Our horses are all fat and happy. With another year of growth and maturity, my youngest horse, Pepperoni, is leaving behind his childish ways and adopting more adult attitudes. It’s an interesting and always welcomed stage, when a “colt” becomes a “horse.” It’s not a clear line or a definitive moment, but a gradual feeling that comes over you. By the latter part of this year, I would say Pepper crossed that line. These days, he’s all business when we ride, with less playfulness and more of a let’s-get-to-it attitude. If I go a week or two without riding him, he works the same as if I had ridden yesterday—gone are the exuberant, fresh-horse rides. Pepper is a fun horse with a happy outlook, a courageous and curious attitude, and an incredible sense of awareness. He’s never surprised or startled, because he always saw it coming. He’s not hyper-alert; but he is very consciously present at all times. Although he is a red-head, with a bit of a temper if pushed, and he does not tolerate the mistakes of the rider well. But with a generous spirit, he’s always happy to point out my mistakes and he keeps me on my toes, so I like that.

My sweet little mare, Annie, is my most under-appreciated horse. I don’t ride her as often as Pepper, but when I do, I’m reminded what a great ride she is! This time of year, we always go through the mental gymnastics to recall what age our horses will turn in January. Each year represents a different stage of life for the horse, which is why we don’t use the actual birthdate of horses to describe their age and instead go by the year. On January 1st, horses all celebrate a birthday and Annie will be 14! My how times flies. She’s a beautiful little mare, well-trained and sporty, like driving a Porsche. Lately I’ve been thinking about breeding her. My goal would be to have a colt just her size (14.0) and athleticism, but with my luck, I’d end up with a 15 hand mare. That’s the problem with breeding—it’s a bit of a crap shoot.

Our temporary residents, The Clyde Family, Joy and Remington, are enjoying their stay on our ranch, while their home ranch, the C Lazy U, rebuilds their horse barn after the destructive wildfire season. Joy is a purebred Clydesdale mare that was acquired by C Lazy U in March 2020 (a month that goes down in infamy), as an addition to their remuda of 200 riding horses. She rides and drives and is a sweet and gentle giant. After a summer of being ridden by the wranglers on the C Lazy U, in September it became obvious that the acquisition of Joy was a two-fer. Remington, apparently also a Clyde, was born on October 1st, unexpected and about six months later than a foal is normally born. On October 14th, the East Troublesome fire started and in a matter of days, fueled by 80-100 mph winds, the fire grew to be Colorado’s second largest and second most destructive wildfire ever. Joy and Remi were evacuated to a safe facility, then a week later, as the fires grew, they needed to be evacuated again. On October 29th, Joy and Remington were evacuated a third time when I brought them to my ranch. Poor Remi had four homes in four weeks of life! I’m happy to report that Joy and Remi have settled in well and they seem quite happy. It’s fun to have a baby to play with, but he is getting big fast! He’s calm and cooperative like his mother and he loves attention! Sometimes I think if I stood in front of his pen long enough, I would actually see him grow. He’s two and a half months old now, starting to eat hay and grain, and learning his manners quite well. Once the hardest part of winter is behind us, the Clydesdales will be repatriated back to the C Lazy U, and in four or five years, Remi will become an awesome addition to the remuda.

As this bizarro year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting less on the months behind me and more on the year in front of me. I know there are still some dark days of winter ahead of us, but the light is coming. I so look forward to the Spring and to traveling again, so I can come to your area and work with you and your horse, in person! Until then, we will continue to connect in the digital space, as we work together on improving horsemanship and becoming the rider and the leader our horses deserve. In the meantime, be safe, be well and celebrate the end of this long, hard year!

Enjoy the ride,

JG

The Making of a Trail Horse, Part 4 (and Other Duties, as Assigned)

Julie's dad on his palomino trail horse, Scout.
Julie's dad on his palomino trail horse, Scout.
Julie’s father riding his horse, Scout.

I remember my father’s last and best trail horse, Scout. He was a big, bold, grade quarter horse, afraid of nothing, with a motor like a freight train.  Aboard Scout, my father climbed all over the mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming, usually ponying a string of pack horses. He always said, “Julie, you could ride a well-trained horse over a cliff if you wanted to, because he’ll go anywhere you point him without argument.” He also said Scout would sleep in his bedroom, if only he could figure out how to get him down the hallway.

I was fortunate to climb some of those Wyoming mountains with my dad, horse packing point-to-point in some of the most magnificent terrain in the country. My dad was always up for an adventure—you could count on every outing entailing surprise. There wasn’t much terrain he would shy away from, and Wyoming has a lot of rugged mountains!

But my perspective on great trail horses involves more than the adventures with my father. I first moved to Colorado in 1984, fresh out of college, and promptly landed a job guiding hourly trail rides in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and wrangling dude horses for an outfitter. The Sangres are notoriously steep and wild. It’s not a popular area for riding horses, and I have come to understand why. 

Despite the wild terrain, we took people who had never ridden a horse before all the way up to the tree line. In a way, it was better that way because they were unaware of all the things that could go wrong. “Just lay the reins over the horn, hold on with both hands, and don’t move!” The horses would make it safely across the treacherous scree slope with incredible sure-footedness, as long as the rider stayed out of their way. This is where I formed the strong and everlasting opinion that good dude horses are worth their weight in gold. 

Being a trail guide and wrangler in the high mountains, sometimes leading three pack mules while keeping an eye on the dudes, shaped my perspective of what it takes to make a great lead horse. To me, a great trail horse is also a good lead horse—your partner in safety, in control, and in, well, leadership. It’s the kind of horse that would jump off the cliff for me, if I asked, but that trusts me enough to know I would never ask him to do anything we couldn’t handle together.

Julie on a trail ride with her son, Hunter, and her Morgan mare, Pepsea.

Scout was an exceptional lead horse and pulled my father out of many hairy situations. My old Morgan mare, Pepsea, was too, and I guided trail from her for a couple of decades. She was possibly the best lead horse I’ve ever known. We climbed a lot of mountains together and she was a reliable partner through thick and thin.

I’ve ridden a few other great lead horses over the years—enough to know that my young horse, Pepperoni, has the prerequisites needed, and he may make the cut. Which brings me to the age-old question… is a great horse born or made? Nature vs. Nurture. 

The truth is, it’s difficult to answer that question, because from the moment a horse is born his learning begins. A naturally good-tempered horse can turn sour in the wrong hands, and a horse with a challenging temperament can be shaped into something amazing. But starting with the best raw ingredients, then adding copious amounts of training and experience, you can turn an average-performing horse into a great one.

In previous installments on the making of a trail horse, I’ve written about the qualities of a good trail horse, the manners and ground training it needs, and the foundational under-saddle training that will take him from average to exceptional. Now it’s time to talk about the hard stuff.

To Lead or Not to Lead
To be truly exceptional, I think a trail horse must be willing to accept any position in the lineup—in front, in the middle, or at the end. I think he should always mind his manners and rate his speed, keeping appropriately distanced from the other horses. He should be willing to ride calmly away from the herd any time I ask, and be happy going out alone—just the two of us. He needs to act the same way every day so that I can count on him when the going gets tough. He needs a lot of awareness and presence and some sense of caution, but not be prone to flight.

Being exceptional is not easy or common. It’s a very tall order, and not all horses will pass the test. Even with a lot of natural talent, it still takes training and experience, over months and years—not hours and days—to make a good horse great.

The Right Stuff
It’s not hard to train a horse to follow another horse down a trail. That’s completely natural, and they would probably do it on their own if you turned them loose. Horses naturally stay with the herd and follow the leader.

Horses are instinctively drawn to other horses because they are prey animals, and there is safety in numbers. Taking that theory one step further, imagine you’re a horse traveling with your herd through treacherous terrain in lion country (think Sangre de Cristos). Where would you feel safest? Right in the middle of the herd. It’s the horse in front that gets sucked into bogs or falls in the hole; it’s the horse in the back that gets picked off by the lion. For many horses, being out in front or tailing behind is untenable.

Horses can be very social, but also jealous and competitive animals, prone to seeking higher status in the herd. It takes a brave and confident horse to lead, but those qualities often come with dominant personalities. While many horses don’t want to be out front, some insist on it and throw a wall-eyed fit if you try to ride in the middle or tail-end. To me, the best trail horse is the one that likes being out front, is eager to head down the trail and see what’s around the corner, but is happy to let others lead or bring up the rear.

Flight and investigation are also instinctive behaviors of horses, even though they are opposite qualities. A horse “hits the ground” with its temperament and these qualities can become apparent from the moment it’s born. Some horses will be high in flight and low in curiosity; others low in flight and high in curiosity; while some hit right in the middle. It’s obvious that for a good trail horse, you want the latter. But again, be careful what you wish for, because a very brave, bold horse can also be quite dominant, and may be prone to question your authority.

Energy and sensitivity levels are important qualities inherent in the horse’s temperament, and once again, be careful what you wish for. For myself, I know I need a forward-moving and forward-thinking horse, one that is sensitive to his environment and responds to the lightest cue. But there is a very fine line between that and a horse that spooks at his own shadow and spins and bolts like his hair’s on fire.

To be exceptional, the horse must be my partner in all things—be willing to work as hard as I am, to be as achievement-oriented as I am, and to be game for an adventure together. I believe that a good work ethic can be trained into any horse, no matter how lazy, and that a horse with a natural work ethic can be worthless if poorly handled. 

Beyond his temperament, that exceptional lead horse must also be strong and athletic to get me out of tricky spots and handle the unexpected. But not so tall that I am ducking under every branch or need to carry a step ladder. And since I don’t ask for much, I’d like him to be smooth gaited, so I can ride all day and my saddle bags aren’t flapping.

The best raw ingredients in the temperament of an exceptional trail horse are willingness, bravery, curiosity, adventurous, independent, steady, reliable, energetic, aware, thinking, and game. These ingredients alone won’t make any horse exceptional. Starting with the right stuff helps, but there’s still a lot of training and shaping yet to come.

Education and Experience
Every successful horse trainer knows that some horses are easier to train than others. Some horses are so willing and eager-to-please that shaping their behavior is easy. Others, not so much. I believe strongly that good training and solid, consistent handling can make any horse a great horse. We can always improve a horse through training, though starting with quality ingredients sure helps.

Some of the qualities of an exceptional trail horse are baked into his temperament, but others come from training and handling from a young age, nurturing the horse along slowly, so that he only develops good habits and never learns behaviors that will affect his ability to do his job later. Ground manners, ground skills (like trailer loading and ground tying), finish training under-saddle, work ethic, and the ability to perform in all settings (independently of the herd), are trained into the horse over time.

In part two of this series, I talked at length about manners and ground skills that are important for a good trail horse, but to be an exceptional trail horse there must be more. Over time, with consistency and experience, the exceptional trail horse learns his job and understands his role. He isn’t ground tying because you’ve scolded him in the past for moving, he’s staying put because he knows his job is to stay with you. If you’ll excuse an over-used COVID phrase, the horse knows, “we’re in this together.”

He doesn’t jump down the steep embankment of a creek because you forced him to, but because he sees the horse below in trouble and knows we must help. He doesn’t question when you ride away from the herd, because he knows there must be something important to do ahead. When a horse begins to understand his job, not just giving rote responses, he begins morphing into the exceptional category.

Work ethic is one of the most important qualities to instill in a young horse. It will be much harder to teach when the horse is older. It starts early with groundwork and is one of the very first things a riding horse learns—keep going until I tell you to stop. One of the most fundamental tenets of classical horsemanship (wisdom which dates back 5,000 years), is that forward motion is the basis of all training. Without free and willing forward motion, a horse cannot be trained. No truer words were ever spoken.

When taught early, consistently reinforced, and significantly rewarded (with release, praise and rest), even a horse that is by nature lazy, will develop a strong work ethic.  Some horses have a go-for-it temperament too—game for any adventure, always looking ahead, eager to prove themselves. When you combine this kind of temperament with a good work ethic and solid training, you are well on your way to exceptional.

Behind the Magic Curtain
Horses are extremely fast learning animals who are willing and seek acceptance by nature. Sometimes truly exceptional horses can be made from the most unlikely candidates. You can turn a Scarecrow into Braveheart, by simply shaping their behavior. A subordinate, omega horse can develop into the best lead horse and become a steady partner. 

For instance, all horses are instinctively flighty and fearful, some more than others. But we can systematically teach any horse how to deal with its fear in a different way. By replacing one behavior with another, we can turn fear into curiosity. By praising and rewarding investigative behavior, we can instill bravery. I have written and talked a lot about “de-spooking” horses (if only there really were such a thing); check out my blog and podcast for more information on this training technique.

At the very core of a horse’s behavior, he is drawn to the herd for comfort and safety. No matter what his circumstance, a horse will always seek acceptance into a herd. To me, this is a quality we can shape to our advantage. What a horse gets from the herd is a sense of safety, structure (rules), and leadership (someone to take care of you and tell you what to do). Horses are also comfort-seeking animals and the herd provides them with plenty of that in the form of social engagement, friendship, mutual grooming, napping and frolicking.

When a horse feels alone, he will always seek out a herd. From the first moments of interacting with a horse, young or old, it’s my goal to teach the horse to seek acceptance from my herd. To show him that I will be a strong, but fair, leader, and that I will always watch out for his safety—and never ask him to do something he’s not capable of. He will learn to trust that I will have high expectations of his behavior, but that I will also recognize and reward his efforts. In short order, he is seeking my acceptance and getting the same good feelings from me that he gets from the herd. Ultimately, he is willing to leave his herd and go anywhere with me.

To me, there are few things in life as satisfying as riding a great horse in the wilderness. To have an exceptional trail horse—one that trusts you, is safe, reliable, willing, loyal, and dedicated to the task at hand—is a thrill that few people get to experience. I’ve been fortunate to ride a few great trail horses throughout my career, and I’ve got at least one more in the making.

Not every horse is destined for greatness. Not every great horse was naturally talented to begin with. And every horse has the potential to be great in the right hands. In the end, it takes a lot of hard work, patience, dedication, and determination. But to me—without question—a great trail is made, not born.

November 2020 Horse Report

It was a fitting end to my travel-year, when my last remaining clinic was cancelled, not due to the pandemic, but because of raging wild fires in northern Colorado. This has certainly been a year full of challenges. I’m a big believer in finding the good in every situation and in looking for opportunity in the face of adversity. 2020 has given me a lot of practice at that and proven the value of this positive outlook. Although I did not get to travel as much as I had planned, to work with horses and people around the country, I was fortunate to have new horses come into my life, here at home, so I could continue to learn and grow as a horse trainer and share that journey with all of you, through social media.

I am blessed to have my three personal horses, any one of which I could call a “horse of a lifetime.” Dually, my old man, although fully retired now, still gives me a lot of pleasure, watching him run around the field and remembering the good ole days we had together. I’ll never forget how amazing he was to ride and I am eternally grateful for how much I learned from him. He’s not completely lame and some people might still use him for light riding, but I think he’s earned a full retirement. And anyways, “light riding” is not really in my vocabulary. So he enjoys his days out with the herd, being the cranky old man that bosses everyone around, and being highly possessive of my youngest horse, Pepperoni.

My sweet little mare Annie is perfect in every way, if only she were a gelding. Just kidding! <not really> Seriously, she is an awesome ride, a finished bridle horse, and now she’s my go-to horse for teaching/photographing/demonstrating. Standing every bit of 14.0 hands, she is the PERFECT size for me. Did I ever tell you I grew up schooling naughty hunter ponies? Being small-of-stature is not helpful in many things, but when it comes to training naughty ponies, it’s an advantage! Although Annie can be a bit mare-ish at times, for the most part she is not naughty and is a blast to ride.

My youngest horse, Pepperoni, is the clown in our barn. He’s always friendly, curious and eager to solve puzzles (like how to open the gate or squeeze through an opening in the fence or pull the blanket off the rack). Although he has gotten a lot bigger than I’d hoped, he’s still a wonderful horse to ride and train because he is very smart and so aware of what’s going on around him. He has an uncanny ability to understand the purpose behind the task and he has taught me the importance of showing the horse the purpose of the task you are teaching, whether it is to open a gate from horseback, to track a cow, or to pivot or rollback. More than anything, I love horses that make me laugh and Pepperoni is a true comedian (while Annie has no sense of humor whatsoever).

Doc Gunner is a 4-coming-5 year old gelding that fell into our lives about 6 months ago during the initial shutdown. In a joint effort between the ASPCA, Nexus Equine (both of Oklahoma) and myself, we accepted Doc Gunner for training under-saddle, to prepare him for adoption; we shared his progress on Faceook. As DG’s foster parents, our job was to nurse him back to health, give him the training he needs to be successful, and then find him the perfect human for him. I’m happy to say, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, on all accounts. DG is now a gorgeous, fat, muscular horse that is working beautifully under-saddle at walk-trot-canter. We were successful in finding the absolute PERFECT home for him in southern California. Even as I write this blog, they are on the way to my farm to pick him up. We will all shed a tear when he leaves—he’s an unforgettable horse that has earned a place in all of our hearts. But we take great comfort and pride in having helped him on the way to his forever home.

If you want to know how you can help a hose in need, through a foster program like this, please visit MyRightHorse.org. I want to thank everyone who helped us in this mission, from my outstanding vet, Dr. Casey Potter, who aggressively treated this horses as if he were a world champion, and to my generous friends who helped pay his vet bills! Without the help and research from Etalon Diagnostics  we would not have discovered some of the underlying medical conditions that needed treatment and we were able to learn more about his performance potential and his breeding. The generous donation from ReNoVo , the makers of biologic medical treatments for horses, allowed us to utilize this cutting-edge treatment, and the results were truly amazing. It takes a village to help one horse at-risk and I am grateful to all of you, including those of you at home who joined us on all the live posts and cheered Doc Gunner on. But his journey isn’t over yet and you’ll be hearing more from Doc Gunner, once he’s settled in his new home. Congratulations to Bill Lockwood and family for adopting Doc! The Lockwood’s own Lomita Feed Store, in Lomita CA, so be sure to stop by there and ask about Doc! They are well-positioned to take great care of Doc for the rest of his life and they’re honored to have been chosen for this special horse.

The wild fires in October brought a lot of destruction and uncertainty to Colorado, but resulted in us welcoming two new horses into our lives, for the winter. The East Troublesome Fire was a shockingly fast moving fire that engulphed well over 100,000 acres and endangered the C Lazy U Ranch, the beloved 100 year-old guest ranch where I‘ve taught horsemanship for well over a decade. Their remuda of about 200 saddle horses had to be evacuated not once, but a second time, when the fire grew so fast that it threatened the ranch they had been evacuated to. As you might imagine, moving a herd of 200 horses, that normally never travel, is no small undertaking! Many community members hitched up their rigs and lined up to transport. It was amazing! But a dozen or so horses were unable to travel with the herd, because they needed special care, and thus the Clydesdales, Joy and Remington, came to live with us for the winter.

Joy is a lovely Clydesdale mare that was acquired by the ranch as a riding horse, back in March of 2020. She had settled into the herd nicely and was busy learning the trails of the ranch, when late this summer one of the wranglers noticed her stomach moving while she was brushing her. It turned out buying Joy was a twofer!  Although not planned or expected, on October 1st, Remington was born. It’s a very awkward time of year for a horse to be born and when the fires hit, he was only three weeks old and not halter trained. Obviously, they couldn’t be left to run with the herd and required a different level of care, so I volunteered to give them a place to live for the winter, while C Lazy U rebuilds their horse facility. Remi and Joy have brought us a lot of fun and laughter already, and we plan to share their progress with you on Facebook.

You’ll be happy to know that C Lazy U survived the fire with surprisingly little damage. Sadly, many people in the area lost their homes, and our hearts go out to them, but somehow the ranch was spared. Of course, there are repairs and cleaning to do before they reopen and the horse barn has to be rebuilt before the horses can go back to work, but these efforts are well underway already and I look forward to being back at the ranch in the Spring for my clinics. We were able to re-patriate the remuda back to the ranch on November 7th, and once again, an unexpected gift fell into my lap. Rich and I volunteered to help with the move and in less than 24 hours, all 182 horses were loaded into trailers, driven across the continental divide, and re-patriated to the ranch. Never were the horses (and the wranglers) happier to be home! It was fun and satisfying to help my friends (two and four legged) and an awesome experience to load that many individual horses into trailers at one time. I learned a lot but I could barely lift my arms the next day! Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You can’t buy that much experience in loading horses! Most people won’t load that many different horse in their lifetime. Sometimes the best presents come in plain wrappers.

Until next time… Enjoy the Ride!

November 2020 Letter from Julie

Mamma Joy and baby Remi at Julie's ranch.
Mamma Joy and baby Remi at Julie's ranch.

Dear friends,

As this bizarre year comes ever so slowly to a close, there is so much to reflect on. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives and dwell in the gloom and doom. It’s much harder to live in the moment, have faith in the positive outcomes and look for the good in every situation. This is the creed I try live by, but I’ll admit, it’s been a hard course to steer lately. There are so many life lessons we can learn from horses, not the least of which are to live in the moment and not in the past, to be aware and ready to take action.

As many of you know, Colorado was ravaged with wildfires last month, and we were grateful for the early winter storm at the end of the month that helped dampen the flames. (Two feet of snow was not enough to extinguish the fires, but did bring them somewhat into control.) The C Lazy U Ranch (the 100-year-old guest ranch where I have been doing multiple clinics a year for more than a decade) was impacted by the East Troublesome Fire, which completely surrounded the ranch. Amazingly, the ranch headquarters was largely spared, and plans are already being made to restore the minor damage and reopen in the spring. You can find updates from the ranch about the impacts of the fire here

C Lazy U has a remuda of about 200 saddle horses, and many people say the herd of safe and reliable riding horses is the heart and soul of the ranch. The herd was preemptively evacuated before the fire blew up, and then they were moved again when the fire grew exponentially to a safer location on the front range. As you can imagine, moving nearly 200 horses is no easy feat. But in the spirit of finding a bright spot in the darkness, we had a pleasant surprise come our way in the form of refugees from the fire.

The ranch had an unexpected and unplanned foal born on October 1st from a Clydesdale mare they had recently acquired as a riding horse. October is a very awkward month for a baby horse to be born, especially in the high mountains. Since the colt is too young to run with the currently evacuated herd, we offered our accommodations at Goodnight Training Stables to the mare and foal for the winter. Mamma Joy and Baby Remington (“Remi”) are safe and sound at my ranch now, settling in and getting comfortable in their temporary home. It’s fun to have a youngster around—it’s good to laugh at his silly antics! Once the mare and foal have settled in and  feel more secure, I’ll introduce you to them.

In the midst of so much turmoil and uncertainty, it can be hard to stay positive and find joy. Taking action to help others and witnessing the uncomplicated exuberance of a young foal has given me peace and laughter, and for that I am grateful. November is when we traditionally take time to give thanks and reconnect with family and friends. I’ll admit that the holidays may look different this year, but that does not mean we can’t celebrate, re-connect and find joy. We just have to be creative about it and work a little harder to find the good in every situation.

I am confident that 2021 will be a year of healing and unity, and that we will get the upper hand on the pandemic and come together as a nation. I’m not expecting life to go back to the way it was exactly, but I am expecting to get back to a *new* normal in 2021. One thing that has not changed, and never will, is that there will always be horses that need help with their humans. I look forward to doing clinics next year, not only at the renowned C Lazy U Ranch—which is making plans to serve guests for the next hundred years—but around the country too. I hope to connect with you and your horse soon. In the meantime…

Enjoy the ride,

Julie Goodnight (signature)

The Making of a Trail Horse, Part 3

View from behind horse's ears of treed hills and mountain range.
View from behind horse's ears of treed hills and mountain range.

Foundational Training Under-Saddle

With solid ground-handling skills in place, half the battle of under-saddle training is behind you. As the young horse’s training progresses from ground manners to riding skills, there are certain philosophies that must be consistently applied to its training to make an exceptional trail horse. These skills are important no matter what discipline you choose, but when riding into uncontrolled and un-improved environments with natural hazards, these skills can be the difference between a fun and exciting ride and a total disaster.

Obedience: Fundamental obedience starts from day one of under-saddle training and it means that the horse will go on the exact path dictated by the rider, at the speed chosen by the rider, without argument from the  horse or excessive management by the rider. This is important in all horses and especially in trail horses. I always want to be able to control the path my horse travels on the trail. If I allow him to choose the path, he may ram my knee into a tree trunk or hang me on a low branch.

Work Ethic: While this can be a natural quality in a horse, it will certainly be solidified through consistent training and handling. A good trail horse is forward moving, eager to please, and willing to work. When I ask my horse for effort, I need to see it, but I’m careful not to abuse the power by asking too much. I expect the same work ethic in my horse that I have for myself, but I always recognize his efforts and reward the horse, with rest, for a job well-done.

Rating Speed: Whether I’m leading the horse from the ground, ponying from another horse or riding the trail horse, he needs to rate his speed off of me or off another horse. No hanging back, then trotting up. No outpacing all the other horses. A horse is perfectly capable of maintaining a given speed (without you holding or pushing) and they instinctively rate speed off other horses, so it shouldn’t be hard to train. From the very beginning of a young horse’s training, proper spacing and rating speed needs to be ingrained.

Complete and Total Body Control: Often we hear people say, “he’s just a trail horse,” as if riding in a wild environment with natural hazards isn’t risky. I know the importance of having full body control on my horse, especially on the trail, where tight spots can be scary and a horse that panics and runs will get us both hurt. Being able to control the exact placement of my horse’s nose, shoulders, hip, and feet, no matter how rough the terrain is, will keep me safe and get me out of a lot of trouble. Full body control and lateral movements are not just for show horses.

Ride Alone or In Company: While all horses prefer to be in the company of other horses, I need my horse to trust me enough to go out alone—whether that be for a short jaunt away from the group or going on a long ride alone. There are two important factors here: one is that my horse is not herd-bound and the other is that my horse gets the same level of confidence from me that he gets from the herd. I want him to think of us as a team; we are in it together and reliant on each other. This does not come easily—it requires hard work, leadership, and dedication on your part.

Minds Manners Around Other Horses: I’m extremely strict about my horses’ behavior around other horses. No fraternizing in any way is allowed, when the horse is being handled or ridden. No friendly interactions, no busy-bodies, and certainly no aggression. That’s a basic manner that all horses should be taught from a young age… when you are being handled or ridden, no herd interactions are allowed! Trail horses are often ridden in groups with unknown horses. They may have to be in close proximity to other horses and perhaps even tied on a highline next to a horse they don’t know. Besides, he is at work and on-the-clock when we are trail riding; it’s not social time. This is first and foremost a safety issue that will prevent someone from getting kicked, or worse. If your horse has bad manners, in this regard, it’s a poor reflection on your horsemanship and a liability to the group.

Stands Quietly for Mounting and Dismounting: From day one, we teach horses to stand square, dead-still, and on a loose rein for mounting and dismounting and to never walk off without a cue from the rider. This will come in mighty handy should you find yourself on the side of a steep mountain, getting off and back on because someone dropped their camera. Never walking off or increasing speed without a cue, is important for when you are riding with inconsiderate riders who take off without warning.

Performs the Same Away from Home and in New Environments: The ability to perform skills in new places and in different situations, is something a horse learns over time and through varied experiences. Horses are location-specific in what they learn (they associate their behavior and actions with a place). Learning new skills at home (where the horse is relaxed) happens fast, but it takes months and years of performing those same skills in new locations before the horse is a seasoned pro. As early as possible in the horse’s training, we try to put them in new situations—teach them to investigate and be curious when they are uncertain, and take them on small journeys to increase their exposure and confidence. Horses move through the first two stages of learning fast: acquisition of skills and fluency of skills. But generalizing what he has learned—to be able to perform any time or place, even under duress—takes a lot of time and careful planning to make sure the horse always has confidence-building experiences away from home.

You may have noticed that the manners and skills necessary to make a great trail horse are the same for any good horse—safe, reliable, mannerly, and obedient—makes for a pleasant horse to be around. Even if you will never head into rugged terrain or camp overnight with your horse, developing these qualities in your horse will make him successful in whatever activity you do.

There’s no such thing as “just” a trail horse. A lot of hard work goes into finding the right prospect, developing the skills that will keep you safe on the trail, and establishing a meaningful relationship with the horse. But it is time well-spent when you and your horse need to rely on each other out in the wilderness.

There are so many important traits to develop in the making of a great trail horse. What I’ve talked about here is just the beginning. Next month, I’ll write about the importance of a trail horse accepting any position on the trail line-up—from lead, to middle, to rear, to flank. I’ll discuss whether good lead horses are born or made, and how to train your horse to accept any position and ride calmly away from the herd when asked.

The Making of a Trail Horse, Part 2

Manners and Skills

There are many ingredients that go into the making of an exceptional trail horse and just like in the kitchen, quality ingredients can make the difference in an average dish or an outstanding one. So, what are the ingredients we are looking for in a good trail horse?

Keep in mind that trail riding can be quite different, depending on the part of the country where you live or ride. For me, living in the high mountains of Colorado, trail riding typically involves terrain that is steep, rocky, and hazardous in places. Therefore we don’t take young horses, under the age of 4, into the high mountains. They need physical maturity, strength and coordination, and a considerable amount of training.

Here in the Rocky Mountains, natural obstacles can range from timber blow-downs to scary bogs to raging, rocky creeks with steep banks on both sides. On Pepperoni’s first ride in the high mountains, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, one difficult water hazard had all those qualities in one crossing. Negotiating it safely meant having total control of the horse from stem to stern and a relationship based on trust and solid leadership. 

To me, the ideal trail horse is safe and reliable in changing environments, is always mannerly and obedient, consistent in its behavior, well-trained, responsive, and experienced in a variety of settings. I want a horse that is brave and forward thinking, with a strong work ethic. But the age-old question is this: is a good (trail) horse born or made?

Nature vs. Nurture

A horse hits the ground with its instinctive behaviors almost fully formed and it’s born with its temperament—inherited in his genes. That baby horse has instinctive behaviors such as flight, locomotion, and suckling. He has a temperament that may prove him to be brave and bold, scared and flighty, or somewhere in-between. He may be curious and investigative or spooky and reactive; he may be calm and lazy or excitable and high-energy. He may be willing and eager-to-please, or dominant and challenging. Although training will always help, a horse is born with his temperament and there’s not much we can do about it.

There are only two types of behaviors in any animal (humans included): instinctive and learned (nature vs. nurture). Horses tend to operate a lot on instinctive behaviors, but they learn new behaviors wickedly fast (for better or for worse) and the learning starts the moment they are born.

In the making of an excellent trail horse, it’s best to start with the raw ingredients of good physical traits (conformation and gaits) and a great temperament (brave and willing). But we must also add to that, a lot of training, good handling, and varied life-experiences. There are certain basic skills that must be addressed through training, plus there are some foundational training philosophies that should be ingrained in the young horse throughout its training.

All of this requires a lot of time and dedication to your horse and to the sport—there’s no instant gratification in the making of a great trail horse.

Basic Handling Skills

I’m not a big believer in “training” young horses, under 2 years old. I think they need to grow up first and foals should learn to be horses first. It’s also important for baby horses not to learn bad habits (like moving into pressure or walking all over you), that often comes with over-handling at a young age. We like to start teaching certain skills to yearlings (like tying, lead-line manners and trailering) but we keep it light and allow the horses to mature—physically and mentally—before hard training begins. Saddle training the young horse goes quite fast when they are ready, and starting a horse too early generally leads to more problems than it solves.

While I may start teaching basic ground-handling skills on the horse as a yearling (lead, tie, trailer), the serious training will begin towards the end of its 2-year-old year. I like to start 2-year-olds under-saddle in the fall for simple basics. Then we get far more serious in the spring of their 3-year-old year. As a 3-year-old, he’ll get an abundance of training, as well as confidence-building experiences “on the road.” By the time that young horse turns 4, he’s mature, well-trained, and gotten the prerequisite experience he needs to be successful in the high mountains or on any trail ride.

The basic training on a trail horse is the same as I would give any young horse, as they are useful skills that make the horse safe and pleasant to be around. Most of these skills will be solidly trained into the horse before under-saddle training begins. Here’s a simple checklist of the handling skills that a young trail prospect should have:

  • Leadline Manners: Leads well beside you, does not crowd you or get in front of you, rates his speed off yours, stands quietly when asked, can be led from ground or ponied from a horse.
  • Ground Ties: When you ask the horse to stop and you drop the lead rope on the ground, he stands parked, as if he is a statue. This is a useful skill in any horse, but a must-have for trail horses.
  • Stands Quietly While Tied: This requires many hours and days spent at the “patience post,” learning to stand quietly and patiently while tied. Eventually that horse will have to stand quietly tied to a trailer, and potentially tied overnight to a high line. A horse that does not tie well is a liability on the trail.
  • Feet Handling: Proper manners here include lifting the foot when asked, holding it up without leaning or fidgeting and allowing me to place the foot back down on a particular spot (not jerking it out of my hands when I’m finished). Be particular about this. A good trail horse needs to allow you to have total control of his feet and body.
  • Not Claustrophobic: Horses instinctively do not like tight places with no escape—some horses can be way more claustrophobic than others, and they may need major desensitizing. I want to make sure the horse will not rush through gates, tight spaces or scary places or have any kind of panic attack in confinement (like a trailer). It’s easy to get into tight binds on the trail and I need my horse to remain calm, continue to think and always wait for my cues. 
  • Trailering: This includes loading promptly, riding quietly on the road and unloading easily. These are skills I want to develop and engrain over time, so we take every opportunity we can to load young horses, let them eat meals in the trailer and go for short rides (this is also a way to get experience in new places).
  • Desensitizing: The horse must accept touch all over his body, legs, face, mouth, ears, nostrils, tail, and private parts. The horse needs to accept fly spray, oral medications, bathing, and grooming.

While all of these skills may be quickly learned by the horse (with a good trainer), it will take weeks and months to ingrain these behaviors in the young horse, to the point these skills are “finished.” Taking your time, setting good precedents and having consistent handling will cause the young horse to blossom and it will set a solid foundation for his under-saddle training.

Next month, I’ll discuss the progression into under-saddle training to build a strong foundation for an exceptional trail horse. These skills are important no matter what discipline you choose, but when riding into uncontrolled and un-improved environments with natural hazards, these skills can be the difference between a fun and exciting ride and a total disaster.

October 2020 Letter From Julie

Dear Friends,

At my ranch, here in the “Heart of the Rockies,” fall came fast and furious with 14” of snow on the ground just two days after record heat on Labor Day. It was a rude awakening, but a reminder to enjoy every day of the fall riding season—for it will soon be over. So I’ve been busy making hay while the sun shines!

We had a fabulous Ranch Riding Adventure clinic at the C Lazy U Ranch in September. The clinic was full to riders, and we all enjoyed the incredible fall colors, cool nights and warm sunny days spent on the back of a horse. Since most of our time was spent outdoors, social distancing was easy, and everyone was cooperative about mask-wearing indoors. The ranch operated all summer without incident under COVID restrictions. Their staff is religious about mask-wearing, distancing and cleaning. 

I am headed back to the ranch for two more clinics this fall: The Fall Ranch Getaway (co-taught with Barbra Schulte) and Horsemanship Immersion. Both programs still have a few openings if you’re looking for an adventure!

Rich and I just returned from Jackson, Wyoming, where I conducted Equus Magazine and Showsheen®’s Win-A-Day with Julie Goodnight Clinic for the lucky winner, Emily Cholak, and nine of her closest horse buddies. The clinic was lots of fun, the horses were great and everyone made a lot of progress in one day! Rich and I also enjoyed camping for four nights in the exquisite Alpine valley, and while we did not take horses, we did enjoy riding our mountain bikes (which are far easier to stow, travel with and take care of than horses). My father lived in Jackson Hole for 25 years, and I’ve done a lot of horse packing in those mountains. It was fun to see the area again (my how it’s grown), and visit our old stomping grounds.

This month, I have two clinics at the C Lazy U Ranch and the CHA Virtual Conference on the 30th. My clinic for the CHA Conference is on Simple & Flying Lead Changes. We filmed the clinic already, and I will narrate the video live at the Virtual Conference on the 30th

The Conference, although designed for horse professionals, is open to anyone who wants to learn, and CHA has generously offered a significant discount for subscribers to this newsletter (that’s you!). Just enter priority code JG when you register to get the $95 member price (reg. $155.00!). Find out more about the V-Conference and register

As this unforgettable year winds down, we are looking ahead with enthusiasm to 2021. Most of the cancelled horse expos I had in 2020 have re-booked me for 2021 and are busy planning for the new year. My 2021 clinic schedule remains up in the air, but most likely I will continue my clinics at C Lazy U and also conduct more private clinics around the country. 

We’ve got plans brewing for private clinics in CA, NC, CO, FL, and VA. If you’re interested in hosting a private clinic, I’d love to come to your area to work with you and your horses. Check out JulieGoodnight.com/PrivateClinics for more information on hosting a private clinic.

I hope the fall weather is glorious, wherever you are, and that you get some quality time with your horse before winter hits. Now more than ever, we see the healing benefits of having horses. There’s nothing more therapeutic than cleaning stalls or listening to the sounds of horses eating hay in a quiet barn. It’s where I go when life piles up on me and I feel like my head will explode, and the horses are always there for me. I hope your horses are healing you, too.

Enjoy the ride,

September 2020 Horse Report

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.

Enjoy the ride,

The Making of a Trail Horse

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).

Honey Bear guarding on the hillside. Photo by: Gregory Achenbach

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:

  • Temperament
  • Physical strength
  • Bravery
  • Willingness
  • Presence
  • Curiosity
  • 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.

Trail riding through bushes.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
Get trail solutions & gear for the trail. Shop Now

September 2020 Letter from Julie

Dear Friends,

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!

Enjoy the ride,

August 2020 Horse Report

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!

 

Enjoy the ride,

Make Grooming a Cinch

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 help repel 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.

Get a Handle on Your Reins

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. 

Different Disciplines

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

Do: 

  • 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.

Do Not: 

  • 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.

August 2020 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

 

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 info@juliegoodnight.com.

 

Enjoy the ride,