April 2019: Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

I’m thrilled it’s spring! I was gone for two weeks in March and when I got home, my outdoor arena had totally thawed and Rich had freshly groomed it for me, in honor of my return from a long hard trip. It was long because I had contracted a nasty cold on the first leg of the trip, and it was hard because it included shooting video outside during the infamous “bomb cyclone.” The storm came fast (at 8 am) and it was a full-blown blizzard within the hour. I was at Harmony Equine Center, an impound facility for Colorado law enforcement, funded by the Denver Dumb Friends League. I was in the pen with Garret Leonard, the manager, and 12 pregnant mares that had been confiscated and surrendered to HEC, due to starvation. Even while the rain turned to snow and the winds began to howl, they kept their heads buried in the hay feeders. I’m pretty sure I will never forget that scene, plus the harrowing drive back to Denver right before the highways closed for two days.

But now there are clear signs of Spring—I’ve taken a few wild rides on my now three-year-old colt, Pepperoni. Let’s just say he was “exuberant” about riding outdoors, after making circles in the indoor all winter. The flower beds are starting to wake up and the days  are warm enough to spend some time on the lake—these are the things I do when I am not traveling.

This month I’m headed to Columbus, OH for Equine Affaire, April 11-14; and to St. Paul for the MN Horse Expo, April 19-21. For details on horse expos and clinics, please visit juliegoodnight.com/schedule.

Enjoy the Ride!

Julie


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

 
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Horse Report March 2019

This is not a winter we will soon forget. More snow, ice, wind and cold weather than I can remember for some time. Thankfully, we have a nice toasty indoor arena, but after a few months of riding inside, the horses are eager for a different point of view.

It was awesome to spend a week up in Fort Collins at CSU Equine with my two horses, Annie and Pepperoni. We had some quality time together and managed to make it home, driving 200 miles through the mountains, in between the snow storms. Pepper is coming along nicely—working on collection at the trot and canter, beginning lateral movements like shoulder-in and leg yield, and refining his pivot on the hindquarters, which is a natural talent of his. Canter departures still leave something to be desired, but I know this will fall into place too. He’s such a joy to ride and train—he’s eager to learn and has a fun-loving attitude.

Dually has had a tough winter, too much cold and ice for him. He’s healthy and comfortable, but he’s very tentative on the frozen ground. No one’s more eager for spring than Dually. Eddie, on the other hand, is true to his breeding—he’s a tough, stoic ranch horse and not much affects him.


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

 
#HorseGoals or Bust Community
Public group · 43 members

Join Group

 

Horse Master Memories

After 11 years of producing the TV show, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, and 260 episodes featuring a different horse and rider, I made the decision to end the series. Eleven years is a long run for a TV show—by any standards—and it was important for me to go out while we were still on top and time to move onto other projects. Although I will miss the Horse Master crew, the shoots, the horses and the people we met along the way, I am quite proud of the body of work we amassed.

Each year, from 2008 to 2018, we produced 24 half-hour episodes of Horse Master. We conducted three shoots each year, at various locations around the USA. We recruited horse owners from that region, with challenges they wished to resolve. Except for our very first shoot, we always had way more applicants than spots on the show. It was always a difficult task to pick cast members, not only because we wanted to help everyone, but also because we had to find a balance between English and Western riders, between groundwork and mounted work, and represent a variety of breeds and find topics that were both relevant and unique.

About a month before each shoot, we would review the applications and assign them a rating of 1, 2 or 3. A one rating was either a subject we’d been hoping for or a common horse challenge that would be easy to address within the time constraints of a half-hour episode. If a male or a youth rider applied, they were automatically rated a one. In more than one case, the man’s application had actually been submitted the wife, without his knowledge. A teenage boy once applied without his parent’s consent; fortunately, his mother was a good sport (she found out about it the day before) and agreed to haul his horse cross-country and allowed him to miss school to attend the shoot.

Twos were subjects we could use in a pinch (if we didn’t have enough ones), but they were often complicated topics that would be difficult to resolve in one episode; or redundant subjects (how many times could we make an episode on how to get the correct lead at the canter?). Threes were basically subjects we didn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole; subjects that were too outlandish for the average horse owner to relate to, or behavior that was extreme and/or dangerous. We did not want to offer solutions that required a disclaimer, “Do not attempt these techniques at home.” It was always our intention to provide useful, relevant horse training techniques that were also safe to employ and would benefit the average horse owner and horse.

The Horse Master with Julie Goodnight video library of eleven seasons and 260 episodes, is available on-demand at TV.juliegoodnight.com. It offers practical horse training, handling and riding techniques and useful information for horse owners, searchable by keywords. Believe it or not, as I read through the extensive list of episodes, I can remember each one—the horse, the subject (which was often not the subject we planned for) and the person.

Certainly, some horses were more memorable than others—maybe because it bit or bucked or bolted. Maybe because it was painfully misunderstood and needed an intervention; or maybe it was a clever horse that was duping its owner. Of the 260 episodes, a couple dozen really stand out in my mind. I can remember the details like it was yesterday—where we were, the time of day, the horse’s reaction or the person’s epiphany.

In my last blog (February 2019), I wrote about the top three episodes that stood out most in my memory from over a decade of making TV shows about horse training. It was the horses I remember most—the Thoroughbred that bolted, the beautiful black mare that had a breakthrough, and the regal but defiant Morgan. I remember every horse that was in the show, especially the ones that challenged my skills as a trainer and the ones that taught me important lessons. If I made a Top Ten list of Horse Master episodes, I would definitely include these episodes.

Season 2, Episode 1 (201), “Wave Runner”
We shot this episode on the beach of Martha’s Vineyard, where the movie “Jaws” was filmed—that alone was enough to make it memorable. We arrived before the sun came up and shot while the beaches were still empty. The horse was a big pinto Warmblood, a 3-day event horse that struggled with water jumps. Our thinking was that if we could get him in the ocean, we could probably get him around a cross country jump course. Since the owner had a broken collar bone, all the riding was left to me (yippee!). It took me almost an hour to get the horse into the surf and it was a wild and wet ride, but a lot of fun! To this day, this episode (recorded in 2008) still gets more comments than any other.

Season 3, Episode 1 (301) “Can’t Make Me”
Recorded at my ranch in Colorado, this horse stands out in my memory because I really had no idea if I would be successful overcoming the challenge. The issue was the mare’s refusal to step on a tarp. The owner was training her for trail obstacle competition, but there were certain obstacles the mare refused to attempt. The owner had recently attended a five-day trail obstacle clinic with a highly respected clinician, who also happens to be a good friend of mine. I have a lot of respect for this guy’s skill, so it was intimidating to find out that in the entire five-day clinic, they never once got the mare on the tarp, ultimately giving up. These were not promising odds for me and every time they had attempted to cross a tarp and failed, the mare had become more set in her refusal. I got on the horse late in the afternoon and it was nearly dark when she finally gave in and walked quietly across the tarp. I used the classic technique, “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard,” working her hard anytime she backed away from the tarp and only letting her rest when she was near or on the tarp. It was a case of being patient, staying the course and waiting for the mare to come to the right conclusion, which she did, right before dark.

Season 9, Episode 17 (917) “Betty Lou Knew”
Recorded in Tucson AZ, at the White Stallion Ranch (one of our favorite shoot locations), this was one of only two mules we ever featured in Horse Master, but keep in mind that every mule owner that applied, got on the show. Did you ever hear of a mule kick? You can see it in real-life action in this episode. It was supposed to be about bad ground manners, but this mule took one look at the cameras and the set, and suddenly she had perfect ground manners. Moving on to plan B for a topic, the owner said she was also tough to saddle, so we decided to tackle that subject. “Tough to saddle” may have been an understatement, since it was more like taking your life into your hands. Although she kicked like a mule, she never once made contact and her kicks were highly calculated to warn but not hit—you can see that very clearly in the video. Turns out Betty Lou was quite clever, as most mules are, but all it took was a little scolding to make her see the error of her ways.

Season 9, Episode 23 (923) “Back on Board”
During the course of producing Horse Master, we did many episodes with “spoiled” horses that had learned to act poorly due to improper handling. In many instances, these are perfectly well-trained horses whose behavior has deteriorated to the point that they are unpleasant, if not downright dangerous. This was a clever, but spoiled palomino who walked all over his young owner and basically did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. When it came time to load in a trailer, this horse knew every avoidance trick in the book, most of which can be seen on the video. As the owner tried to approach the trailer, the horse managed to drag her all the way around the truck and trailer twice—not once getting even close to the door. It didn’t take much to retrain this horse—he knew perfectly well how to load in a trailer. As usual, the bigger challenge was in retraining the owner.

Horse Master with Julie Goodnight is a body of work of which I am quite proud. We amassed a significant volume of content that offers practical horse training, handling and riding techniques. As searchable, streaming on-demand content available at TV.juliegoodnight.com, it will continue to help horses and horse people all over the world, for many years to come. Horse Master is currently airing on broadcast TV in many European countries, Australia and Canada (on Horse & Country TV), while work is underway to dub it into Spanish and Portuguese, to air in many Latin markets. This content will live on for some time, helping horses, one human at a time.

See the Horse Master trailer here:

Meanwhile, work has begun on our new TV series, Horse Life with Julie Goodnight, which is a one-hour unscripted lifestyle/adventure series, featuring multiple storylines about fascinating characters and intriguing issues, in places where horses are deeply entrenched in the culture. The pilot episode, Horse Life—Colorado, is scheduled for release this spring, and will be airing in many USA and international markets this summer.

March 2019 Letter from Julie

Julie with the colt-starting class she substitute taught at CSU.
Julie with the colt-starting class she substitute taught at CSU.

Dear friends,

Last month, my horses and I spent a week at Colorado State University, substitute teaching for the Legends of Ranching colt-starting class. (This class has 32 young, untrained horses paired with 32 student trainers starting them under-saddle and prepping them for the Legends of Ranching Sale on April 19th), and guest-lecturing in a few other equine classes. It’s always fun to work with college students who are planning a career in the horse industry, and to connect with the innovative work being done at CSU Equine.

I ended the month in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo Hall of Fame dinner, where I was honored to be one of the inaugural inductees, alongside Dr. Robert Miller, Richard Shrake and Pat Parelli. This month, I’m headed to Lansing, Michigan for the 36th Annual MI Horse Expo, where I’ll be doing presentations on improving rider skill, rein aids and leg aids, canter and riding later in life.

In April, I’ll be at Equine Affaire in Columbus, OH, and the MN Horse Expo in St. Paul. Check out my online public appearance schedule for up-to-date details.

Before we know it, summer will be here and the riding season will be in full swing! Now is the time to get ready—to set your training goals, to plan the clinics, competitions, and trail rides you want to attend, and to start getting your horse (and yourself) in shape to handle the adventures. I hope you will find some helpful tips, here in my newsletter and also on my website, to help you make productive plans and achieve your horsemanship goals. My team and I stand ready to help, if you need guidance along the way.

Enjoy the ride,

Julie


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

 
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February 2019 Horse Report

Pepper and Mel's horse, Booger
Pepper and Mel's horse, Booger

I’ve had a little more time on my horses this month. Pepperoni, now a 3-year-old, is progressing nicely after a small setback from a stifle sprain. After treatment from Dr. Potter (who was kind enough to treat him on Christmas Eve so I didn’t lose another week of training), some rest and rehab, Pepper is back to 100%. We did lose about three weeks of training, which will make it tough for us to be ready for the Legends of Ranching Futurity in April. But I won’t push him—if he’s not ready, we won’t enter.

However, in the last week, Pepper has really surprised me. He’s such a fun horse to train—he’s very willing, but somewhat opinionated. He’s sensitive, athletic and wicked smart. If I could avoid making mistakes (nearly impossible on such a fast-learning horse), and just teach him one important thing every day, his training would go so fast.

At this moment, we are working on basics (forward and straight), collection at the trot (starting to think about it at the canter), shoulder-in, canter departures and pivots. I have not yet worked on stops and rollbacks, because of his stifle injury, but these maneuvers will be easy for him, due to his natural talent.

The Legends Futurity involves working cattle and this is where I run into a time crunch—I’ll have to get him working the flag before live cattle, and he’s not quite fit enough for that. But just in the last week, things seem to be coming together for us.

I am headed up to Colorado State University this week to substitute teach, and I will be taking Annie and Pepper with me. Annie will help me work with the colts (32 of them), and Pepper is going for the road experience and so I can continue his training.

It will be a fun week—I get to ride my horses every day, and I always enjoy working with college students!

 


Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

 
#HorseGoals or Bust Community
Public group · 43 members

Join Group

 

Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, The Final Chapter

My career as a horse trainer took a sudden detour back in 2008, when I went from riding horses for a living to producing a television series, called Horse Master with Julie Goodnight. Becoming an Executive Producer and Host of a TV series was not in the original business plan, when I started my horse training company back in 1987. But when a door opens, I tend to lunge for it. I had no idea where this door would take me, but I am sure glad I went through it, because that door took me on an incredible ride.

Now, 11 years and 260 episodes later, I can honestly say that the job we started out to do is complete and it’s time for me to move onto something bigger and better. Knowing that every project has a beginning and an ending, and that no TV series can run forever, it was important to me to bring the series to close while we were still on top with the fans and doing our best work. Even though we’ve produced the last episode of Horse Master, this significant body of work will live on for decades and will still be available to viewers around the world.

Humble Beginnings

Back in 2007, RFD-TV was a fledgling satellite network offering TV programming to rural areas, including horse programs. It was really the start of weekly horse training programs that could be seen on TV. I was offered a contract with the network, who would air the shows if we produced them. It was an incredible opportunity—the only catch was that we had just three months before the first shows would start airing. I had no crew, no cameras, no sponsors, no locations, no cast members and twenty half-hour episodes to produce.

Knowing I couldn’t do it alone (I may have been a good hand with horses, but I knew nothing about producing a TV show), I recruited Heidi Melocco (then Heidi Nyland) to jump off the cliff with me. Heidi came onboard as Producer and Director, helping create the production and sticking with the show for ten years and 236 episodes. Without Heidi’s help, I would never have been able to pull this off. Little did we know then, that the series would go on for so long and become an award-winning, substantial body of work.

So we jumped off the deep end, took the deal offered and scrambled to get a crew together, find a shoot location plus the horses and people we needed to be on the show. Within a few weeks we pulled a shoot together in Longmont, Colorado, calling on many of our friends to be on the show. Looking back on it now, with 260 episodes behind us, I am amazed at how well we did at that first shoot. I recall staying up all night, trying to compose what I would say and practicing a difficult line that I needed to say at the close of one of the shows, without breaking into tears (S1: E3).

One of my funniest memories of all the Horse Master shoots, was from that first location. I had no idea what clothing I should wear, so I basically threw my entire equestrian wardrobe in suitcases, which ended up dumped on a filthy tack room floor (in my unglamorous, not-so-private dressing room) so we could rummage through them to find the right outfits. I must have changed clothes 100 times at that shoot. Special credit goes to my friend and wardrobe wrangler, Cheryl Lee (S6: E6 and S9: E2), whose style help we enlisted from the beginning of the series and who stuck with me to the very end (and still counting). It’s not an easy job to style-up a horse trainer.

At the very first shoot for Horse Master, we taped 6 episodes in 5 days. As the years went by and we all got better at our jobs, we were shooting 8 episodes in 4 days. We learned a lot about TV production over the years, about working with horses in live-action (horses don’t do re-takes) and about finding the people and stories that would make the show interesting.

The Body of Work

From 2008 through 2018, we produced a massive amount of content about horse training and horse people. Our original concept for the show was that it would feature a new horse and rider every week, helping them overcome challenges and reach new goals. Knowing that in the TV world, they describe new shows by comparing them to current shows, back in 2007, when we were first pitching the show, we liked to say that Horse Master was a cross between Dog Whisperer and Super Nanny.

We produced 260 episodes over 11 years, at 37 different shoots, in ten states, and at 18 different locations. We shot in Colorado ten times, in Arizona nine times, five shoots in Florida, three in California, two times in South Carolina, Texas and Massachusetts, and once in Georgia and Tennessee. We shot at my ranch in Salida, Colorado, every summer and we ended up going to the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson for seven shoots, because it served our needs so well for winter shoots and because the scenery and accommodations were fantastic. To this day, many people think I live in Arizona.

Once we set a location and dates for the shoot, we would begin to recruit people and horses for the show. They would fill out an application online and about a month before the shoot, Heidi and I would comb through the applications, trying to find the right mix of horses, people, riding disciplines and problems to solve. It turns out, this was one of the hardest parts of producing the show, and we got pretty good at it, although we always dreaded it. We hated that we couldn’t take every horse on the show.

Looking back on all 260 episodes, there are some cast members (both two-legged and four) that I will never forget. I can remember every horse I worked with and each one of them had something to teach us. I compiled some statistics about Horse Master, which are not only interesting facts about the show, but also reflect the American horse world—the people and horses, and the challenges they face.

The Horses

115 episodes of Horse Master featured Quarter Horses (both purebreds and grade). That should come as no surprise, since they are by far the largest breed of horses. We also featured 24 Paint horses, 20 Thoroughbreds, 19 Warmbloods (of various persuasions) and 16 Arabians (purebreds and crosses). Again, very representative of the American horse population. Interestingly, eighteen of the horses we featured were Palomino in color. I’ve always thought Palominos liked to be the center of attention and this statistic bears that out. Ten gaited horses starred in Horse Master, eight pony breeds were represented, six Mustangs, six Morgans, five Appaloosas, three Paso Finos and one Peruvian Paso, and two mules were also featured in episodes.

The People

Through all eleven years of production, we tried to have a balance of people, riding disciplines and subjects. But to be honest, getting men on the show was always a challenge. Every man that applied, got on the show, but sometimes it turned out that his wife had filled out the application, unbeknownst to the husband. Same thing happened with kids—they would apply to be on the show without their parent’s knowledge, so we learned to follow-up on these things. All said and done, our cast members included 28 youth, 24 male and 208 female equestrians.

The Subject Matter

Horse Master episodes included 113 Western riders, 72 English riders, 63 unmounted groundwork episodes and 12 personal interest stories. By categorizing all the shows into a dozen broad subjects, I saw that the content is somewhat of a running commentary on the most common challenges horse owners face:

  • 32 were on advancing riding skills—improve the rider so the horse can do his job
  • 24 on were leadership (human) and ground manners (horse)
  • 21 featured spoiled, tantrum throwing horses (always the fault of humans)
  • 21 about riding the canter
  • 18 were about spooky horses or horses with a high fear response
  • 17 were about building confidence in the rider (reference above)
  • 14 about training green, uneducated horses
  • 14 on slowing down a fast horse
  • 3 on speeding up a lazy horse
  • 6 on trailering horses
  • 4 on saddle fit
  • 2 on hard-to-catch horses

Most Memorable Episodes

In preparation for this article, I went through our catalog of episodes several times. I can honestly say, I remember every horse we had on the show, but some stand out more than others in my mind. Looking at all 260 episodes, there were about 27 shows that really stood out to me—either because we made a big impact or because I learned something important. I’ve written about all 27 of these episodes in a separate article, but of those memorable episodes, a couple are indelibly imprinted on me.

S4: E9, “Bucket List” This was an incredible episode because this beautiful black QH mare, who was the apple of her owner’s eye, had a huge breakthrough in her training—going from a high-headed, fast and choppy ride, to a rounded, soft frame and slow, rhythmic gaits. Truly becoming her dream horse. It wasn’t easy to get there- a significant bit change and a lot of training on my part. By the time the sun was setting that night, the mare was perfect. Of all the episodes, there was never a person on Horse Master more thrilled with the outcome, than Cynthia. We were all shocked and saddened to hear that her dream horse died of colic, just a few short weeks later, long before the episode was edited (making it more bitter sweet). A tragic reminder to us all, that horses are delicate creatures and we should treasure our time spent with them and the gifts they give us.

S11: E7-9, “The Lost Episode of Chief” I will never forget this horse; he starred in three episodes in season 11. Memorable in part, because he belonged to my good friend and neighbor, Amy, but also because of his crazy history (he was dumped at a horse rescue after being gored by a bull) and because of his strong sense of right and wrong and his regal bearing. He was extremely intolerant of any mistakes and would become aggressive if he thought you did something wrong, thoroughly intimidating his owner. He was a very big Morgan— dominant and powerful, especially when he was charging you head on, with ears back, teeth barred and ‘smoke coming out his nose’! Amy was determined to become a better leader to her horse, and that she did. He was a tough nut to crack, but she won him over in the end. It was an interesting and intricate relationship that evolved, requiring Amy to step up and Chief to step down. We only half-jokingly changed his name to Cobb, as Amy came to realize that she could not buy this horse’s admiration with love and pampering, but she could earn it by becoming a better leader.

Where You Can Find Horse Master Now

I’m very proud of the body of work we’ve amassed with Horse Master, on horse behavior, training and riding horses. This content is “evergreen,” meaning it will not become outdated or obsolete any time soon. All 260 episodes of Horse Master are available online (SVOD) and searchable by key words. So, if a horse owner in say, Dubai, were to search the content for “bucks at canter,” six different episodes would come up and hopefully one of them would answer his question. Horse Master Online is available by subscription at TV.juliegoodnight.com.

Horse Master is also enjoying its first run internationally, with season 11 currently playing on Horse & Country TV in UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Australia and Canada. We are working with other content providers to dub Horse Master into Spanish and Portuguese, for airing in Spain and South America. All over the world, there are places where horses are deeply entrenched in the culture, and the content providers want Horse Master. Who knows? Maybe we’ll resurrect the show in another country… Horse Master: South Africa… Horse Master: Brazil… Horse Master: Ireland….

New series, New Life

Most folks that know me, know that I am not one to sit still for long. Or at all. In fact, for the last two years, my partner and producer, Stephen Schott and I have been burning the candle at both ends– creating a brand-new TV series at the same time we were completing Horse Master. We launched a new company, 2Horse Productions™ (same players, new name and a few new partners), and began production on a new series called, Horse Life with Julie Goodnight.

Horse Life is an unscripted lifestyle series featuring people and places where horses are entrenched in the culture. Horse Life goes behind the scenes into the splendor and nature surrounding horse communities around the world. Host Julie Goodnight (that’s me) brings expert insight to illuminate the unique cultures, history, and the magical world of horses and the lives of equestrians.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this new series soon! We’re very excited about the opportunities before us and we are hard at work, producing the new series.

Acknowledgements

Producing 260 episodes of a TV show is no small undertaking, by anyone’s standards, and I could never have pulled it off without lots of expert and enthusiastic help from others. I have an abundance of gratitude for all the horses, people and places that were part of Horse Master over the years. It would take pages and pages for me to thank them all, but there are some individuals that were indispensable to the production, whom I wish to acknowledge.

A big thank you to Heidi Melocco, Producer and Director, who was willing to take a chance with me and jump into the TV world with both feet running. To Stephen Schott, Producer, Director, Camera and Editor; often the only male on our shoots, Steve put up with a lot! His patience, work ethic and vision have been invaluable to me. To Rich Moorhead, 2nd camera and supportive husband, willing to jump in and take on any job and whose business acumen I rely on heavily.

To Cheryl Lee, my dear friend, wardrobe wrangler and style advisor for all 11 years and 260 episodes (trust me, I am not an easy person to style up!). To Lucy Achenbach, Tanya Cody and Twyla Walker-Collins, all of whom appeared int eh show throughout the eleven years, for their excellent help as assistant trainers, helping the horses and patiently working with cast members behind the scenes (the latter more challenging). To Susie Donaldson, key grip and editor’s assistant, who has a keen eye for details and who was always looking for ways to make the show better. And Jackie Marks, key grip on many shoots—thank you for keeping everyone calm and on-track. Thank you to my dear friend, Sharon Gilbert (S1: E3), key grip, on-set guidance counselor to everyone and someone’s who’s insight I always value.

Gratitude to my invaluable Salida staff who always keeps my wheels turning—Twyla Walker-Collins (S11: E7-9) Megan Fischer, Diana Hatfield and Melissa Arnold (S4: E6). They’ve contributed a lot to the series over the years, and they come to work every day with smiles on their faces, eager to help with whatever crazy project I concoct.

To Brenda Beach, Shawntel Gallegos-Wilson, Alisa Reniker, Mary Ann Page, Madison DeCook, Lucy Koehler, Dawn Hurlbert, Carolyn Nyland, Sddita Blackburn, Pi Poletta, Bill Bekkering, Gwen Van Dorp, Rosie Sweatt, Dawn Roberge, Tami and Eddie Leedy, Debbie and Mark Gould. Thank you all for being excellent grips and for giving us your time and energy on multiple shoots. There were many local volunteers, too numerous to mention here, whose help on shoots we were grateful for and who appear in the credits. You are not forgotten!

Without the 260 brave souls who appeared on the show as cast members and brought their horses to me, we would never have had such an interesting show. Thank you for your courage to apply and your willingness to give us two days of your life. I hope you and your horse remember your time on Horse Master fondly and that you continue to pursue your dreams. The names of our cast members, two- and four-legged, appear in the show and in the credits, so we will always remember you!

A special shout out goes to Myler Bits and Toklat Originals, our presenting sponsors and two companies I love partnering with because they understand importance of educating horse owners, to help horses. Dale Myler, world-renowned expert on bits, contributed to many shows and taught us a lot, starring in two episodes each year from 2011 to 2018 and helping us with many other episodes. Anyone who watches the entire series knows that through the years I changed the bits on many, many horses. We changed bits so often that sometimes we didn’t we forgot to mention it. All three of the Myler brothers have dedicated their lives to making bits better for horses, and you can witness the profound impact this has on horses in many of the Horse Master episodes. Thank you to Toklat for supporting our production and for supplying bits to the horses that needed them.

Troxel Helmets also supported the show and its mission to promote safe riding practices and make helmet-wearing cool, by donating beautiful and sporty equestrian helmets to all the cast members and me. That was a lot of helmets over past 11 years. 326 of them, to be exact! Riders everywhere (and their friends and families) thank you. I am also happy to report that other than a few nips and kicks here and there, we never had any serious injuries to horses or people during 37 shoots, over 11 years. Thank you to ALL the cast and crew for keeping your focus on safety.

We recorded Horse Master in some incredibly scenic locations, from Martha’s Vineyard (S2) to the Napa Valley (S3). All the locations were amazing and welcoming, but some places were so perfect that we went back, again and again. A special thanks to the White Stallion Ranch, Tucson AZ, and the True Family. It’s an incredible guest ranch in the Sonoran Desert, with huge Saguaro cacti looming in the background (and the only place we could reliably shoot in the middle of winter). They were so good to us that we shot there seven times (S5-11)! I’d also like to thank the Grand Oaks Equestrian Resort in Weirsdale FL, for their scenic location, exceptional facilities, fabulous accommodations and gracious hospitality (S1, 10, 11). We might have shot there one more time, if not for the hurricane!

And finally, I’d like to thank all the horses, Seasons one through eleven and Episodes 1-260—without them, there would have been no show. They never volunteered to be on the show, but we treated them like stars anyway. We learned a lot from every one of the horses and they did their best to make us better people. In turn, we did our best to help every horse that we could, by teaching their people something. Horse Master always was, and continues to be, all about helping horses, one human at a time.

February 2019 Letter from Julie

horse life with Julie goodnight

Dear friends,

This year is off to a roaring start for me, with an early trip to Denver for the WESA market show (a trade show for buyers and sellers of horse-related products). It’s a great opportunity to network and strategize with corporate partners, and to see innovative new products that are coming on the market. Then toward the end of the January, I headed to Miami Beach, to an international market show for television content, where we met with content buyers from around the globe who are interested in airing Horse Master. This brings me to the exciting news I’m announcing here first. After 11 years and producing 260 episodes of Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, I’ve decided to bring the series to a close. Most people would agree that it’s a long run for a TV series and I am grateful to all the fans who supported the show. I’m sad to see it ending, but we’ve covered a lot of subjects, met hundreds of people and their horses, and visited some interesting places. It’s a significant body of work that lives on, playing on various platforms and networks, and streaming online at TV.juliegoodnight.com. For this month’s blog, I’ve written about my experiences with Horse Master, how we made the show, the most memorable episodes, and acknowledging all the people who helped me along the way. Later this month, you’ll get a link to my podcast, where I’ll share details of the horses that stand out most in my mind and the hilarious and poignant stories, as they unfolded behind the scenes. Thank you to all the loyal viewersand sponsors of Horse Master—you’ve kept me going all these years, through your encouraging comments and support. I promise not to disappoint you—I’ve got a new series in the works that I know you’re going to love, about the people, culture and lifestyle surrounding horses. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for the latest news on our new series, Horse Life with Julie Goodnight!

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

January 2019: Horse Report


At the moment, all my horses are healthy and sound (knock on wood), but we’ve been contending with injuries and various lameness issues rotating through my herd.

Dually is looking better than he has in a long, long time. Just when I had given up on being able to ride him again, he seems to be sound! I still won’t ride him, but I’m going to start some light exercise with him to see if we can get him in condition. If he holds up well, I may be able to use him on occasion for some “cameo” work.

After Annie’s stifle injury in October, she received IRAP treatment, rest and rehab, and is now 100% and fit as a fiddle. She’s fallen into the role of my go-to horse (although Dually remains #1 in my heart).

Eddie and Rich are training for mounted shooting, but the competition was cancelled this month due to a snow storm.

Then there is my little red-headed Pepperoni, now a 3-year-old, who continues to make me laugh on a daily basis. Poor Pepper also had a bout with a sprained stifle. Like Annie, he had IRAP injections, rest and rehab. On his follow-up visit last week, Dr. Potter pronounced Pepper 100% sound.

Be careful what you wish for! Pepper is back to his enthusiastic self—sometimes still a bit of a handful—I call his third gait the “Buckalope.” But he is coming along nicely, figuring out his world—the way I want it to be—which he is not always in agreement with. So far, I have prevailed in every debate.

I’m still undecided on whether or not I can get him ready for the futurity in April, but I will forge ahead and see where we are in a month.

Back to Basics: Part 2, Square-One in the Riding Arena


When a horse’s training is either lacking or confused, we often talk about going “back to basics.” Last month, I talked about basic training from the ground—and how important it is to have a well-mannered, attentive and cooperative horse on the ground—before moving up to training under-saddle. If being on the ground with the horse is a harrowing experience, why on earth would I want to ride him?

Assuming you’ve got your horse squared away from the ground, let’s look at what going back to square one means in mounted training means. Horses may have this need for a variety of reasons, and consequently, my focus may be different too. But we can rely on the methodology of classical training for a sure-fire recipe for success. After all, it’s worked for thousands of years. I’d like to introduce you to three imaginary horses and show you what each step of the journey looks like, when going back to square one in a saddle horse.

I’m purposefully leaving out abused and traumatized horses from this back-to-basics discussion. Traumatized or psychologically damaged horses are special cases and their training plan needs to be customized entirely for the needs of that horse, given his individual level of fear and emotionality. Obviously, these horses need time and patience, and their volatility may make them more dangerous to handle. If you’re working with this type of horse, you should get expert, hands-on help.

What Horses are We Talking About?
A horse might be completely uneducated and inexperienced, like the clean slate of a colt or filly that’s never been ridden. He/she knows nothing about being ridden, balancing a rider, rating speed, responding to cues or what is required. He doesn’t even have a reason to dislike being ridden or think of it as drudgery yet. This is the easiest kind of horse to train, because he hasn’t learned any wrong things yet. We’ll call this horse, Junior.

Another horse for which back-to-basics training would be useful, is a horse that is “broke” but not trained. He’s fully accustomed to being saddled, mounted and ridden, but he never went to high school. Maybe he’s a ranch horse or trail horse, but he’s been well-handled, taught good manners from the ground, developed a good work ethic and is obedient while being ridden—he just doesn’t know much. Depending on how long this horse has been ridden, he may have some engrained bad habits or improper responses that need replacing, like leaning into turns or stiffening the neck with rein contact, but otherwise, he just needs to learn new, more advanced skills. We’ll call this horse Cowboy.

A common situation that often leads to a horse going back to square one in his training, is the horse that has been ridden many times, perhaps for years, but has become “spoiled” and is prone to tantrums and disobedient behavior. He’s learned the wrong things. He may have even learned clever strategies for manipulating or intimidating the rider, like bucking at canter or spinning and bolting. This horse is harder to train because he’s learned nasty tricks, we wish no horse would ever learn (and there’s no such thing as UN-learning; once he knows it, he knows it). For every time he’s benefitted from his bad behavior, we’ll have to add two or three experiences (or 10 or 20) where he doesn’t. Undesirable behaviors must be replaced with more desirable behaviors, and repetition must occur until the desired response becomes engrained. If the horse returns to the conditions that caused the undesirable behavior in the first place, the horse will revert fast. We’ll call this horse, Treasure.

Junior, Cowboy and Treasure, are three typical horses that need to go back to basics in their training. The tenants of classical horse training that stretch back thousands of years in our history, give us great guidelines for advancing a horse’s training. Here, I’ll share the primary steps I would take in back-to-basics training of the saddle horse, and how I would apply it to each of our three recruits.

STEP ONE: Forward Motion is the Basis of All Training
A horse must move willingly forward when asked. A horse that will not move freely forward cannot be trained. A horse that refuses to move forward is disobedient.

Junior: In the beginning, this is almost all we do—go, go, go somewhere. I want the youngster to step right out and know that we may keep going for some time. I’m always looking ahead, riding with a destination in mind (even in the arena) and riding purposefully. He needs to learn to balance the rider in all gaits and most importantly, that he must keep going, without me pedaling, until I ask him to stop.

Cowboy: He’s well beyond Junior in this regard. For Cowboy, this step means refining our cues for upward transitions, learning to canter without a fast trot or cue for a particular lead. I may be working Cowboy in the arena a lot, so we may also be establishing basics like not cutting corners or speeding up/slowing down at the gate.

Treasure: This could go one of two ways, depending on Treasure’s temperament. One, he might be lazy and refusing to move forward. This could be a big hurdle to overcome, but no training can proceed until we get him moving willingly. I’ll focus on nothing else other than keeping the horse going forward for a while, admonishing him when he tries to quit. Two, if Treasure is the high-energy sort, this is going to be more about containing the forward motion, riding it out his forwardness and smoothing out upward transitions.

STEP TWO: Straightness
A horse must always travel on the path dictated by the rider; he doesn’t get to decide where he goes. Furthermore, he must be straight through his whole body (nose to tail), on straight lines, in turns and on circles.

Junior: At first, on a previously un-ridden horse, there’s not much in the way of power steering or precision—I’m lucky if I wind up in the general vicinity of the target. Although I’m always riding forward with energy, looking ahead and riding purposefully, we will change directions a lot (cueing first with my eyes, so he starts learning to follow my gaze). With every change of direction, I have a little more control. Gradually we add increasingly long stretches of straight lines (an even greater challenge), first o the rail, then without that aid.

Cowboy: He does better on straight lines, than on turns. Cowboy is ready to carry “straightness” into turns and circles, without dropping his shoulder and leaning into the turn. We’ll focus more on the precision end of straightness: riding challenging straight lines, bending on half circles, serpentines and full circles. As he comes into higher levels of training, we’ll focus more on lifting the shoulder and arcing through his ribcage.

Treasure: For this horse, straightness is more about obedience than power steering. Chances are good, he’s learned (wrongly) that he has some say in where he goes and where he doesn’t go. I’m paying close attention to things like cutting corners, pulling toward the gate/barn/buddy. I may test him by putting him on a long straight line, next to the far fence, then lay my hands on his neck (to neutralize the reins) and see what he does with the freedom. If he immediately diverts and heads where he wants to go, I know he is in a disobedient and opportunistic frame of mind. This step is more about reshaping his opinion of what I expect of him, teaching him that his tactics won’t work on me.

STEP THREE: Obedience to the Aids
At every level of training, obedience to the aids means something a little different. At first, it’s simply about controlling direction and speed, establishing basic control and a developing a compliant horse. Then we move on to complete nose-to-tail body control, collection, lateral movements and other advanced maneuvers. All the while, shaping the horse’s work ethic and nurturing the horse’s try.

Junior: Gradually, I start requiring Junior to maintain the speed I ask for in all gaits, without my help. For a while, we will continue to focus on forward movement, and when I do introduce collection (impeding the horse’s forward movement), it will be at a very low level. As we do more turns and circles, we start working on bending and control of the shoulders (the hardest part of the horse to control). Slowly, I start introducing lateral movements—haunches-in, shoulder-in, leg yielding. I will take my time and go slowly here, because I know foundational skills must be learned well, before moving on to more advanced stuff.

Cowboy: This will be the most meaningful step in Cowboy’s back-to-basics training. He’s ready for collection at all gaits, I just need to show him what I want and condition him both mentally and physically for the task. I’ll focus a lot on shoulder control with leg yields, turns and pivots. Obedience to the aids for Cowboy also means improving upward and downward transitions, so I’ll start getting more demanding there too.

Treasure: By now, my hope is that this horse has come to a better understanding of what my expectations are and what I consider inappropriate and disobedient. Obedience to the aids for Treasure is both mental and physical. I’ve been working with him in such a way that makes him want to please me—to stay on my good side (ain’t nobody happy , if mamma ain’t happy). I want every part of his body to stay exactly on the path I dictate, and I should not have to hold him on a path or hold him in a speed—that’s his responsibility. I need him to be present at all times, either focused on me or focused on nothing, not looking outside the arena or worrying about other horses. Often, for horses like Treasure, once I resolve his learned disobedience and establish clear parameters for his behavior, the previous (positive) training the horse had (if any) will surface once again.

The classical progression in horse training has been around for thousands of years—it’s a proven recipe for success. However, every horse is different in his talents and attributes, his temperament, and his life experience (that may have been good, bad or nonexistent). It’s important to progress in an orderly fashion and not cut corners—that’s why “slower is faster” when it comes to training horses. Often, when horses need to go “back to basics,” it’s because shortcuts were taken and there are holes in the horse’s foundational training.

While starting a horse under-saddle (getting him used to the tack and the weight of the rider) goes quickly, thorough training to the highest levels takes years. Some horses will naturally progress faster than others (usually the clean slate variety), but all horses are extremely fast learning animals. Unfortunately, that means they learn wrong things quickly too, so sometimes our time is spent undoing the wrong things the horse has learned. The holes will have to be filled, before higher level training occurs. You can’t build a skyscraper on a shaky foundation.

There’s one more important consideration when you think about the fact that horses are exceptionally fast-learning animals. When the student (the horse) fails to learn or learns the wrong things, it is not the student that should be blamed, but the teacher. When a horse is not learning new concepts quickly, it is the rider’s technique that needs to improve.

When a horse’s training is either lacking or confused, we often talk about going “back to basics.” Last month, I talked about basic training from the ground—and how important it is to have a well-mannered, attentive and cooperative horse on the ground—before moving up to training under-saddle. If being on the ground with the horse is a harrowing experience, why on earth would I want to ride him?

Assuming you’ve got your horse squared away from the ground, let’s look at what going back to square one means in mounted training. Horses may have this need for a variety of reasons, and consequently, my focus may be different too. But we can rely on the methodology of classical training for a sure-fire recipe for success. After all, it’s worked for thousands of years. I’d like to introduce you to three imaginary horses and show you what each step of the journey looks like, when going back to square one with a saddle horse.

I’m purposefully leaving out abused and traumatized horses from this back-to-basics discussion. Traumatized or psychologically damaged horses are special cases and their training plan needs to be customized entirely for the needs of that horse, given his individual level of fear, aggression and emotionality. Obviously, these horses need time and patience, and their volatility may make them more dangerous to handle. If you’re working with this type of horse, you should get expert, hands-on help.

What Horses are We Talking About?
A horse might be completely uneducated and inexperienced, like the clean slate of a colt or filly that’s never been ridden. He/she knows nothing about being ridden, balancing a rider, rating speed, responding to cues or what is required. He doesn’t even have a reason to dislike being ridden or think of it as drudgery yet. This is the easiest kind of horse to train, because he hasn’t learned any wrong things yet. We’ll call this horse, “Junior.”

Another horse for which back-to-basics training would be useful, is a horse that is “broke” but not trained. He’s fully accustomed to being saddled, mounted and ridden, but he never went to high school. Maybe he’s a ranch horse or trail horse, but he’s been well-handled, taught good manners from the ground, developed a good work ethic and is obedient while being ridden—he just doesn’t know much. Depending on how long this horse has been ridden, he may have some engrained bad habits or improper responses that need replacing, like leaning into turns or stiffening the neck with rein contact, but otherwise, he just needs to learn new, more advanced skills. We’ll call this horse “Cowboy.”

A common situation that often leads a horse back to square one in his training, is the horse that has been ridden many times, perhaps for years, but has become “spoiled” and is prone to tantrums and disobedient behavior. He’s learned the wrong things and gotten away with a lot. He may have learned clever strategies for manipulating or intimidating the rider, like bucking at canter or spinning and bolting. This horse is harder to train because he’s learned nasty tricks, we wish no horse would ever learn (there’s no such thing as UN-learning; once he knows it, he knows it). For every time he’s benefitted from his disobedient behavior, we’ll have to add two or three experiences (or 10 or 20) where he doesn’t. Undesirable behaviors must be replaced with more desirable behaviors, and repetition must occur until the desired response becomes engrained. If the horse returns to the conditions that caused the undesirable behavior in the first place, the horse will revert fast. We’ll call this horse, “Treasure.”

Junior, Cowboy and Treasure, are three typical horses that need to go back to basics in their training. The tenants of classical horse training that stretch back thousands of years in our history, give us meaningful guidelines for advancing a horse’s training. Here, I’ll share the primary steps I would take in back-to-basics training of the saddle horse, and how I would apply it to each of our three recruits.

STEP ONE: Forward Motion is the Basis of All Training
A horse must move willingly forward when asked, for as long as you require. A horse that will not move freely forward cannot be trained. If his refusal to move forward is disobedience (and not a physical issue); then no other training will occur until you get past this stage.

Junior: In the beginning, this is almost all we do—go, go, go somewhere. I want the youngster to step right out and know that we may keep going for some time. I’m always looking ahead, riding with a destination in mind (even in the arena) and riding purposefully. He needs to learn to balance the rider in all gaits and most importantly, that he must keep going, without me pedaling, until I ask him to stop.

Cowboy: He’s well beyond Junior in this regard. For Cowboy, this step means refining our cues for upward transitions, learning to canter without a fast trot or cue for a particular lead. I may be working Cowboy in the arena a lot, so we may also be establishing basics like not cutting corners or speeding up/slowing down at the gate.

Treasure: This could go one of two ways, depending on Treasure’s temperament. One, he might be lazy and refusing to move forward. This could be a big hurdle to overcome, but no training can proceed until we get him moving willingly. I’ll focus on nothing else other than keeping the horse going forward for a while, admonishing him when he tries to quit. Two, if Treasure is the high-energy sort, this is going to be more about containing the forward motion, riding it out his forwardness and smoothing out upward transitions.

STEP TWO: Straightness
A horse must always travel on the path dictated by the rider; he doesn’t get to decide where he goes. Furthermore, he must be straight through his whole body (nose to tail), on straight lines, in turns and on circles.

Junior: At first, on a previously un-ridden horse, there’s not much in the way of power steering or precision—I’m lucky if I wind up in the general vicinity of the target. Although I’m always riding forward with energy, looking ahead and riding purposefully, we will change directions a lot (cueing first with my eyes, so he starts learning to follow my gaze). With every change of direction, I have a little more control. Gradually we add increasingly long stretches of straight lines (an even greater challenge), first o the rail, then without that aid.

Cowboy: He does better on straight lines, than on turns. Cowboy is ready to carry “straightness” into turns and circles, bending his body without dropping his shoulder and leaning into the turn. We’ll focus more on the precision end of straightness: riding challenging straight lines off the rail, bending on half circles, serpentines and full circles. As he comes into higher levels of training, we’ll focus more on lifting the shoulder and arcing through his ribcage.

Treasure: For this horse, straightness is more about obedience than power steering. Chances are good, he’s learned (wrongly) that he has some say in where he goes and where he doesn’t go. I’m paying close attention to things like cutting corners, pulling toward the gate/barn/buddy. I may test him by putting him on a long straight line, next to the far fence, then lay my hands on his neck (to neutralize the reins) and see what he does with the freedom. If he immediately diverts and heads where he wants to go, I know he is in a disobedient and opportunistic frame of mind. This step is more about reshaping his opinion of what I expect of him, that I control direction and speed, and teaching him that his tactics won’t work on me.

STEP THREE: Obedience to the Aids
At every level of training, obedience to the aids means something a little different. At first, it’s simply about controlling direction and speed, establishing basic control and developing a compliant horse. Then we move on to complete nose-to-tail body control, collection, lateral movements and other advanced maneuvers. All the while, shaping the horse’s work ethic and nurturing the horse’s try.

Junior: Gradually, I start requiring Junior to maintain the speed I ask for in all gaits, without my help. For a while, we will continue to focus on forward movement, and when I do introduce collection (putting restraints on the horse’s forward movement), it will be at a very low level. As we do more turns and circles, we start working on bending and control of the shoulders (the hardest part of the horse to control). Slowly, I start introducing lateral movements—haunches-in, shoulder-in, leg yielding. I will take my time and go slowly here, because I know foundational skills must be learned well, before moving on to more advanced stuff.

Cowboy: This will be the most meaningful step in Cowboy’s back-to-basics training. He’s ready for collection at all gaits, I just need to show him what I want and condition him both mentally and physically for the task. I’ll focus a lot on shoulder control with leg yields, turns and pivots. Obedience to the aids for Cowboy also means improving upward and downward transitions, so I’ll start getting more demanding there too.

Treasure: By now, my hope is that Treasure has come to a better understanding of my expectations and what I consider inappropriate and disobedient behavior. Obedience to the aids for Treasure is both mental and physical. I’ve been working with him in such a way that makes him want to please me—to stay on my good side (ain’t nobody happy, if mamma ain’t happy). I want every part of his body to stay exactly on the path I dictate, and I should not have to hold him on a path or hold him in a speed—that’s his responsibility. I need him to be present at all times, either focused on me or focused on nothing, not looking outside the arena or worrying about other horses. Often, for horses like Treasure, once I resolve his learned disobedience and establish clear parameters for his behavior, the previous (positive) training the horse had (if any) will surface once again.

The classical progression in horse training has been around for thousands of years—it’s a proven recipe for success. However, every horse is different in his talents, attributes, temperament, and life experience (which may have been good, bad or nonexistent). It’s important to progress in an orderly fashion and not cut corners—that’s why “slower is faster” when it comes to training horses. Often, when horses need to go “back to basics,” it’s because shortcuts were taken and there are holes in the horse’s foundational training.

While starting a horse under-saddle (getting him used to the tack and balancing the rider) goes quickly, thorough training to the highest levels takes years. Some horses will naturally progress faster than others (usually the clean slate variety), but all horses are extremely fast learning animals. Unfortunately, that means they learn wrong things quickly too, and often our time is spent undoing the wrong things the horse has learned. The holes will have to be filled, before higher level training occurs. You can’t build a skyscraper on a shaky foundation.

There’s one more important consideration, if you think about the fact that horses are exceptionally fast-learning animals. When the student (the horse) fails to learn or learns the wrong things, it is not the student that should be blamed, but the teacher. When a horse is not learning new concepts quickly, it’s generally the rider’s technique that needs to improve.

January 2019 Letter from Julie


Dear friends,

I’m not one to look in the rearview mirror for too long—I’m too pre-occupied with what’s in front of me. I’ve got so many exciting new projects coming to fruition this year, and I’m thrilled the time has finally arrived.

In many ways, 2019 will look the same for me—traveling to expos and clinics to teach people and train horses, writing/recording/videoing to produce more great content for horse lovers, going on-location to tape more TV shows. But I’m always looking for the next great adventure, so I am going off-trail a little this year too—working on productions that go beyond training horses and into the culture, history and lifestyle of the equestrian world; working with innovative programs like The Right Horse Initiative to address equine homelessness; and exploring more international opportunities.

I’m excited for what this new year has in store for me—and for you too! Soon, it will be time to make plans and set new horsemanship goals for the upcoming riding season. If you haven’t given this some thought yet, you’d better get started! Later this month, I’ll share with you my training goals for my horses for 2019, and I hope to inspire you to set some lofty goals for you and your horse, too.

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

December 2018 Horse Report

Now that I am home for an extended period, I’m getting a little more time with my horses. I’m happy to report that my old man, Dually, is feeling well and trotting sound. I don’t think I’ll be riding him, but it’s great to know he feels good.

Rich and Eddie continue to work on their aim with mounted shooting. With one schooling shoot under their belts, their training goals have gained some clarity, and they are busy getting ready for the next shoot.

My youngster, Pepperoni, is proving to be a “chip off the old block.” His sire, Peptoes, is a fine looking stallion from the renowned Spur Cross Ranch, and it appears that Pepper is a lot like him. He’s still a green-bean, however, and has a long way to go to fill his daddy’s shoes.

Currently we are working on 1) going forward, 2) going straight, 3) transitions-transitions-transitions, and 4) starting to introduce a tad of collection at the trot (it will be a while before he is ready for collection at canter). I need to chart out a training plan for him on paper (there’re lots of charts in my head), so that we have a clear training path to prepare for the futurity he is registered for in April. And that sounds like a good New Year’s Resolutions sort of thing, so expect to see a more detailed plan, this time next month!

Back to Basics (Part 1)

Julie doing groundwork with a fractious horse.

“It’s time to go back to Square One.” This is a phrase we often throw out when a horse has developed undesirable behaviors, or the handler has lost all authority and control of the horse. But like many things in horsemanship, it is far easier said than done. Getting back to basics or going back to square one in your training may mean different things to different people, but to me it means starting at the beginning—the most basic level of training.

When a previously well-behaved and well-trained horse goes rogue, it often stems from poor leadership and poor handling on the human side of the equation. Perhaps it has escalated into rude, disrespectful or even aggressive behavior from the horse, but it started with the actions of the human. Sometimes, a horse that is poorly behaved on the ground was never really taught proper behavior, or worse, was inadvertently taught to do the wrong things. Either way, we must go back to the beginning and re-establish rules of behavior, ground manners and our expectations of the horse.

In most clinics that I do, there are a handful of horses that fit into this category. For whatever reasons, the relationship between the person and the horse is contentious. Sometimes this results in a horse that is indifferent to the owner—ignoring her requests, walking all over her and paying attention to everything around him except the handler. But when this condition persists, it can result in a horse that becomes disdainful of the handler and may act out in aggressive or volatile ways. While the behavior of the horse definitely needs to be addressed, unless the person changes the way they handle the horse, retraining the horse is futile.

Whether a horse is untrained (has never been taught how to act) or is poorly trained (has actively been taught the wrong things), if he doesn’t learn proper manners, he may become unpleasant and unsafe, in short order. Horses are herd animals that know how to get along, know how to follow rules, and know how to respect authority. It is up to the handler to set the rules of behavior for the horse and provide the leadership the horse needs, in order to respect the authority.

If I am taking a horse back to square one in ground handling, there is a very clear progression I would take, starting with the most critical issues and progressing to complete mind and body control; sussing out the holes in the horse’s training and filling them in before moving onto the next thing. Turning a horse into a model citizen and one that’s pleasant and safe to be around, doesn’t happen accidentally. It comes from systematic training, consistent reinforcement and high expectations.

Step One—Control Space
My first concern, if I am handling an unruly horse from the ground, is always about me and my space. Does the horse have deference for my space? Will he move out of my space expeditiously when I ask? After a lifetime of handling horses, I’ve learned to be very clear on this subject with any horse I handle. If he moves any part of his body (nose, shoulder, hip) toward me, I will address it immediately.

Most horses that I handle learn to respect my space very fast. I am VERY protective of my space. If you’ve met me face-to-face, you may have noticed that I am not very big. The last thing I want to do, is be around a horse that is moving into my space or slinging his head and shoulders toward me. Generally, within a few minutes, the horse I am handling becomes very clear on my boundaries. You must define your space (for me, it’s as far as I can reach around me, with my arms outstretched), and make it clear to your horse where the boundary is.

Horses are very good at understanding space; people are not very good at defining and defending their own boundaries. Horses can be very clever about invading your space in subtle ways, so be diligent. The next step is to make sure the horse yields to your space—meaning he backs away when you move toward him. He moves respectfully out of your bubble when you move your bubble closer to him. He shows concern about where you are and is careful not to come too close to you.

Once you are in control of the horse’s space, you will know it. The horse will have deference for you then. He will watch you and be concerned about what you are doing and whether or not he should react in some way. I have no interest in moving forward with a horse’s training, until he shows some deference and has some respect for my authority.

Step Two—Control Direction and Speed
The next thing I need my unruly horse to learn is that I control where he goes and how fast he gets there—not him. This is a critical step in ground handling and it will carry over in a big way to mounted work too. In both instances, we need the horse to understand that he doesn’t get to do whatever he wants. Trust me, you don’t want a thousand-pound flight animal thinking he has a choice over where he goes and how fast he gets there!
To show the horse that I control direction and speed, I simply need to change direction and change speed a lot. In the round pen, this would mean turning the horse around frequently. I am very particular about which way the horse turns—starting with the outside turn (turning away from me), to emphasize him moving out of my space.

If I am working the horse in-hand, from a lead line (using at least a 12’ training lead, and preferably a 15’ lead), I’ll be turning the horse away from me (turning to the right if I am leading form the left), making sure his whole body is moving away from me in the turn and not just his nose. A critical concept to remember in horse training is, every time you change the direction of the horse, you gain more authority.

Once the horse understands that I control his direction, I want to start altering his speed. I’ll walk slowly, making sure the horse alters his speed to match mine; then walk faster, making sure the horse makes an effort to catch up. Another critical concept to remember in horse training: all of training occurs in transitions. The more I ask for changes of speed, the more responsive the horse becomes.

Step Three- Manners and Expectations
With the previous two steps, I gained deference from my horse and established control of him. Now it’s time to teach him how I expect him to act around me. My herd; my rules. Horses are very good at learning and following rules, because that is what herd life is like. When rules are clearly defined and consistently enforced, horses learn the rules fast.
If it is a trained horse I am dealing with, one of the first rules I will teach the horse is, “Don’t move your feet unless I tell you to.” I teach him to stand perfectly still, like a statue, when I ask him to. To me, it’s not enough to make the feet of the horse move. I must also be able to make them hold still. Moving the feet of a flight animal should not be hard; but making them hold still can be a challenge sometimes.

The second rule of behavior I teach the horse is, “Keep your nose in front of your chest at all times I am around you.” No looking around. No moving your nose toward me (you’ll never have a horse that bites if you never allow him to move his nose toward you). When a horse is busy looking around, he’s looking for a way out or for something to react to (or he’s just being a busy-body). Either way, he’s not paying attention to me. If he’s looking for a way out, he’s telling me he’s not there for me. I need him to know that leaving is not an option. In short order, a horse I am handling learns that he has two choices: focus on me or focus on nothing.

Once these more fundamental expectations are made clear, I move onto more of a refinement level of training from the ground. I’ll work on the horse’s leading manners, making sure he is vigilant about my space, that he rates his speed off me and that he turns well and never leans his shoulder into me. We’ll also work on standing tied, quietly and patiently (lots of time at the “patience post”), feet handling, trailer loading and tacking up.

The End Result
This kind of “back to basics” training can transform a horse rapidly, if the handler has good training skills. A trained horse that has learned to act poorly because of bad handling, will respond in just minutes when faced with a skilled trainer and competent leader. An uneducated horse will learn proper manners with just a little more time and will become a model citizen fast, when handled consistently in this way.

The specific training techniques I would use to accomplish these steps are clearly detailed in my two training videos, Round Pen Reasoning and Leadline Leadership (available both in DVD and VOD). The mechanics of your training are very important—the progression, the techniques, the response of the horse. You must use clear and consistent cues, with effective reinforcement and appropriate amounts of discipline and praise. When you do, the horse responds rapidly.

Just as in the case of spoiled, poorly behaved children– it’s the parent and not the child that should be blamed for the poor behavior– the same could be said of poorly behaved horses. Either they don’t know how to act and are acting in a way that seems most appropriate to them, or, they’ve been inadvertently taught to act the wrong way (sort of like giving a lollipop to a child that is throwing a fit in the grocery store). Ultimately, the way a horse behaves is a reflection of his handler.

Going back to square one in your ground training, should result in a happier, more compliant horse. Before I move on to addressing training under-saddle, I want to make sure all these steps have been accomplished. And when they are, we’ll move onto “Back to Basics” in our mounted work.

December 2018 Letter from Julie

Dually behind a snowy fence.

Dear friends,

Although I’m sad this year is coming to a close, I’m excited about next year. I’ve got exciting changes in store for 2019, with a few pet projects of mine coming to fruition. Stay tuned here for some big announcements coming your way next month!

Last month, I was in Myrtle Beach, SC, for the American Heart Association’s Annual Beach Ride—1200 horses, 2000 people and 600 dogs, camped for five days on the beach. I managed to borrow a few horses for Lucy, Amy and I to ride and we were able to complete the 16 mile fund-raiser ride (shortened from the normal 20 because of beach erosion). We had a blast!

I also spent a few days at Colorado State University last month, guest-teaching in some classes. I took Eddie and Pepperoni with me, so it was a little like going away to camp with my horses. It was fun to teach the behavior labs (don’t miss this month’s podcast) and also to work with students in “The Right Horse” training class. There are some fabulous horses ready for adoption that are graduating from that training class. I think a super nice pony from there is coming to live in my neighborhood.

This month, I’m headed to Kirksville, MO, for my final trip of the year, to lecture at the MO Livestock Symposium. It’s a free educational event for horse and livestock enthusiasts and I’m honored to be a contributor. I always enjoy more time at home this time of year.

We’ve had great snowfall so far, sand Rich and I have been taking advantage of awesome early-season ski conditions at Monarch Mountain.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!

Don’t forget to enjoy the ride,
Julie

November 2018 Horse Report

 

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Annie is fully recovered from her sprained stifle and is back in training and looking fit again! Prior to her injury, she was in great shape. She got soft fast with a few weeks of stall rest, but her conditioning is coming back fast.

Rich and Eddie have been preparing for their first Cowboy Mounted Shooting competition. Eddie seems to love this sport because it is easy for him to understand, and it takes the focus off of him. I’m excited to hear how he does at the shoot.

My little Pepperoni continues to light up my life. We are still working on the basics—go forward, go straight, no you cannot do whatever you want—but his talent is shining through. His spins and stops will be exceptional. Although we have a competition in April, I am not in a hurry with his training—he’s just a 2-year-old. He is quite easy to train and it’s worth taking him slowly so that he fully learns each skill, before moving onto the next. Keeping his training sessions fun and short will help keep his attitude positive.

I hauled him up to Colorado State University at the beginning of this week for some travel experience, along with Eddie to help babysit. I’m up here teaching and lecturing for several different classes in the Equine Science program, and I am looking forward to working with the students and having some dedicated quality time with my horses.

November 2018 Letter from Julie

Horses in a snowy field at Julie's ranch.

Horses in a snowy field at Julie's ranch.

Dear friends,

Snow storms, single-digit temperatures, hurricanes and “red tide” provided interesting challenges to my travels last month. From the high mountains of Colorado, to the gulf coast of Florida, Mother Nature made her presence known.

In spite of the challenges, we had a fabulous clinic at the C Lazy U Ranch (snow and single digits didn’t stop us). Then we traveled to south Georgia for the Sunbelt Ag Expo (temps in the 90s with 90% humidity made single the digits appealing). After that, I was off to the gulf coast of Florida for some fun in the sun (hurricane aftermath and red tide—but a resilient community).

This month, (probably as you read this!) I start off in Myrtle Beach SC, for the American Heart Association Beach Ride. I’m looking forward to conducting clinics and demos there and hanging out with all the dedicated people who have raised significant funds for this important organization.

Next, I head to Colorado State University with my ponies to work with the equine students up there (and get some quality time with my horses). At the end of the month, I’ll be in Kirksville for the Missouri Livestock Symposium, where I’ll be giving workshops on training and behavior.

Here at the ranch, we are ready for winter and hoping for a big snow year! Not only for the life-giving snowpack that brings us water, but also for the good times we have skiing.

Reward, Reinforcement and Punishment


Horses are intricate and complicated animals and their views and perceptions of the world around them can be quite different from our own. Being prey animals and flight animals, horses are highly sensitive to all forms of pressure: physical, mental and environmental. They are lightening fast learners, which can make them very easy to train or un-train. Unfortunately, horses learn the wrong things just as quickly as they learn the right things and we have to take responsibility for that.

Horses learn by making associations between one thing and another. Sometimes they make intended associations, like, “When I feel the rider close her legs on my sides, I should move my feet faster.” The horse has learned to associate the movement of the rider’s legs with the movement of his own legs. But sometimes they make unintended associations, like, “When I buck, the rider stops me.” In this example, the rider has reinforced the horse’s bucking, and the horse now associates bucking with what he wants—getting to stop.

Inadvertent associations by the horse and learning the wrong things cannot always be avoided. Having a more thorough understanding of how horses learn, what actions on your part may reinforce a response, and what actions may discourage a response will help keep your horse learning the right things. A horse is always learning, for better or for worse, but the more you understand how your horse perceives reward, reinforcement and punishment and their roles in training the horse, the more effective you will be.

Just Rewards
It is far too simplistic to think of giving a horse a treat as a reward. Waiting for a horse to give the correct response and then giving it a food-based reward, is an example of “positive reinforcement.” A positive reinforcer is something that is added to the equation. In general, horse trainers prefer to stay away from food-based rewards since horses also establish dominance by taking away food from others. Also, while it may be quite handy for training tricks to a horse, offering a food-based reward loses its practicality when training complicated and intricate maneuvers while riding the horse. To me, a pet on the neck, verbal praise and letting the horse rest are far more effective rewards.

Because horses are sensitive animals that feel pressure quite keenly, horses can also perceive a release of pressure as a reward. This is known as “negative reinforcement,” because pressure is removed when the horse gives the correct response—apply pressure, wait for the correct response, then remove the pressure. The release of pressure is the reward and this turns out to be the most expedient and practical means to train a horse, because they are so very sensitive to pressure of all kinds. Contrary to what many people think, negative reinforcement is not punishment, in fact, reinforcement is the opposite of punishment (more on that later).

One of the biggest problems the inexperienced/uneducated/unaware horse trainer has (anyone who handles a horse is either training it or un-training it, because of how quickly they learn) is rewarding a horse’s behavior unintentionally. Because a horse seeks safety and comfort more than anything else in this world, it’s quite easy to reward the wrong behavior.

A horse will always associate a release of pressure with his actions that immediately preceded the release. For example, let’s say you’re trying to load an uncooperative horse in a trailer and as you approach the trailer, he throws a wall-eyed fit. At that point, many people will stop, turn the horse away from the trailer and circle back in a second attempt. Unfortunately, what the horse learns is that when he throws a fit, you will take him away from the trailer. He does not make the association that after you circle him back, you approach again. It’s too late. In taking him away from the trailer (releasing the pressure) when he threw a fit, you rewarded the fit.

Releasing the pressure, allowing the horse to rest or allowing him to get closer to what he wants (safety) can all be perceived as a reward to the horse so it pays to be conscious of what the horse’s motivations are, what her perceives as a reward and how he interprets your actions.

Reinforcement Vs. Punishment
A reinforcement is an action that increases the likelihood of a response, while punishment decreases the likelihood of a response. There’s a very big difference in reinforcement and punishment. For example, if I ask a horse I am riding to turn by first looking in the direction of the turn, opening my shoulders and arms, twisting my torso and letting the signal sink all the way down to my feet, I have given him many cues to turn—none of which involved a pull on the reins. If he does not immediately turn his nose, I will give him a slight bump of the inside rein—a touch of his mouth—to reinforce the cue to turn that I just gave him. Look, turn my body, then bump the rein. The rein contact is the reinforcement and because I gave the cue first, then reinforced with the rein contact, it increases the likelihood of the response. The reins are reinforcement, not the cue. In very short order, through reinforcement, I have a horse that turns without rein pressure (a beautiful thing for both you and your horse).

Punishment is defined as an unpleasant action in retribution for an offense, designed to decrease the likelihood of a response. Let’s say a horse I am leading suddenly bites me. To me, this is a punishable offense because it is dominant and aggressive behavior that can easily progress to dangerous and deadly behavior in the horse. The horse bites (an offense) and I harshly admonish him in punishment. If I used good timing (the punishment came within a second of the offense) and adequate pressure in the punishment, the horse immediately associates his action (biting) with the punishment and therefore he learns biting me is not a good idea, thus decreasing the response.

But let’s look at another common example where the horse feels punished, but the rider didn’t intend to punish. When riders are learning to canter, they often have reluctance—afraid of the speed or a lack of control. At the moment the horse takes the first stride of canter, his head drops down into the bridle. In that moment, if the rider is fearful, she often clenches the reins and either fails to give the needed release or actively pulls up on the reins, causing the horse to run into the bit. In this moment, the rider has just punished the horse for doing something she asked the horse to do. Unfair? Absolutely. The action of the rider, although unintended, punishes the horse and decreases the likelihood of him picking up the canter next time he is asked.

While punishment may have its place in the training of a horse, particularly in dangerous behaviors, it has been shown not to be highly effective in the regular training of horses. Because horses are prey animals and flight animals, their fear level can be quite high. Training routine performance through punishment is therefore ineffective in horses because it can easily increase their fear level. Once a horse becomes fearful, he is not thinking well and therefore is not able to learn complex maneuvers.

Scientific research has shown us that “replacement training” is far more effective in eliminating undesirable behaviors in horses than punishment. For instance, if every time my horse tries to cut the corner of the arena or pull toward the center, I instantly turn him the opposite direction (into the fence), soon every time he thinks of turning toward the center, he thinks of turning the opposite way and picks himself up and starts moving in that direction. In this process, I have replaced one behavior (undesirable) with another (more desirable) in the horse and he thought his way through that, without fear.

Inadvertent or unintended rewards, reinforcements and/or punishments happen all the time with horses. Precisely because they are such fast learning animals, most poorly behaved horses have been trained to act that way by the unaware human. Thinking through the horse’s actions and motivations in the moment he is mis-behaving and enacting the appropriate response is not a simple matter. Accepting responsibility as the source of his misbehavior is unpalatable but necessary, if you hope to make progress.

It’s not always easy to know what the right thing is to do with a horse in the moment of his inappropriate response, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Understanding what the horse perceives as reward, what reinforces the behavior you want and what discourages that behavior will make you a better trainer. Understanding and accepting responsibility for your own mistakes, will make you a better person.