October 2019 Horse Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

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

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

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

Enjoy the ride,

Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herd Dynamics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships are Complicated

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

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

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

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

Forced Marriages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight or Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitigation Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2019 Horse Report

It’s been a busy month around my barn! We welcomed a new member into our herd. Well, Rich and I welcomed him. The other horses, not so much. Rich and Mel drove twelve hours to Montana, rode a bunch of horses, watched a bunch of roping and cow work, and then drove 12 hours home with the prize—Casper, a 6 y/o AQHA gelding, trained as a reiner but schooled in all phases of ranch work. He’s a lovely horse with a stellar temperament and Rich has already really bonded with him. I did have to lay down the law with Rich to say that Casper could not sleep in our bedroom.

We are letting Casper settle in slowly and get rested up after a long period of hard training and a long trip to his new home. But Casper has already starred in his first video! It was about reducing the static shock build-up in your blankets by using the right blanket wash and by spraying your horse with ShowSheen. Around my barn, horses have to be camera ready!

Pepper is recuperating from yet another injury, making me wonder, how big of a roll does bubble wrap come in? Honestly, I could be back to riding him now but I am taking some extra time to get him in better condition first. Between the green grass that’s lasted all summer, the lay-offs from injuries and my travel time, one of us has gotten a bit soft (and it isn’t me). I’ll spend about another week just doing conditioning groundwork, then I’ll start the same program under-saddle. Hopefully by this time next month, we’ll be back in full gear.

Meanwhile, my good horse Dually continues to rule the roost and look pretty—this is what he does best now, and we occasionally pull him out to model for the camera. Annie has become my #1 go-to horse rather reluctantly (it’s way more work than being #3). Although I like to joke about her marishness, I’m very happy to have such a lovely little mare who can do anything I ask and at a moment’s notice. She’s right-sized for me and a blast to ride, so what more can I ask? I can find something to love about any horse. Can you?

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!

Whole Food Options to Boost Protein Quality


Whole Food Options to Boost Protein Quality

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

Protein is not a popular subject. Most “nutrition-talk” revolves around carbohydrates – sugar and starch, to be specific, because they impact metabolic conditions that are a very real concern for many horse owners. We also talk about fat – types of fat, essential fatty acids, omega 3s, you know the terms – because horses require a daily supply of essential fatty acids and they also benefit from fat to fulfill high energy needs for weight gain and exercise.


But protein? Just check the “percent crude protein” and figure it’s enough, right? Not necessarily. There’s a lot more to it than that. To guide you, let’s start by looking at what happens to the protein in your forages and feeds, when your horse eats it.


Proteins in the feed are digested down to amino acids. There are 22 individual amino acids – “building blocks” your horse’s cells put together to create new proteins. There are literally hundreds of proteins in his body, all of which rely on not only enough total protein, but enough amino acid variability.


Forages have protein, but their variability is limited; they have lots of some amino acids and not much of others. If a single type of grass as hay or pasture is the only protein source in your horse’s diet, the pool of amino acids available to your horse’s body will be deficient in several amino acids, making it difficult for him to stay healthy.


Think of it like a beaded necklace


Imagine a bowl full of red, blue, yellow and green beads. You want to make a long necklace with a very specific color pattern. As you progress in stringing this necklace, you notice that you’ve run out of yellow beads. Uh oh… now you cannot make the necklace you planned. You either get more yellow beads, or you end up with a bracelet instead of a necklace!


Protein molecules are like long, beaded chains of amino acids, in a very specific order, depending on where the protein is located. Muscle protein looks different than joint proteins. Hemoglobin in red blood cells, looks different that digestive enzymes. The DNA within each tissue’s cells dictates the order of amino acids needed to produce that specific protein. If there are enough amino acids available, the protein can be created. If not, then that tissue goes without.


And what about all those unused amino acids – those red, blue and green beads?  Can’t they be saved for later in the hope that you’ll feed more “yellow beads?” Unfortunately, no. Instead, they get destroyed and cannot be used for protein synthesis. They can be used for energy, glucose production, or stored as fat, but that doesn’t meet your horse’s protein need


What about wild horses?


Horses in a wild setting travel for miles each day, grazing on a vast assortment of feedstuffs – grasses, legumes, flowers, fruits, berries, seeds, leaves, edible weeds, shrubs, and bark, offering a mixture of nutrients, including proteins. Can we duplicate this in a domesticated setting?  Not usually, unless you have many acres of untouched land. Therefore, our goal should be to improve the horse’s protein quality of the diet by offering more protein-rich feeds.


How do we know if we are creating a high-quality protein?


We need to pay attention to the amino acid profile of the entire diet. Of the 22 different amino acids, your horse’s body is only able to make 12. The remaining ten are considered essential, meaning the body cannot produce them, or cannot produce them in adequate quantity. Therefore, they must be in the diet. The 10 essential amino acids (EAAs) are methionine, arginine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, valine, and phenylalanine.


We do not know the specific requirements of each EAA for horses. The only one that has been evaluated is lysine, because it is considered “limiting.”  This simply means that the amount of proteins produced will be limited by the level of lysine. If lysine is low, it’s like not having enough yellow beads (going back to our beaded necklace analogy).


There are two other limiting amino acids: methionine and threonine. Exactly how much the horse requires is unknown, but we do have an idea of the levels relative to the lysine content. The general thinking among equine nutritionists is that there should be 2 to 3 times more lysine than methionine, and threonine content should be about the same as lysine.


Most animal proteins are higher in quality than those found in plants. This means that they contain more than enough amino acid building blocks to build tissues for vital organs as well as peripheral, non-vital tissues. But horses do not naturally consume animal protein sources, so we have to get a little creative by mixing several plant protein sources so that they ultimately reflect the amino acid profile of an animal source.


Most grasses have a similar amino acid profile. Cool season grasses, such as timothy, brome, orchardgrass, rye, fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass, tend to have more amino acids than warm season grasses, such as the popular Bermuda and Teff.  To improve the protein quality, you can add a legume such as alfalfa (lucerne), clover, and perennial peanut grass (grown in some southern areas of the US).


Consider adding whole foods to the mix


Adding alfalfa to grasses will certainly help, but many horse owners choose to avoid it.  Or even if you do include it, the EAA content may not be sufficient for your particular horse. For example, feeding 18 lbs of grass hay plus 4 lbs of alfalfa may meet the EAA need of an average horse on light activity, but it may not if the horse has any compromised health issues.


Adding whole foods to your horse’s diet will not only improve the overall protein quality, but can add valuable vitamins, antioxidants, trace minerals, and fatty acids that your horse might not otherwise consume. Here are some examples:


1) Dehulled soybean meal. This is the most commonly added protein source to commercial products. Economical and rich in protein (47%), it is easy to see why it is used to boost the protein content of many feeds and ration balancers. But there are several potential problems with soy:

  • Its fat content is high in linoleic acid (an omega 6 essential fatty acid) and low in alpha linolenic acid (an omega 3 essential fatty acid). High amounts of linoleic acid in the diet can increase inflammation.
  • Its high phytoestrogen content could possibly impact horses’ behavior
  • It is goitrogenic, meaning it has the potential to damage the thyroid gland, making it important to monitor iodine intake.
  • Many horses are allergic to soy, exhibiting respiratory and skin issues.
  • Unless organic, almost all soy grown in the US is genetically modified to withstand being sprayed with the herbicide, RoundUp (Bayer). Glyphosate, its active ingredient has been implicated in potentially damaging the microbiome and interfering with mineral absorption.


2) Hemp seeds. High in protein (32%), they contain two main proteins:  albumin and edestin. Both have significant amounts of all EAAs. Some other aspects of hempseeds:

  • They have both essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), as well as a special fatty acid known as gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA belongs to the omega 6 family, but unlike the omega 6 found in soybean oil, it reduces inflammation rather than promoting it.
  • They are easy to digest, and highly palatable (great for the picky eater).
  • Can be found as a hempseed meal (with some of the fat reduced to make it appropriate for an overweight horse), or as the whole hemp seed fines, which include the ground up fibrous coating.


3) Flax seeds. With 18% protein, they make a good choice to include in the diet (make sure they are ground). But their real claim to fame is their essential fatty acid content which duplicates those naturally found in fresh, healthy pasture grasses. (Remember, the word, “essential” means that they cannot be made by the body and must be in the diet.) Adding flax will therefore, serve two benefits: provides necessary essential fatty acids, and offers a source of protein to boost overall protein quality in the diet.


4) Chia seeds. They are comparable to flax seeds in their protein content and nearly identical to flax in their essential fatty acid content. In fact, you can feed either ground flax seeds, or chia seeds, depending on your budget and your horse’s preference.


5) Split peas and pea protein isolate. Peas that are dried and split are a tasty way to add protein and crunch to the diet. They can be fed raw, but it is good to soften them a bit by soaking them in warm water for a few minutes. Though the protein content is high (24%), it doesn’t compare to the protein content of pea protein isolate, with 75% protein. I recommend adding pea protein isolate to the diet for horses who require extra protein due to aging, growth, intense exercise needs, pregnancy, and lactation.


6) Coconut (copra) meal. A good source of protein (20%), it is low in sugar/starch, and high in fat, from coconut oil, making it a good choice for a horse who is underweight or is heavily exercised. Keep in mind that the fatty acid content of coconut oil does not include essential fatty acids, necessitating supplementation from an additional fat source (such as flax or chia).


7) Pumpkin seeds. A tasty treat, supplying 34% protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including a high amount of magnesium. They can be fed raw, hulled, or with the shells on.  When fed raw, they contain active digestive enzymes that are helpful for gastrointestinal tract.


8) Whey. Whey is a protein found in milk and is highly concentrated (80% protein). Because it is animal, and not plant, it is of very high quality. It can contain some lactose, and adult horses are lactose intolerant; therefore, they may develop loose manure.


9) Other feedstuffs:

  • Beet pulp is not concentrated in protein (only about 7%) but it is a worthwhile way to add a similar amount of calories as oats, without the concurrent insulin response that starch creates. It is a nice carrier feed for supplements. However, most beets grown in the US are genetically modified (GMO), so it is best to choose a non-GMO source.
  • Black oil sunflower seeds offer a similar level of protein as pumpkin seeds. However, they are very high in linoleic acid (omega 6) with virtually no omega 3s. Consequently, they can cause inflammation when fed in high amounts.

Please note: Whenever you add a new feed to your horse’s diet, it is important to starting slowly, taking two or three weeks to allow the hindgut microbial population to adjust.


Since each whole food has a difference density, the information below provides the volume measure equivalent to 4 ounces by weight of each product along with the protein grams.


  • Ground Hemp seeds: 1/2 cup; 30 grams of protein
  • Ground Flax seeds: 1 cup; 18 grams of protein
  • Chia seeds: 1/2 cup; 16 grams of protein
  • Split peas: 1 cup; 24 grams of protein
  • Pea protein isolate: 1/2 cup; 75 grams of protein
  • Copra meal: 1/2 cup; 20 grams of protein
  • Pumpkin seeds: 3/4 cup; 34 grams of protein
  • Whey: 1 cup; 73 grams of protein


How much protein does your horse require?


According to the National Research Council, protein requirements vary based on mature size, activity level, age of growing horses, and breeding status. On average, a 1100 lb (500 kg) adult horse at maintenance, will require a minimum of 630 grams of crude protein per day. As exercise increases, values can increase to approximately 1000 grams/day. Growing horses require more, and pregnancy and lactation can double the maintenance requirement.


But, and this is important… these values do not take into consideration that the amino acids in forages are not highly absorbed. The level of absorption is referred to as its biological value (BV).  The BV of pasture grasses and hays ranges from 45 to 80 percent.


That means that the NRC numbers may need to be increased by 20 to 55% to get a clear estimate of how much your horse is realistically absorbing. Here are some points to consider:

  • The higher the fiber, the lower the BV. If the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) value on your hay analysis report is much over 60% on a dry matter basis, the hay contains a large amount of fiber. In general, the more immature and softer the hay, the higher the BV.
  • Healthy, growing pasture grasses are higher in BV than they are during non-growing seasons.
  • If your horse is on ulcer medication (e.g., omeprazole, ranitidine, sucralfate), protein digestion and absorption will be diminished.
  • Inflammatory substances in the diet will diminish the protein’s BV. These can include vegetable oil/soybean oil, pesticides/herbicides, molasses, and high starch diets.


Bottom line


For your horse’s diet to contain quality protein, consider how many protein sources you are feeding. Adding one or more whole foods to hay and/or pasture will accomplish this goal. This will boost the essential amino acid content, allowing for every tissue in the body to get what it needs to thrive. Variety is key!




[1] Getty, J.M. 2018. Four directions amino acids can take – The importance of feeding several protein sources. http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/Library/theimportanceoffeedingseveralprote



Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices. Dr. Getty’s goal is to empower the horseperson with the confidence and knowledge to provide the best nutrition for his or her horse’s needs.


Dr. Getty’s fundamental resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available in paperback as well as in hardcover and Kindle versions. All except the Kindle version are available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com— buy the book there and have it inscribed by the author. Print and Kindle versions are also available at Amazon (www.Amazon.com); find print versions at other online retail bookstores. The seven individual volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for equestrians!


Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of articles and tips; listen to recorded interviews; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars and webinars.


Find a variety of quality supplements and whole foods at her online Free Shipping Supplement Store[i]. Reach Dr. Getty directly at:










Dealing with the Death of a Horse

Eddie and Julie's husband Rich, with his head bowed, black and white photo.

Eddie and Julie's husband Rich, with his head bowed, black and white photo.
It’s never easy to witness. There’s something about their power… their free spirit… the image of running like the wind, that makes it especially hard to watch a horse go down. Seeing a happy and carefree horse suddenly fall ill and struggle to survive or watching an old beloved friend suffer and grow weak… these are some of the hardest issues horse owners face. The death of a horse is not something we like to think about, but death is a part of life and when it comes to horses, it’s best to be prepared.

Recently, we lost our horse Eddie—suddenly and with no warning. He literally dropped in his tracks in the arena, the entire ordeal lasting only a few minutes from start to finish. To say it was unexpected is a gross understatement. A few weeks later, I shared our loss in my newsletter, and I was floored with the response—through emails, texts, posts, phone calls and in person— people were expressing condolences and often sharing stories about losing a beloved horse. It made me realize that death is part of life and that we cannot expect to enjoy the incredible gifts horses give us, without taking on this risk and responsibility.

Sudden death in horses, from causes like stroke or aneurysm, is not common, but not unheard of either. Colic is by far the number one killer of domesticated horses and although it typically comes on fast and hard, in some cases it can be a long slow death, unless the suffering is ended through euthanasia. Many horses live with chronically debilitating and degenerative diseases, until their owners recognize the time has come to end their suffering. On rare occasions horses just lay down and die peacefully of old age. If only it was always that easy!

No matter how, when or where it happens, the death of a horse is tragic and difficult. Having an action plan for end-of-life events, thoughtfully considered ahead of time, will help you navigate this difficult path when it is thrust upon you. Understanding the options in dealing with the aftermath of a dead horse can be quite challenging and unpleasant – don’t wait until you are charged with emotion and tears to know what they are. Finally, moving on to a new horse is a big step for some people, but it is possible to find another connection. I have some advice that may help.

Action Plan
When the time comes and the unthinkable happens—your horse is dying or needs you to consider its quality of life —what will you do? What resources can you bring to the table? Who will you call for help? Is a trip to a veterinary hospital an option? How will you get him there? What if euthanasia is the kindest decision? Will you be able to make responsible decisions, on the spot? Probably not, unless you have thought some things through in advance.

Your available access to mobile veterinary care, as well as access to equine hospitals and surgical centers, will play a large role in the critical-care decisions you make for your horse. For instance, it would be a three-hour haul through the mountains for me to get a horse to a hospital that could perform colic surgery. Horses sick enough to need colic surgery may die in-route or be too exhausted to survive the difficult and expensive surgery.

Emergency veterinary care for horses can run north of $10,000 in just a few days, so it is an unfortunate fact of life that financial resources will also have a bearing on the decisions you make. Consider setting up an emergency fund and write down what your wishes are for your horse in the event of illness, or injury. These kinds of decisions are best thought about in advance and not in the heat of the moment. Be realistic about your budget and what makes sense. Make sure friends who may end up in charge of your horse’s life, if you are suddenly out of the picture, know what you would want done for your horses. Of course, medical and mortality insurance are readily available for horses, which is a good idea if you have a large financial investment in your horse.

Euthanasia decisions are required to be made by most horse owners eventually – we tend to outlive our horses, for the most part. In the case of old age, crippling lameness, chronical illness or degenerative disease, we sometimes have months or years to make the decision to “pull the trigger.” One of the biggest fears for horse owners is, “How will I know when it’s time?” You’ll know when the horse’s suffering is too great, when he’s depressed and has lost the will to live. When he can no longer lay down or get up. When movement stops because it’s too painful. The worst mistake you can make here is to get greedy—to be unwilling to let the horse go—protecting your own self-interest and shying away or ignoring the needs of your horse.

When you see your horses all the time, it’s easy to miss the slow degeneration…your horse has lost weight, conditioning, his attitude has changed…but you don’t see it like someone else would who hadn’t seen your horse in six months. Track your horse’s weight, it doesn’t matter how accurate the weight tape is, just that it can register a change. Get a resting heart rate, so you can monitor his pain level. Become familiar with the subtle signs of lameness and understand that horses are programmed to hide weaknesses to survive…when they finally reveal a weakness/illness/lameness it is often a shock.

It’s not easy to know when it’s the right time to end a horse’s suffering, but to me, the greatest mistake is in waiting too long and losing control of a dignified death. Don’t wait until it’s an emergency. This decision might be made easier by considering “The Five Freedoms of Horses,” which outline five aspects of animal welfare under our control:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  • Freedom from distress and fear.
  • Freedom to express natural behavior.

When a horse no longer has all five freedoms, it’s probably time to consider euthanasia. Unfortunately, the decision to euthanize a horse sometimes comes with no warning or time for preparation. Here’s where your action plan can be most helpful. This is often the case with serious colic, acute laminitis or trauma. Call on those resources you’ve already identified – that friend, the vet or others knowing they have knowledge, experience and advice you can trust. The support of a horse professional or more experienced horse friend will also help you think through these hard decisions—call someone – you don’t need to go it alone. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to end the horse’s suffering and you should never feel badly about that. In the end you should trust your gut and listen to your vet.

Euthanizing a horse is not the easy way out and it is not a pretty thing to witness.  Say your goodbyes, then consider letting the professionals handle the job. It’s best to preserve the most beautiful memories you have of your horse. It’s good to rely on others at times like this. If you feel the need to be there at your horse’s side for his last breaths, realize that it can be a dangerous and unpredictable process. Listen to your vet and let them coach you on staying out of harm’s way.

Guilt is a Useless Emotion
Often when horses die, especially from an acute colic or sudden death, we have a need to seek answers and assign blame. Too often, the answers will never be available to you, so time spent chasing them can be fruitless. Assigning blame and second-guessing, whether it’s to yourself or others, rarely if ever helps. It’s always important to assess what happened, what could have been different and how we might change things for the future. But no amount of guilt, blame or self-punishment will bring the horse back to life. So be kind to yourself. This sentiment was eloquently stated by a staff veterinarian at Nutramax Labs, in a letter to me, after Eddie died:

Dear Julie, 

I’m so very sorry for your loss in Eddie. I know he was a fabulous horse and I also know that he had a fabulous life with you! I’m sure he couldn’t have had a better home than at your ranch! Unfortunately, we never know when their time will come to cross the rainbow bridge and sometimes it is far too soon. Find peace in the fact that he went quickly and did not suffer. There is nothing you could have or should have done differently for him. You gave him an amazing home and a wonderful life full of love! You and everyone on your team are in my thoughts and prayers!

Love and Hugs!!
Stacey Buzzell, DVM

Instead of feeling sad and guilty or angry and defensive, wouldn’t it be great if we could remember the good things about our time with that horse—reflect on the memories and savor the relationship we had? Another note I received from retired trauma physician—no doubt well-versed in knowing just what to say in times like this– was very meaningful to me and set the right tone…


I am so sorry about Eddie’s sudden death and just want to tell you I’m thinking about you and your “barn family” as you each grieve the loss in your own way.  Anyone who met Eddie immediately saw him as the epitome of a “Good Boy” and the love and respect and comfort he felt for you as his leader was so obvious when he was with you.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every horse were able to live up to his potential in a similar environment?  Give yourself a hug for the life that you and Rich gave Eddie.

Barbara Williams

Final Resting Place
Having to watch a horse suffer and making difficult, life-ending decisions is hard enough, and it’s followed by the challenge of physically dealing with the horse after he’s dead. Honestly, if you’re squeamish, it may be best to just skip this whole section of the article and find someone else to deal with it. But there will be decisions that must be made.

There may be renderers in your area that will come pick up the carcass and dispose of it in their own way. This is likely the easiest and cheapest solution, if it’s available to you. Also, there are cremation services for horses and generally the service you pay for (and it’s expensive) will come pick up the carcass and handle the cremation and return a large container of ashes to you.

Depending on where you live and the local and state laws that apply, your options for carcass disposal will vary. In many places, it is illegal to bury horses in the ground, in part to prevent contamination of the water table. If burial is an option on your property, then hiring a backhoe and driver to dig a hole may be an option, but it comes with a few caveats. If the driver has not buried a horse before, they will almost certainly make the hole too small. The size of the hole is way bigger than one might think. Getting the horse to the hole and fitting it into the hole is also not easy nor pretty and may require some wrestling.

If you are burying a horse that was euthanized with a needle, the carcass is highly toxic both to scavenger animals and to the water table. Chemically euthanized horses must be handled carefully to avoid spreading the toxins that are now in the carcass. Make sure the carcass is well-covered if some time will elapse before burial and use discretion in selecting a burial spot.

The local landfill may take horse carcasses but call them first so they can be prepared. I have on occasion, had a horse euthanized in a stock trailer so that the carcasses can be off-loaded easily and then immediately buried at the landfill. Again, this is not a pleasant thought, but sometimes, especially with euthanized horses, it is the most practical solution.
In many areas of the west, ranchers have “bone yards” at a remote location on their ranch where they take carcasses and let predators and Mother Nature do the job of decomposing. If you know a rancher that will allow it, this is not a bad way to go. It’s not an option for horses euthanized with drugs, but may be a viable solution for horses that die naturally or are euthanized with captive bolt or a bullet. Also, there may be uses for non-toxic carcasses in feeding zoo animals in your area.

Composting a carcass can be a viable solution, depending on how much land you have and the climate you live in. There are instructions available online and it’s an elaborate process. It takes six months to a year for the carcass to fully decompose, depending on the climate. Your veterinarian may know of other options in your area and your county extension agent should have some advice on carcass disposal.

There’s one more piece of advice that is not fun to talk about, but important to know. Removing a dead horse from a barn or stall can be ugly. If possible, you want to avoid having a horse die inside a building or area of confinement. It will require a large piece of equipment to move a thousand-pound carcass, which will need room to negotiate and lifting the carcass off the ground will require a tall reach. Once rigor mortis has set in, moving the carcass through door openings or out of stalls is nearly impossible and sometimes it can only be moved in parts if walls and fences cannot be disassembled.

These are certainly not pleasant issues to think about and investigate, but it’s far easier to get the information and choose an option well before you need it than in the heat of the moment.

Moving On
Just like with horses, humans can become so tightly bonded to one individual horse, especially when you’ve been partners for years, that starting over in a brand-new relationship with another horse can be a challenge. I’ve heard a lot of anguish over the years from people in this situation who’ve had trouble accepting a new horse—succumbing to the temptation to make comparisons between the horses and ultimately being disappointed in the new horse because they can’t let go of what they once had.

For many people, riding an unfamiliar horse is scary and leaving that comfort zone and heading into the unknown with a new horse feels like stepping off the edge of the earth. There’s no point in rushing into anything. Allow yourself to grieve. Give it time before moving onto another horse. For others, jumping back in the saddle with a new horse is just the right medicine, but could carry the risk of making an impetuous decision about a long-term relationship.

Whether you need to give it time or are ready to jump right back in, this is an opportunity for you to reassess your wants and needs, when it comes to your next horse. Before looking at any horses for sale or for adoption, think long and hard about your personal needs. What disciplines do you ride or want to ride, how much time can you devote to the new horse, your personal energy/activity level, and your skill level. What do you miss most about the horse you lost? What qualities do you wish to avoid? Create a list of must-haves and hope-to-haves and deal-breakers.

Rather than thinking of it as starting over, think of it as reinventing your horse life and a chance to create a new beginning and relationship. Make your lists and imagine your dream horse. Finding that horse will present a whole new set of challenges but knowing what you want is the right place to start.

Once you’ve found your new partner, be patient and allow your relationship to develop over time. Each horse and owner relationship is unique. Give your new horse time to adjust to its new life with you. Open your heart to this next step with your equine partner and avoid making comparisons with the horse you loved and lost. Know that it will take time to get to know each other, to build trust, to build a comfort level. Eventually, you’ll once again be able to focus on the power, the strength and the beauty that a horse brings to your life and simply enjoy the ride…

September 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

We spent Labor Day Weekend boating at the lake (one of my other passions). It was our 19th wedding anniversary, in addition to one of the last weekends of summer, so Rich and I were intent on celebrating. I learned to wake surf and absolutely loved it! I can see why people become addicted.

We’ve had a beautiful summer—plenty of irrigation water and enough dry weather to bring in good hay crops (hallelujah!). Hay should be plentiful this year, at least here in Colorado. Abundant horse-quality hay is good for the horses and for those of us who pay huge hay bills. Here in the high mountains, when it rains or gets cloudy the temperature plummets, so it hasn’t been too hot this summer. I’ve been hearing horror stories about heat waves elsewhere, and I know how tough it is on horses and riding. I hope you’ve managed to keep your horses cool!

Looking ahead to Fall, I’ve got horsemanship clinics coming up in Minnesota, Colorado and California. Plus, I’ll be in Baltimore, to give a keynote speech at a customer appreciation dinner at the Mill of Bel Air. I’m also heading to upstate New York in October to give presentations at the CHA International Conference, and then to Massachusetts in November for Equine Affaire. As always, I hope to see you somewhere in my travels!

When I’m home, my crew and I keep busy producing content for our online training programs, offering the solutions you need and keeping the content fresh. We’re always looking for new topics for my podcast and for horse training video tips, so be sure to message me with your ideas.

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and don’t forget… enjoy the ride!

Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

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

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

#HorseGoals or Bust Community
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Horse Report August 2019

eddie and julie
Eddie and Julie

It’s been a sad month around the barn. We lost Eddie, my good ranch horse, my best teaching horse, and one of the most honest horses I’ve ever known. I wrote about him recently in my Equine Good Citizen blog. It happened fast—literally within minutes, he was dead in his tracks. Although I’ve seen many horses euthanized over the decades, I’ve never seen a horse go from seemingly “healthy-as-a-horse” to no signs of life in under three minutes. All my life, I’ve heard of horses dying suddenly—with no signs or symptoms, but this is the first time I’ve actually witnessed it. It’s not common, but it happens.

Sudden death in horses is sometimes caused by a rupture to the aorta. In the case of Eddie, my best guess is that he sustained a sudden disruption of oxygen to the brain, which may well have been caused by an aneurism, although we saw no outward signs. Why he died, we’ll never know. There are few answers because necropsy is not often performed on horses. Even when it is, we don’t always find the reason why a healthy horse would drop dead. The sad fact is that Eddie is gone, but at least he did not suffer much.

To say we are feeling the loss around the barn is a HUGE understatement. Since Eddie was the de-facto herd leader, the other horses are a little bit lost. Since Eddie was one of our best trained horses—a true Western bridle horse—we’ve also lost one of our most reliable team members for the media production that we do around here.

We felt the loss just two days later at a scheduled video shoot for Showsheen, but our second-string stepped up. Annie carried the big load as the only “broke” horse (photo and video shoots can be scary for a green horse), Pepper was there to fill the role of the horse that needs Miracle Stain Remover, and Mel’s 2-year-old, Gus, (with his Fabio looks) was our supermodel. Even Dually came out of retirement for a cameo role.

I’ll miss Eddie a lot. So will Rich, who’s been riding him for the last couple years. Even my friend and colleague, Barbra Schulte, who’s been teaching clinics off Eddie when we work together, feels the loss. He was the kind of horse you could put anyone on and he would try his best for them. Consequently, many of my family and friends have ridden Eddie when they visit us. I know they will miss him too. RIP Eddie’s Pick.

August 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

The summer is flying by too fast here in the Colorado Rockies! I’ve enjoyed some time off at the lake—boating, fishing, swimming, chillin’ and grillin’. Fortunately, Melissa keeps my horses going while I’m away, so my colt, Pepperoni, is not too fresh on my return. I’ve got the whole month of August at home and I plan to get steady ride-time on the horses, while we finish up various video projects around the barn.

Next month, I hit the road again with a 2-day horsemanship clinic in Nevis, MN, followed by the uber-popular “Ranch Riding Adventure” vacation-clinic at the  renowned C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado (Turning 100 years old this year!). I’ll end the month in Baltimore, giving a keynote speech at the Mill of Bel Aire annual customer appreciation dinner.

In the meantime, I’ll make the most of the long summer days while I can, working hard and playing even harder!

Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

My team and I are constantly chasing our horsemanship goals. 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
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Join Group


Joy 2 Ride: Top Ten Qualities of My Ideal Riding Horse

#Joy2Ride | Top 10 Qualities of My Ideal Riding Horse

I expect a lot from my horses, and they rarely let me down. My horse is my partner, first mate and a reflection of my soul. I know the amazing feats horses are capable of, and after riding and training literally thousands of horses, I’ve witnessed countless times their willingness to do our bidding and their tolerance of our mistakes and idiocy. How well the horse performs, and the things he learns, is a product of his rider—although our tendency is to put the blame for a failure to perform squarely on the horse.

Last month, I wrote about the top 10 ground manners that a horse should have to be safe and pleasurable to handle and the response was big—thank you! It got me thinking about what ideal qualities I want in a riding horse. Not specific riding skills (like flying lead changes, or discipline-specific performance like reining or jumping), but general qualities that I expect of any well-trained horse—no matter the breed or type of riding I am doing.

If you are starting with raw ingredients—either a youngster or a mature horse that missed out on a proper education, it will take time (weeks and months) to develop these skills and engrain these qualities in your horse. Don’t be overwhelmed! Instead, start forming your expectations and teaching them to your horse today. Set some ground rules.

If your horse is not just uneducated, but has been trained improperly—meaning he has learned wrong things, like he can do or not do whatever he wants—achieving these ideal qualities will take even longer. You can start working toward these ideals today, but be aware that you may need to change your approach. It may be that you need to change your ways—not the horse. Consistency and clarity will help make your job easier.

If you are in the market for a horse, these would be important qualities to consider in your pre-purchase or pre-adoption evaluation. Maybe you’ve got a horse that you trained yourself and you’d like to see how his skills stack up to a professionally trained mount. Or perhaps you’ve got a new equine partner and you’re establishing a relationship with that horse that will carry you into the future. The ideals listed below will help you clarify your goals and develop a plan of action.

There’s no such thing as a bad horse or bad behavior. Behavior should not have a value judgment on it—it’s neither bad nor good, it’s just behavior. Horses act like horses, unless they’ve been taught to act differently. Horses reflect their handlers and act solely in ways that are either instinctive or learned. When a horse displays behavior that is undesirable to us, it is either because it’s his natural behavior or he has actually been taught to act that way through poor handling and training (the latter happens a lot more often than one might think).

Every time you handle or ride a horse, you are either training it or un-training it. As horse owners, we are responsible for training the horse so that he is safe and pleasant to be around and has a bright and secure future, even if you are no longer in the picture. Just like you raise your children to be successful and independent adults, you must train your horse in such a way that he has value to society and a safe future ahead of him.

Only a few of these top 10 qualities are related to the horse’s temperament, and even then, training will have a heavy influence on the horse’s natural behavior. A horse is born with his temperament, but they are such capable learners that even the flightiest horse, for instance, can be taught to approach scary objects with curiosity.

Here are my top ten ideal qualities in a riding horse that make it a #Joy2Ride:

  1. Stands still like a statue for mount/dismount and does not walk off unless given a cue. Once we are underway, he will stand calmly and patiently any time I ask him to stop.
  2. Goes exactly in the direction that I ask with straightness; tracks exactly in a path dictated by me, never veering or avoiding or pulling me in the direction he wants to go. Stays “between my aids” (seat, legs, hands) at all times.
  3. Goes at a speed dictated entirely by me and never requires me to push, pedal or pull. Self-regulates his speed at whatever rate I ask and maintains that speed even on a loose rein.
  4. Is relaxed and compliant and focused on me or the task at hand or tuned out to his surroundings (focused on nothing). Is not looking all around, looking for an escape route or distracted by other horses.
  5. Performs equally well when ridden on a loose rein or on direct contact. Collects his frame easily when asked and carries himself in collection with a soft rein and light aids.
  6. Is light and responsive to my aids; stops off my seat and moves off my legs with complete nose-to-tail body control.
  7. Performs reliably in any situation and any location. Can perform equally well away from home or in a strange location as he does at home. 
  8. Ignores other horses, known and unknown; does not show interest or interact with other horses while being ridden. Rides well alone or in company. Not intimidated by large groups of horses. Will lead or follow without complaint.
  9. Tries hard when I ask, even when it’s scary, physically difficult and/or something he doesn’t want to do. Has a stellar work ethic and gets down to business—not looking for shortcuts or trying to get out of work.
  10. Has courage and curiosity; low on flight and high on investigative behavior. Does not spin and bolt when spooked but is willing to face and approach.

Score your horse on a scale of 1 to 10 for each category, with 10 being perfect. Add all ten categories and you’ll have your horse’s score, based on 100 being the perfect saddle horse. If you scored in the 80s or 90s, good job! Think about what more you need to do to make your horse perfect.

If your score was below 80, you’ve got some remedial work to do! First, you must recognize how much of the low score is caused by you—either through poor handling or unclear and inconsistent expectations. Sometimes changing your leadership is all the horse needs to become a perfect horse. Then you must determine where the holes in your horse’s training are and how you can patch them. The training resources in my online Academy will help, and my Interactive Curriculum will give you specific training exercises and educational resources to get you on the right path, with me as your coach. 

I could write volumes on how to go about training all these qualities in a horse (and I have), but it’s not rocket science. People have been doing it for thousands of years, with a great deal of success. In my podcast later this month, I’ll talk about some of the specific training techniques to instill these qualities in a saddle horse and I’ll answer your most pressing questions. So be sure to tune in, anywhere you get your podcasts, or at JulieGoodnight.com/podcast.

July 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

After a busy spring travel schedule, I am thrilled to have some extended time at home to ride my horses and enjoy the glorious Colorado summer. Rich and I are hosting a July 4th Dog Swim Party for our neighborhood, which is fun for everyone and makes the holiday a little more tolerable for dogs!

Two of my favorite summer things are happening right now in Colorado—wildflowers are blooming and the first cutting of hay is coming out of the fields. We had an exceptional winter, with a record snowpack (coming to us in the form of irrigation water) and early monsoon rains, producing an excellent yield in the hay fields. Now all we need is a few dry days here and there to help the farmers get it baled. I’m hopeful that an abundant hay crop will help drive prices down.

With more time at home now, I’ll get busy making tutorial videos, podcasts and all  kinds of other helpful, educational content for you, in keeping with our mission of “helping horses, one human at a time.”  So if you have burning horsemanship questions, now’s a great time to ask! Message me on my Facebook page or email me at JulieGoodnight.com/contact, so we can get you the information you want and need.

I just added a new horsemanship clinic to my schedule in northern California this fall, in addition to the clinics in Minnesota and Colorado. The Minnesota and Colorado clinics filled up quickly, but there’s plenty of room for spectators (and you can ask to be added to a waitlist just in case someone drops out). Registration for the California clinic just opened up this week, so there are still spots for riders to snap up on a first come, first serve basis.

My 2020 Expo and Clinic Tour schedule is coming together nicely, and we have some exciting new programs to announce! I’ll be offering a new 4-day, all-inclusive program at the C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado called Horsemanship Immersion, specifically designed for people that cannot get enough learning. Also new at C Lazy U for 2020, will be the Couples Riding Retreat. Barbra Schulte and I (and our hubbies) will co-teach. These will be in addition to programs already offered at C Lazy U next year: the Women’s Wholeness Retreat and the Ranch Riding Adventure! So for all those peeps who have been trying to get into quickly filled CLU programs, this is your chance! Finally, back by popular demand in 2020, it looks like there will be more riding clinics in Ireland.

Keep an eye on my events calendar and newsletter to be the first to know when you can sign up for my 2020 programs!

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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June 2019 Horse Report

Dear Friends,

With my summer break (from travel) ahead of me, I’m eager to get more time in the saddle! My youngster, Pepperoni, is doing well given the sporadic ride time I’ve had in the past few months. Turns out, twice a week of riding is not adequate for him (it rarely is for a 3-year-old), but when I am on the road, sometimes it’s all I can manage. When that happens, usually the first day is spent taming the wild beast, then the second day we can actually get some work done.

Now that I will be able to get on him 5-6 days a week, the tone of our rides will change a lot, and the wild beast will hibernate. I always start my training sessions with ten minutes of long trot, to warm the horses up and get them in a working frame of mind. Pepper is at the stage where our main training focus is on canter work—departures, rating speed, circles, simple lead changes—and we’re just starting to think about collection at the canter.

We are riding out of the arena a lot more—either down the road or around our “virtual trail course.” Pepper is still occasionally prone to “exuberance,” shall we say, and every now and then his red-headed temper flares, but most of the time his head is in the game. It’s a challenge with a young green horse to ask enough of them to advance their training, but not so much that they become frustrated and hate being ridden.

Before the summer gets away from me, I need to set some new goals for Pepper and me. Otherwise, how will I know when I get there?

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


June 2019 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

With the spring expo season in my rearview mirror, my attention turns to horsemanship clinics. As always, we had a fabulous time at the C Lazy U Ranch last month, which is celebrating 100 years as a guest ranch this year. Barbra Schulte and I co-taught the Women’s Riding & Empowerment Retreat. The synergy of the group was incredible, and we had beautiful weather.

I’m excited to announce that we are planning two new programs at C Lazy U in 2020. In addition to the Women’s Riding & Empowerment Retreat in May, and the Ranch Riding Adventure in September, we will also offer a Couples Riding Retreat (led by Barbra Schulte and her husband Tom, and me and my husband Rich), PLUS a Horsemanship Intensive Retreat—both in October. Stay tuned for more details.

I’ve just returned from a fun and productive clinic at Dream Weaver Farms in Crockett, Virgina, working with another great group of horses and riders. This week I head to the Champions Center Expo near Columbus, Ohio, for my last clinic before my summer break. It’s so satisfying for me to be able to meet the horses and the people that come to my clinics and help them boost their horsemanship. Working with new and different horses every week is a perk of my job that I’ll never grow tired of.

After the clinic in Ohio, my attention will turn back to making educational videos and TV shows. (We’ve got some exciting projects in the works that will take up a lot of my summer!)

With more time at home soon, I am hoping for a concentrated stretch of training on my 3 year old colt, Pepperoni. He’s come a long way in the last year, but my busy travel schedule and time away from home has taken its toll on our forward progress. A very wet and cold spring means we’re still retreating indoors to ride and the snowpack in the mountains is still growing (it’s up to 239% above normal for this time of year).

When summer finally gets here, I’ll be ready!

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


Equine Good Citizen Award: Is your horse eligible?


Well-mannered, easy to handle horses are a joy to be around—it’s like pushing the easy button. A calm, patient, focused horse that respects your boundaries, is eager to please and willing to do you bidding is not only fun, but safer too.

If a horse could be an Eagle Scout, my horse Eddie would earn the rank. He always tries hard to please, he follows the rules, works hard to earn approval and will try hard to conquer any challenge I present to him. By my standards, he would easily win a good citizen award. Although he hit the ground with a stellar temperament, which certainly helps, good citizens are made not born.

Horses are very precocious animals—they are fast learning and their education begins in the first moments of life. Unfortunately, they learn inappropriate things just as quickly as the good stuff, so it is easy to make mistakes and turn a young horse into a pushy, impatient, tantrum-throwing brat. Sometimes, through no fault of their own, horses have simply missed a proper education and must be patiently taught manners later in life and/or after being mishandled.

Good manners aren’t always natural to the horse, at least not in the way us humans define them. Horses must learn what is expected of them while being handled by humans. Many of the skills we require of well-mannered horses, like ignoring their surroundings and instead focusing on the task at hand, like facing and approaching a fearful stimulus instead of running from it, come from clear and consistent training and competent handling over time.

We have an obligation to teach good manners to the horse, not only for our own benefit, but also to ensure that the horse is well-treated by others and has the best opportunities in life. Your horse knows nothing more and nothing less about how to behave around humans than what he’s been taught. Inappropriate or undesirable behaviors in a horse reflect on his handlers, in the same way that spoiled children are a product of their parents. We cannot blame the horse or the child.

I spent some time thinking about what expectations I have of a well-mannered horse and what skills are important to instill so that he is safe, pleasant and fun to be around. These are lofty goals, yes, but for centuries and millennia, people have been successful in training horses to do incredible things and be amazingly cooperative partners.

Below, I have compiled a list of ten ground-manners and skills that I think a horse should have in order to win a good citizen award. As you read through the checklist, score your horse on a scale of 1 to 10 for each category, with 10 being perfect. Tally your score for all ten categories and you’ll know if your horse passes the test!

  1. Respects my boundaries: does not crowd my space, put his mouth or lips on me, shoulder into me, or sling his head at me.
  2. Easy to catch, halter and leads politely alongside me in the position I have designated, from either side, rating his speed on mine, never getting ahead of me and never lagging behind me.
  3. Stands quietly whenever and wherever tied; ground ties; stands still for vet and farrier; stands perfectly still and does not move his feet unless I ask him to.
  4. Desensitized for easy handling of mouth, nose, face, ears, legs, tail, under belly and between the hind legs; lowers his head when asked.
  5. Picks up his feet when asked, holds them up without leaning or fussing and allows me to place the foot back down in a particular place.
  6. Accepts confinement in a stall and trailer. I love for horses to be turned out and not confined, but there will be times when confinement is necessary, and I need my horse to accept it.
  7. Loads and unloads from a horse trailer willingly; rides quietly. Even if you don’t plan to travel with your horse, this is an important skill for his safety and well-being.
  8. Keeps his focus on me and is always present with me, not distracted by others, looking for an exit or searching for his friends.
  9. Does not interact with other horses or display herd behaviors of any kind when being handled from the ground or ridden in a group of horses.
  10. Willing to leave the safety and comfort of the herd to go with me anywhere and without question. Acts the same way away from home as he does at home.

So how does your horse score? A score above 90 or above means you have an equine good citizen. Good job! This did not happen accidentally—it takes, time, patience, consistency and skill. If this test has revealed holes in your horse’s training, it’s never too late to teach him. My videos, Lead Line Leadership and Raised with Manners, are great resources for you (available in DVD and streaming online at juliegoodnight.com).

A horse with good manners is truly a pleasure and the prospects for his future are good. Every horse is worth this investment in your time and energy; every horse deserves a chance to be a good citizen—it’s all up to you. Horses crave leadership, structure and rules. When we have high expectations of the horse and teach him good manners, the added bonus is that your horse will look up to you, be eager to please you and want to be with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!

May 2019 Horse Report

Julie teaching at her C Lazy U Ranch clinic on Pepper.
Julie teaching at her C Lazy U Ranch clinic on Pepper.

It’s my busiest time of year, and most weeks I’m only home a couple nights—which makes owning a colt challenging. Pepperoni is the kind of young horse that needs to be ridden daily and kept busy. He’s the equine version of a Border Collie (busy-minded, afraid of nothing, smarter than his own good and on the lookout for trouble) . Often this time of year, due to my travel schedule, I might go a couple weeks without riding him. He gets daily handling, exercise and ground work in my absence, but typically we have a few wild rides upon my return.

He’s still prone to exuberance (bucking) on occasion and sometimes his red-headed temper rears its ugly head. He’s not a horse you want to pick a fight with, but if I ride it out and quietly but firmly lay down the law, he usually complies. So as I headed up to the C Lazy U Ranch earlier this month (in our brand new LQ trailer!), with both Pepper and Eddie in-tow, I was a little unsure of what kind if horse I’d have to ride at the clinic. This was Pepperoni’s first trip to the ranch, and since I also had to teach off him, I was counting on a drama-free weekend. I was thrilled with Pepper’s performance at the clinic—there were plenty of distractions to keep his mind occupied (keeping track of the comings and goings of 200 horses and 100 people) and back-to-back 4-hour days of riding meant he wasn’t looking for extra work.

I took Eddie up to the ranch for the first time at the same age—he was a rock star then and now. He’s now 11 years old and this was his 24th trip to the ranch, so he was a great role model for the red tornado and a great mount for Barbra Schulte to teach her clinics from. It was a wonderful weekend—Barbra and I love working together and the ranch is the perfect spot for everyone to come together to enjoy horses, people and good times!

Ready to Get Started on Your Riding Goals? 

Spring is here, and my team and I are tackling 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


Unspoken Agreements

Apple, the horse starring in this episode.
Apple, the horse starring in this episode.

Is your horse easy to get along with, until you ask him to do something new and different? Or, heaven forbid, something he doesn’t want to do? Perhaps he’s happy to go down the trail in the company of others, but not alone. Or maybe he’ll go anywhere you point him, alone or with company, as long as you don’t ask him to cross water. How about the horse that half-heartedly trots when you ask, but threatens to buck if you ask to canter?
Horses are living, breathing animals with a mind of their own. They form opinions and make decisions.

Unfortunately, sometimes they come to conclusions we don’t agree with and form opinions that don’t jive with our wants and needs. For instance, if you’ve ridden a horse for two years and never once asked him to canter, your horse might understandably think you will never ask him to canter, or cantering is wrong or that it is not part of his contract. You can’t blame a guy for thinking, right?

The process of training horses involves both helping your horse form the correct opinions about being ridden and handled and not letting him get the wrong ideas. It takes months and years to train horses to a high level of performance and many mistakes can be made along the way that would lead your horse to misconceptions about what’s right and wrong. All it takes is releasing the pressure at the wrong moment, to convince a horse that was the right thing to do.

Although horses are not good at problem solving, they are always thinking and learning—whether we want them to or not—learning wrong things just as quickly as the right stuff. It’s funny that humans have literally three times the brain of a horse and much more capability in problem solving, yet we get outsmarted by horses all the time.

Huge pitfalls in a horse’s training can be avoided when the rider becomes more aware of the motivation behind the horse’s behavior, by making sure your horse forms the correct opinions about being ridden, by being mindful of the unspoken agreements between you and your horse and knowing who the decision maker is, in your “herd of two.”

Motivations Matter
Behind every behavior of your horse, there is a motivation for that action. If your horse throws a temper tantrum as you approach the horse trailer, his motivation is to get away from the trailer. If he refuses to move forward when you ask him to leave the barnyard, his motivation is likely to get back to his herd. If he argues and resists when you ask him to canter, his motivation may be to get out of hard work.

We don’t always get to know what motivates the horse’s behavior but in many instances, the motivation is very clear. If you can understand what is motivating the horse’s behavior, it will be far easier to fix. For instance, when the horse throws a fit about approaching the horse trailer, I know the very worst thing I can do is circle him back away from the trailer at the moment he throws the fit. Turning him back away from the trailer rewards the tantrum in that moment and getting away from the trailer was all he wanted.

Rather than simply react to your horse’s behavior, take a moment to assess his motivation. Once you understand why your horse is acting that way and what he is trying to achieve, you can address the behavior more effectively and make sure you don’t inadvertently reward the wrong behavior.

Opinions Count
You have opinions and so does your horse. It would be nice to think our opinions always align, but they don’t. For instance, you may think that you have not asked the horse to canter in over a year because you don’t want to canter and are not ready to canter. Your horse may come to believe that if he hasn’t been asked to canter in that long, he will never be asked. Furthermore, he may come to believe that it is not part of his contract—that you don’t have the right to ask him to canter.

Recently, I became aware that my young horse, Pepperoni, had formed an opinion that differed from mine. After riding indoors all winter, in the company of his herd mates, he mistakenly formed the opinion that he would never have to work alone. This became quite obvious when I took him to the outdoor arena alone and he threw a wall-eyed red-headed fit. My bad. I should’ve been working him in isolation more.

He had inadvertently formed the wrong opinion about how things work and he thought he was entitled to always ride in the company of other horses. We worked through this problem and I changed his way of thinking over a few weeks, and now I make sure I ride him alone regularly. Sometimes you and your horse will have differing opinions. It’s up to you, the leader, to clarify and rectify and make sure your horse comes out of every training session with the correct opinions.

Breach of Contract
In the training of a horse, we constantly make unspoken agreements with him. When you do as I ask, I will acknowledge and praise your obedience. When you try hard, I will let you rest. When you give the correct response, I will always release the pressure. When you resist or disobey my requests, I will always follow through with reinforcement.

Sometimes we make mistakes and fall down on our end of the agreement. Maybe at the moment you asked your horse to canter, you froze up on the reins and caused him to hit the bit and hurt his mouth. As far as he is concerned, this is an egregious breach of contract—you failed him. His head shaking and crow-hopping is his way of telling you that he thinks what you did is wrong. A smart rider will admit her mistakes and not blame the horse.

On the other hand, if you’ve been avoiding doing something with your horse because you are afraid to try or because you don’t think you can get your horse to do it, he may have come to believe that it is not part of his contract—that he will never have to do that. We can easily end up with a horse that does most of what we ask, but draws a line in the sand and says, “But I won’t give you any more than that—if you don’t push me, I won’t push back on you.”

I often see riders and horses that have this kind of arrangement—the “don’t push me too far” scenario. If there are things that you avoid asking your horse to do because you are afraid of his reaction when you do ask, your horse probably knows it and has come to believe that you’ve crossed a line when you ask that of him. In many instances, this kind of agreement seems to work, as long as the rider knows her place. But gradually, the horse will start making more and more deals under the table and is willing to do less and less.

You have a contract with your horse—to release the pressure when you should, to reward his good behavior, to not make mistakes and penalize him for doing his job, to be a good leader and make good decisions. Just make sure you have not inadvertently led your horse to believe that there are clauses in the contract which you have not agreed to. If there are things you avoid doing or if your horse has refused your request and you did not follow through, you may have taught him that he will never have to do that.

Decisions, Decisions
The person in charge is the one responsible for making the decisions. In your team of two—you and your horse—you should be the one in charge; you should be making all the decisions. You are the leader; your horse is the follower. You don’t want a thousand-pound flight animal making the decisions.

If your horse cannot trust your judgment (because you’ve made too many mistakes or betrayed his trust or been passive when you should’ve acted), he will constantly question your decisions. He may refuse to do what you ask or have a better suggestion for what you should do. If you make a poor decision that results in him getting hurt or scared, he has good reason not to trust your judgment anymore.

To be a good leader to your horse, you must not only make all the decisions but also make good decisions. It’s not just about you. Your responsibility is to take care of your horse—to be fair, consistent, and have good follow-through. It’s easy to blame things on the horse, but a good leader looks within for answers to problems.

At the end of the day, there’s only one conversation I want to have with my horse, and it starts like this… “Horse, this is your Captain speaking.” I like to think of myself as the Captain and my horse is my best first mate. I make the decisions and he makes it happen. He doesn’t argue with me or suggest I do things differently. He trusts me to make good decisions and he knows I won’t ask for more than he’s capable of giving me. He knows he will always be praised and rewarded for a job well done, and he also knows that if he falls down on his end of the agreement, he will hear about it from me.

Horses are quite clever, and they have a knack for reading people, sometimes better than people are reading themselves. Don’t be lured into thinking your horse doesn’t notice your actions, your lack-of-action or your avoidance behavior. Be honest with yourself and accept responsibility for your own mistakes. Think through your horse’s behavior, motivations and opinions and address them openly. Horses crave strong leadership and they know it when they see it, so look within and be the best leader you can be for your horse.