There’s No Place Like Home! Logo


As much as I love to travel, one of my favorite things is coming home again. Yesterday was not exactly a smoothsailing travel day for me however. Just as I was headed from the hotel to the airport, Rich called to say Dually was feeling bad again. Some days he just feels punkynot really colicky, he just doesn’t want to eat and wants to lay down a lot. Our standard remedythe same one we use for a mildly colicking horseis to put him in the trailer and take him for a ride. He always feels better after that. I wasnt overly concerned about Dually because this happens with a fair amount of regularity and I knew that if Rich had any doubts at all, hed drive him right to the vet. But still, its not the best way to start the day.

Then, without realizing it, I entered the wrong airport into my GPS and so drove blissfully for an hour before I arrived at a tiny little airfield no where near Sacramento International. I finally found someone to ask and hit the freeway driving 80 mph hoping not to miss my flight. Fortunately, I had left extra early (which I always do because I hate having to rush and worryexactly what I was doing now). As luck would have it, I made it to the correct airport, still an hour and a half before my flight which was plenty to time to return the rental car, check my bags and get to the gate in time to check my email.

Once safely there I called Rich to check on Dually and found out there was good news and bad news. The good news was that Dually was fineback to his old self and enjoying the day. The bad news was that the house keeper had called to cancel, meaning that with house guests coming the next day, when I got home, Id be making up beds, cleaning toilets and vacuuming. Not exactly what I had in mind. I know, I know, you are thinking I am very spoiled because I have a housekeeper that comes every other week for a few hours. One of the questions I get the most is, how do you do every thing you do? Well, thats one wayI have someone to help me keep my house clean! Fortunately, Rich used his magnanimous powers of persuasion and Megan came after all. So at the end of the day, it wasnt so bad.

After landing in Denver, lugging my huge and heavy bags to the car and driving about 2 ½ hours, I come to my favorite part of the drive home. It is when I top the last little pass (I go over about 5 small passes on the way to and from Denver), I am rewarded with an incredible view of the valley we live in, the Upper Arkansas Valley, and the range of mountains that form the western border, The Collegiate Peaks. These are a range of 14,000+ foot peaks that are just magnificent and they always remind me of how great it is to live here in this mountain paradise. And they have become my symbol that soon I will be home with my husband, my dog and my horses (not necessarily in that order 😉

Today I am scrambling to meet several writing deadlines, go grocery shopping and then be here for the arrival of my dear friends from Kauai. Rich is taking a vacation week from the ski area and he is busy setting up a challenging trail course. We are all going to ride hard the next few days in preparation for the Versatility Ranch Horse clinic and competition we are going to this weekend. Since Dually hasnt been ridden for four days, hell be a little fresh today so some extra riding this week will be just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully by Mondaythe day of the competitionhell be good and relaxed!

Until next time, enjoy the ride!


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Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Another Day, Another Dollar! Logo

I said, be careful what you wish for. After freezing my tail off the past few weekends in Minnesota, then Massachusetts, then Colorado, today we had triple digit temperatures here in central California. While most everyone in my horsemanship clinic was thoroughly disgusted by the unseasonably warm temperatures here, to me it was a nice change of pace. I actually enjoyed the heat and the sweat, although at times, when the wind died, it was a little intense. My arms, having not seen the sunlight for the past eight months, currently look like> boiled lobster.

My favorite part of any clinic is the beginning, when everyone introduces themselves and talks about how important it is to learn. It is very motivating to me when I am teaching to someone specific goals rather than force feeding the information I think they need. But it funny that no matter what people seemingly varied and individual issues are, it always boils down to the same few subjects leadership and authority confidence, effective communication, better riding skills and finding the right amount of pressure that motivates the horse to change. If these things do not ring a bell, you might want to spend a little time browsing through my website. The other thing I like about the beginning of the clinic is that I always give a talk about horse behavior, my favorite subject. From understanding the difference between learned behavior and instinctive behavior, what the instinctive behaviors of horses are, how the human mind is different than the horse mind understanding herd hierarchy and the communicative behavior of horses there’s so much to learn.

I’ll never tire of talking about it and sharing what I have learned by research and through a lifetime of observation and it is a bonus to me when the clinic participants get into the discussion and I see the light bulb go off over their heads. They have a better understanding of their horse and their own interaction with him. After the behavior discussion, we head to the arena for ground work and put the new-found awareness of the horses natural behavior to a practical application learning to control the horse space and actions learning to control his entire body from his nose to his feet, from his shoulder to his hip. We work through specific exercises that help you establish more authority over the horse, gain his focus and respect and develop a line of communication so that he is looking to you for directives. After a much needed lunch break in the shade, everyone saddled up and went to the arena to work on riding skills. No matter how much ground work you do; no matter how well you can think like a horse; the horse can only rise to your level pf performance when it comes to riding If your lack of riding skill is getting in his way, he cannot do his job no matter how strong his desire. No one ever reaches a level in her riding where she doesn’t have to work on it anymore. No matter how good you are you still have to hone your skills. You always have to work on better balance, better rhythm and better communication with the horse. So at the end of the day, no matter that the clinic is full of varied individual horses and riders, each with their own set of issues, we always return to work on the same fundamentals.

Another day, another dollar. I have enjoyed blogging, though I started it to appease (yes, I can use that word without rebuttal) my aforementioned slave driver. I suppose it is a bit like writing in a diary something I have never done in my life. The weird thing about blogging is that it seems like you are talking to no one. Just writing into thin air, yet it is being released to the whole wide world. I don’t have anyway of knowing if anyone is actually reading my diatribes-except for the two that have bothered to respond food-line-man and my sister thank you, if there is anyone else out there (or if the two of you have other comments), please let me know. Tomorrow is my second favorite part of the clinic, the end. As much as I hate saying goodbye to everyone, it means that soon I’ll be headed home. And as my friend Polly always says, on Sundays, I am like a trail horse turned for home, with a new found energy to get to my destination! Tomorrow they are forecasting double digits instead of triple and I’ll have plenty of sunscreen on hand, so bring it on Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Fresh Tracks! Logo


Its a typical Friday for me. Here I sit in the Denver airport waiting for my flight to Sacramento. After my morning workout and packing, I hit the road for my weekly threehour drive to the airport. Ill pick up the rental car at the other end, lugging my three 70# suitcases every where I go (not the best part of my job), then head for my hotel. A bonus of traveling so much (besides the perks I get from the airline) is that I have friends almost every where I go and this weekend is no exception. Ill meet a friend I havent seen for a few years for dinner tonight and another one tomorrow night. And Im looking forward to meeting new people and horses at the clinic over the weekend.

Last nights ride on Dually was darn near perfect. With all the moisture weve gotten lately, the arena footing fluffed up nicely and Rich put a perfect groom on it right before we rode (as a former slope groomer, hes diligent about the arena grooming!). We usually ride together in the evenings after he gets home from work. I LOVE riding in a freshly groomed arena as much as powder skiers love fresh tracks! Aside from the nice soft, consistent footing, its a great time to test your riding precision.

With fresh tracks, I like to work on my dressage moves, coming down the centerline in a straight line (nearly impossible) and mapping out my arena with my tracks across the diagonal lines, the middle, the center line and the quarter lines. Its a lot harder than youd think itd be to truly make a straight line.

One thing that occurred to me last night, is that its a whole lot easier to ride dressage with two hands rather than one! Yesterday was my day to ride entirely with one hand in the legal split rein hold (instead of thetrainers hold I usually use with the reins bridgedone tail on each side). When Dually is working really well, I try to practice this, so it is not a foreign concept to me when I get to the show. As I came down the centerline practicing straightness, it occurred to me how much easier it is to make subtle corrections with two hands on the reins and riding on direct contact.  But thats okay; just think how much better you are if you can do it with only one hand on the reins!

Dually is a horse that loves speed. I am never quite sure whether to avoid speed so he isn’t thinking about it or let him go fast for long enough that going slowly starts sounding good to him. Last night, I opted for the latter and it was a good move. We practiced small slow circles then went into big fastreally fastas fast as the footing would allow. After about 5-6 of those, he was staring to think slow, so our transitions back to small slow circles was really good. I think Ill do that more often.

After some soliddry work, I decided to get out a cow for somewet work. What a blast! The little heifer was fresh and Dually was spot on in his boxing (similar to cutting but done with one cow and no turn back help, against the fence). Then we did a little fencing work, driving the cow down the rail, then turning her back on the fence a couple times. Dually loves this because it involves speed. I was really happy that Dually worked so well, especially since Ill be unable to ride him for four days. If Im lucky, I may be able to sneak a ride in Monday night, if I get home early enough. I think were about as ready as we can be for our first competition on Memorial Day.

Now its time to head for my gate and board the plane. Hopefully Ill have the time and energy to blog over the weekend. While most everyone else relaxes on the weekend, its when I go to work!

Until then,


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Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Halter Fit Logo

The Right Fit 

Is your horse’s halter too snug or too loose? Does it hang down around his nose or squeeze his face, rubbing the hair away? Do you fit a rope halter the same as a webbed halter? How do you know if you horse’s halter fits or what size halter he should wear? These are all legitimate questions and it is important to have a halter that fits your horse just right—for his comfort and his safety.
Whether you use a rope halter, nylon or leather halter, the fit should be the same. The cheek rings of the webbed halter and the cheek knots of the rope halter should sit about one finger’s width below the bottom of the cheek bone. If the noseband gets much lower, it could cause damage to the sensitive cartilage of the nose. The noseband should not fit snugly, but should not be so loose that he could get a hoof stuck in there when he scratches his face with his foot. You should have at least two finger’s width between the noseband and your horse’s jaw. 

Usually halters come in basic sizes: yearling, small horse (cob size), regular horse (most horses fit into this category), large horse (Warmblood or draft crosses), draft and mule. The average horse typically wears a regular horse size; if your horse’s head is very small and dished, he may need a small horse size, but keep in mind that you do not want the halter to be tight and uncomfortable for your horse.

Rope halters can be a little trickier to fit correctly on the horse. When you put the rope halter on, be sure to pull the throat knot all the way up to the horse’s throat, then tie it off. This should place the cheek knots just below the cheek bones and keep the upper piece above his jowl—not going across it. If there is too much room in the noseband because your horse has a very refined head, you can loosen the fiador knot under the chin and work it up to tighten the noseband. Or you can use electrical tape to tape around the fiador knot to make the noseband smaller.

Turning out horse in halters is not recommended because of the chance of your horse getting hung up on something. Horses should never be turned loose with a rope halter on because it is easier for them to get hung up and they will not break. If a horse must be turned out with a halter on, make sure that is has a leather breakaway strap at the top so your horse can break safely away if he gets snagged.

Finally, when you trailer your horse, make sure he is in a breakaway halter and never trailer a horse in a rope halter. If your horse falls and or you are in a wreck, you want him to break free. Most halters made for trailering are made of leather because they are more breakable. Most rope halters are made with climbing rope which is not breakable for the horse. Also, you want your horse to be as comfortable as possible in the trailer and not pulling against the rope halter when he gets off balance.

For more information on this and many other important topics, please check out the archived articles on my website.
–Julie Goodnight,

Be Careful What You Wish For…

It’s a beautiful morning here in the Colorado mountains. After a few inches of wet snow last night, the sun is out, it’s relatively warm, no wind and the snow is melting fast, leaving behind some badly needed moisture. I think I’ve been complaining too much about cold weather because I see on the news this morning that I am headed into record breaking hot weather in central CA this weekend! As I said, be careful what you wish for. So far, the only place I’ve found with perfect weather is Kauai, with a year-round mean temperature of 72°—that’s if you miss the hurricanes.

I had a great ride on Dually yesterday. Because of the wet snow that fell all day, we rode indoors. He’s very mellow in there—it’s the wide open spaces that get him cranked up and thinking about speed. Inside he is quiet as a mouse and yesterday he worked perfectly—even on the mechanical cutting machine. A total joy to ride! I had a few friends visiting so we all rode together and had good fun. Here’s a photo of Dually, too.

That’s what it’s all about—having fun. I want every ride I have to be fun and fulfilling; not aggravating, scary and working on issues. That’s why it pays to have a really well trained horse without issues. In my horse sales program I try to find horses that fit this bill—mature and experienced, well-trained and with great temperaments (and a little eye candy never hurts). I love finding the horses, I love having them here for my friends to ride and I love selling them to the perfect owner and starting the cycle over again. There’s lots of great horses out there, but they are not generally easy to find or cheap! I am fortunate that I get around enough to find a lot of great horses and when I do, I buy them J

My mission in the last couple of weeks has been spring cleaning in my tack room. It was sorely needed after a winter of piling stuff in the corner. I washed old dirty blankets and rags, cleaned out all the unnecessary odds and ends that accumulate and reorganized my tack. It’s so nice to have a clean, well organized tack room! I can actually find stuff.

My biggest problem in the tack room is not throwing out all the old stuff I’ll never use again. And the pile of broken stuff I think I’ll get fixed one day is just getting bigger and accumulating more dirt. But it’s good stuff and I can’t bring myself to throw it out! I do not have that problem in my house; I love getting rid of stuff there. But old tack has sentimental value and it feels good to have lots of stuff. Am I the only one that has this problem?

Toady I’ll get caught upon some writing, then ride. Tomorrow is packing day, to get ready for my clinic in CA this weekend. Then I hit the road again on Friday. It’ll be a fun weekend. I always love going to CA, even if it’s hot. I’m not sorry I wished for it; a little bit of heat will feel good for a change.

Enjoy the ride!


Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Another Snowy Day In Paradise

Greetings! As I look out my office window, it is snowing hard. We can’t complain too much because we need the moisture badly. My friends from Hawaii are coming next week to visit and I am afraid they might be a little shocked at the weather. About 8 years ago, we got 5 ½ feet of snow on May 5. So in comparison to that, it has been a mild spring. But I’d be happy to have some warm sunny days Yesterday, we had a 12 hour photo shoot and today I am exhausted. My marketing director, TV show producer and personal photographer is Heidi Nyland,”> She is an incredibly talented photographer, journalist and marketing professional; she is also a SLAVE DRIVER! And while I’m whining, I’ll also say she’s responsible for me having to write three columns every month, not to mention the blog 😉 But I do love her. I am sure she’ll upload some pics to the blog.

For the photo shoot, we shot pictures for a year-long series of articles I am doing for The Trail Rider magazine. We must have saddled and un-saddled a hundred times on 5 different horses; not to mention how many times I had to change clothes and put more make-up on top of an increasingly dirty face! Aside from new bio shots and stuff for my website, we also did pictures for articles on despooking, side passing, extending the walk, teaching a horse to stand still for mounting and ground tying. I never knew smiling and riding at the camera could be so much fun. Looks like we’ll be riding indoors today. On days like this, it sure is nice to have the indoor option. The weather’s bad enough that my farrier cancelled his appointment today and he’s pretty tough! As much as I’d like to crawl back in bed with a good book, I’ll get myself motivated to ride.

I’ll be in central CA this weekend for a horsemanship clinic, where I am confident it will be warm! I’ll leave on Friday, work Sat-Sun, then come home on Monday. So if I don’t get a ride in every day I am home, I miss too much time on my horse. Dually is not a horse that can sit around for long. In March I had some back to back trips that caused me to be away from home for 11 days. When I finally got home and rode, he was a wild man! He does like to go. After a couple days of loping miles of circles, he was back to normal. Next weekend (Memorial Day) we are headed to a guest ranch in Granby CO for a Versatility Ranch Horse clinic and competition. It’ll be my first competition this year. I am not sure we are ready, but after the competition, I’ll for sure know where my weaknesses are! I’ve got a big group of friends coming for what we are calling the first annual convention for the Yehaw Sisterhood (even though a few brothers are invited too). I am really excited about it; more so the time spent with friends at a nice resort but the clinic and competition are a bonus. I just hope it doesn’t snow. Until next time. Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Watch A New Horse Master Episode–A Video Preview! Logo

Hi everyone,
I just found out that this segment of Horse Master with Julie Goodnight–which won’t air until May 28, 2008–will be available to download at! How fun to have the show available online. I thought I’d let you see it here, too. Keep in mind this is just one part of the show–you’ll have to watch the full episode on RFD to see the beginning and end. This part has some juicy and often-needed training bits, though.
This was a fun episode for us to film. The location (we filmed at the Florida Carriage Museum and Resort just south of Ocala) was absolutely gorgeous. It was so chilly while we were there, though. So much for spring break! Kia, the girl in the video, is a great young rider. She wants to be a horse trainer in a few years and she’s well on her way. In this clip, she’s learning to use her seat more than her hands to slow down her barrel horse after a run. She was a good sport to ride in a variety of weather. It rained then we got sunburned then we froze–all in two days’ time.

Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

I’m A Roping Fool!


After freezing our tails off yesterday, it’s a beautiful warm sunny day today, here at home in the “Heart of the Rocky Mountains” of Colorado. The last three weekends in a row I have been very cold—first in Minnesota, then in Massachusetts and yesterday here in Colorado. But at least yesterday I has access to all my warm gear—I rode in silk long johns, an arctic fleece T-neck and my warm and toasty oil skin jacket by Outback Trading Co.

In spite of the snowy start and the relentless wind, we had a great time at the roping clinic yesterday. And while I cannot honestly say that I can now rope anything, I think I am definitely better, if for no other reason, than by being forced to practice! Cole (the instructor) made a few much needed corrections to my swing and we threw a lot of loops at the dummies. Then up on our horses we threw at a dummy being pulled on a sled. Finally, we ran after some huge steers with big pointed horns—a little intimidating. I’m not really sure I’d want to catch one.

Dually got pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing—he lives for speed. His power in acceleration is impressive. I did manage to throw one good loop at a steer and almost caught. It was good for me because I think I was prepared to catch, mentally. That’s the thing about roping—it’s one thing to learn how to throw with accuracy and catch something, but once you catch it, that’s when the excitement begins!

Today I am enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning at home (rare for me)—starting with a soak in the hot tub, then a nice workout on the tread mill, then going out to breakfast. Now I am ready for a ride. I think I’ll ride my young horse today and give Dually a well-deserved break. We brought my friend Lucy’s horse home from the clinic with us, so she’ll join us for a ride this morning. Her horse Dodger, is an awesome ranch horse—a handsome devil that I sold her a year ago. He and Lucy both are getting back in shape after a long winter and we’ll keep him for a couple weeks before we all go to a clinic together up in Granby CO.

And now I am off to the barn!


Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

Enjoying My Weekend At Home! Logo

Good day!

It’s a lovely spring day here in the Rockies. Sunny, warm and no wind! Looking forward to my ride today. We’ll get a few cows out and have some fun with them.

Yesterday I got to ride in my BRAND NEW circle Y Flex2 Reiner and I love it! My first impression, picking it up out of the box, was how light it is! It looks like a substantial saddle that ought to weigh a lot, but it is very light weight. My next impression was how comfortable and narrow the seat is, putting you nice and close to the horse without the spread-eagle I normally feel in Western saddles. It’s a beautiful oak-colored saddle that looks awesome on my almost black horse and Dually worked well.

I pulled my old Morgan mare out of retirement yesterday. She foundered about 2-3 years ago and I retired her. But she’s perfectly sound now and I have way too many younger horses to ride and I hated it that she was sitting there getting no attention and getting older fast (she’s only 23). So my friend Chris, who runs a small boarding/lessons operation down the road, found one of her students to lease her for some light recreational riding for the summer.

I’d never sell Pepsea at her age, because I would fear losing control of her. After owning her for 18 years and doing just about everything you can imagine on her (jumping, reining, guiding trail, cow work, lessons, you name it) I think I owe it to her to make sure her twilight years are happy. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly am not a proponent of keeping every horse until they die of old age. In fact, for the most part, I think that is a totally unrealistic theory and I’ve seen many people get themselves in trouble with that opinion. But there are some special horses in our lives that will fit into that category.

Pepsea was pleasantly surprised when I started grooming her, but when I got out the saddle, she turned around and looked at me like, “You have GOT to be kidding!” She thought after 2-3 years of no work that surely she wouldn’t be ridden again. Chris hopped up on her and took her for a spin around the arena and she didn’t miss a lick. Just like she was ridden yesterday. Then the woman who wanted to lease her got on and they did amazingly well together. They both liked each other, enough so that Pepsea will be headed to Chris’s next week. It’ll take a while to get her back in shape, but I think it will be good for her and I know I can trust Chris to take good care of her.

Rich is off today so we can get ready for our clinic tomorrow. It’ll be nice to ride in the middle of the day for a change, instead of waiting until he gets home from work and I get done in the office). I probably won’t have a chance to write tomorrow, since we’ll be in the saddle all day. But I’ll be sure to let you know how we do roping!




Please visit Goodnight’s sites for more information and training tips:

The Men in my Life: Rich and Dually

It’s really hard to try and get a horse ready for competition when I am gone from home so much. When I am home, I make sure I ride every day—but sometimes that’s only 3 days per week. I am so lucky to have a horse like Dually, who is a truly versatile horse — he reins, cuts, ropes and is a joy to ride. He’s SO sensitive that it’s amazing how my position and cues affect his performance. While he is perfectly capable of making mistakes too, I have to recognize that his performance is limited by my riding ability for the sports that are still somewhat new to me. It makes it fun for me to ride and think about these things and play with my position to see how it effects him.

Last night Rich and I went to a cocktail reception here in Salida for a bunch of ski resort marketing people. Although this is not normally my favorite thing to do, I of course am always supportive of my husband and know that he endures endless social events with horsey types and actually, I had a good time. While I was in the food line, a guy put out his hand to me and said, “Hi, I’m Chad.” I of course shook his hand and said, “I’m Julie.” His response was “and who are you with?” I replied, “Oh, I am not really with anyone, I’m just a wife. My husband is Rich,” thinking he would know who Rich was, since it was his ski area hosting the event. Chad’s eyes got big and he smiled and said, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone introduce themselves that way. How rich is he?” Ha! What a riot. From now on, I’ll be careful of how I introduce myself.

Disengagement Logo


Disengagement of the hindquarters occurs when your horse crosses his hind legs. Your horse’s “motor” is in his hind end. So, when his hind legs cross, the engine is in neutral; your horse stops forward impulsion. Disengagement also encourages your horse to have a submissive attitude. You’re taking away his flight response. Disengagement is a natural, voluntary behavior for horses and it signals contrition. In natural settings, it’s only seen in neo-natal foals.

Use disengagement as a tool to refocus your horse and stop his forward impulsion. You should be able to disengage your horse from the ground and from the saddle—both are easy to do. Simply drive your horse forward then tip his nose up and to the inside as he steps up under himself with his inside hind leg. Disengagement is thoroughly explained in articles and on instructional videos available at <> .

The one-rein stop is an example of how you might disengage a horse from the saddle. Horses actually stop better off one rein than two, because when you pull on two reins to stop, the horse braces his neck, leans into the bit and may even run through the bridle. He can’t lean on one rein, and he can’t lean when his neck is bent.
By lifting one rein, toward your belly button or opposite shoulder, you lift your horse’s nose and shoulder as he crosses his hind legs. You’ll know when your horse disengages because you’ll feel his legs cross—his back will feel very crooked underneath you. As soon as your horse begins to disengage—or even slow down—release the rein to reward his response. You should be using less of a rein aid every time you ask for the one-rein stop. Try to alternate between using the right and left rein, so your horse is working balanced on both sides of his body.
You can also require your horse to continue moving forward while he brings his inside hind leg underneath his belly—like when you leg-yield, two-track, side pass or turn on the forehand, from the ground or in the saddle. This is much more difficult for your horse than walking straight, so don’t ask too much of your horse and make him resent the movements.
My groundwork and riding videos—especially Lead Line Leadership and GPR Volume 5 Refinement and Collection—explain the specific aids required to cue your horse for disengagement and lateral movements and shows a series of progressive exercises to develop the horse and rider/handler.

Does Your Bit Fit? Logo

Check Your Bit Fit
Most riders either inherit a bit when they purchase a horse or do their best to pick one off the shelf. But how many riders actually check the fit of their horses’ bits and know for sure if they have the right ones for their horses? Your horse’s mouth size and conformation, his level of training, and the rider’s ability all determine which bit you should use.

A bit can be too narrow or too wide in the mouthpiece—meaning it may not be functioning correctly or may make your horse uncomfortable. Most bits are sold in a 5” size. But if you measure your horse’s mouth from the corners of his lips, you might be surprised to find out he’d be more comfortable in a 4 ¾” or 5 1/8” bit. I use a simple and easy measuring device called, “Bit Fit” that will show you the exact width of your horse’s mouth. 

You’ll also need to check where the bit lays in your horse’s mouth to see if your bridle is adjusted correctly. If the bit is too high (causing wrinkles in the corners of his mouth), he’ll  feel  constant pressure and will have difficulty responding to light aids. If the bit hangs too low, it may hit his teeth and flop around in his mouth. I like the bit to touch the corners of my horse’s lips, but without showing any wrinkles. This way, he’ll hold the bit the way he wants in his mouth and respond to the lightest movement of the reins. A young horse will need to wear the bit high in his mouth until he no longer tries to put his tongue over the bit—a terrible habit that can be prevented early in the horse’s training.

The horse’s level of training as well as the rider’s is also a consideration in bit fit. As a horse progresses in his training, the bit can drop lower in his mouth and he can tolerate a stronger bit because you’ll be using less rein pressure to get him to respond. Even a very well-trained horse that’s used to a more advanced bit will need something mild in his mouth if he is to tolerate the hands of a less skilled rider.

Remember, the mildest bit in the wrong hands can be inhumane and the most severe bit in the right hands can be mild. Going to a stronger bit will never fix a training problem but may make it worse, while switching to a milder bit can often resolve issues with your horse. Many, if not most training issues with horses stem from anxiety about their mouths, so having the right bit’s important.

Save Your Horse’s Mouth, Stop With Your Seat Logo

Save Your Horse’s Mouth, Stop with Your Seat
You probably learned to “kick to go” and “pull to whoa” from the very start of your riding career. While this simplistic view of communicating with your horse may get you through the first few rides, you want to learn some finesse.  While all the natural aids are important to master— seat, legs, hands and voice—your horse will feel your seat aids first. When you make sure that you’re using your seat correctly, you won’t have to pull so hard to make your horse whoa. Your refined and combined cues will save your horses mouth and ensure your horse gets your message as soon as possible.

No horse wants you to pull on the reins. Even with the lightest touch, your backwards rein cue means your horse feels metal in his mouth. What’s more, most horses want to stop; they’re fundamentally lazy and usually don’t need tons of rein pressure to stop. Your horse will be glad to stop when he feels your seat cue and before he feels pressure from the reins and bit. Sadly, most horses don’t know their riders want to stop until they feel a pull on their mouths. They haven’t been given the gift of a gentler aid given before a panicked pull on the reins. Learn to cue your horse in a sequence so he can learn to stop with subtle cues. Before you pull on the reins, make sure to say “whoa” and sit down on your pockets. This sequence—providing voice and seat aids before rein aids—will save your horse’s mouth and make him a happier, more willing partner.

When you are in a balanced position on your horse, you are positioned directly over his center of gravity. He can feel your two seat bones pressing into the very sensitive part of his back. He can also feel your center of gravity in synchronization with his. To ask your horse to stop using your seat aid, simply exhale, drop your shoulders down toward your hips and feel your two seat bones push down and forward into his back. Your center of gravity shifts toward your  horse’s hind end. As you sit down, your legs will naturally relax and move off the horse’s sides. This seat/weight cue is very easy for your horse to feel. When he has the option to respond to your stopping cue before he feels you pull on his mouth, he’ll happily and promptly stop.

Don’t hesitate to use your reins as reinforcements to your seat aid if your horse doesn’t respond right away. Continue to cue your horse with your seat before the reins and he’ll eventually figure out your new sequence of cues. Keep repeating until you see a difference. In my five-DVD series on riding, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, there are comprehensive explanations and demonstrations of how to ride in balance and rhythm with the horse, how to use your natural aids for soft and subtle communication and advanced skills such as canter, lead changes, collection and lateral movements.

Showing Affection To Horses Logo

Showing Affection to Horses
Before you start smooching on your horse, it may be useful to understand how horses show affection to each other. Mutual grooming (a.k.a. allo-grooming) is the primary affectionate behavior of horses that isn’t related to reproduction. Mutual grooming is a social, care-giving behavior. Young or adult horses that are buddies in the herd often show their affection by nibbling on one another’s withers and backs. Horses stand facing each other—close at the shoulder—to simultaneously groom each other in the areas hardest to reach alone: the crest of the neck, the withers, along the back, croup and dock of the tail.

When you want to show affection to your horse, stroke him with a massaging motion. Start along the crest of the neck and withers. This calms him and is proven to slow his heart rate and release soothing chemicals in his brain. It’s best to avoid kissing your horse on the lips. Being lip to lip is the same as biting for horses. It has a stimulating effect. You’ll see horses lip to lip when they’re fighting or aggressively playing.

Foals especially love to mutual groom and they love to be rubbed and have close bodily contact. Be careful you do not instill bad habits in your youngster by letting him move into your space to demand grooming; these habits won’t be so cute when he weighs 1,000 pounds. The dominant horse most likely begins any grooming session and he ends it by biting. So it’s best not to ever let a horse groom you back, since you don’t want him to become dominant. He’ll try to dominate by moving into your space, putting his mouth on you, and controlling your actions.

During the winter, or whenever you’ll have less riding time, it’s a good time to do more ground work with your horse to establish a strong bond and learn more about behavior and your leadership of the horse. Check out my Complete Groundwork Package, including my DVDs on behavior and ground training exercises plus the training equipment you’ll need.

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Grooming is a great time to get some exercise and develop the bi-lateral coordination and symmetrical strength that you need to become a better rider. Many riders have a strong dominant side—which can mean that the horses they ride also have a strong and weak side or direction. Strengthen right and left by grooming with both hands at once—you’ll strengthen both arms and make sure you can cue your horse with symmetrical strength.

Start with duplicate brushes: two curry combs, two stiff brushes and two soft brushes. Put a currycomb in each hand and start your normal grooming technique, using both hands in a “wax on, wax off” motion. If you normally make circles with the currycomb, make the same circles with both hands, starting with circling both hands inward then both hands outward. You’ll repeat the two-handed process with all your grooming tools.

Pick up your stiff brushes and repeat the process, using both hands equally as you flick the dirt out of your horse’s coat from his ears to his tail. Finally, you’ll use the soft brushes to bring the shine out in your horse, nose to tail. If you are right handed, make sure you use your left arm at least as much, if not more than the right; and visa-versa.

Double grooming will help you build strength on both sides of your body and will develop your coordination as well, making you more ambidextrous in the saddle. The added benefit is that your horse will get twice as much grooming and his coat will gleam. For more strength-building exercises, check out for volume three in the 5-video riding series, Perfect Practice: Exercises to Improve Your Riding.

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Fear Not
Fear is a normal emotion to have around horses; it’s what keeps you from doing something that could be deadly. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid at times; but fear is a negative attribute when it impacts your enjoyment or controls your actions.

If you ever feel fear, remember three simple, calming steps: keep your eyes focused, breathe deeply (abdominal breathing) and control your body language. If you can keep your eyes up and active, looking around and taking in information, you can actually prevent other symptoms of fear (dry mouth, butterflies, increased heart rate—you know the drill) from occurring. When your fear doesn’t escalate, your horse will continue to view you as the leader, so he won’t become fearful, too.

Deep abdominal breathing eliminates breath holding and shallow breathing—movements your horse easily associates with fear. Inhale deeply, filling your lungs from the bottom all the way to the top, then exhaling fully, emptying every last bit of air, from the top of your lungs to the very bottom.

Finally, controlling your body language gives your horse more confidence in your ability and helps you over-ride the emotion of fear. Adopt a confident posture, no matter how you really feel. Stand with your shoulders up, hands on your hips, eyes looking around, with a posture that says, “Give me more!”

Your mind, body and spirit  are all interconnected. If you allow your emotions to take control, your mind and body will succumb; if you control your mind (using your eyes and breathing) and control your body language, your emotions don’t stand a chance.