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.

July 2019 Horse Report

For the summer, I am focusing all my barn time on my colt, Pepperoni. Dually is now fully retired, Rich rides Eddie and Mel rides Annie for me. When I am only riding one horse a day, I don’t get as much exercise as when I ride several—like at a clinic or expo. That’s why I can look at it as beneficial to my health, well-being and fitness-level that Pepperoni likes to run around the arena like a dust-devil for the first 20 minutes of our ride—the equivalent (according to my FitBit) as riding three horses!

Pepper is happiest when he’s going fast. We start every ride with a 10-minute long trot followed by a 10-minute gallop. On some days, that barely moves the needle on his gas tank. On other days, mostly when he’s had time off, his tank is full of rocket fuel and the 20-minute ride is a little like a roller coaster. But even on the “exuberant” days, once he’s burned a little fuel, he’s a fabulous ride.

He’s sensitive to the slightest cue. He’s quick and athletic and tackles maneuvers with enthusiasm. He’s wickedly smart and quick-learning—making him both a joy and a challenge to train. And he’s one of the most present, aware and courageous horses I’ve ever ridden. If he were a cop, he would definitely run toward the gunfire. If he were in the military, he would no doubt be Special Forces. He’s a challenge for sure, but the payoff could be huge.

Sometimes I yearn to ride my push-button old horse, to have some relaxed and refined riding. But for now, Pepper is keeping me young.

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!

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

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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!

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!

Equine Good Citizen Award: Is your horse eligible?

Eddie
Eddie

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.

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!

Unspoken Agreements

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.

May 2019 Letter From Julie

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

Dear friends,

Prime riding season is fast approaching and most of us are gearing up and making plans to spend some quality time with our horses this summer—I know I am! My husband surprised me by coming home with a brand new 3-horse trailer with living quarters! I’ve always wanted one and recently hinted to Rich that it was on my bucket list to camp with the horses. What a thoughtful (and HUGE) Mother’s Day gift! Check out the deals we have to celebrate Mother’s Day (or any day you chose) and help make your horse life better. Maybe you can forward this email to husband and kids, by way of a hint.

We had fantastic expos in Ohio and Minnesota last month—it was great to see old friends, meet new ones and talk horses all day long. I’ll be at the Western States Horse Expo in Rancho Murieta, California, May 9-12. I also have horsemanship clinics coming up in Virginia, Ohio and Minnesota. My clinics are filling fast but OH and MN still have a few openings for riders. Be sure to check out my full schedule here.


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!