Sharing Your Passion For Horses With Kids

There is much about life to learn from horses and the lessons learned are too important not to share with as many youngsters as we can—be it your children, grandchildren or the neighborhood kids. If I have learned anything about children in my lifetime, it’s that they will find their own path, their own dreams and their own passions.

Hunter Goodnight and Fire

Horses have always been part of my life. I knew from the start that I wanted to give my own child the love of horses. I was pregnant when you didn’t know what gender your baby was until the day it was born. So for nine months, I dreamt of having a horse-crazy girl who would live, eat and breathe horses, just like I did when I was a kid. When my son was born, I was not deterred. Sure, probably 10:1 are horse-crazy girls to boys, but we would buck the odds. I imagined my son teaching clinics alongside me, helping me start the colts and what a great trainer he would one day become, taking over my business when I retire! After all, it’s far easier for a boy to make it in this business than a girl, right?

 

I am one of four kids that all grew up in a family with horses and the same set of parents, yet I was the only one who took to the sport. My father had the passion and he recognized it early-on in me. All of us kids had the opportunity to ride horses throughout our lives, but I was apparently the only one that was horse-obsessed. My father felt strongly that no matter what you choose to do in life, you should do it right and do it well. He was a no fuss, no muss horseman who had an intensive focus on safety, but a compelling need to have fun. Without question, my father was the most influential human in my lifetime journey of horsemanship.

 

One of my father’s favorite activities was hooking up our driving ponies and driving through the neighborhoods that surrounded our farm, letting any kid pile on for a ride. I often wonder if he inspired a passion for horses in any of those kids, whose names we did not even know.

 

My father always said: It’s our job as parents to guide their path, but not to dictate it. It’s our job to provide opportunity and options. Creating a “mini-me” is not really the goal of parenting. As my father once so eloquently said, “We raise our children to be independent thinkers, so you cannot complain when they are!”

 

From the time my son was two weeks old, he went to the barn with me every day. I was running a full-service boarding/training/lesson facility at the time, as well as offering guided trail rides to tourists; there wasn’t much of an option for maternity leave, since I was self-employed. If my child had the horse-crazy gene, there would be plenty opportunity for its expression. But still, I found that if I wanted to instill a passion for horses in my son, I had to work at it, and couldn’t take it for granted.

 

There were certain things I learned by trial and error about parenting and horses, that would help set the stage for my child’s future with horses. Here are my tips to help foster a love of horses….

Five Tenets of Horses and Parenting

  1. Make it safe.

Although the school of hard knocks couldn’t damper my own passion, I know that if something happens to cause fear or injury, that it could staunch even the most ardent passion. I’ve seen in again and again—a passion flaming out from fear. My oldest sister once confided in me that she had the same love of horses as me, but a scary fall had squelched it. Much more common in adults, who naturally have more fear; it is particularly heart-wrenching to see in children. Do not cut corners or take unnecessary risks; seek help if you aren’t sure how. Certified Horsemanship Association is an excellent resource for parents and CHA certified instructors (of which I am one) are tested on their safety awareness.

 

When my son was about 7, he insisted that he should ride “Cochise,” a flashy, energetic Paint from our trail string, in spite of the fact he was one of our tougher mounts. After much persuasion, I agreed to let him ride the gelding on a short ride with his buddy, with me in the lead, keeping a close eye on Cochise. To my great relief, the ride went off without a hitch, until I stopped to talk to a friend in the driveway, a mere 50 yards from the barn. My eyes bored into the back of the gelding’s head as he sauntered past and no sooner was he beyond my reach than he took off like a bullet for the barn. He ran straight to his spot on the hitching rail and did a 90 degree pivot as he slammed on the brakes. Hunter stuck to him until the bitter end then landed in the mud in a heap of tears and snot. Although he was not hurt, his passion for horses simmered down a little that day. Proving once again, the most important thing I learned from my father about horses—always plan for the worst-case scenario.

 

  1. Size it up.

A good pony can be hard to find, but well worth the effort. First, the closer you are to the ground, the better. A fall is considered potentially fatal if it is greater than your own height. The higher that kid’s head is off the ground, the worse the fall. There’s also a matter of width—the smaller the kid’s legs, the narrower the horse should be. Picture the toddler on a draft horse with his legs doing the splits—don’t bother trying to teach the kid leg aids. Good kid’s saddles can also be hard to find, but important to a young rider’s success.

 

My son really enjoyed brushing, cleaning the feet, saddling and bridling his own horse and being able to tie on his own BB gun. Having a right-sized horse was really important to him because he liked to do things the way adults did them. Our naughty Welsh-Shetland cross was his pal for years and they combed the woods surrounding the stables. “Surprise” was his name (and he was always full of them) and he went on to raise kids in several other families after my son outgrew him.

Hunter Goodnight and Surprise
  1. Make it fun, not work.

Since I was in the horse business, horses represented a lot of hard work to me. It’s a demanding job, D2D/7 (dawn to dusk/ seven days a week); well-suited for work-aholics. My first inclination was to make the kids clean stalls and do the chores first, but I soon realized that if I wanted my son to love horses, it dang sure had to be fun!

I learned that sometimes, I had to take a break from my busy work schedule to have fun with the kids. If that meant dressing up like cowboys, stalking the woods for bears and shooting at ground squirrels, then that’s what we did. There were lots of picnics, lots of belting out songs as we rode down the trail and lots of mounted games involving toilet paper. I never grew tired of listening to kids laughing and singing on a horse. I learned that it’s not a privilege for a kid to get to ride; it’s a privilege for an adult to be able to offer this awesome experience to a child.

Hunter and Surprise
Hunter and Surprise

 

4.  Invite friends.

Like many activities, riding is more fun when shared with a friend. I was a very shy and solitary kid and for me, horses were the only friends I needed growing up; but my son was clearly a very social animal from early-on. Because we were in the horse business and horses were available to my son to play with all-day, every-day, I noticed right away that it seemed a lot more fun when other kids wanted to ride with us. Looking back on it now, I also realize how important it is for all of us that have horses to give as many kids this amazing opportunity as we can, and that there is no telling how even a brief experience with horses can shape a child’s life in a positive way.

Fortunately, Hunter’s best childhood friend did have the horse-crazy gene, but his parent’s did not have horses at the time. The two boys spent countless hours and days on-end playing “Lonesome Dove” with the horses, in the foothills of our small mountain town. Both boys grew up to be avid backcountry enthusiasts. Darby’s family eventually bought a ranch, where his passion for horses grew stronger. Today, Darby is still in touch with his passion for horses, spending his summers guiding luxury pack trips into the Colorado wilderness, while he’s in graduate school for architecture.  Horses have been a steady influence his whole life and he enjoys sharing it with others.

5.   Find your child’s unique passion and exploit it.

My father recognized the spark in me and even though he was a straight-up Western kind of guy, my dream was to ride jumpers, and he let me do it. My father was a big believer in getting the best education/coaching you can, so I first started hunt seat riding lessons the summer I turned seven. I was immediately the star pupil of my sage old riding instructor, who was probably the second most influential person in my horsemanship journey. She was a salty, bow-legged, hunched-backed, chain smoker (filter-less Camels) and I worshipped the ground she walked on. She gave me a solid foundation in my riding (I went on to win countless blue ribbons in equitation) and an insatiable desire to learn more (which continues today). From her, I also learned to pay close attention to one’s posture (particularly as we age) and I never smoked cigarettes.

 

Although my idea of a good time was to ride, ride, ride, my son’s interest was the farrier. He thought our farrier hung the moon; he loved to clean out feet and by the ripe old age of 7, he had his own farrier tool box and he was learning how to hold and shape feet. My father got him his own set of chaps, which touched the ground when he was 6, and then morphed into above-the-knee chinks by the time he was 14 (those very chaps decorate our guest house now). We made sure he spent plenty of time with our farrier, who was a great role model and happy to mentor my son.

Hunter Goodnight and Buck
Hunter Goodnight and Buck

Lessons Learned by Mom

When my son was little and I had to stop whatever seemingly important task I was doing to get a horse out for him or watch him shoot a target from the back of his pony, I never imagined how important horses would be to him as an adult. By the time he was a teenager, and my business had evolved to the point I was on the road 30 weekends a year, I was reliant on Hunter to feed the horses and do chores at home. Now, he is grown up and independent and he still takes care of my horses. His eye is keen and he handles them with care; his devotion to horses is obvious.

 

You don’t have to be a rider to have a passion for horses. We should all be doing what gives us the greatest satisfaction; every day. Explore every corner of horsemanship and get good instruction along the way. Never under-estimate the value of learning on safe and well-trained horses, but don’t get pigeon-holed into a discipline. When I was a kid, I lived to jump. As a young adult, I had to ride in the back country. Later, it was all about working cows. I have done many disciplines and each one has broadened my knowledge in significant ways. It’s all about opportunity—and giving a young one lots of chances to find their own way with horses.

 

 

 

Hunter and the boys aug 2015
Hunter and the Boys

 

 

 

Herd – The Frog Sloughs!

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The frog of the hoof grows continuously and is an important structure of the foot. Traditionally, farriers would trim the frog back, keeping it very neat and trim, but increasingly farriers are leaving the frog natural so that it provides better cushioning and support for the foot and better circulation. When left natural, the frog will periodically slough off, either in many little pieces or in one frog-shaped piece. The sloughing is perfectly normal, but may be alarming to people that have never seen the frog in its natural state.

Horse Shopping 101

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Horse Shopping 101
I am getting an increasing number of inquiries from people looking for a new horse. So it is with no small amount of forethought that we did a Horse Master episode featuring a young woman looking to find her dream horse. She also happens to be a riding instructor and in that role she finds herself looking at horses for others as well—either a horse for a client or a school horse for the program where she is employed and the episode is about the horse buying process. (Tip: Visit http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/ to see a clip of Shop ‘Til You Drop or http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com to purchase a DVD of the episode.)

I love shopping for horses—one significant reason behind the sale horse side of my business. I just love the hunt for a good horse and I love finding the perfect owner for that horse as well. In this case, the buyer is looking for an all-around horse that she can do just about anything on—trail, arena, pleasure—but she also has a hankering for cowhorse events. Whatever your desires, it is first and foremost important that you decide what your goals are because it is critical that the horse matches those goals, particularly when it comes to cowhorse disciplines. Not just any horse is suited for that.

Next, it is important that you spend some time thinking about how much money you can spend and that you have an appreciation for how much horse that will buy you (consider looking at a few horses above your limit so you have a realistic frame of reference). You should stretch your limits here as much as possible, keeping in mind the old axiom—the purchase price is the cheapest amount of money you will spend on your horse. You can always BUY training cheaper than you can put it on a horse, so don’t get sucked into the mistake so many people make in buying a young, green horse. His board, health maintenance, farrier, etc., will far exceed the purchase price in a short time so spend as much as you can up front to get the best trained horse you can (but only if the horse is worth it).

I wish I had a dollar for all the people I have met that made the mistake of buying a young, green horse. I’d be retired by now. Some survive this mistake and eventually end up with a decent horse; some don’t. You know the saying: green plus green equals black and blue. But even if you are not a novice rider and you have the capability to train a horse, do you really want to spend your precious time at that? Do you really want months and even years to elapse before you can attain your goals? Or do you want to begin enjoying your horse tomorrow at a level that you’ve dreamed of? I wonder how many of you have bought a green horse and regretted it and how many of you have had success with that youngster?

Currently we are in a buyer’s market, thanks to the recession and the glut of unwanted horses. While the economy has not greatly affected the high-end horse market, it has impacted the mid and low range horse market. The horse you would have paid $10,000 for a few years ago, you may now get for $7500—so it’s a great time to parlay your money into more horse, no matter what price range you are in.

In the end, you should spend your money on training and temperament. Conformation follows closely as a must-have because it has a bearing on performance, soundness and longevity. For my sales program, I rarely look at a horse under 10 years old to buy. I try to find those “cream puff” horses that are safe, solid and fun to own and ride. To have the experience, training and seasoning they need to be a solid, “bomb proof” kind of horse, they need some age on them. No matter how well trained that 4 year old is, he cannot have the life-experience he needs to be a sure bet. It’s amazing how quickly training can be un-done in a young horse, or any horse for that matter. I get emails on a daily basis from someone who bought a horse that seemed very well trained when they looked at it (or they took the word of the seller that he was well trained) and a month later the horse has major problems. Have you had this experience? I cannot always fault the seller because any horse can become untrained quickly with mishandling—here’s where temperament comes in.

Depending on your goals and pursuits, breeding (pedigree and type) can also be a big factor. If your ultimate goal includes endurance racing in the Tevis Cup, you’d be well advised to stay away from draft horses. The more specific and more demanding your riding goals, the more important breeding and training is. The frustration of an unsuitable horse and/or a poorly trained horse trying to do something he’s not ready for or capable of is real for both horse and rider. We do horses a huge disservice trying to make them into something they are incapable of or asking more of them than their training allows.

If you are currently in the market for a new equine partner, where are you looking? Where have you found the greatest success? Word of mouth? Classified ads? Internet? Trainers? Has it been frustrating and impossible or easy and successful? How many near-perfect horses flunked the pre-purchase vet exam before you found the right horse? Was the horse you bought everything you thought he’d be or did you find holes in him after you got to know him? It is certainly not an exact science and to some extent, being in the right place at the right time is priceless, when it comes to finding the perfect horse. The best horses don’t stay on the market for long. But the more you know, the easier the buying process is to navigate.

If you’re in the market for a new horse this spring—good luck! And there’s even more advice on my new Buyer’s Guide. Search for “buyers” on the search page.

Until next time,
–Julie Goodnight

Stand Statue Still

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Stand Statue Still
Lots of people “do” ground work but like with any type of training, it can be done well or not. Groundwork done poorly is training the horse the wrong thing and I have seen many cases where horses have been damaged in the process of “groundwork.” To be an effective trainer, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, what is the desired response and how to get it, and most importantly, you must have the ability to reward (release) the horse with perfect timing (the optimum timing is within one-half second of the desired response of the horse).

If your horse is not adequately trained and you expect the veterinarian, farrier or anyone else to work on your horse or pick up his to feet, then you also have to accept someone else’s fast training instead of your own work with your horse. Don’t wait for someone else to train your horse in a hurry. It’s your job to train the horse.
You need to train your horses to stand still on your request. This can be accomplished in about five minutes with the fussiest of horses if the handler is consistent and has good timing and is adequately outfitted with gear. To teach the stand-still skill, I prefer to use a rope halter with a training lead attached with a knot (and not a harsh buckle). A trained, obedient and subordinate horse will willingly and calmly stand ground tied, with or without a halter and lead.
As you do ground work teaching the horse to stand, work from a looser and looser lead, getting farther and farther away from the horse like he is ground tied. When he is standing reliably (because you have consistently corrected his mistakes or the slightest look away from you—where his attention should be), start lifting his feet and messing with them while he is ground tied. You horse will learn to stand quietly and relaxed while his feet are being handled and manipulated. Be sure to pet and praise the horse for his efforts and make sure that he learns that when he does the right thing, life can be quite good and quite easy.
Once you’ve taught your horse to be mannerly and obedient, you need to get him accustomed to what the farrier or veterinarian will require him to do: hold the foot up high and long, place it between your legs and pound and scrape the foot. As you work with young horses to teach them about foot handling, it is critical that you only put the foot down when the horse is standing still and relaxed. If you release the foot while the horse is fidgeting or fighting, you have trained the horse to fidget and fight. When you let go of the foot, make sure you let it down gently, slowly giving back control to the horse, never dropping his foot out from under him. It is best to place the foot in a specific location when you set it down, but never try to force the foot down.
This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Lead Line Leadership. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills at my Training Library: http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php.
–Julie Goodnight

To Shoe Or Not To Shoe?

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To me, this is not a simple yes-or-no, black-or-white answer. Just as there are many good reasons not to shoe your horse, there are many reasons why you might want to shoe. There are few things with horses that are absolute—always this way or never that way.

I am generally suspicious when someone takes an unmovable stance on an issue. I worry that such an outlook may indicate a closed mind and an unwillingness to consider other points of view. I love to keep learning and to do that, you have to have an open mind to listen, consider and relate what you hear to what you already know. Having a firm stance can be a very slippery slope when it comes to horses. If you ever think you have all the answers, a horse will come along and prove you wrong. Usually, they’ll prove you wrong in some kind of humiliating way.

The Barefoot Reasoning: There are many compelling arguments not to put steel shoes on a horse’s feet. The hoof naturally expands when the horse’s weight comes down on it, increasing circulation in the hoof, pumping blood up the leg and acting as a shock absorber. The rigidity of a metal horseshoe inhibits this natural expansion and may decrease the circulation of blood in the foot and limb.

Also, horses that are shod are more prone to injuring to themselves and others when the hard shoe comes into contact with soft flesh. Unshod horses have better traction in many slick conditions and the hoof tends to be healthier. Putting holes in the hoof wall is not without risk and should never be taken lightly or done for no reason. Leaving horses shod indefinitely can lead to weakened and misshapen hoofs and even lameness.

There are many excellent arguments for leaving a horse barefoot, not the least of which is the monetary cost of having a horse shod!

Yes to Shoes: There are also many good arguments for putting shoes on your horse, if shoes are needed. Therapeutic shoeing is perhaps one of the most compelling reasons. There are many conditions that a farrier can treat with shoes that can make the horse more comfortable and prolong his useful working life. Navicular disease, severe laminitis, thin-walled hooves, foot-related lameness, under-run heels, arthritis, bruising, stabilizing cracks, injuries and conformation flaws, just to name a few.

Depending on the workload of an individual horse and the terrain and/or surface he is ridden on, he may or may not need shoes. Often horses that are ridden hard every day in abrasive or rocky conditions will simply wear their feet down faster than they grow. Hoof boots can help, but they aren’t an answer to every shoeing need. Shoeing can prevent foot soreness and stone bruising, enhance performance (such as sliders on a reining horse) and help improve traction when specialized shoes are used (like borium or cogs).

Hoof Boot It: Using hoof boots can be a great mitigating factor to keep your horse barefoot but still ride him hard in rugged terrain or to give the hoof time to toughen-up. Hoof boots might allow you to keep your horse barefoot, or make him more comfortable when his feet get sore, and generally they provide good traction on rocky or slick terrain. But there are some disadvantages too. Hoof boots can be difficult to fit, hard to put on, yet somehow they manage to come off at the worst possible moment. Some hoof boots will allow mud and debris to sneak inside, which can cause irritation and discomfort to the horse, just like gravel inside your shoe would. If you choose to use boots, read the reviews and choose a pair that doesn’t collect dirt.

For performance horses, hoof boots are generally too bulky and clunky for the horse to make difficult athletic maneuvers. It’s like expecting a ballet dancer to perform in hiking boots. It’s not that there is anything wrong or bad about hiking boots, in and of themselves, but they are not the footwear of choice for all activities. Again, there is rarely one right answer when it comes to horses.

All Things Considered: For me, making the decision to shoe a horse or leave him barefoot is never taken lightly and always in consideration of the individual horse, his workload and his unique needs. Individual factors include foot health and strength, the terrain he will be ridden in, how often and how hard he is ridden, the type of work he is doing (trail or arena, performance or pleasure) and what is at stake if he gets foot sore or a stone bruise and has to be laid-off to recover.

In my barn, we have horses that are barefoot, horses that are shod with front shoes only (the front feet carry more weight), horses that are shod with hind shoes only (sliders for our competition horses), and horses that are shod all the way around. All of our horses go at least half the year without shoes (some for the entire year), to help improve hoof health and to give them better traction in the ice and snow.

Horses can be conditioned to go barefoot all the time, but it takes about a year to grow a new hoof and to toughen up the feet enough to endure hard work every day on hard ground. Sometimes it’s hard to sacrifice the time off or a lesser workload that toughening of the feet requires. Although there is nothing natural about putting shoes on horses, there is also nothing natural about putting a heavy rider and gear on their back and forcing them to go into terrain where they would not voluntarily go.

There are many parts of the country where the ground surface is very conducive to horses being barefoot and there are some places where it is not—like where I live. I always say, there is a reason why they call it the Rocky Mountains. But still, even living here in the Rockies, I have some horses that can stay barefoot with heavy workloads, and some that get foot sore easily, even riding in the arena. There are some areas that we trail ride that are so rocky that even shod horses can get foot sore on long, multi-day rides, and terrain where getting off to retrieve a hoof boot that has fallen off would be downright dangerous.

To me, the bottom line is that I would never choose to shoe a horse if it weren’t important–considering all of the factors and options. I never take putting holes in the hoof wall or the rigidity of steel shoes lightly. I do, however, consider all the factors, the pros and cons of both shoeing and barefoot, each individual horse’s situation, and his overall health and well-being before deciding to shoe or not to shoe.

As usual, when it comes to horses, there is no one right answer, and whenever I hear someone saying ‘never’ or ‘always,’ it gives me pause for thought. To me, keeping an open mind and considering other points of view allows me to learn more and grow.

Enjoy the ride,

Julie Goodnight