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AlphaHorse News - December 2005

Greetings (Subscriber),

Well, the holidays are just around the corner now, which the snow and frigid temperatures will attest to! Luckily with the holiday preparations in full-gear there's not much time to get cranky about the hostile weather. Next month will be an entirely different story…

I think you're going to enjoy this month's issue of AlphaHorse News. Lately I've received a couple inquiries about how to best handle a horse that shies away from you when you attempt to mount, so I decided it was time to write up an article about that topic. Well, it ended up being very detailed, so it'll be coming in two parts.

Another piece I think you're going to love is a humorous AlphaHorse exclusive that you all will see before the rest of the world. We've uncovered a secret horse document that speaks of a conspiracy existing within the notorious Rid'em Cowboy Ranch, and I assure you it's truly shocking! Perhaps the holiday eggnog has made us a bit zany, but hopefully you'll enjoy the lighthearted departure from the norm. And if you do, please drop me a note and let me know!

Before moving on to the aforementioned articles I'd like to wish you a wonderful Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Jeffrey Rolo

In This Issue:

bulletWalking Off The Stirrups: The Causes
bulletThe Rid'em Cowboy Ranch Guide On How To Identify and Discourage Persistent Kids
bulletA Horse Blog You Should Check Out

Walking Off The Stirrups: The Causes

One of the most frustrating problems that horse owners encounter is when their otherwise good horse decides to walk and/or race ahead the moment the owner inserts his foot into the stirrup. Not only can this consume time as the owner has to constantly restart the process until he's finally able to mount, but it can also prove to be a health hazard if the owner becomes inattentive and gets his foot caught in the stirrup as the horse shies away. So how does one solve this problem?

First, identify the cause.

It is impossible to train your horse to mount better or discourage him from walking off the stirrups unless you know the root cause of the problem, primarily because the corrective actions will vary dependent on the causes. So with that in mind, here are the most common reasons why a horse will not stand still as you mount:

bulletThe horse is uncomfortable or apprehensive about riding. The cause of the apprehension could be the rider or it could be the riding ritual itself, but in either case the horse is clearly nervous or downright fearful of what is to come, and as such he'll bolt forward in an attempt to either escape the rider or discourage the rider from being able to mount.
bulletThe horse is testing the rider's ability. Even the best riding horse is going to test your mettle from time to time, but try not to be too offended when it occurs since the horse is only following his natural instincts. If you watch herd behavior you'll notice that the alpha mare must always assert her dominance because others within the herd are always willing to take the role if she slips.
bulletThe horse is simply bored to death! Ever have one of those jobs where you are so bored that you just go through the motions much like a zombie? You're so focused on just getting the day over with that you don't pay attention to the small details. Well, the same can happen with horses.
bulletThe horse was trained improperly. Sometimes trainers do not properly teach their horses how to stand properly for mounting, how to stand still until given express permission to walk, or how to engage in all the various gaits and speeds.

Now that we know the most common causes of this behavior, let's take a closer look at how we can determine which category our horse falls under.

If your horse walks off the stirrups in a speedy or bolting manner, more likely than not the cause of the problem is fear or apprehension. When something concerns us enough we often recoil away from it, and that's what the horse is doing. Watch for other outward signs such as tensed muscles, bulging eyes, heavy breathing and any other signs of nervousness.

When your horse walks off with a slow to medium pace you next want to examine its demeanor. Is the horse sharp and attentive to your presence, almost eyeing you to gauge what your reaction will be? If so, chances are your horse is just testing you. He simply doesn't want to work or he wants to confirm whether or not you are indeed still the alpha leader. This can either be a harbinger of things to come or it can be a one-time test depending on your existing relationship with the horse as well as how quickly you establish firm and proper authority.

Does your horse tend to slowly plod forward with his head and neck drooped somewhat? Are his muscles relaxed and loose? If so, clearly your horse is not apprehensive about you or the ride ahead of him, nor is he testing your authority. He's just bored and wants to get the whole ordeal over with, so he's not paying proper attention to your status or your cues.

The fourth example – improper training – is often the most difficult to determine since the behavior can mimic any of the above. Some horses that were improperly trained may bolt on you while others may walk off in a seemingly bored manner. Let me provide a personal example.

I once owned a Quarter Horse who was an absolute gem; he was one of the most gentle and friendly horses a person could have the pleasure of knowing. Although he did not bolt ahead while the rider was trying to mount, the moment the rider's butt hit the saddle he'd surge forward like he was in the midst of a race. While it was possible to slow him down, the moment you dropped your guard he'd naturally kick into high speed again.

The problem? He was a gentle giant (on second thought, being a Quarter Horse perhaps a more accurate term would be "bulky giant") to be sure, but he was also an ex-barrel racer, and it was immediately clear his former owner knew only one speed: GO! Since the horse didn't have proper training, he was actually uncomfortable going at slower speeds because in the past it was clearly discouraged.

The good news is that after a few months of work and retraining he became just as comfortable with slow walks as he did with speedy canters and gallops. Although he didn't walk off the stirrups, exactly, it was almost the same thing since a novice rider wouldn't have been settled in properly and prepared before he took off.

Poor training can even cause nervous behavior (as in my Quarter Horse's case) even though the horse isn't nervous of YOU or the act of riding itself – he's nervous because he's being asked to do something he's never done much of before. This makes diagnosing poor training a little trickier than the aforementioned three causes, but with enough observation you'll eventually be able to get at the root of the problem.

Before you even attempt to take corrective actions to resolve walking off the stirrups, make sure you first understand your horse and his reasons for behaving as he is. I cannot stress that enough, because corrective actions applied incorrectly can do more harm than good.

Now that we have covered the causes for walking off the stirrups, we're ready to apply the necessary corrective actions. We'll cover those in detail in the next issue of AlphaHorse News.

The Rid'em Cowboy Ranch Guide On How To Identify and Discourage Persistent Kids

 Alert: A previously secret document passed only amongst horses has recently been discovered within the stable of Rid'em Cowboy Ranch (Colorado Division), and its contents are truly disturbing. It seems behind those stable doors there exists an equine conspiracy involving how to best discourage kids from taking advantage of horse rides during the Christmas horseback riding camp.

Is the herd responsible for creating this document an abnormality, or could similar unspoken policies exist in a horse camp near you? It's impossible to know for certain, but we felt it was best to share the shocking discovery with you so that you can judge for yourself. Here's the document...

Knowing how to discourage pesky kids from leaping onto your back, jabbing your ribs with their feet and yanking your reins is an essential skill for any horse to possess. Contained within this document are techniques that we have found to be effective, but keep in mind this document should never be seen by the public; it is for your eyes only.

1. Preparations:

When the bus arrives, select a kid you view as an easy mark. The elders amongst us get first choice, of course. Sorry you young whippersnappers, you'll have to pay your dues first!

2. General guidelines:

Start with personality profiling: more commonly known as bus-spotting. When the bus arrives, be observant; look out for these basic types:

(a) The urban BMX/skateboarding type – Usually wears knee/elbow pads and a bright, contoured helmet. Attempts to perform 360s off the fence rail on arrival. Shouts things like “gnarly” and calls you “dude.” Chews gum – mind where he sticks it! Good balancing skills, so swerving at high speeds won’t dislodge them. Luckily this type loses interest quickly if you won’t do re-entries off the canyon walls.

(b) The Inner-city hip-hop rapper – Prefers his ghetto blaster to horses, but we get stuck with him because his parents thought the kid needed to "expand his horizons." Bobs and weaves more than a drunken Irish pugilist. Talks to you in a fast rhyming pattern spliced with lots of queer sound effects. Shouts tired things like, “hey, who stole the handlebars,” and “I can’t find the brakes!” Really a pushover – one icy lake plunge and he and his obnoxious ghetto blaster will move on.

(c) The Shy, Retiring Type – A deep thinker that's so introspective he's never learned how to function in society or developed much self-confidence. He's afraid to speak much louder than a whisper, and he also never walks directly towards you. Oh… and get this… he wants to bond at a meaningful level. Yeah, just like them wacky natural horsemanship types! Anyhow, this one is an easy tactical choice: We give him to Ernie since he’s stone deaf.

(d) The Yellowbellied Crybaby Type – This is a good one to deal with as they can be quite fun. He won’t get off the bus without a fight, which can be evidenced by him desperately clinging to the seats and handlebars as well as the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Best Tactics For This Type: – Act cute! Nuzzle nearby horses or the fence post to draw the little bugger in. Observe where they keep their sugar cubes and stare in that vicinity. If they don’t respond nuzzle their pockets, but move slowly so as not to panic them yet! If they take out sugar cube go with the well-timed snatch. If they don’t give sugar then they are useless, so rear up and puff out your chest to look intimidating. That'll be sure to send them scrambling back on the bus.

(e) The Group Joker – Sooner or later he’ll turn his attention towards you. Don’t break wind or defecate, because this attracts him like bees to honey and you'll have to deal with his incessant pointing and giggling. Get him alone and he’ll be putty in your hooves. When he has his back towards you give him a couple quick nips on the rump – he won’t be too keen to share that little encounter with his buddies.

(f) The Lipizzaner / Dressage Type – Gets off the bus and bows deeply, expecting you to do the same. Don't roll your eyes because this is just the opening act. Can you walk on air? Don’t arch your tail, lift all four hooves off the ground at once or prance, otherwise his rich parents may adopt you and you may find yourself touring the world.

(g) The Bareback Type – This type took his "Cowboy and Indians" play sessions a little too seriously! Wears a feathered headband and whoops a lot, and to prove his mettle he will want to go bareback. There's an easy solution to take advantage of his lack of saddle: give him the roughest trot of his life. When he dismounts starts walking funny, it's all over. He'll be back in the TV lounge watching Dances with Wolves and leave you in peace.

(h) The Enthusiastic Type – Races around all the time as if he's OD'd on sugar. Needs an audience, so he constantly shouts for other kids to watch his antics. He may stand up in the saddle and extend his arms like an airplane during the first ride, but a few sudden stops will take the air out from under his wings.

(i) The Gymnast Daughter Type - Looks like a refugee from the circus, donned in fishnet stockings, glitter on the eyelids and the whole nine yards. If you've ever seen Boy George during the 80's then you'll know what to expect. Likes to jump off high things on to your back and will even attempt to ride two horses at once! Sidestepping is the recommended course of action.

3. Accessory Guide to Personality Profiling:

You can also profile kids by observing their clothes and accessories. For example, if he gets off the bus wearing and/or clutching:

(a) A Louis l’Amour book and plaid shirt – Shy away, buck, kick and act ornery. Break into Derby type gallop at earliest opportunity. If you're convincing enough he’ll be reading Stephen King instead this time next year.

(b) A Louis l’Amour book, plaid shirt and waist high box – Probably an ex-stable hand, so sit down immediately.

(c) A plastic Luke Skywalker sword that lights up – He’ll probably use it on you, so be watchful. Often wears a black mask and talks wheezy. Show this little bugger that the force is not with him by chewing on the sword he brandishes so proudly.

(d) A copy of Gone with the Wind – Unless you can do side saddle, mind this girl. Refuse to do the jumps; you saw what happened to the kid in the movie.

(e) A Barbie doll and Barbie Pony – Irritatingly high expectations of ponies and horses. Thinks that Barbie and Ken are expert riders – prove her wrong.

(f) A Ken doll – You’re safe. This dude is not going to ride – ever.

(g) A dog-eared James Herriot book - Wears Wellington boots and carries black bag. Do not let this child get behind you with a thermometer. Do your “healthy horse” impression and don’t accept anything in a spoon. If the "doctor" doesn't appear convinced then hang out with any horse that looks sick – she may switch. Hopefully she will read Babe and spend next year at a pig farm.

(h) A rope and a branding iron – If the child makes a fire, pick a weak spot in the fence and head for the hills. You can live off the land until the holidays are over.

(i) His own saddle with a roping horn (and possibly martingale) - Lie down every time he mounts. Don’t go rodeo because this little psycho will enjoy it. Try to keep the piebald ponies hidden, and introduce him to the ranch’s mechanical bull at your earliest convenience. It'll be a good distraction.

(j) A Hunter saddle, fox stole and 56 two-tone hounds - Talks with upper class accent and gets very excited about coyote tracks. Mind the fences and don’t kick the dogs, they bite.

(k) A bunch of carrots and two apples – Head for this child immediately and kick stable mates in the shins if challenged. If they kick first, feign injury. Fall down and whinny pitifully – you’ll get the goodies and ten days off.

Some general rules for the good of the entire stable:

1. Go slow on the way out and return at a breakneck gallop.

2. Feign hunger by stopping unexpectedly and nibbling at stray grass tufts. Get the bit lodged behind the molars and lunge for the grass – this causes rein-burn and everyone will go home sooner.

3. In broken country, make a rattling sound in the back of your throat, shy violently, throw the rider and gallop back to the stable. Beat your fetlock repeatedly against the stable door to fake rattler bite swelling. When the vet arrives, breathe heavily, squint and drool. You’ll get at least 10 days off. The downside? An anti-venom injection.

4. Never bite or kick children when instructors are around. Be subtle. Shift your weight onto the kid’s foot and pretend not to notice the feeble blows to your ribs. Move only when given sugar.

5. On 24 December, all new horses will report to the secret Rudolph pageant - no exceptions especially if it’s snowing. The prize happens at midnight – a free set of reindeer horns, red lipstick and a sleigh ride (pulling, of course.) Side benefits, to the cries of “Rudolph, Rudolph”, are fudge, candy and lots of petting.

Disclaimer: No clause shall be interpreted apart from the general meaning of this document. The anonymous authors deny all liability and all blame for any repercussions brought upon by following the above suggestions, including oat-depravation, hoof trimming or any other punishment whatsoever.

By order of the Elders

Chances are by now you have finished the majority of your Christmas shopping, but if by chance you're still searching for a last minute gift then you may want to check out Back In The Saddle. I've found it to be a great place purchase gifts for my horse-loving friends... and even myself!

A Horse Blog You Should Check Out

Although there are quite a few quality horse websites on the web, I've never had much luck finding noteworthy horse blogs… until now. Last month I stumbled across a blog called Improving Communication Between Horse And Rider and found its content to be informative and easy to read. If you ever have time to kill and would like to check out various horse tips broken down into easily digestible posts then stop by:


Thanks again for making AlphaHorse one of the premiere sources for horse enthusiasts. As always, we welcome your contributions and thoughts on how to further ensure AlphaHorse exceeds your expectations.

--The Team at AlphaHorse

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