Friday, December 31, 2010

Giving Mentors Their Due

If you teach horsemanship, you face a dilemma. How do you carve out your own niche while still giving credit where it is due? Pat Parelli has done both pretty well for nearly 30 years, and these days he’s more determined than ever to recognize his mentors. This week and next, he does so on my TV show. Yup, it’s a two-parter, a first for us, and the most engaging I’ve ever seen Pat, which is saying a lot. I’ve picked his brain countless times, both for public consumption and private enlightenment. So I guess his mentors would be my grand-mentors? Mentors once removed? Whatever you call them, it’s good to hear Pat share how these great horsemen (and one very important horsewoman) influenced him. This is a piece of history, my friends. Don’t miss it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blind horses

One of the most counter-intuitive phenomena I’ve encountered thus far is the blind horse. You would think that the prey animal psyche would be magnified by blindness. However, again, the superb adaptability of the horse surprises us. My first encounter with a blind horse was Bright Zip, John Lyons’s Appaloosa stallion. Zip was so unperturbed by his blindness that he would run, at liberty, from one end of the arena to the other, jumping obstacles along the way purely from John’s vocal commands. And one of the most touching moments I can recall is John riding Zip down the hill at his wedding. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd.
This week’s TV show also focuses on a blind horse named Blinks and the richness of his relationship with his trainer, Toah Hatch. Keep the tissues handy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rescuing more than horses

This week’s TV show focuses on two horse rescues, one in the rural Appalachian foothills of Kentucky and one in the desert outside metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. Both are beneficiaries of the fund-raising efforts of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, but it turns out they have more in common. At the helm of each is an exceptionally strong and visionary woman, and both organizations have expanded their good works to helping at-risk youth. Of course there’s nothing new about equine-assisted physical therapy or psychotherapy or personal development. The twist here is the reciprocal nature of the healing; the horses help the kids and the kids help the horses. Good-hearted people all over this great land donate their time, talents, and money to make programs like this work. In my book, they are modern-day saints. We offer our heartfelt thanks to each of them. Enjoy the program and have a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finding the Groove

Professor Sydney Galvayne, (1846 – 1913) achieved a measure of immortality with his 1885 book, Horse Dentition: Showing How to Tell Exactly the Age of a Horse up to Thirty Years. This small book linked stages in a horse’s life with changes in his teeth. One of those changes became known as Galvayne’s Groove.

In the illustration, the third tooth from the left is an upper corner incisor. The dark line starting at the gumline and extending halfway down the tooth is Galvayne’s Groove. It emerges at nine to ten years of age. As the teeth continue erupting, the groove is exposed at a measured and predictable pace, extending the full length of the tooth by age 20, and disappearing entirely at about 30. This horse would be about 13 years of age.
Although it is not infallible, Galvayne’s Groove is still useful in combination with other indications of tooth wear to estimate a horse’s age.
To learn more about Professor Galvayne and other horsemen of the past and present, see The Revolution in Horsemanship.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Feeling his oats

In this week’s radio show, equine nutritionist, Dr. Judy Reynolds, shares the problem with feeding too much cereal grain in general, and oats in particular, to horses. What’s wrong with oats? Well, nothing if consumed in the small quantities a free-ranging horse would get and balanced by a diet high in fiber. Unfortunately, that’s not how most horse owners use oats. Oats produce the equine equivalent of a sugar high and in extreme cases, the horse’s normal metabolic functioning is compromised, which can lead to founder. Listen to my radio interview with Dr. Reynolds here for more information and catch her each week with a Nutrition Nugget on my TV show.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don’t call me Shirley

Remembering Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

During the 31 years I owned Lambchops Studios, I met quite a few celebrities. The most charming was Leslie Nielsen. I’ll never forget the day I introduced him to Hugh Downs in the lobby of our studio. I just stood there grinning like an idiot.

As soon as I met Leslie, I started scheming to interview him. I knew he had some experience with horses from his years playing Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox.” But I had a firm rule at the studio: We treated celebrities like regular folks. In rare instances, we would take photos or get autographs, but I wanted celebrities to think of our studio as a place of refuge where they could relax and be themselves.

Finally one day, Leslie was in to record some narration for "Katie and Orbie," the wonderful animated children’s series, and I felt the time was right to ask him for an interview. He couldn't have been nicer, and in the interview he was very open and free. We talked about his career and his love of horses. I’ve rerun that radio interview I don’t know how many times. And this week, it has special meaning to me. Rest in peace, Leslie.

Listen for: Growing up in the frozen tundra of northern Canada, riding mishaps and wisecracks on Disney’s “The Swamp Fox,” his daughter’s jumping accident, and … something better than a whoopee cushion.

Full interview with Leslie Nielsen on The Horse Show on Rick Lamb

Quickies from The Horse Show Minute

Leslie's Famous Dismount
Rex, the Saddlebred
Swamp Fox Spills

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Thought

On this day when we traditionally take stock of our blessings, I want to share a powerful statement with you. It was uttered 150 years ago by one of our most beloved presidents, a man who was burdened with pressure, self-doubt, and personal tragedy.

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln.

The truth of this statement has been proven to me over and over. Happiness truly is a choice and when you make that choice, life often gets better. I can't explain it but I know that visualizing the person you want to be and the life you want to have makes it far more likely to become reality. Act happy and you will begin to feel happy. Be thankful for the blessings in your life and you will begin to see more of them at every turn.

Have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving from all of us at The Horse Show.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hand-feeding Treats - Part 2

I have mentioned several times a game that we play with our horses that reinforces the right way to receive a food treat. We call the game, “Pretend you don’t want it.” I’ve been asked to explain it in print, so here goes. I’ll use my mare, Candy, in the example.

I have Candy in a rope halter with a lead rope so I have a measure of control over her. I step in front of her and ask her to stand quietly and look at me from a respectful distance. I hold the treat up, say her name and make sure she is looking straight at me. Then I say, “pretend you don’t want it.” She swings her head around to one side, almost looking at her tail. I say, “good girl!” and give her the treat. (Going away from food is not instinctive to a horse. It must be learned. We also require our horses to back up at feeding time, but that’s another story.)

Teaching this game is no different than teaching any other cue. You reward the slightest try, and each time you expect a little more. You give her time to think about it between attempts, and you find a good note to end on. Don’t expect her to learn this perfectly the first day and don’t repeat it too many times. Better to work on it a little every day. Final tip: she will start anticipating you, meaning she will start swinging her head around before you’ve asked for it. Do not reward that! We don’t want to reward a horse for anticipating our cues, even if it’s to do something good.

Oh, yes – and this goes back to the actual technique of hand-feeding the treat – Candy is not allowed to move her feet toward me to collect her treat. I reach toward her and she stretches her neck out to gently take the treat from the palm of my hand.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moving the Cheese

I’m about a decade (and 24 million copies) behind in touting a small but powerful book,“Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life,” by Spencer Johnson, MD. John Lyons gave Diana and me a copy many years ago, but in the hubbub or life and meeting deadlines, well, you know what happened. With time to kill on our recent road trip to the World Equestrian Games, we listened to the audio version. Wow.

“Who moved My Cheese?” is a parable that drives home a simple message: Change is inevitable and how individuals react (or fail to react) to it determines their success and happiness. Now, Diana and I were quite pumped after listening to this CD, not because we learned something new but because it validated the way we instinctively approach life. Upon doing a little online research, I discovered plenty of praise for this book and some surprisingly negative (even vicious) criticism. No matter. As far as I’m concerned, this is an intensely practical message, especially in these times of uncertainty and forced change. It offers a new way of looking at change and a strategy for making the most of it. Change is not the enemy. Every change brings with it new possibilities and opportunities to live into new realities. It takes courage and a strong sense of visualization to reinvent oneself in response to changes imposed from the outside. But it’s not rocket science. Neither is it metaphysical claptrap. It’s a way of deliberately creating a happier life. And whether horses are part of your life or not, I wish that for you. You can learn more at

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hand-feeding Treats

This is a hot topic and there is no consensus, even among top clinicians and trainers. I once moderated a round table discussion between Monty Roberts, John Lyons, and Pat Parelli at a big horse expo. They seemed to agree on everything until someone asked about hand-feeding treats. Monty said we should never do this, as it was completely unnatural for the horse and dangerous for the human. John said he wanted his horse so broke that even his little grandson could safely do it. And Pat said … wait for it … you can do anything if you have enough savvy.

That’s a big if, which is exactly why many clinicians argue against hand-feeding treats. If your horse does not respect your space, introducing food into the equation is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

How do you get your horse to respect your space? First, you have to claim your space as your own and never, ever allow your horse to enter it uninvited. You must defend your space with whatever amount of energy is required to get the point across. And this is important: you have to be consistent. If crowding into your space is wrong today, it has to be wrong tomorrow and every day after that. There must be a negative instant consequence (a NIC, in Monty Roberts’s words) to that behavior every single time.

Once you have developed this absolute commitment to defending your space and consistently communicated it to your horse, the rest is pretty easy. Training with food rewards is a time-honored tradition with marine animals and circus animals, including horses. Clicker training uses it very successfully and you can, too. It’s effective because food means something to a horse. There is total clarity with food. Food is always good. In fact, Diana recently broke through a genuine impasse in training her horse, Fidla, by introducing food as a reward.

Bottom line, hand-feeding treats to your horse can be done safely and have a positive effect on overall behavior, but it is not a trivial matter. Please do not attempt it until your horse consistently respects your space and you feel completely comfortable around him. Be clear and consistent, and most important, enjoy it! Seeing your horse gobble up something tasty is one of horse ownership’s special little pleasures.

Next time I’ll share the game we play with our horses to reinforce proper behavior with treats. We call it “pretend you don’t want it.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010

John Sharp

Years ago, clinician Frank Bell told me about a fine horseman named John Sharp, whose work with wild horses, square pens, and bamboo poles was an inspiration to all who saw it. Recently, Jim Rea, a frequent collaborator of Frank’s, shared more in a radio interview.

“While a round pen makes it easy for a horse to go,” Jim explains, “a square pen makes it easy for him to stop.”

Sharp’s square pen was just 24’ across, about half the diameter of the common 50’ round pen. The pole was 12’ in length, allowing a trainer to stand in the middle and touch the horse no matter where he went. Why bamboo? Bamboo poles have ridges connecting the segments and those ridges are handy for giving the horse a good scratching from a safe distance. It’s all part of Sharp’s novel way of building a foundation of trust.

Mr. Sharp’s square pen had a couple extra sections that came into play once the horse was responding well in the main work area. They formed a chute where the horse could be desensitized to humans touching it from the outside.

John Sharp is best known for his work gentling wild horses, but Jim also tells of Mr. Sharp calming the most troubled horses well into his nineties. Beside Jim and Frank, Sharp’s granddaughter, trainer and mounted shooting champ, Kitty Lauman, carries on his work today, and made an impressive showing with it at the first Extreme Mustang Makeover.

There are many paths to enlightenment for those of us truly committed to the journey. John Sharp offered one of them. Below are some resources if you’d like to learn more.

Listen to Rick’s full interview with Jim Rea
Listen to “Bamboo Pole and Square Pen” featuring Frank Bell (one minute)
Read Frank Bell’s full article on John Sharp’s method

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Light Moments at Light Hands

The fourth Light Hands Horsemanship clinic will be hard to beat: Three days of superb horsemanship education at the beautiful Intrepid Farms in Santa Ynez, California, a chance to get up close and personal with a who’s who of presenters (see below), and some surprisingly funny moments.

Eitan showed us how he’ll wear his cowboy hat if he performs at the Spanish Riding School. Jack reprised the story of how he and his pals were introduced to electricity in the 1930s. (Sorry, can’t go into details here.) Bob sang a few long-lost verses of “Strawberry Roan” and Lester told of how a pesky journalist got his comeuppance with a Shetland Pony. Monty talked about letting a great racehorse, Alleged, slip through his fingers, and Sheila recounted meeting Tom Dorrance during his formative years.

The past has long hinted at the potential that exists for Light Hands. This was the break-out year. The program, the organization, the location, the vendors, and especially the audience. All were exceptional. Special thanks go out to Tom Spalding (presenting sponsor), Art Perry (owner of Intrepid Farms), and most of all, the tireless Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

One word of advice: get tickets for 2011 early. They will sell out. Dates are May 19-22.

LHH 2010 Clinicians and Speakers: Dr. Robert M. Miller, Jon Ensign, Lester Buckley, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Jack Brainard, Richard Winters, Monty Roberts, Sheila Varian, Ernie Morris, and Petrina Day Mitchum. Hosted by Rick Lamb.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Backing helps

When things get squirrelly on my computer, I automatically reboot. It may not fix every problem, but it fixes most of them, and that saves me time and frustration. Backing my horse is similar to rebooting my computer. It gets us unstuck and reloaded for a fresh start.

Backing is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” that exists in horse training. It helps from the ground and it helps from the saddle. It helps in dealing with problems and in preventing them in the first place.

Why, you may ask? Best as I can figure, backing puts a horse in a unique frame of mind. It’s not as natural for him as going forward so he must think about placement of his feet. It’s a submissive act that reminds him of his standing. Most important, it puts him out of position to take flight. That makes him feel vulnerable. Whatever was on his mind before you asked him to back up is suddenly not so important.

When you get a horse to back on your command, you are demonstrating that you know what matters in his world and that you just might be qualified to be leader for the day.

Teaching a horse to back is surprisingly easy if you don’t get greedy. When you first request it, you must be satisfied with him just shifting his weight back and instantly reward him with relief of pressure, a reassuring stroke, and a kind word. Then, give him a moment to think about it and ask again. This time you will expect him to do more, but only a little more, perhaps shifting his weight and lifting one foot. Again, relief, reward and rest. In this fashion, where clear, consistent cueing is coupled with instant positive consequences, a horse learns incrementally to back from the ground or the saddle.

Helpful hint: Always back any horse a few steps before you mount him and, at the first sign of trouble, stop him and put him in reverse. Request, relief, reward, rest. Then it’s on to the business of the day.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Success with horses

A couple weeks ago I was shooting at a ranch in Colorado and rode four naturally trained (and barefoot) Tennessee Walking Horses – two mares, a gelding, and the stallion pictured here – before lunch. It was a blast. Each was a little different, which meant I had to be a little different rider with each one. It got me to thinking about the trainers who ride ten horses or more every day. Or the colt starters who have a few thousand starts to their credit. No wonder they are so good at what they do. At one time, I was certain that quantity was necessary on the road to success with horses. Now I realize that’s not true. There are countless examples of superb horsemen who’ve focused on quality instead, taking a small number of special horses to new heights. Then there’s the rest of us. We won’t be starting 10,000 colts, winning world championships, or giving command performances for royalty. Still, we are achieving success with horses in our own ways. We are allowing them to change our lives, to add quality, to create purpose, to make us better as people. Along the way, we are finding joy and satisfaction. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

“In the beginning, you play with horses because it’s fun. It’s a pleasant diversion. Then you find that it feels good in a deeper and more lasting way than many other recreational past-times. You may love riding motorcycles, but your Harley doesn’t nicker at you in the morning. There is something very special about horses that makes you want to do better with and for them.”

The Revolution in Horsemanship and What it Means to Mankind
by Robert M. Miller, D.V.M. and Rick Lamb

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Craig's Day

If you count the predecessor to Road to the Horse, Craig Cameron has competed in this World Championship of Colt Starting four times. 2010 is the year he'll remember best.

He picked horse number 10, a scruffy-looking palomino with a thicker-than-usual winter coat. Craig admitted that he didn't really have a reason for his choice. "You never know what you've got until you get in the pen," he said.

What he got was a tough colt, as stand-offish as they come, who refused to look at Craig for the first hour. Nothing Craig tried seemed to work. He seemed to be running out of ideas, and that's probably when the tide turned for him.

The strategy that seems to work best at RTTH is simple: Let the horse set the pace. Work on the relationship first and the training second, even when time is running short and 5,000 people are watching your every move. Whatever you do, don't scare the horse.

When Craig plugged into this plan, things started getting better. Come time to ride, Craig abandoned the snaffle bit he'd gotten the horse to accept in favor of a rope halter and rope reins.
The test went well - not great - but that counts for relatively little in the judging anyway. What counts most is what happens in the training pens. The judges - and this year the audience, who registered their votes with text messaging - liked what they saw there and gave Craig the nod. The sixty-year-old Texas cowboy has a way of lighting up a room with his smile. This time, the smile came with a few tears. In a life chock-full of memorable days, I suspect this one will always be special.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Obsession with Time

As I write this, Hawaii is under a tsunami alert, the result of a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile. Our thoughts are with our island friends as they prepare for the worst.

Shooting a program last summer about the wild horses of Waipio Valley on the Big Island, I spent a day with native Hawaiian, Charlie Anderson. A gentle bear of a man with sun-bronzed skin, a tangle of curly black hair and twinkling blue eyes, Charlie grew up taro farming in that sacred and remote valley. He plans to retire there at 40 to live a simple, off-the-grid life with his young family.

To make that happen, Charlie now works 12-hour days at his landscaping business in town. Time is important to Charlie but it does not rule him. He remains deliberate but unhurried in all he does.

This is a good way to be with horses, too. Just as the typical horse is obsessed with safety, the typical human is obsessed with time. Before I can fairly ask a horse to give up his obsession, I must be willing to give up mine.

As guiding principles go, “letting it take the time it takes” is a particularly good one, but we can’t just snap our fingers and change our attitudes about time. And we don’t have to. Sometimes in life it’s okay to pretend. It’s okay to pretend to be interested in what someone is saying. It’s okay to pretend to like the boss’s wife’s cooking. It’s okay to pretend we don’t care how long it takes to load the horse in the trailer. Invariably, pretending we don’t care about time speeds things up. What’s more, the subconscious mind doesn’t realize we’re pretending and before long the feelings become genuine.

Ray Hunt said: “You’re not working on your horse. You’re working on yourself.” Coming to grips with our time obsession is a great place to start.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ride fast. Take chances.

This week’s TV show is a bit different. For one thing, you’ll see extreme sculptor, Ben Risney, carve a horse’s head out of a pine stump with nothing but chain saws. I was there and I still can’t believe what he did! You’ll also meet Tommie Turvey, Jr. and his sister, Karen, two consummate horsemen who routinely do things with horses I also find difficult to fathom.

The Turveys are two of the hardest working people I know. They live show business every moment of every day. Not the popular image of showbiz, with the glamour and parties. They live the real showbiz with its long hours, hard work, countless details, dirt, sweat, and sore muscles. It’s a family tradition started a generation earlier with mom, Corky, and dad, Tommie, Sr.

Tommie and Karen have caused me to see things a bit differently. The popular wisdom in natural horsemanship is that you get a horse because of his mind and his temperament. “A good horse is a good color” is the catch phrase often used. Tommie does just the opposite. “I choose a horse for how he looks,” Tommie explains. “That’s the only thing I can’t change with training.”

Tommie and Karen have also adopted the motto: Ride Fast. Take Chances. Again, not what I would advise my audience, but I sure understand why they say that. Their stock-in-trade is thrilling an audience and they are masters of it. Watch this week’s show – just click on the gold arrow and give the file a couple minutes to load – and you’ll see snippets of some of their performances, as well as Tommie teaching me to drive a chariot.

I suppose the take-away message here is simply to keep your mind open to new points of view. Try to learn from every person and every horse you run into. And if you ever feel like you have it all figured out, ask the next person you see to give you a swift kick in the pants. Ride fast and take chances … or have fun and ride safely. This week, you take your pick.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lameness Locator

Two decades ago, Dr. Kevin Keegan at the University of Missouri wondered how good subjective lameness detection was. He gathered together a group of experienced equine veterinarians and had them evaluate the same group of horses for lameness. He discovered that they disagreed a lot. A whole lot - 75% of the time.

The vets all knew what to look for. With a sound horse performing a trot, the movement of the left half of the body mirrors exactly that of the right. If it doesn’t, something is amiss. But when lameness is mild, the human eye isn’t fast enough to register the subtle asymmetry, much less pinpoint the limb involved or the internal structures of the limb that are responsible for the pain.

Determined to find a way around the limitations of the human eye and brain, Dr. Keegan began experimenting with treadmills, markers, and high-speed cameras, collecting any and all data he could with no clear idea of how he might use it. Eventually, with the assistance of top-flight electronics engineers at Mizzou and in Japan, he arrived at the system he now calls the Lameness Locator.

It is a far cry from those early treadmills and cameras. For one thing, you can fit the entire system in a briefcase and take it directly to the horse. Physical components include matchbox-sized sensors mounted on the horse (two accelerometers and one gyroscope) and a tablet PC receiving wireless transmissions from the sensors and doing the motion analysis. Sophisticated custom software ties it all together and produces graphic reports. Watch the show here and you can see it at work.

I’m a bit of a technology geek but I still find that many new gadgets are solutions in search of problems. This is one case where the cart did not get in front of the horse. A real problem was solved with really cool technology. Now in its final stage of testing, the Lameness Locator should be in widespread use in the years to come.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Horseman’s Strength

Working on this week’s TV show about the Budweiser Clydesdales got me to thinking about why big horses allow us puny humans to control them. I’ve heard it speculated that they simply don’t know how strong they are. That may be true. There are many things horses don’t “know” the way we humans know them.

What horses do know – and we conclude this by observing them – is that it’s very important to be able to move one’s feet freely. In fact, in the horse’s world free movement is more than important; it’s an obsession. It is the key to living another day.

Accepting this fact about the horse’s nature is where every horseman’s journey must start. It’s why so much emphasis is placed these days on groundwork, for it is through groundwork that the horseman proves he can control the horse’s movement. Riding then becomes much simpler.

Note that control comes not from the horseman’s weight, muscular strength, or athletic prowess. It comes from understanding, respecting, and expertly using the horse’s nature as a unique animal species. We cannot force a horse to do anything but we can manipulate conditions to where it becomes easiest for him to do our bidding. Our idea becomes his idea. Outthinking the horse, rather than overpowering him, is the horseman’s stock-in-trade.

Horses do not think the way we do, but they do understand this basic truth: a creature that can control the movement of my feet is worthy of my respect. A creature that can do it without making me fear for my safety is worthy of my trust. Someone I respect and trust is someone I will follow, no matter how big he or she may be.