Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Irish author, James Joyce (1882-1941), noted that, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” As horsemen, we can learn a lot from mistakes, both our own and those of others.

A case in point is Pat Parelli’s "Road to the Horse" buckoff, one of many memorable RTTH moments shown in this week’s TV show. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Pat failed to properly prepare his colt from both sides before mounting – that’s his analysis of what happened – and the colt bucked him off. It made a good lesson for us all. However, an even more important lesson came after. As we pointed out on TV, Pat got right back to work and had his colt coming along beautifully by the end of the event. He didn’t win – Chris Cox chalked up #3 – but Pat deserves big kudos for how he handled himself in a difficult situation.

Seeing mistakes as learning opportunities is not license to be careless or unprincipled in our actions, but it does put a positive spin on the honest misstep.

By the way, Pat teams with 2010 champ, Craig Cameron, to take on Canadians, Jonathan Field and Glenn Stewart, and Aussies, Dan James and Guy McLean, in the first ever International Road to the Horse. Dates are March 9-11, 2012. Get your tickets early, my friends.

Watch Road to the Horse Retrospective on The Horse Show
Get tickets to Road to the Horse International

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bombproofing Police Horses

Shortly after 9/11, a client treated me to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game. At the entrance to the ballpark, police officers mounted on big bay geldings quietly watched the crowd. There was something vaguely primal and distinctly comforting about their presence. This week on radio, officer Chad Brinlee (second from left) takes us inside his mounted unit in Texas, sharing a training approach useful to all riders. Special: Learn what Chad's human students are expected to do on day one. Listen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gimmick or Tool?

In horse training, one person’s gimmick is another person’s tool. So before I dismiss a particular technique or device, I want to take a long hard look at it. What problem is being addressed? What principle of behavior modification is being used? How much expertise does it require to be effective? Does it elevate or diminish my relationship with my horse? What does my gut tell me about this approach? As you might guess, I seldom find reason to pronounce something a gimmick. It seems like there is always some redeeming value.
Look at this drawing from the 1896 book, Jesse Beery’s Practical System of Colt Training and Horse Breaking. To cure a horse of pawing, a small block of wood is suspended from the horse’s upper leg. If the horse paws, the block bangs his leg, so the horse punishes himself. Gimmick or tool? Personally, I find this an ingenious tool for helping horses learn to stand quietly. Is it foolproof? Of course not! It would be most effective in a confined space with a quiet horse and it would be inappropriate for an overly reactive or timid horse that might panic. And I would never use this device on a horse that wasn’t being monitored regularly.

This week on radio, Mike Kevil weighs in the subject of gimmicks and tools. Listen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Lonely Number

When I see a horse standing alone in a field, I’m reminded of Harry Nilsson’s lyric: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” Just how important is it for horses to be with others of their kind? You decide. Dr. Bob Miller (of imprint training fame) tells of visiting a Canadian Premarin facility where scores of pregnant mares were confined in short-walled tie stalls, side by side, for hours on end. Confinement is a natural stressor for horses, yet these horses were happy as clams. Apparently, being in a herd was more important to them than being free to move. The converse is also telling. At New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, horses sometimes present with an odd symptom: Collapsing for no apparent reason. What the horses have in common is that they live alone. No herd. No companions of any kind. In my radio show this week, you’ll learn how going solo can affect a horse.

Listen to interview with Dr. Amy Johnson