never a dull moment

Learning Curve

Narrated by Kate

To give you a bit of background about me: I started out a “new” horsewoman. I spent my suburban childhood and college years without a single animal companion! (GASP!) The only animals we had in our home were a few fish … and they only lasted a few weeks before my dad tried to clean the tank. (Sorry dad!) I came home from school to an empty fish tank - so, fish were out. On top of that, my parents could never agree on a size of dog they wanted: dad wanted a great pyrenees like he had grown up with, and mom wanted a small dog that didn’t bark or shed… 🤔 (basically she wanted a stuffed toy) - so we never actually had animals.

Meeting horses for the first time was a bit intimidating for me. Honestly - just being on a farm with 6 dogs was a shock to me. But, in a sense I think that helped me in my training abilities. I was a clean slate. We have people of all abilities contact us, some have had horses (like Lisa) for practically their entire life. Others, have spent their life around horses, but have never owned any. Still others, have extensive experience with dogs but want to get involved with horses, and a few are just like me.

I’ll share one of my favorite learning stories, that may help open your eyes to some lessons your trainers have been trying to teach you.


Denver & the Scary Grate

Denver

We were out training in downtown Oxford. It was a gorgeous day, years ago, where we had visitors who were purchasing horses shadow us to get a feel for how we train our horses. We had started writing down our training material but didn’t have seminars available yet. Downtown Oxford has a nice piazza area where you can often hear bands playing and a nice lawn area where students were doing their homework and relaxing in the grass.

Steps are a big deal for horses, we all know that. But, try concrete steps with a grate at the bottom of them for drainage. I want to say we had Denver and Dallas out to train together. Dallas - like the champ he always is - walks carefree over the grate and up the four wide steps to the platform. Denver, starts to follow Dallas, but notices this strange grate and plants his feet. I squat down on the stairs (boo-boo #1) and give him a little pressure to move forward. He resists, so I let up on pressure to let him regroup. His head bobs down to smell the grate and I apply pressure again. He pulls back a bit but I “hold my ground” (boo-boo #2) and keep pressure to see if he will come forward. Sure enough - he caves into the pressure. But, did you notice boo-boo #1 was my squat? He caves into the pressure and jumps towards me. Practically on top of me. … Well… I was in shock. Lisa came over and took Denver so I could stand up and regroup.

Red in the face, I started to think, “there is no way I can handle horses!” I take Dallas from Lisa and she goes back at it with Denver. Remember that key that horses learn in pictures - that is NOT the kind of picture I want Denver using every time he sees stairs. Lisa takes him around the ramped sidewalk, back into the grass (careful to avoid stairs) and talks her way thru doing this again with Denver.

Keep moving, forward motion is always better. If he stops to smell the grate, which he thinks is a big black hole, let him, then turn around, regroup and head forward towards the steps again. Walk NEXT to him, say “step” and continue forward as if there is nothing out of the ordinary. If you are nervous, the horse will pick up on that. If they stop, turn around and try it again.

Low and behold, after giving him a second to smell the grate, turning around to regroup and walking towards the steps again; Denver took a leap over the grate and walked right up the steps. She continued this movement a few more times until the leap turned into a slightly elevated step. We end training on a positive note then walked back towards the trailer.


The Learning Curve

I am constantly learning! I don’t think I know near enough about how horses’ think or perceive the world. I do know for a fact - you can only get better if you practice. Learn from your mistakes, and create ground-rules for what to do in certain situations. Sure, I came into this with the least knowledge of all of us, but I think it has truly made me appreciate the bond I share with all the animals I have “started from the bottom” with. The relationship I have with Denver is quite a unique bond now, because we have made mistakes together and grown thru them. I’m thankful for my learning curve and hope to continue learning from each horse I have the pleasure of training with.

Up... Over.... GONE.

Story Narrated by: Shelby Reynolds - Handler and Trainer

Getting ready for visits is always different, which makes every day a new adventure. Some lucky days all three of us (Lisa, Kate and I) are out there getting horses ready, sometimes two of us, and other times… it’s just me. This day was one of the days I was getting the horses groomed, bathed, and dry for the visit today. When I’m by myself I think more strategically, I always start with the ones that are dirtier than the rest, and/or harder to dry… that way I know they are finished. On this particular day we had decided to take Wendy, Harley, Denver and Dakota on our visit to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). 

It’s a nice summer day: sunny and 80 degrees, so I decided to just let the horses eat grass out in the sun while they dried. We have, to my displeasure, a PINK… not purple… corral that stands about 38 inches tall and can get to about 24 feet wide. The horses are able to stay in this corral while they dry off and eat grass. They have access to water and usually end up laying down sunbathing. It’s an easy way to keep them contained and on a clean piece of land before they make a visit.

To introduce our crew for the day:

  • Wendy is our princess at the farm. She is a grand height of 29” and has a vibrant personality making her hard to forget for people we visit.

  • Harley, who I call Haggard like Merle Haggard. He is small in stature and has a very down to earth easy-going personality, making him a perfect therapy horse.

  • Denver, our unicorn. He has stunning blue eyes, natural eyeliner, and is stark white. Denver is most requested for visits, and often sports a beautiful unicorn horn.

  • Dakota is a sweet 34” black and white pinto. He has what we call puppy dog eyes and has a very easy-going, methodical personality.

MuddyDenver

I start with Denver, because he is, like usual, a mess. He takes the most time to clean… if you saw him out in the fields, you wouldn’t know he is a beautiful white looking horse with small black spots in various spots on his body. He’s a natural for getting EVERY SINGLE INCH of him covered in mud. So I start with a rinse down & scrub for Denver. We use some of the best shampoo for this guy. Because he loves rolling in the mud so much, we can’t just wash and rinse, he gets soaped down and has to wait for a few minutes to let the shampoo set into his crazy muddy mess.

So, as I let the soap soak in on Denver, I go ahead and move onto bathing Wendy. Wendy loves attention, I mean she absolutely LOVES it. So, the entire time I wash her she is standing with her head low and back hoof propped up, making my job easy.  In no time at all, Wendy is finished, Denver just needs a rinse down, and I have two horses to go. In order to keep the assembly line moving, I decide to move Wendy out to the corral.

The minute I put her in there and let her loose… she’s off like a bandit, strutting her stuff for whoever may be watching. She does her usual: roll in the nice grass to try to get dry, so I assume it will only last for a minute or two. I watch her for a little longer, but I know that I need to get back to the barn. “Finish washing Denver, start on Dakota, let him soak… wash Harley and we’re all done,” I think to myself. Little did I know what I had coming…

I added this picture so you can get an idea of her height compared to the corral, so you can be just as shocked as I was…

I added this picture so you can get an idea of her height compared to the corral, so you can be just as shocked as I was…

I turn to walk back to the barn and she starts whipping her head around (insert I whip my hair back and forth song). She runs full force to the far side of the corral, turned around, and heads full force to this side again. This is new, so I stay to figure out what she is up to…

Next thing I know, she’s running full force towards the front of the corral and clears the top of the corral. In case you missed what, I said, she …. CLEARED THE TOP OF THE CORRAL. Not knowing to laugh or yell for her, I just stand there in shock. Immediately, I realize, we have her in the wrong profession: this girl is a hunter-jumper at heart! She get’s her “ooo look at me go!” adrenalin rush out, then runs back to the barn gate to see the other horses. 

After laughing and wishing I hadn’t left my phone in the mud lot, I bring her back into the tack room so I can finish rinsing off Denver. Once he is finished, I take both of them back out to the corral and all is fine and dandy. I finish up Dakota and Harley with ease and a few hours later we’re off to have a great visit at CVG with a story to share!

 Moral of the story: don’t underestimate yourself. Whatever you set your mind to; with determination, you can do it.