Before the Fire: Planning for Emergencies

Ive been keeping an eye on the most recent California wildfire, dubbed the Lockheed fire, which at the time of this post has burnt some 6800 acres. Fires out there are commonplace, but this one, of all of them, is personal: Ive lived there.

As I was reading up on it in the Sentinal online, I saw a picture of the owner of Beauregard Vineyard… not a horseman at all… leading a horse to safety. Thank you!

Fire in the mountains was one of our worst nightmares. The San Lorenzo valley has thousands of homes that are, right now, under siege. Back in the day, all I had was a cat. Now, with horses in the picture, I have to ask myself what would I do?

We have a relationship of trust with our horses. We take care of them and see to their safety in our modern world. In return, they set aside their natural fear of predators and live in our world.

How will you honor that trust?

Every responsible horse owner should have a fire plan. It should be thought out well in advance. The details of the plan should leap to mind immediately and the responses automatic. It should cover all the basics: food, shelter, water, medication, transportation, and destination.

Do you have a trailer? Does your horse load the first time, every time? Do you have sufficient containers for water and grain? Are there any special requirements of feed or medications? If you have to hunt for any of the above, precious time is wasted.

Where are you evacuating to? How many ways can you get there? Call you local fire department and ask where the most likely shelters are for horses. Know your options because fire crews may have one or more roads blocked. It is one thing to find that out in a car. Its quite another to turn 70 feet of truck and trailer around on a narrow road.

These are just some of the avenues you should carefully consider, and plan on someday having to execute under duress. Although you hopefully will never need this information, you owe it to your partner to take these steps to ensure their safety and longevity.

Horse Domestication Reconsidered

Findings from Krasnyi Yar, the Kazakh site inhabited by the Botai culture, suggest that domestication of horses occurred 1000 years earlier than previously thought.  Traces of milk and meat in unglazed pottery and evidence of bit use on jawbones date back 5500 years ago.

These new findings are cause for reexamining current theories on the spread of civilation.  As we know, horses bestow miliary, trade, and cultural prowess on their riders and communities. It is commonly accepted that the spread of bronze working throughout Europe and Asia is directly linked to the domestication of horses.  Ditto the spread of Indo-European languages.  With the date of horse domestication pushed 1000 sooner, new doors open in current sociological theories.

The evidence gives me pause for reflection.  Jawbones damaged by bit use.  The thought that actions taken to subjugate these early horses would cause damage on a skeletal level is revolting.  Even more distubing is that such evidence is common through time, and even into our modern age.  Ironic that horses sped the spread of civilization, yet remain the victims of barbarism.

What will our horses tell future researchers about our training methods?  Food for thought….

Click here for more research from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on the Botai horse culture

Click here for yesterday’s BBC announcement

On quality education…

It’s been a while since Ive taken the opportunity to post here. Silly, really, since I’m the guy who keeps the virtual places virtually intact :=) I had some really nice observations the other day as Dolly and I were working in the round pen… and later in the arena… with Kirsten. I’m not so certain I can give voice to everything I observed, nor communicate it clearly enough to create an accurate, concise picture. But hey, for all you beginners out there… hopefully strike a chord.

Dolly and I have been working on our teamwork for about a year now, off and on.  Obviously, I don’t have as much time at the end of the day as I would like to groom, prep, and ride. So we generally go once a week, better some weeks, worse others. Last week was the tail end of several missed opportunities to ride, and Kirsten and I, perhaps a month ago, had decided that we needed some time doing a more formal lesson in the round pen and the arena rather than my typical clean, tack, check brakes, and try stuff. Boy, did my eyes get opened to the bad positioning and misunderstanding of the basic forms of cues I had accrued  through early lessons dimly past. Its not that I was way off. I could move the horse off all points succesfully, get on, and in a general way, communicate my intentions, and barring any major desire for grain, barn, or grass, she was generally cooperative.  Sometimes, she was less so. It’s not that she didn’t like me, it was an issue of respect.

After correcting my little mistakes… body angle here,  clearer cues there… on the ground… I was back to having a full, crisp response. Almost soldierly. Which is amazing with an 1800 pound draft horse. After a trip around the round pen bareback and getting a new feel for her motion and biomechanics with a little bit more exposure under my belt, we put the saddle on and worked in the arena. What a remarkable difference 20 minutes can make when used wisely, and with a competent teacher! To anyone who wishes to really learn horsemanship and thinks they might not be able to afford a trainer… the rapid results, the clear and effective lessons, and the return on your investment is well worth the reasonable price of admission.

Happy Riding!


Family Trail Ride: Horse Dreams Come True II

The family was finally ready to live their dream of a family trail ride. I trailered the ever-dependable Lucy over to join them. While the family was tacking up, Lucy and I fully enjoyed playing in an actual ARENA. Our grassy riding area at home has lots of obstacles and natural challenges, but the consistent sand footing and an actual “rail” were a nice change.


Laura was ready first. we played a couple of games with bending poles and pick-up cones waiting for the others. Lucy settled right in with the strange horses to give her nicest canters ever and even show off a little in the games. At around 16.2 hands, Lucy towers over the family’s Quarter Horses. Her long and floating strides made the arena seem small.


Everyone assembled, made sure their breaks and steering worked, and checked their girths a final time. I hung the camera off my saddle.


Love, dedication and natural horsemanship laid the foundation. Autumn’s glory set the stage. Let the Dream unfold!




Dream come true:  ready for a family trail ride on horseback

“Ready to Ride!” The Knock family and Lucy. I’m on Lucy’s back, shooting the picture.




The old man in the oak, a burl in an ancient tree looks decidedly Entish

Straight from Lord of the Rings,”The Old Man in the Tree” looks like one of Tolkein’s Ents



Shed building

We pass the guys assembling a new chicken coop in the back field- and see another kind of Deere.


Horse supervises shed project

“Do they know what they’re doing?” June seems to ask.




…Now to find a husband horse for Dad!

Thoughts on Natural Horsemanship and Horse Whispering

The Horse Whisperer. Both history and the pop culture notion of natural horsemanship paint an image of the silent, mystical horseman whose mere presence calms the wildest equine outlaw. By using skills invisible to the average human, the horse whisperer inspires the most savage horse to willingly submit and perform any feat.

People attributed this ability to “whispering” after the sensational 19th century “horse tamer,” John Rarey. Among other things (primarily immobilizing the horse with a leg strap), Rarey would gently blow into a horses nostrils or ears. With this, a myth was born that grew along with the development of natural horsemanship as we know it.

But ask the successful modern day “horse whisperer” her or his secret. The key to success with horses (just as with people) begins with LISTENING.

The effective horse trainer “listens” with every sense available. The more acute the trainer’s awareness, the more accurate the understanding of the horse which emerges. Natural horsemanship is based on using the horse’s nature to make the right thing easy. To understand the horse’s nature, we need to listen.

I once read an insightful forum post by a backyard horseman. In convincing a novice to send a young horse to a professional horse trainer, she pointed out that the pros can see a wreck coming well in advance. They perceive the signs of the impending explosion and can prevent it from happening.

The horse trainer in this scenario is listening to the horse more sensitively and more completely than the novice. The pro can see the look of concern growing in the horses eyes, can hear the speed of the hoofbeats slightly increase, can feel the horse’s tension mounting. The pro can immediately redirect the horse to defuse the situation before it gets worse.

The novice, whose “listening” is still rudimentary, doesn’t notice these details. She continues on. As the horse’s tension and confusion increases, so does the “volume” of his nonverbal communication. If the novice still doesn’t “hear” the horse’s concern, the horse starts “yelling:” bucking, rearing, bolting, kicking. The horse’s training backtracks and someone could get hurt, simply because the human wouldn’t, or couldn’t, listen.

Natural horsemanship and classical dressage training share the tenet of starting in lightness. When you apply an aid, begin with the lightest suggestion, increasing in strength until the horse responds. The horse learns to listen for the whisper of communication, knowing that it will increase to a “shout” if ignored. No one likes to get yelled at.

The effective horse trainer “listens” the same way she “speaks.” Listen for the horse’s lightest whisper.

Horses are generally happy to listen back.

Horse Training Tale of Threes

Today’s horse training success story came in a trilogy.  No small wonder, God kinda favors threes 🙂

Got the kind of call midday every trainer dreams of: “you probably don’t remember me but…”  “Of COURSE I remember you, you’re Cassidy’s dad!”  Cassidy was our first student when we incorporated KinderRide into our lesson program:  offering horseback riding instruction to the 2-4 year olds as a preamble to our “big kid’s” program.  Cassidy progressed on through the Big Kid program until we sold the farm and went our disparate ways.  Cassidy’s dad tracked us down via Google.  Turned out Cassidy had just won the National Junior Morgan Dressage Championship.  And it turns out that my mom, who was Cassidy’s first leadline instructor, was visitiing and out on the tractor at that very moment.  Congratulations Cassidy!  All the best of luck at World’s this fall!

Part two:  a typo in the Valley Trader had us calling on a 4 month old colt.  Turns out he is the son of a mare I fell in love with while training many years ago on a Friesian farm in VA. I’m still under the spell of that electric shock.  More to follow….

Last and most….  They say to find the answer you need to ask a question three times.  Long after Mom and I should have gone to sleep I was pestering her with questions.  We were talking about the Thoroughbred Rescue Foundation, a charity near and dear to both of our hearts. We’ve both volunteered time and skills.  Mom was multi day a week regular for several years.

It came out that several years ago she had fallen in love with Lake, whom everyone claimed was incorrigable, yet he pressed his face deep against her belly for comfort in the face of vets and chiropracters and Things That Go Bump In The Night. Shortly after that, he had been returned to the prison sytem, because no-one wanted to adopt him.  “Mom,”  I told her, “if you love him, find him! We’ll bring him home”

She went to sleep, I hopped in the shower.  A while later she showed up with the look of a kid at Christmas.  “Did you mean it? I’m gonna look for him, I’m gonna find him!”

And when you do, he’s gonna have a happily ever after home in Almost Heaven….

Fire at Southern States Feed Co-Op

The leading edge of the storm raged violently enough to wake us around 3:30 am. The sky glowed like daybreak and thunder rumbled and crashed continuously. We marveled at the window as the storm grew more powerful. We had no idea that at that moment, our feed store burned. The Southern States Feed Co-Op had been struck by lightning.

We drove by today. The cinder-block exterior appeared deceptively untouched. Apparently, behind the now-boarded up windows, the store and warehouse had been gutted. All we knew was what the marquis told us: Closed Due to Fire.

Nothing more. No further details on the damage, nor reassurance that no-one was hurt. No hint as to a reopening date. No “we have arranged for your feed delivery to be covered.” And what of that feed delivery, which appears faithfully every Tuesday? What of our 29 horses, who line up just as faithfully along the fence at feeding time?

This may seem off topic on a horse training blog. However, horse people know that what happens in training sessions is inseparably entwined wiith the fabric of our daily lives.

Despite the influx of commuting Washingtonians, our area clings to its rural roots. Horse farms, cow farms, crop farms and the local racetrack rely on Southern States to nourish and care for our land, our animals, our businesses and our families. What does this fire mean for the community? The more we think about it, the more we realize the vital importance of that one store. The ripple effect reaches far.

We’ve no doubt that the community will pour its resources into rebuilding the co-op, just as we know the co-op will mobilize quickly to provide for the community. During this time our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the fire, from the owners and employees to farmers finding feed for hungry horses.

Gift From A Horse

Like any young horse in training, Wally the Warmblood has his good days. He has his not-so-good days and he has those frustrating, tear-out-your-hair days when he seems to forget how to put one foot in front of the other, much less do so with suppleness, impulsion and cheerful submission.

Today was like no other. It had been a knock-down drag-out day full of time-consuming roadblocks and way too many balls in the air. And that was just in the office! Wally was the last horse of the evening after working through a particularly tough trailer loading session with a two year-old.

Wally was matter-of-fact from the get-go. Quiet brilliance. Stood like a rock while I mounted. Warm-up. Focus. Turn on the forehand– rhythmic and accurate. Turn on the haunches–ditto. Up into a round, light trot, every step a lesson in newly-developed power controlled not by the rider’s seat or legs or bit but by the horse’s own understanding and desire. Canter balanced, regular, even on that troublesome lead. All the movements and principles we’ve been developing coming together in a moment almost outside time.

Nothing left but to ride out to join the sunset in the spring blooming woods with deep gratitude for the gifts our horses give us.