Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Eight Principals of Horsemanship

One of the many things I like about Parelli Natural Horsemanship, is the philosophy they espouse of keeping things simple – like horses do. Humans make things so complicated and confusing. Here are the PNH Eight Principals of Horsemanship that keep things simple:

1. Horsemanship is natural.

2. Make and teach no assumptions.

3. Communication is two or more individuals sharing the same idea.

4. Horses and humans have mutual responsibilities.

Responsibilities for Humans:
a. Act like a partner, not a predator
b. Have an independent seat (in saddle) independent feet (on line)
c. Think like a horseman (horses point of view)
d. Know and understand the power of focus

Responsibilities for Horse:
a. Act like a partner, not prey animal
b. Maintain gait
c. Maintain direction
d. Watch where you are going

5.The attitude of justice is effective.

6.Body language is the universal language.

7.Horses teach humans, humans teach horses.

8.Principles, purpose, and time are the tools of teaching.


10543071_10203570582044255_6793993256284853259_nChaco and I just completed the first week of our Journey to Level Four at the beautiful Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs. I will highlight the first two days with this post and then try to catch up as the week goes on. We have been so incredibly busy, the days just fly by. But what fun we are having!!

The first day we got the horses settled and then had an orientation meeting. We met our wonderful instructors, Nita Jo Rush, Margit Deerman , Erin McKee Fowle, Karen Kartchner and Ashley Dudas. We played a game of tag the water bottle (there is a name for it, but I forgot what it is!) with our carrot sticks and savvy strings, had lunch, had an on-line demo and then were asked to go get our horses to play 10557386_10152650478418588_4654991411950029125_non-line. The goal of the first day’s lesson was executing Level One With Excellence. Chaco was multi-tasking – by that I mean he was doing what I asked, but looking everywhere but at me. When I asked for advice, Nita Jo suggested I be more progressive and more provocative, meaning I needed to change things up on him, think ahead, have a plan, ask for more (speed, distance, subtler phases) basically challenging his brain to become calm, connected and focused.

Day Two started with rope handling skills. We were all asked to get our 45′ lines and practice throwing our ropes and coiling them back in evenly and in order. This is much harder than it sounds, but it was really fun! Erin taught us how to use our rope to get into a power position to prevent a run-away or out-of-control situation and we did simulations with one another. Some “horses” were naughtier than others, but we managed to keep it under control! We also discussed patterns that we have developed that need to change, such as letting our horse get ahead of us and working on getting a good circling game. The circling game is the only game of the 7 where the horse learns to take responsibility (maintaining gait, looking where he is going, etc.) because it is the only game where the human is not moving their feet (or shouldn’t be :P) Nita Jo then gave a wonderful demonstration of Driving From Zones 4 and 5. We were soon rained out and had to head indoors where we did a simulation called IMG_2636Conga Horse. This is a great simulation to see and feel what a horse sees and feels when we are communicating with him. For instance, did you know that when you are standing directly in front of a horse at one to three feet distance, they cannot see you at all??? That is one of the reasons that communicating with your energy is so important. The horse needs to “feel” what you are asking.

Stay tuned for more adventures in the days ahead!



Saturday we arrived in Pagosa Springs and are now lodging at the beautiful Mountain View Horsemanship Ranch. After unloading Chaco and getting him settled, we got the motorhome set up and ready for the next day and a half before we head over to the Parelli Ranch today.

Chaco had a big day yesterday with adjusting to his new surroundings without the companionship of his herd. He’s making new friends and after some energetic play sessions with me, he finally settled — just in time to move to a new home for the next few weeks. Today will also be a big day for the boy, but I have hopes that we can make the adjustments together and continue to work on our partnership. I am so looking forward to this journey!

Adventure Awaits!

IMG_0404Two days and counting before I head off to Pagosa Springs, Colorado for a four week natural horsemanship course at the beautiful Parelli Ranch! I can’t believe it’s almost here.

Preparations and packing have been interesting. Not only am I packing for myself for an entire month, I’ve had to pack required equipment and general necessities for my horse.

For horse shows I have the packing down to a science. I keep all of my show stuff; grooming supplies, shelving, tools, buckets, racks, saddle pads, creature comforts – chairs, outdoor carpeting, clothing rack, etc., in the tack room of my horse trailer, so everything is ready to go. All items have their place and it’s really quite organized. I bring my own grain and horse supplements, and my trainer provides the hay. So what is left is my tack, my show clothes and any other items I want to keep with me for the weekend. I am prepared for three to seven days of showing, give or take.

But to pack for a month? First, all the show stuff had to be removed from the trailer tack room. I needed the space for the bags of grain, feed and supplements that Chaco requires (did I mention it’s for a month?) Then I had to compile said items and load them up. I am prepared for every kind of weather or situation! We’ve got fly masks, fly sheets, fly spray, mosquito repellent, a horse sheet (for weather in the 50’s at night) a blanket (for weather below the 50’s at night), rain gear for riding, tack, saddle pads, a halter, a hackamore, ropes of all lengths, etc. Am I over prepared? Maybe, but I hate to be under prepared.

IMG_0403Packing for myself has been even more daunting. This beautiful motor coach will be my home for the next four weeks (did I mention it’s for a month?) The problem with packing a motorhome is the temptation to fill it up because you do not have the confines of a suitcase or even the back of a car. I have almost filled the closet and all of the drawers. Will I need all these clothes? I don’t know, but I have the room, so I’m taking them. I have meds, a first aid kid, outerwear for any weather imaginable, (even very spiffy Ralph Lauren rain boots) hats, shoes, boots and all the toiletries possible (did I mention it’s for a month!)

Saturday morning, I leave Albuquerque, escorted by my husband, with motorhome, truck, horse trailer, and a Jeep for good measure. We will make our way to  beautiful Pagosa Springs where we will overnight for two nights at the Mountain View Horsemanship Center before we check in at the Parelli property on Monday morning!

Stay tuned for future adventures!

Chaco Chronicles – The Art of Horse Showing

Me and Chaco at work

Me and Chaco at work

You know that feeling when you are practicing at home and it all comes together? You and your horse are almost mastering that never-ending, elusive, perfect ride of suppleness, connection and communication. Then you go to a show. What happened to all that training, all that hard work, all that self-affirming success you’ve had in your home arena?

Well, it’s still there. You’re just being judged on that four to seven minutes you are in the pristine and tastefully decorated dressage court. The judge has no idea that finally getting that smooth upward transition has been the bane of your existence for the past month, or that you’ve finally been able to get your horse relaxed in the poll, or that you’ve, at last, got your horse to understand that it’s okay to canter on the wrong lead in some circumstances. What the judge sees is what you do in that short period of time and they are scrutinizing your every move.

Chaco and I have just finished competing at a show in Arizona. During practice sessions I hit upon a few problems. He was above the bit and leaning on the left rein. I wasn’t activating the outside rein, or using enough right leg, so then I ended up trying to muscle through. Ugh! Frustration! So, my trainer took me back to the basics. I needed to work from back to front, use my seat to push him up into my hands, use my leg to get him off the rein he was leaning on, effectively use the half halt. I felt like a beginner all over again.

Truth is, everything is different at a show. Your energy is different and your horse’s energy is different. You are in an unfamiliar place with all kinds of activity. There are water trucks and tractors going by, golf carts zipping around, un-supervised children running or careening around on bikes and scooters, screaming at the top of their lungs with pure joy at the fact that their parents are so busy they have complete run of the show grounds. The weather can be a factor. Sometimes, you have thirty mile an hour sustained winds to deal with, or rain, or excessive heat. It’s always something!

Add all this up and your adrenaline is higher and your horse feels it. And just wait till that competitive spirit you have kicks into overdrive as you enter a class. The Art of Horse Showing is being able to overcome all of that and remember and rely on all the hours of training you’ve logged for weeks and months and even years before the show. It’s never easy and every show is different and presents new challenges.

I have in no way mastered the Art of Horse Showing, but I am definitely trying. One of the things I like to take away from a show is learning what I need to work on. The challenges become quite clear, and who doesn’t love a challenge?

The last show Chaco and I competed in was empowering. Everything went our way. This time, we ended doing pretty well. We were able to sort out the problems we had at the moment, and I ended up with a softer connection and communication, which is what I needed to accomplish. Our scores were not what I had hoped, but we have a lot of horse shows ahead of us. It’s not always about the ribbon. Keep those challenges coming! We’re in this for the long haul. Please feel free to share your show experiences! I love hearing from you!

The Stormy Diaries – Bringing Up Baby

Stormy at Saguaro Classic December 2013 Sweet Savannah Storm is an Arabian/Saddlebred mare. She is six years old and the first horse my husband and I have ever raised from birth. I bred her dam, Sweet GA Brown to my trainer’s stallion, Aspen’s Bolero, and they produced the loveliness that is Stormy. Or should I say, the cantankerousness that is Stormy. This is a mare with LOTS of personality. She was born in the midst of a summer thunderstorm, thus her name, and it’s a name she has properly lived up to.

Stormy is the youngest and nosiest horse in my small herd. It’s not unusual to find her in a predicament. One of her favorite past-times is to insert half her body into my tack room looking for objects to play with or snacks to eat. Once, when exploring the feed room, she got all the way in, freaked out, and somehow bulldozed her way out, leaving buckets and grain bags sprawled in her wake. We have since put a lock on that door because she’s figured out how to push the door open and get in. Even after her harrowing experience.

Stormy has encountered much of the wildlife that lives near our property on the Rio Grande. Once, because of her curiosity, she met the wrath of a wandering porcupine. We found her with about 60 quills in her nose, looking very surprised, insulted and indignant. Removing those was fun! The vet saved the quills for me in a little glass jar. Whenever I see them sitting on the shelf, I can’t help but chuckle.

Because she was the baby of the property for so long, and because she is so darn cute, Stormy has been a favorite of passers-by on the ditch bank. When I took her to my trainer’s farm for some schooling for two years we got many concerned inquiries of Stormy’s wear-abouts. What happened to her? Was everything ok? Had we sold her? When she came back completely grown and much more mature, it was clear that little Stormy had not been forgotten. One of our neighbors has made it a practice to bring her carrots almost daily. The others horses benefit from this ritual, but Stormy knows she is the culprit of this neighborly generosity.

Despite this mare’s big personality, she has been a dream to train. For the first three years of her life, my husband spent many hours learning natural horsemanship techniques and worked with her on the ground, bonding with her, teaching her manners and exposing her to all the things she would have to deal with as a show horse. He even took her to a competition and showed her In-Hand as a two year old and they won Champion in both their classes.

It was obvious that it was time for Stormy to get some more advanced schooling so we sent her to my trainer’s barn where my trainer worked with her on the basics of Sport Horse and Dressage. Stormy was shown a few times before I took the reins completely and now we are embarking on her show career together. Stormy has made wonderful progress and has taught me a great deal about bringing up a young horse. Sometimes it’s difficult for Stormy to keep her opinions to herself, but she is generally very eager to please and easy going. As well as Sport Horse and Dressage, Stormy is embarking on a career in Western Trail. I’ll be sure to keep all of you posted on her adventures.

Thanks for reading my post and please tell me of your experiences with training a young horse. It is definitely character building!!

The Handsome Herald – Do You Have A Worrier?

Handsome Photo by Kimberly Hopper

Handsome is just that (and more). Handsome. I wish I could take credit for his name, but I cannot. The farm that bred him gave him that moniker and they were so right on! He’s big, blond, finely muscled, and extremely charismatic.

I’ve had the pleasure of owning this boy for nine years. I bought him as a three year old, only fifteen days under saddle. My trainer and I had gone out to California to look at an equally impressive buckskin, but the trainer of the farm brought Handsome out first. I wasn’t sure why, I guess he was just showing me what was available. He had one of his assistant trainers work Handsome in the round pen for a few minutes and then they put him back in the stall. We spent a long time looking at the buckskin and talking about him, but Handsome made an impression on me and I made an offer.

And I have never once regretted the decision! Handsome has turned out to be one of those “all around” horses. We have competed in Western Pleasure, Western Trail, Hunter, Sport Horse Under Saddle, Cross-rails and Dressage and he has a number of prestigious awards under his girth! He is the star of my little herd and one of my best pals. I guess you could say Handsome and I have grown up together. It’s been such a pleasure to bring a horse along from a young age into emotional and physical maturity, while at the same time maturing as a better horsewoman myself. But, it hasn’t been without our challenges!

Most people who meet Handsome and even those who have known him for a while see a calm, seasoned, self-assured, mature horse. And most of the time, he is all those things. But deep down inside, Handsome is a worrier. He considers himself the head of the herd – it doesn’t matter if it’s his own herd or the horse he just got stalled next to at a show. He is the caretaker. The pleaser. The mom. I often joke that Handsome is a mare in a gelding’s body. If another horse is distressed or if Handsome thinks they are distressed, he paces, he calls, he frets.

The first two days at a show are tough on Handsome. I help him by working on his diet before a show, give him calming supplements (all legal of course) take him out of his stall often, and work him on the ground to help burn that mental energy. Once he realizes that all of his new equine friends are not being impaled through the heart with a spear and that he may indeed survive this show, he settles down and becomes the Handsome we all know and love.

I would love to sit here writing this blog and tell you that all of my horses are perfect, well adjusted, calm and obedient at all times, but that just wouldn’t be true. They all have their little personality quirks, fears and vices, just like people. We owe it to them to try to understand what makes their minds work and then work with them, not at them.

Do you have a worrier? A kicker? A nervous Nelly? If so, please share with us your horse’s idiosyncrasies and how you help them deal with those issues. I look forward to your comments!

The Chaco Chronicles

Me and Chaco at work

Chaco and I have been on a long journey. Chaco was bought by my trainer as a yearling. He was a favorite in the barn because of his boisterous and playful personality. The first time I saw Chaco in action was at a show in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was at that time five years old. My trainer was working him on-line, warming him up for a ride. He was speeding around the arena, snorting, screaming and acting like he’d never been let out of the barn. My first thought: That woman is crazy to think she can ever get this horse calm enough to work, much less show. My second thought: Oh man, is he ever gorgeous – he moves like a dream. My third thought: I could never handle a horse like that.

Move forward two years and I was looking for a new horse. Something fancy, something flashy and something challenging. My trainer and I visited a well-known Warm Blood horse farm and we saw many unbelievably beautiful horses, but I quickly realized the ones I liked were waaayyy out of my price range. Of course. Story of my life. 🙂 As we were watching the liquid gold prance by us with graceful elegance, another horse popped into my head. I turned to my trainer and said, “What about Chaco?” When she pulled her chin up off the ground she said to me, “You like him?” I shrugged my shoulders. We talked about it all the way home.

In short, I bought him. And then, fear set in. What in the hell had I just done to myself and my trainer, who truly loved the horse? I had yanked him away from her and now what? I had to ride him? “No,” she said. “Take your time.”

So I worked him on the ground, using natural horsemanship principals I had studied in the Parelli program, for several weeks. When I finally did climb on board, I was tight, nervous and saying my Hail Marys. This horse had so much impulsion at the trot, it was hard to stay seated and balanced at the same time. When we cantered, I felt like we were racing against the clock. What had I done? Every time I had to ride him, dread set in. I tried to make excuses. It’s windy, the footing isn’t right in the arena, I should be riding my other horses, I have a hang-nail. After doing this, yet still gritting my teeth and riding him, I became frustrated at myself. I had been riding and showing horses for a good part of my life. Why was I so scared? Interestingly enough, the lack of confidence in riding spread out into the rest of my life. I doubted myself, I doubted my decisions, I doubted everything. I had to do something about this. I had to be proactive. I had to conquer this fear. The answer? I gave myself a break. But this was not easy. For those of you who know me, you know I have the curse of the A-type personality. I’m driven. I’m an overachiever. I’m terribly hard on myself.

With the help of my trainer, I decided that fear was okay. In fact, it was good. It showed I had a healthy respect for this incredibly talented animal who was a lot bigger than me, quicker in his reactions than me, and in many ways, a lot smarter than me. (Yes, horses can be incredibly smart all you naysayers!) I had to use this fear and learn to harness it, like I had to learn to harness Chaco’s vibrant energy – because that’s what it turned out to be – his energy is enormous and I was intimidated by it. As I worked through these issues, I had an opportunity to finally put my fear aside and get to know this horse. Not only is he flashy and beautiful, he has a willing heart and a wonderful attitude. He’s always eager to do what I ask, even if I confuse him. He is immensely forgiving and loving.

I am still working through some issues with Chaco. But they are mine, not his. Now, when I ride and he is giving me that big ole trot, and that canter with lots of jump, there is a smile on my face instead of a rictus of terror. Sometimes, I even laugh because I get a kick out of the fact that he’s enjoying himself and showing off. In short, I’ve fallen in love with this boy and we are working together to build our relationship. Chaco is still a challenge but I am up for it. We are currently working in Level One Dressage and Sport Horse Show Hack and I look forward to a time when I am completely at ease riding him in any situation. We aren’t there yet, but I can feel it coming!

What is your relationship with your horse like? Please feel free to comment and get a dialogue going. It’s always good to exchange experiences and ideas and I’d love to hear your stories!

Stay tuned for more of the Chaco Chronicles. Coming up: The Stormy Diaries and The Handsome Herald.

Dressage -Some Like it Hot!

And, it was hot!  Just got back from Scottsdale, Arizona for the Arabian/Half-Arabian Region 7 Championships and pre-show, ASHO4U.  Temperatures ranged from 105 degrees when we first arrived, to mild mid-seventies when we woke up to thunderstorms and rain one day.  But, don’t worry, the thermometer in Arizona always rises!  We finished out the week in the mid to high nineties, once again.

DSC_0048Chaco and I made our first foray into Training Level at this show.

The purpose in Training Level  is to “Confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit.”

He was a good boy and did his best as I struggled to steer him at the canter.  Because of show jitters, I was a bit too tight in my body, but once I relaxed, we eased into our transitions.  That is usually the case – the rider is doing something to make the horse ask “What the …. are you doing up there?”  When I’m good, Chaco’s good.  Overall I was pleased with our performance.  The best thing about showing is, when you go home you know what you need to work on.  It’s always a challenge.

Handsome and I are wading in to new waters as well.  We are fine-tuning in First Level and starting to work in Second Level.  In First Level the purpose is to “Confirm that the horse, in addition to the requirements of Training Level, has developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and thoroughness and to maintain a more consistent contact with the bit.”  You learn to extend your horses gaits and also to move him off your leg in a flowing leg yield.

In Second Level, the purpose is to “Confirm that the horse , having achieved the thrust required in First Level, now accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); moves with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits; and is reliably on the bit.  A greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, thoroughness, balance and self-carriage is required than First Level.”  You learn to isolate the shoulders and hindquarters of your horse to perform the movements, “Shoulder In” (just like it sounds), Turn on the haunches (just like it sounds) “Travers” (the forehand proceeds straight up the long side with the hindquarters bent to the inside,)  and “Renvers” (the forehand travels parallel to the wall  with the hindquarters bent to the outside, toward the rail.)  Sound complicated?  It is!  And we have a long way to go in Second Level, but we managed to receive Top 5 in both Levels in the Championships.  My “bestie” Handsome is a hard and willing worker!

New Mexico Spring

Last week we had temperatures in the seventies. Perfect riding weather. The day before yesterday, we had snow. Having been gone for a long writing weekend in the mountains, yesterday I returned eager to ride, only to find a swampy arena and mud caked horses. Alas, it was not to be. I had to be satisfied with grooming old Georgia who, for some reasons grows twice the winter coat of the others. She is shedding like mad! I stood, soaking up the sun that thankfully returned, for forty-five minutes slaking off sheets of chestut colored horse hair. As I groomed her, she groomed me leaving a gritty crust of horse kisses on my cheek and neck. It was peaceful, calming, much needed, quiet time.

Today, I was determined to get in the saddle! The arena was still a mess, so Handsome and I hit the trail and had a nice walk over to our trainer’s farm. There we were able to work in her arena which had been nicely dragged and dried out by the sun. I didn’t ask for too much from the boy today, after a week off. It was a good thing because he had trouble concentrating. There are just so many fun things to look at and smell over there!

We lazily walked back home, much calmer and refreshed. After a quick lunch, I haltered Chaco and began the ritual of brushing out his mud splattered black coat. His sweet white spots were a dingy brown and his mane sported clods of dirt. Ah, to roll in the mud. After a lengthy grooming session, we headed out for a walk, this time on line. I haven’t ridden him on the trail yet, so I’m taking it slow. We walked down our dirt road and had many startles and spooks with barking dogs, construction buzz saws at the neighbors and a killer silver tarp in the back of a truck! Oh, and there was the occasional nip of new, green grass, too. Hope he enjoyed the adventure, because tomorrow, its back in the saddle and back to work!