Friday, November 4, 2016

The end of something (barely started).

It has been a long time.

I keep starting to write an entry and stopping. I am still in a muzzy state of unrest from the recent diagnosis I received for Deli. Unrest and heartbreak.

A couple of months ago after a long-but-slow conditioning ride, Deli presented with some pretty severe back soreness. This was much worse than the muscle soreness she had after her first LD at Mt. Adams. I thought, at first, it was related to a new pad combination I’d tried (since that was the first long ride with the new pad configuration). Then, when it didn’t resolve as expected, I wondered if she had hurt something while bouncing around in the mud trying to avoid a water crossing.

Long story short of it, we’ve been chasing odd back soreness in her lower lumbar region since then. I finally decided to get a back ultrasound after the normal R&R, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture did not make a difference. She would get better, but then I’d do an easy ride and the back soreness would flare up again.

Well, the news from the ultrasound was not good: kissing spines and some serious damage multifidus muscle along her spine – right behind her withers.

What is kissing spines? The more technical phrase is “overriding dorsal spinous processes” – essentially this term describes the touching or “kissing” of spinal processes, which are the long thin bones that protrude upward from each vertebrae in horse’s back. It’s likely she has always had this underlying problem because she has always over-built her lower back muscles. Her conformation (that high-headed saddlebred set) likely predisposes this problem in this area of her back. The damage to the multifidus could be acute or chronic. Regardless, time carrying a rider and the increased workload we have had coming into endurance riding has made an underlying pathology become more obviously painful.

You want to get technical? Here are some ultrasound images.

Normal multifidus muscle fiber pattern with some underlying proliferation of bone on a dorsal spinous process. 13th thoracic.

Damage to/atrophy of the multifidus muscle as it courses from one spinous process to the next. Notice the total loss of normal fiber pattern compared to the previous image.


Location where dorsal spinous processes are close-riding or touching. Approximately 13th-15th dorsal spinous processes.
Her lower back region looked great, so my vet rightly determined that being unable to use her upper back properly and is straining her lower back muscles. So the obvious pain is not where the underlying problem is.

In the short term I am working with Deli to try and get her back to lift (by using her abs) in that upper back region. So far, the therapies and ground exercises I’ve tried have been unsuccessful. Our next step is to try mesotherapy, a pain-dampening technique that stimulates the mesoderm, the middle layer of the skin. Our hope is that pain relief will make her more able to build the muscles needed to relive those spinous processes. We are also going to get a theraband (a lounging therapy tool) and continue with massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic work.

In the long term… any more endurance riding is probably out of the question for her. For this, I am heartbroken. She really showed she has the mind and enjoyment for it and I know this is the sport that I want to be involved in over any other. My plan is to try this rehab work for a couple months and see if it seems probable that we could get her strong enough for long trail rides without her always presenting as back sore. 

Then I will need to get a new saddle. Though the edema I was getting with my Ghost saddle didn’t appear painful to palpation, you could see in the ultrasound that it was not superficial and may have been contributing to the multifidus damage and internal pain. I am considering doing the Reactor panel “rent for rehab” program, but the cost of all of that makes me cringe. 

As of right now, if after a couple months of ground therapy it does not look like Deli will be able to be decently sound and comfortable for trail riding I am going to retire her altogether. It’s rough and my heart aches because she is my heart and the one I want to go off and have adventures with. But this pathology means I can’t rely on her comfort. And if it will take 10 hours of doing hard arena work she hates just to get an hour on the trail... I’m not sure that’s worth it. Especially if that would require me buying her a $4k saddle that would set back my financial situation. It will make her so very unhappy. And she isn’t that horse that has a huge work drive – she would be perfectly happy being a pasture puff. With the money I would spend renting an insanely expensive saddle I could easily lease another horse to compete in endurance with. If I had my own property I could probably own another horse, but given the state of the world that’s not going to happen anytime soon! 

On the other hand, if she has just been annoyed by arena work because of this underlying condition the whole time, she may thrive under these therapies. Not enough to do endurance, I’m sure, but it might be enough to justify not retiring her (in part because this condition is chronic and will progress even if she is a pasture puff, and proper work might help her longevity). 

I don’t have to make any decisions yet, but having a “if, then” plan is necessary for me to not otherwise implode from stress. We still have some things to try, but I am preparing myself for the idea that Deli is going to be retired sometime soon.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Mt. Adams LD follow up thoughts...

Oh yeah, we had fun.


Deli's back is just about 100% better after the soreness from the ride. And her first rides afterward (I gave her a good chunk of time off) she felt great. We obviously still have a few things to fiddle with, but hope to improve with each LD we do.

Problems we encountered that we need to fiddle with:

Back soreness. Likely from exertion (especially trotting downhill and me being less balanced there), being weaker on one side, and possibly compounded by cramping from the cold. Planned solution? More practice trotting downhill for both of us, increasing strengthening exercises for Deli (especially these canter exercises my trainer friend suggested). For the cold, I just need to get a cooler on her ASAP when we stop if the temperature is at all cool and ride with a rump rug on cool parts (even if I have to keep it rolled up). There is also a possibility the saddle is an issue and I will continue to be vigilant in that regard. I am planning on playing with the rigging and the pad(s), and thinking of bolstering the front even more. Since it sits a little downhill already, it may have thrown me off more than expected on those gradual downhills.

I am also going to try and determine if I can get off and jog besides her for some of these long gradual slopes. It's a big IF with my knee and hip issues, but I thought I'd try anyway.

As for the cramping, she definitely did stiffen some in the brisk cool wind. It might have been better to come in hot, knowing I had a cooler in the pulse-in area, rather than jump off before the finish line and walk her in. Hmmm. Maybe more electrolytes?!

Also: bring liniment next time!

Skin flaking. Actually, this problem was not as bad as I expected it to be. Her armpits flaked some, as did everywhere where I had tack on her body. She has such sensitive skin and I'll take the dandruff-ick over the inflamed raw sores any day. I also didn't give her any anti-histamines after the ride because the insects were non-existent. In retrospect a single dose might have helped her sensitive skin after the fact even if she wasn't bitten up.

Stocking up and space. Due to Deli's lymphangitis she gets fatleg if confined at all, so I bandaged her hinds after the ride (and overnight the night before). The next morning her front legs were a bit stocked up too, which is less common for her. Tying her to the trailer is not ideal for this horse. She needs as much space to move around as possible AND standing wraps. I am planning to collect supplies between now and the next ride to set up an electric corral for her. While not my ideal choice, since I do not have a rig of my own the electric corral will be the most portable and least PIA when bumming rides. Deli is respectful of electric tape so it should be okay. and I can build her something a bit bigger for less money than corral panels.

By the way, can I just say how impressed I am with Deli for not killing herself tied to the trailer overnight?! That was my backup of a backup plan as I had thought to borrow a corral and/or electric pen, which ended up not actually existing when i arrived. We did not practice the tying overnight-thing before trying this at a busy ride. And we were camped right next to the trail! She did paw some and stuck her fat face in my riding-buddy's business (since I tied to her trailer and Deli was in reach of the back of her truck), but otherwise she did pretty good. I just plopped an entire bale of hay down in front of her, which also served as a barrier between her and the sharp bits of the trailer side.

I just had to keep the mantra in my head from my friend and trainer who helped me with Deli in our first years: plan and do what you can and for everything else, ENDURE.

Here are some photos of our vet card:



Deli pulsed in really well (though she was anxious for her vet check-in!). I was also very happy with her CRIs, since her fitness was a big question mark for me. I think we can get them even better with work. Probably she just has that Arabian metabolic advantage.

The B in gut sounds is something I wasn't super worried about day-of because she ate really well most of the day and into the night. She did eat a few mouthfuls of grass on the trail and carrots (fed by hand). Her hydration did perk up on the second loop because she drank so well after the first. On the first loop she just sipped water when offered.

Also for checking her mucous membranes and capillary refill, she would not let the vet do it. However, all the vets at the ride let ME show them her gums and hydration so it wasn't a big issue. Deli does get more fussy about her face being handled by strangers in hectic environments, so I think this is something we will need to practice more at rides.

Mt. Adams is well run, but it is a HUGE ride and the pulse-in area and vet checks were BUSY. Deli did pretty well, but I'm curious to see how she does at a smaller ride. Also the 30 minute hold felt so short, and I think we even left after our release time(?)

So those are my closing thoughts. She felt good when I went out for 5 miles today. She's going to get a good amount of work this week and then another whole week off because my husband and I are going on our first vacation in years to Yellowstone. I am hoping to get to another one of my bucket-list rides in July and try another LD with Deli there.

Last time: We completed our first LD!


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mt. Adams 2016 – we completed our first LD!

We did it! I didn't jinx it! Deli didn't injure herself the day before! She got in the trailer! We arrived intact and rode 30 miles!

Deli and I COMPLETED our first limited distance ride yesterday! We completed 30 miles at the Mount Adams Endurance Ride.

I am so very happy with Deli and had a blast on the trail. The Mt. Adams ride is beautifully run. Which is a good thing, because it is a BIG and BUSY ride (with 68 riders, I believe, in the LD and… 30 started in the 100 miler!). The trail was well-marked and the scenery was absolutely stunning.


At home, waiting to leave.
Deli felt great all day. We dealt with some over-excitement on her part, which was expected for her first ride. She got fairly strong at points (though never out of control) and I was glad I opted for her snaffle bridle over the side-pull. Her power-trot was exhilarating as we wove our way up and up through the forest. It threatened to rain all day, sprinkling on as at times. When we climbed through an old burned out area, the mist crawled in between the blackened trees. At one point we got a close-up view of Mt. Adams’ snowy base. The first loop was long and involved a lot of passing and being passed by other groups of riders. I rode all day with my friend Vanessa and her horse Jinn and had a great time with them.
All vetted in on Friday! With her whole bale of hay...

Deli ties to the trailer overnight for the first time. And Jinn is CUTE.
 Our only trail “mishap” was Deli having a freak out about the first bridge we encountered. She ended up crashing into a downed tree with her hind legs and giving me a brief heart attack. So I hopped off, let folks pass, and examined her for injuries. Miraculously she was totally fine and it was easy to mount again on one of the many downed trees in the forest.


Deli vetted in great at the first check after 16 miles – all As and A minuses. We walked out of camp on a loose rein for the second loop and when I asked to pick up the trot again she was totally game. We were able to find a bubble for a bit in the second loop, and I think this was my favorite time. With a loose reins we mostly let our horses pick the pace, which was typically around a 7mph chugging along trot. At points they picked up the ground eating 10mph trot. For the most part we did not go fast, however, as I had plans to not push Deli too hard. She came back into the camp after another 13 miles still happy to trot forward, ears up. Of course I question her soundness and ability with all the injuries she’s had, so I was very happy with how she moved all day.

The trails (ridden on Friday).
She ate up those hills and seemed to be enjoy the experince! It wasn’t until the last few miles I felt she started to “guard” her right hind a little. She was still moving cleanly, but it did feel like that weak leg was getting tired faster than her other three limbs.

We pulsed in fine and got a completion, ending up with a 43rd place out of 60.

The “bad” things mostly related to her after the ride. The wind was brisk and cold when we pulled tack, and even though I got a cooler on her ASAP she started to cramp along her back and topline. She got Bs on her back on the final vet through and the vet commented that she was stiffening up in the cold. I also thought she was a bit back sore beyond just cramping, to my disappointment. The saddle has been a big question for me (due to that edema – which ironically we had no issues with for this ride) and I hate that she has a sore back. This saddle we have is the MOST comfy I have ever been in tack. In fact, I feel pretty darn good today. A bit of muscle soreness, but no un-right pain (though  I am personally very sleepy from two nights with poor sleep).

The next hour she was eating and drinking great, but she definitely seemed to be stiff and uncomfortable on her topline and generally cramped up just standing around. She was shifting about on her feet. As Deli seemed most comfortable sedately walking around camp and grazing, that’s what we did for about an hour or two after our ride. When she seemed a bit looser I tied her back to the trailer with her bale of hay and a bucket of carrots and went to pass out for a bit in our tent with my husband (who crewed for me like a champ all day).

She did fine overnight but, unfortunately, her back was still sore this morning. I got some advice from riders more experienced than me: that it might just be all the downhill trotting or the exertion (and not the saddle?). If that’s the case the soreness should be gone by tomorrow or the next day. If not, something else may be going on. She didn’t feel fussy or sore-backed at all while I was riding. In fact, she seemed to enjoy herself. Particularly when we were in that bubble I could feel that delightful curious spark she has, wondering what was around the next bend in the trail.

After the ride, trying to keep warm!

My husband was so helpful and wonderful all weekend.

Ride camp this morning.

Deli was perky this morning! Demanding her mash.
She also led a good portion of the way! My submissive weenie of a pony is turning into something else… and I like it! Her worst spook of the day was right when we were coming back into camp from the first loop. Go figure.

I’ll probably post more about the ride later because I’m still mulling over my experiences.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Conditioning Update (May 2016)


Deli and I have been doing... decently? Nothing has gone wrong, at least. Due to work continuing to be life-consuming my conditioning miles have been less than I'd like. I've tried a couple different saddles without finding anything better than what we have. And honestly, Deli's back feels great. This was confirmed by my chiropractor (who is also a vet).

Considering she would get sore spots on her shoulders from our custom-fitted dressage saddle (and her lower back would lock up with miles) I think we are in a good place right now. I do hope to alter the rigging of my treeless saddle, as I think that's what causing the issues I'm seeing. Can I just say that the dealer for GHOST saddles is the best customer service I've ever experienced. Just impressive!

I've even moved shims around in my Skito pad and gotten a better sweat pattern. Though she has been attacked by bees several times since the hot weather started. Have I mentioned that managing her various issues is always exciting? Ha. No.

Sweaty and bee-sting-ed.
Grass-brain is a problem here.



Milo McIver State Park. A good place to ride!
Sweat and a dusty horse = yuck.
Deli has been incredibly sassy. Though our last ride of 18 miles went fine (read: it was hot and we were all lazy), she refused to load to go home again. So this week she is getting off work but I have been reinforcing that particular skill. Much to my redhead's chagrin. She is claustrophobic and I kind of get the feeling this issue is going to rear it's ugly head every now and then.

The only other news on the horizon is: time to do something official?! If all goes well, Deli and I will be headed to our first LD together at Mt. Adams. I'm loathe to say anything because I've become increasingly superstitious over the years of mishaps and failures. There is still so much that can go wrong before this Saturday (not to mention things that could go wrong during the ride).

I am very lucky that my best friend and husband is coming to be my crew and someone to absorb my anxiety. Oh, and help me pack since I still have a full work week ahead of me.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Saddle fit and discouragement...

The Ghost saddle may not work. And the thought of doing more saddle shopping right now makes me want to Give Up On All Things Horse.

I don't think it's the horse in general, but the fact that so many areas of my life right now are being met with disappointment and a lack of answers (specifically with health problems I am having). I guess I'm just worn out and discouraged and this is more of the same.


I'm getting some clear pressure points now that I've experimented with saddle pads that make her sweat more. Another reason for the experimentation was seeing some edema.



The edema I'm seeing shows up on her spine (as demonstrated by ghost finger above) after rides. Based on conversations with experts this is a sign there is pressure alongside and fluid is squeezing into the spine channel. This edema disappears within a minute and none of her back is painful to any kind of palpation. In fact her back generally feels good, though I feel it won't last given what I'm seeing! This is comparing to our old dressage saddle which had a more even sweat pattern, no edema, but DID make her tender to palpation! It seems like every saddle we've tried has some issue, though I have yet to have the same issue with different saddles.

I got a new Skito pad that is very shiny with a shim set I was certain would at least help. I rode 7 miserable miles in it yesterday and... NOPE. Same issues. The shim set I got for the Skito pad (which is gorgeous, by the way) was intended to fill the "dip" in her sway back... which is the area I'm seeing the pressure and edema.

My new Skito.
Possibly this problem is contributed to by the saddle wanting to slide back. It will slide back a good three inches on big uphills and I can't get my breastplate any tighter. It already interferes when she puts her head down to graze.

Another thing to note: the Ghost is treeless. The dry spots and edema are right around where my weight is. Possibly I'm just too heavy for treeless, though I am within the recommended weight range for this saddle right now.

I don't know.
Another example after a rinse that shows the curve of her back better.
I know lots of recommendations for saddles to try will come flooding in if I look for them, but I can't afford something more than around $1k right now (and that's if I sell this NEW saddle, ugh). If only saddle brands did rent-to-own stuff! Plus, there is no guarantee that a more expensive saddle will help at all. This saddle performed great in my trial and is the most comfy saddle for ME that I've tried. That's one reason I wasn't sure I wanted to make this post at all.

It would be great if I could borrow saddles to try, but Deli just isn't shaped like many other horses. Part of me thinks treeless is our only option. How else to you accommodate a sway-back, wide as hell, forward-girth groove, sensitive skinned redheaded pony?

She isn't sore so I'm going to keep riding and tweaking things to see if I can make some difference. But I'm not feeling super hopeful today.

Here's what I plan on trying:

  • Less stretchy girth (may help the saddle from sliding back but historically Deli has been intolerant of a non-stretch girth).
  • Moving shims around.
  • Trying NO shim in the Skito pad.
  • Swap back to the slimmer panel to see if that makes a difference (probably not).
  • See if I can get to a place to have a fast FLAT conditioning ride to determine if the sliding back is a contributing factor. Or bore our brains out doing laps in the arena...


I switched to the wider panel which is supposed to spread out the weight more.
Feeling very "grey" today, despite the sun finally being out.
I am still planning on our first endurance ride in late May. Conditioning-wise Deli is looking good for a conservative LD. I suppose if the greater distance does make her sore then I will have my answer and truly return to the drawing board. (And probably be out for another season. A thought which I can't stomach right now.)

Last time: Conditioning in March, 2016 – Ups (and Downs)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Conditioning in March, 2016 – Ups (and Downs)

Conditioning for the 2016 season has started in earnest. The video below was from my last conditioning ride, also featuring our riding buddies Vanessa and her Arab gelding, Jinn.





In three weeks we’ve had three really successful conditioning rides trailering out to parks with good riding. I’ve been filling in the gaps with arena work (boring, but the local farm roads I will ride on later in the season are still too muddy to traverse).

Last ride I borrowed Vanessa's extra side-pull bridle for half the ride, and Deli went pretty well in it. I like that it does not twist on her face like other side-pulls we've tried.

Grazing break while Vanessa looked for a lost hoof boot in the mud.
There have been some bad points. Mostly: my Deli was an absolute nightmare getting back into my friend’s trailer after one conditioning ride at a local park. She’d been recalcitrant before, but had always gotten on (after our first ride she even hopped on with very little fuss). This time after nearly six hours in the dark and rain, my barn owner offered to rescue us. I’ve never had to be rescued in that way, and I was incredibly humiliated and frustrated. I know the weather and her fear (of a small trailer) had something to do with her behavior (hail and rain, which makes noises on the trailer roof and frightens her) but she was also just being a brat at times.

We rode in the rain, then it cleared up. Then (when we were trying to get back into the pictured trailer) it started raining again.
You know when you work so hard to make your horse a solid citizen and then you have a day where it seems like they willfully forget everything? Yeah. FacePALM.

Deli sure does not look like she's about to fight loading forever, does she?
She just seems to dislike my friend’s trailer (an older Brenderup) and this does not apply to ALL trailers. She loads without much hesitation into an old stock and everything else I’ve tried recently. Though, because I really want to ride with my new friend, this is problematic nonetheless!

Ironically the trail ride before that nightmare was AMAZING. 

Looking out at the Clackamas River.

Deli and Jinn hanging out and being polite like good ponies.

Deli waiting patiently to GET GOING.

I mentioned there was a muddy bit, right?
We have found a conditioning buddy who is, essentially, the perfect match for us. I think we riders get along great and have a lot in common. And Deli and Jinn have quickly become buddies (but without buddy-sourness). As an extra bonus, their paces are similar. Deli seems to truly enjoy these rides. She’s forward, offering to trot along on a loose rein. She really excels at tackling hills and technical footing, though we walk sloooowly for the downhill bits. She seems to recover quickly. During our last ride she drank whenever offered water.

And I'm happy to report that my horse happily leads the pack now. It helps that she isn't nervous about Jinn being behind her. It's lovely!

Our new saddle is comfortable and I just got some NEW wider panels which will hopefully spread my weight out even more. I still have plans to get some Skito foam inserts and other ways to niggle with our tack. For instance, we need to figure out a better system for attaching out trail bags, since my bags are made for an English saddle and don't exactly match my new GHOST saddle.

Deli at home after our most recent conditioning ride. She's looking good for an almost-17-year old mare!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

PNER Convention Notes – “Beyond Conditioning” – by Robin Ryner

Another day, another long-overdue post of my PNER Convention notes! Fair warning, the following post is LONG (with my personal thoughts in italics for the most part).

Robin Ryner operates Compass Equine, a training center in Arizona. She rides, trains, and teaches.
At the beginning of her panel, Robin Ryner told the audience that her presentation was not a recipe for training horses. Instead, Robin Ryner wanted to give us some of her “ingredients” that we could then use in our own recipes. My general feeling about this talk was that she was giving us a kind of reality-check. It’s one thing to learn all you can about conditioning, feeding, and shoeing the endurance horse – but what about the rest of it? The planning and doing part of endurance riding?

Robin started in endurance in 1998. Though she does not have a lot of competition miles herself, she really enjoys getting a good base on young horses so that those same horses can go down the trail successfully with their owners.

She was right when she stated, “Endurance riders are good at dreams and goals…” I feel like my time as an endurance greenie has been dreaming and making goals for over eight years! With only one LD under my belt, both my goals and my dreams seem hardly achievable. BUT last week I had my first proper conditioning ride of the season, so right now my dreams are hope.

Robin continued by defining exactly what “dreams” and “goals” mean. This is the beginning of that “reality check.” Essentially: dreams are what inspire us, while goals are what get us to those dreams!
  • It does not matter what your dream goal is, but it does have to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (time, commitment, and setup?), and time-bound (we have to put some sort of time-limit on them or else it isn’t truly a goal).
  • Make many little goals to get you to your big goal. I like the sentiment that I should make little goals to work up to the big goals, because with an accident prone pony like Deli it feels like those big goals will always be swept out from under us. But I can plan small (even if my dreams remain big).
  • Your chances of succeeding at goals are much higher if you meet smaller steps.
  • Expectations vs. reality: Expectations – a strong belief that something will happen in the future. Expectations get in the way of dreams and goals because they may not mesh with reality. So true. And so cruel, sometimes.
  • Figure out your ultimate objectives (and in-between objectives). If we, as riders and horse owners and endurance riders, don’t know where we are going, how do we know when we’ve arrived? Break things down as concretely as possible so you know when you have met any of your objectives. This may be the signal to move on to the next goal!
  • Be flexible within your goals. And make sure each step is not too big of a jump


Inside your horse's mind..?


Horses are different from us, right? My own learning curve with Deli was helped along immensely when I understood her way of seeing the world better.

Hello, Ponyface.

Robin Ryner went into depth on this topic. In contrast to our human way of obsessing and planning… Horses don’t have goals in the same way. They just want to be comfortable. Consider how we have to break what we are doing with our horses into steps to train them.

Horses live in the moment, of course. And it’s all about them – they are not thinking about you. All they really want is safety, comfort, food, and play (which I qualify as social bonding and social interaction with other horses). Why is this important? Robin Ryder reminds us that the stuff horses do isn’t personal, and we have to frame the times when they are being naughty or pig-headed from that perspective.

As it relates to how horses work with us: be willing to say “no” when you are training. Positive reinforcement is great and should be utilized, but don’t get afraid to say “NO” when they do something wrong, because it gives the horse a clearer picture of what you want. Letting them know when an action is incorrect creates structure and boundaries within which they can learn. And saying “NO” can be done in a polite way.

Robin Ryner does like to use cookies when she trains. (That’s great – so do I. Deli is also a horse who will try and stand on her head for a cookie.) She did qualify this statement by saying that she is not a human vending machine when it comes to treats. Instead, using treats or any kind of reward system is about what finding that horse’s currency is. (For Deli? Cookies.) Leave that horse every day with good feelings towards you, towards work, toward whatever skills or behaviors they need to make that step towards the next goal.

What other considerations should you bring to your dreams and goals when working with and training horses?


Be present. Ride the spine of that horse instead of constantly riding in the far future. When we can feel what is happening in that moment then we can actually abate the problems of the moment much more quickly. To me this means: deal with issues when they arise. I have often heard “ride the horse you have” and I think that applies not just to the individual horse you own but also the horse you have that particular day. Perhaps as a mare guardian I understand this all too well.

What are you starting with? Make sure you know this baseline and use it to plan the goals, both large and small. Figure out the age and level of your horse and how that relates to these goals. What are the horse’s innate characteristics and ingrained behaviors? Are they analytical, calculating, or the anxious type? Or are they unable to control themselves because they are just super exuberant? Or are they a right-brained introvert who is so scared – they want to do everything they can for you but they get scared and the brain turns OFF? Answering some of these questions seems to me like it would make some goals form right then and there. I know a long-term goal of mine has always been to build Deli’s confidence in herself and trust in me. We have come a long way in that respect, but I think it’s going to be a lifetime goal in general.

A horse can have a lot of issues or training holes. No horse in perfect in all circumstances. You say the horse is bomb proof? It probably depends on how big the bomb is!

Time is limited – make it count. We use time pressure problems to disregard training holes our horse(s) may have. Instead of using this as an excuse, deal with issues as they come and soon your list won’t be so big. Train along the way and whittle down all those rough edges, essentially. Always expect that certain things will happen (like your horse behaving as expected) and train them with that expectation. It does not mean they will always behave, but the expectation should always be there. Mounting is a good example. Horses don’t know when it counts (i.e. at a busy ride startup line) so if they haven’t been asked to stand for mounting all the time they don’t know that it’s a rule that should be followed strictly. It’s important to make the most of every opportunity!

This was a very-real tenet to me last week when I spent nearly three hours getting Deli on an unfamiliar trailer. Luckily the owner of the trailer was chill and fine with letting us have the time. Deli was legitimately scared so I'm glad we worked through it.


How can you set yourself up for success? What we do today prepares us for tomorrow. Address your horse’s tendencies on a consistent basis. For example: what happens when you take their buddy away? Better to set them up for success and work them away from their buddies more gradually. But it’s not what we do – it’s what we do when we quit what we were doing. Don’t reward them at the wrong moment; for example, don’t put them back out with the buddy when they are going nuts. If they are very frantic, only remove the buddy by a few feet. It will take time, but you are giving them a better chance of exhibiting the correct behavior.

Make standing quietly a habit. Don’t instantly take them out of the trailer when they start pawing, for example, because essentially they are training YOU to hurry. Prepare the horse to eat and drink better – use different buckets at home, for example.

Create positive experiences. Sign up for clinics, group trail rides, lessons you have to haul to. Use your imagination and make leaving the property fun for the horse!


What kind of relationship do you want? Partnership or a slave? Again, a horse isn’t being naughty because he wants to piss you off. Essentially, be patient and tolerant, and when the horse is being naughty or not doing what you want, try and put yourself in the horse’s shoes.

Desensitizing and sensitizing. The keys are balance and timing – it’s not what we do but when we quit what we are doing. Yes, we can teach the horse to spook. Sometimes all we think about is desensitizing, but sometimes things are not so cut and dry. Be conscious of safety zones and approach and retreat strategies. If a horse is scared or something is going wrong, and you push them and start whacking on them when they react to something with fear, the horse is probably thinking, “See, I knew this was going to be bad.” On the other hand, if you always stay in your safe zones, you will never get anything done – so you have to push that envelope. Knowing this comes from a lot of experience (and knowing your horse!). 

The above is so very very true from my experience. One of my big breakthroughs with Deli was realizing when her “naughty” behavior was from fear or anxiety, and when it was just from her being obstinate. When I could feel the difference, we made huge strides, because I could correct her when she was being naughty, and take more of a calm-leader role when she was scared. I am hardly perfect there, but a lot of the trust we have now is built on me not punishing her when she reacted from anxiety or fear.

You can’t tell things that may be scaring your horse to STOP (like garbage trucks or bikes) but you can teach a horse to face their own fear. From my experience, a large part of this is your horse trusting you when things get dirty.

Where do we start once we have all these ingredients?


We catch, lead, saddle up, ride them, and then put them away. If you consider it, we do most of these things on the ground.

So start on the ground! The moment our horse sees us is when groundwork starts. 
  • Does your horse lead? It’s a more complicated question than you would think. Robin Ryner expects leading to be that the horse will follow you at whatever speed you ask with a mostly slack lead. Remember that everything seems to buckle on the left so your horse may only be responsive on the left! Build a connection with the feet in mind.
  • Grooming and tacking. Hard tying is important, so work on that. Ground tying is super useful in endurance – for instance when you are pulling tack at a vet check. Give a daily once over as well and know what normal for you horse feels like (you can use this to mimic a vet check). (As an aside, when the vet is on the front of your horse checking things out, be on the opposite side so you aren’t in the way. When the vet is on the hind end checking things out, stay on the same side so you can pull their head toward you and get their hind end to move away from the vet.)
  • Mounting. When a horse leaves without you when you are mounting (i.e. does not stands) it’s the same thing as not being to rate them on the trail. The small things build up. Once you get on hurry up and wait. Just slow down and stand there for a few minutes.
  • Warming up (more than just the muscles). One you first get on always do a little warm-up. Check your breaks, check your cues, etc. 

What to do when specific issues arise?


You can condition WHILE training the brain! For example, while doing circles in the arena. You can actually do quite a few miles doing arena work. But yes, it’s boring and mind numbing.

Pacing is a big issue people have. Pacing problems can result from not practicing at home enough! Extend and collect within the gaits, and transition to the different gaits as well. Work on transitioning between the gaits before you work on extending and collecting them within the gait. Essentially good transitions are the key to rating. Work to get a minimum of 3 speeds without tension in each gait. If you don’t release and relax you are coiling a spring then the horse’s body is going to slingshot ahead. Essentially: don’t go into death-grip-mode on them to "control" them!

What about other issues? Spooking, aggression, herd bound, head tossing, bucking, and bolting? There is no recipe for every problem or “grab bag” for every problem. What you want to do is break down each problem into its components (isolate, separate and recombine). Fixing these problems may not happen fast but put it into pieces and work with consistency. For example, desensitize while they are MOVING not just when they are standing still because they will have different reactions.

Coming home or back into camp and having a barn-bound or trailer-bound or horse-bound horse is a common problem. Sometimes you have to be creative in how you come home. Maybe do a couple circles around the trailer and then head back out. Go past the driveway, switch up your loops, don’t always gallop in the exact same place, etc.

And my favorite part: recognize when the horse is trying and reward them for try! 

Modeling our new GHOST saddle.

Race day. How does today differ than any other? 


Figure out where the tolerances are well before the ride day. For example, check their heart rate halfway through. If you want to go fast you don’t have to be going fast – just figure out where you can save time and condition to trot and canter everywhere you can. Average speed is the biggest thing to pay attention to for new riders or riders wanting to bump up their game. If you are riding at a 5mph average pace you are at the back of the pack. You have to train faster at home then on race day because things might go wrong. Go slow to go fast. Steady pacing wins the day (and horse metabolics do play a part as well). 

The everyday things we do don’t really change on race day (regarding the care of the horse), so be mindful of what that everyday care entails.

Protect the horse. Don’t let other riders tailgate! And do not tailgate! Most people are not thinking and are just trying to survive the ride.

Focus your energy. If you want your horse to be relaxed, then you can’t be braced. If your back is hollow the horse’s back is going to be hollow. Essentially: emulate your horse! Loosen everything up – ride the way you want the horses to be. If you need to wiggle in the saddle occasionally and get things moving fluidly, do it.

And above all: Practice your horsemanship every moment of every day.

Be present. Be thoughtful. Be willing to adjust.


Our first conditioning ride of 2016!
Thank you Robin Ryner for your amazing and thought-provoking talk!