Blanketing Considerations

Blanketing Considerations

It’s blanketing time of year and there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to blankets. Here are a few to ensure your horse stays warm and comfortable:

1- Is your horse turned out or kept in a barn? If he’s turned out, you’ll need a more durable canvas blanket especially if he is out with his buddies. It should also be waterproof as horses given their choice of being in or out, normally choose out, even if the weather is terrible. Also, whether they are in or out, pay attention to the temperature. If they sweat under a blanket, not only does the salt take a toll on their coat, but a damp blanket from sweat as the evening cools, can cause them to get chilled. If you have a high denier count and it’s waterproof, it probably won’t breathe well so be sure to take it off during warm days.

2- If you have stickers or even shavings, a fleece lined blanket can be literally a pain as everything will embed itself into the fleece. It might be better to go with a canvas or nylon lining, though “loft” can help trap warm air and keep them more comfortable.

3- A good-fitting blanket is very important. Don’t just use a previous horse’s blanket who was about the same size. If it’s too big, it’ll ride too far back and rub the horses withers on top, or hang way low on their chest in front. If it’s too small, they’ll rub the hair off in front of their shoulders. Most well-known blanket manufacturers use a good cut so their blankets fit most horses well. My experience with cheaper blankets was usually a poor fit in the front.

4- Do you want to be able to take it off over their head and be able to adjust it in the front? That’s a nice option, just be sure to get one that has an easy to adjust front, so after a few weeks, it isn’t welded shut, but not so easy that it comes undone while they’re out playing.

5- Are you going to use a hood for the winter? If so, be sure your blanket has 3 D-rings to attach it to or the hood will wiggle around all the time and probably rub their mane out.

6- Layers- I always preferred a sheet during the day and a blanket over the top of that at night. It cut down on chore time and kept them comfortable at most temperatures.

7- Do you use lights? This might need to be addressed in its own article, but keep in mind that when you keep a horse under lights their hair stays nice and slick, so they can no longer keep themselves warm enough. The same goes for horses that have been clipped. The more hair removed, the more blanket fill to consider using to compensate.

8- Forage – If the temperatures drop below the horse’s 41-degree thermoneutral zone, they will be using more energy to stay warm. This means, their normal calorie intake may not be enough and extra forage can help them maintain their body temperature. Plus, eating and digesting food creates heat.

9- Acclimation – Have you recently moved from the previous winter?  Maybe you’ve moved someplace colder than the prior year and your horse needs to adapt to its new environment.  A blanket can help them acclimate to the new climate.

10- And let’s not forget “sleezies”. They’re great, except for the poor folks who have to put them on and take the off! There’s a pretty good learning curve with sleezies.

Signs Your Horse is Too Hot
• Sweating – this can be under the blanket, along the neck, or behind the ears
• Heavy breathing
• Change in behavior – could be more lethargic or restless
• Rubbing the blanket to try and remove it

Signs Your Horse is Too Cold
• Shivering
• Tucked up tail to try and keep warm
• Seeking shelter or huddling up with other horses
• Change in behavior like pacing to try and warm-up
• Weight Loss – typically a more long-term sign that they’re too cold

A quick trick to check if your horse is comfortable is to place your hand under their blanket near their withers. Does it feel cool or too warm?  If so, you can adjust your blanketing needs accordingly.

Those are my basic considerations when it comes to blanketing. It’s so nice when a horse doesn’t get too shaggy in the winter. That way when you ride, they don’t get so hot and dry off much quicker. However, if that’s not a consideration, letting them go “commando” is the easiest option. I noticed that the unblanketed horses always slicked off quicker in the spring.


Judging Questions

Judging Questions

I was recently asked a couple of questions for an article on judging for the Reined Cow Horse Training Online that I thought it would be fun to share and get you all to weigh in on.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in the show pen? 

I said, “Not taking advantage of the things the rider has control over. In the reined work for instance missing the middle of the arena on your circles, not making your big ones faster than the small ones, not running to the stop, and being sure you get past the markers before stopping are high on my list. In the fence work it would be allowing there to be separation between you and the cow (ie losing some position and control), and not taking advantage of earning credit by also rating the second direction down the fence. In the herd work it’s hard to earn credit unless you cut and quit in the middle of the pen and cover both sides of the cow while working.” So if you want to maximize your score, you’ll need to do those little things. They sure add up and are under your control.

What is the one thing you wish you could tell everyone before they walk into the arena? 

I answered, “Relax and have faith in your training. Take a deep breath and let your horse do its job. If you have a horse that can mark a 72, don’t try to mark a 74 (because more than likely, you’ll end up a 64). Ride the horse you’re riding.”

And last, I was asked what I would say to the person who grumbles about their score? 

That was an easy one! “Go watch the video with somebody who really knows and who will be honest with you. If you still disagree with the score and you can put your “humble hat” on, I think at a weekend show that it’s ok to ask the judge after the show is over, how you might improve your score.” 

I also encourage everyone to take advantage of the NRCHA Judges Seminars. You can learn so much there about what the judges are looking for and how to take advantage of credit earning opportunities.

I’d really like to hear how you all feel about this, so please share. And if there’s anything you want more information about, let me know. If I can answer it I will, and if not, I’ll get someone who can.

Until next time,



Backing A Circle

Backing A Circle

I wanted to share one of my most favorite exercises for suppling a horse.

I also use it to help them make the right choices by offering it as a more difficult alternative to their current “choice”, if that choice is not what I want them to be doing.

Let’s say for instance your horse doesn’t want to stand still. Every time he moves a foot, you softly pick up the reins and back him in a circle (as the videos below show) with his nose and butt to the inside.

This is very difficult for them, it’s hard work.

After you back a few circles, stop, pat him and drop the reins, giving him the “opportunity” to move his feet again. When he does, quietly pick up the reins, soften his face and back him around some more.

The beauty of this exercise is that it’s a lot of work and as soon as they put it together that every time they move their feet, they have to work, pretty soon they don’t want to move their feet.

It’s their choice and that’s why it works. You’ve stacked the deck in your favor and the house always wins!

And meanwhile, he’s gotten much softer and more supple and thoughtful.

So, it’s a win-win-win, which is the best kind of win.

So, here it is:


Holding the 2 Rein

Holding the 2 Rein

I get a lot of questions about how to hold the 2-rein outfit. There are a few different ways, so I’m going to go over each.

The great thing about the year spent in the 2 rein (during which you can also show your horse straight up in the bridle) is that’s it’s legal to put your fingers between the reins! I used to show my horses in both the 2 rein class and the open bridle on the same day so I could school in one and show in the other. 

Here’s a photo of the easiest way. In this, you hold everything together in one hand. However, when you do this, you don’t take advantage of using your fingers between the reins. 

This one is my favorite. You put one finger between each of the 4 reins and then turn your thumb up. 

Some folks like to have the romal reins come up through their palm from the bottom up as if you were straight up in the bridle and the mecate reins would be held going from top to bottom. 

Here’s a photo of putting your fingers in a position to help guide your horse as needed. 

It’s a lot to manage, but hopefully, this is helpful!


One layer at a time

One layer at a time

Training a horse is like painting a car.

You’ve probably seen one of those incredible “show car” paint jobs – where the smooth, rich color looks as if it’s 10 feet deep.

Here’s how that’s done:

After the foundation is perfect, with all the blemishes filled with lead and sanded smooth, the painter applies a primer, which he also sands until it’s perfectly smooth.


Then comes the first color coat. After that’s dry, the painter will sand it until it’s almost entirely gone; just a few molecules of color remain.

Then he applies the second color coat, lets it dry, and sands it until just a blush of color remains.

He’ll do this 20 or more times, building up the color just a few molecules at a time, over a period of many days, until it’s as clear and as deep as an alpine lake.

Well-broke horses are made the same way.




When a horse is soft (resistance-free) in the face, you can communicate through his whole body right down to his feet through your reins and seat.

I always strive to “connect their lips to their hindquarters” meaning that when I picked up a rein, I could feel them engage their hindquarters, soften their poll and allow me to connect to all 4 feet.

The horse needs to learn to respond to every nuance of pull, kick, nudge from the rider.

In response, to the degree the rider can feel every softening (lessening of resistance), every try, is the degree the rider is “connected” to the horse. Then, it’s a matter of interpreting the horse’s response to determine if he can handle more pressure, is mad vs confused, hardheaded or a bit slow to process, etc. But the rider has to be able to feel those responses before she can interpret them.

Both of these components comprise what we call “feel”. To some degree, feel is intuitive. Either you have it or you don’t, but it can also be learned.

When we try to teach a horse collection, it is by very tiny, incremental degrees, with the slightest try being rewarded with a release of the pressure we’re applying. It is by that release that they learn, not the application of our aides.

If we miss that small give and fail to release, there’s no incentive for the horse to try next time. They learn to hang on us as we hang on them, both of us getting duller and number (and both probably getting madder and madder!)

For collection, we’re trying to get our horse to operate in a more compact box, not pushing on the bridle or either of our legs and willingly driving up from behind all at the same time.

We accomplish this “shortening of their wheelbase” by making them reach their hind feet further up under themselves, causing their hips to lower, the abdominal muscles to contract causing their backs to raise and round. This elevates their shoulders and causes their neck to lower and curve, allowing them to break at the poll and carry their head at the vertical.

All of this, just to shift the center of gravity a few inches back from its normal spot right at the cinch area. This allows the horse to balance more on its hindquarters making him more agile and quicker moving the front end.

When a horse isn’t willing to learn to respond to our cues, unfortunately, it’s usually the rider failing to give clear, understandable signals (appropriate for the horse’s level of education) and/or failing to release when a try is offered.

If we do release when the horse tries, we’re making what we want easy and desirable, and what we don’t want more uncomfortable. That’s the #1 premise of horse training.

So, if your horse starts to feel confused, instead of thinking he’s dumb or not trying, be sure you’re “explaining” what you want on the level of explaining something to a child. Then reward the try with a nice release, allow a short recovery before asking again.

In the beginning, you’ll only be asking for a stride or two. This helps the horse understand that if he complies, the release is right around the corner. He’ll be more willing to try the next time. And as his “infrastructure” gets stronger, he’ll be able to hold his frame together longer and longer.

When there is little or no physical or mental resistance, you won’t feel any heaviness on the bridle as his back rounds and lifts, and he responds from head to tail.

It’s a pretty awesome feeling of strength and coordination as they gather up under you, ready to do whatever you ask for next.

Interestingly, collection causes even the worst moving horses to be more comfortable and balanced making them much nicer to ride. Therefore, a worthy goal for any riding discipline.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as I plan to dive into this topic some more!




I thought it might be a fun change of pace to explore the myth vs fact of sworls in our horses.

Sworls are pinwheeled patches of hair that grow in the opposite direction, on the face. On other parts of the body, they are called cowlicks.

Interestingly, the brain and hair are created at the same time, from the same embryonic layer, so there appears to be some science in the correlation of the two as it relates to fear response and trainability.

Several very famous equine folks have studied this (Doug Carpenter, Temple Grandin, and Linda Tellington Jones to name a few).

The consensus of opinion is a sworl located right in the center of the forehead, between the eyes is a tractable, uncomplicated horse.

Below the level of the eyes, can make the horse a bit harder to train, but can indicate intelligence, tending to mischievousness.

Higher than the eyes is fine.

2 sworls, if close together and center, is still ok but might tend to be a bit more reactive, yet indicative of high performers. (If they are further apart, it’s not a good sign). It is twice as common to find double sworls in racehorses and show jumpers. They are generally more complicated and higher strung.

A single long sworl between and extending to below the eyes is a friendly agreeable horse. Check out pictures 1 and 4 in the chart below.

They also make their appearance on the neck.

Up high on the neck within a few inches of the poll, especially if there is one right across from it on the other side makes a horse easy to flex.

However, if they appear further down the neck or only on one side, they won’t have the same neck flexibility. I have definitely found this to be true.

Multiple sworls on the body are signs of an intractable flighty nature.

They can often be found on the left of center on the face.

This usually indicates a horse that’s more complicated, but trustworthy.

I read an account of a farrier who found that off-center sworls indicate stiffness on that side. It was harder for him to pick the horse’s feet up on that side, so it would make sense that training one would be harder also.

They can also go clockwise and counterclockwise, though I’ve never seen much information about what that means in terms of tractability.

The Bedouin’s also put great stock in sworlology. They used them for identification, because like fingerprints, because are unique and never change.

Sworls have also been studied in dogs and cattle, as indicators of temperament.

Look at the photo below and tell me what kind of temperament you think this horse with a wide, loose sworl might have. Then, check your horse’s sworls and see if you find any of this to be true.

I’ll sure be interested in hearing from you about your findings!


How Horses See

How Horses See

I thought it would be an interesting detour to explore how horses see, and how that relates to our understanding them when it comes to training.

Horses evolved in open grasslands. They’re designed to be awake and grazing day and night. They have excellent low light vision, unlike humans who need to see well in the daytime.

Did you ever wonder why your horse’s pupil looks bluish-grey? That’s the tapetum lucidum which reflects light back through the photoreceptor layer of the eye so that the horse has high sensitivity to light.

Remember, horses graze at night and need to see predators and be able to move quickly over uneven ground to escape.

We humans don’t have that so our night vision is poor, but our eyes adjust more quickly from bright to dark. Horses adjust more slowly, but when they do, they see better than we do.

This is what we see walking into a barn during the day.

This is what your horse sees walking into that same barn.

In twenty minutes, this is what your horse sees – it’s brighter and in more detail than you can ever perceive. Which is why you won’t notice a sudden movement at the far end of the barn, but your horse will.

Which brings us to loading in a trailer. This is what we see.

This is the “black hole” that they see.

By opening up the 2 windows, it becomes much less forbidding.

Many thanks to Terri Golson and her article “In Light and Dark”. I’ll share some more in my next article!


Leg Yield, Half Pass, and Side Pass

Leg Yield, Half Pass, and Side Pass

Do you know the difference?

The term “leg yield”, half pass”, and “side pass” seem to be used interchangeably but are all very different and are indicative of your horse’s level of training and responsiveness. Do you know the difference?

Here you go:

Leg yield – The leg-yield is a lateral movement in which a horse travels both forward and sideways at the same time.

It is commonly used by riders to open and close a gate. The horse is fairly straight through his body in the leg-yield, although he may have a slight bend opposite to the direction of travel.

This is a more basic movement.

Half Pass – The half-pass is also a lateral movement seen mostly in dressage in which the horse moves forward and sideways at the same time.

Unlike the easier leg-yield, the horse is bent in the direction of travel, slightly around the rider’s inside leg.

Side Pass – When doing a side pass your horse moves directly sideways in response to your rein and leg aids.

Teaching your horse to do a side pass, also called a full pass, will make him more obedient, safer, and more fun, because he is must be very broke to do it. A true “side pass“, means your horse moves laterally without any forward movement.

To side pass correctly, the horse must move both forehand and hindquarters directly sideways and cross over in front of the opposite foot and his head is aimed in the direction of travel.

Here is a link to a Western Dressage page that has a cool moving diagram, as well as the aides, used to accomplish these:


Riding Smart 11-13

Riding Smart 11-13

This is a continuation of riding smarter not harder horsemanship skills.

Here are Tips #11-13

• Be creative.

I usually try to teach my horses something a certain way, but if I’m not getting through by the third attempt, I take a different approach. In other words, I won’t force a horse to learn something “my way.”

Let’s say I’m asking for the transition from the large, fast circle to the smaller, slower one, and my horse won’t slow down. I can lope him until he wants to slow down, then reward that thought. This works with many horses, but if it doesn’t, I may try breaking him down to a trot, then to a walk, then to whoa and rest.

I may also try pulling him into a circle to slow him down. Or, as a last resort, I may draw him “into the ground” and back him up to reinforce my point.

Ultimately, you must figure out what works for each horse, as each learns differently.

Some trainers have a “my way or the highway” mentality. When a horse fails to respond, they say, “This horse doesn’t ‘fit’ me, or boy is he dumb” What they’re really saying is, “I’m not very creative.”

• Be systematic.

Don’t try to teach your horse something you haven’t laid the foundation for.

Also, don’t get into an argument you don’t have the tools to win. Before you ask your horse to move laterally, for example, you must first be sure he understands the concepts of giving to bit pressure and moving away from pressure on his sides.

• Go back to get ahead.

Start every schooling session by asking your horse for something he already knows well and is comfortable with. Then, after he’s shown you a few times how solid that is, sneak another little bit of learning in there.

For example, go back to walking a good circle before you ask for that little lateral step. Break all learning down into small chunks, always returning to the last thing your horse did well (especially if he gets confused), then inching forward from there.

This keeps him in a positive frame of mind for learning.