My first ride on Saint Croix

I just recently had my first ride on Saint Croix and wanted to share a little bit about the process that I went through.

I wanted to make sure that we both felt comfortable and relaxed and have it be a good experience. When I first got Saint he earned the nickname Chili Pepper, because it was a little bit spicy. He wouldn’t let me catch him for the first couple of days and just generally needed some time to get comfortable in his new surroundings. Saint was a little bit anxious and nervous and would paw, pace the fence, toss his head and was emotional. Yet he was also super friendly and curious so it didn’t take long until he settled in.

I decided that it would be better if I let Saint have a little bit of time before I asked anything of him. It wasn’t long until I was able to halter him, or put a fly mask on. I slowly started asking for more like picking up a foot or grooming him.

This is when I started doing some refresher learning myself about R+ (Positive Reinforcement) training. I listened to several more podcasts and watched some YouTube videos on the topic. Back in 2021 I had used R+ with Jovi and it helped tremendously.

 

I spent a couple more weeks doing the basics – rope work, leading, tying, picking up feet and doing some liberty work getting Saint to follow me through an obstacle course. He eagerly participated and learned quickly and at this point I was offering positive reinforcement in the form of pats and praise with an occasional small piece of carrot.

Then I started using the clicker and started adding more voice cues to Saint’s repertoire. I put my driving curcingle on him with two lines for reins and a bridle with a snaffle and started ground driving. At this point he had already shown that he was fine about ropes all over his body and legs, or being dragged on either or both sides of him. Now we were progressing to actually driving him with me behind him. He quickly learned ‘walk’, and ‘whoa’. When he did what I wanted, I would click, then drop the reins and walk up to his head and reward him with some timothy pellets or a small piece of carrot.

At first I kept the lessons fairly short always ending on a good note. In a handful of lessons Saint was ground driving through and over obstacles and all over the property. He could walk, trot, stop, turn and back with precision. This is when I decided it was time to get on him for the first time.

In between the ground driving lessons I was also working on R+ target training. I used a large sponge on the end of a ski pole.

By the second click followed by some timothy pellets Saint had it figured out. He now would go anywhere I placed the target (the sponge on the pole) and touch it when I said “tap”, and hold his nose to it for a few seconds. Followed by a reward of pellets held away from my body, so he was also learning to “stay out of my space”. Now he knows that term when I use it while waving my arms close to my body. He won’t get his reward if he isn’t respectful of my space or gets pushy, or lippy. So far he has been super delicate and polite about the treat rewards.

This is where the power of both latent and observational learning was so obvious with Saint. I wasn’t doing the same traininng lessons, or any some days at all because I was working with another horse while Saint observed.

Latent learning is the theory that horses learn after having a few days to process a lesson. This is why doing a ground driving lessons every two or three days really showed how well Saint was improving and how he was figuring it out mentally. I can give more examples of this in future posts as it is a fascinating topic.

One of the R+ target training I did with Saint to get him ready for having a rider mount was relatively easy. I simply had him follow the target to line up next to various objects that I could stand on – an upside down half barrel, a mounting block, a railroad tie. Then I leaned over his back while holding the target out to one side or the other and asked him to “tap”, then clicked and rewarded. This way he got comfortable with me leaning over his back but also understood that he was also going to get rewarded by turning his head around and taking it from my hand in the same position it would be in once I was mounted.

Over the course of ground driving we went from using the driving curcingle to fully tacking Saint up. R+ training worked well for that as well and he readily accepted all of his tack including a crupper, breast collar and hoof boots.

Saint lined himself up perfectly to my mounting block using the target. He will follow the target and go anywhere I direct him now. That makes mounting easy and eventually we’ll be doing it reliablly without needing the target. Now I stood up in the stirrup on one side, gave him a treat while leaning over his back. He was so calm and relaxed that I just threw my leg over the saddle and then praised him and gave him another reward. We both felt safe. All the weeks of groundwork had melted away Saint’s anxiousness.

I had my husband lead us around for a minute then I dismounted and went up to the front arena where I mounted back up again. I followed the same process with positive rewarding Saint’s good behavior.

Now we simply did a short lesson going through and over some of the obstacles. We walked, trotted, turned, stopped and backed a couple of steps. Ended on a good note and then led back to the barn to untack.

Rather than go into a huge amount of detail on R+ I’m going to add a couple of links below for those interested in listening to podcasts or watching videos on the topic.

R+ is a proven method for training horses and can be done relatively inexpensively. I used items that I already had to make a target and have been using timothy hay pellets that I keep in an old fanny pack, plus a clicker that I had. A voice click will also work.

These links will get anybody started learning about Positive Reinforcement training. There are lots more resources including groups on FB for those that would like to learn more. It is all in the timing. In some cases I felt that listening to a podcast to be more helpful and other times watching a video. Kind of like my horses, I also learn using different methods, or a combination of them.

Equine Clicker Training 101, Shawna Karrasch podcast

How to Start Clicker Training with Positive Reinforcement video

Alexandra Kurland Video Catalog on Clicker Training

The new horses have been here a month

VG Midnight Cowboy and Saint Croix both arrived here a month ago. Since then I’ve been working with them on a lot of basic groundwork while giving them the space and time to settle in to their new home.

Saint Croix was the most anxious when he got here. For the first couple of days he wouldn’t let me catch him, at least not easily. Now of course, he wants to be caught and do our short little lessons. Saint quickly earned the nickname “Chili Pepper” because he was so spicy. Now he is more about the “Chill”.

I’ve been listening to some podcasts and watching some YT videos on clicker training. I’ve done a bit of it with Jovi and that is how I trained him to stand so well for mounting.

I learned to separate Jovi for some feedings while making sure that plenty of hay was spread around in a way so that the two new horses wouldn’t get cornered. I have since picked up a 3rd Porta Grazer and that is working out well. Each of the three horses has been learning about keeping a safe distance when I bring the hay out to fill up the Porta Grazers.

I’ve been getting Saint and Cowboy used to eating wet mashes made from Sport Horse Stable Mix. They weren’t sure about it at first but now they inhale it. I knew that they were both stressed with the change of home so I’ve been adding Redmond Daily Gold into the mashes morning and night. It is good for stress relief and I feel that it helps with calming down an anxious horse.

Since I’m using this blog to document the training progress with my horses I thought a month in that it would be a good idea to go over some of the things that we have done in the first month.

1. Fly Masks: Saint and Cowboy are now comfortable with putting fly masks on and off. They weren’t sure about the velcro sound at first but now are totally fine with it.
2. Fly Spray: Both are good with being wiped down with fly spray or applying Swat. Not going to pressure them with spraying them for now though I have exposed them to spraying near them. The flies are going away now so we have plenty of time to work on this.
3. Baths: When the boys arrived we had a lot of rain so the horses were in bad need of a bath as they were covered in mud. I started out using the Tiger’s Tongue (a type of sponge) dipped in a bucket of water and got them used to that, then proceeded to put the waterhose flow on a trickle, then placed the end of the hose on the Tiger’s Tongue and went over them that way. It was a little slower than a full on spray bath but we got it done this way and without any drama or stressing them out.
4. Cotton Rope: Both were easy to work with on the ground using a cotton rope. I have put the rope around their bodies and used it to pick up each leg forward and back. I also have allowed each horse to drag a shorter rope. No panicking or stress, just calm horses enjoying getting attention. Each horse watches the other one get worked and then tries to show off when it is their turn. I’ve been really impressed with how fast they pick stuff up.
5. Longing: We started with just simply walking in a circle and progressed up to now the horses both longe each direction on a line and at liberty. It will take more time for them to be proficient with all of the voice cues. I prefer to work them at liberty in a larger area over using a line and doing small circles.
6. Picking up feet and booting: The rope work helped immensely here. Both horses have now let me clean their feet, treat for thrush and rasp on a hoof stand. I’ve also fitted them both for Renegade Vipers and have done some ground lessons with the boots on.
7. Tied to the trailer: Each horse has taken turns together or with Jovi being tied on the trailer. I have the Trailer Ties out with hay bags and water buckets on the trailer. This is when I spend time grooming them, picking up feet and letting them just hang out, eat and watch all of the goings on.
8. Collars: I waited until just recently to start putting collars on them since they were both still learning how to lead with a halter. Everything was new to them and they both hesitated going through gates or stalls. This is when I could lead Jovi through an area and allow the others to follow. I didn’t want to pressure them and they quickly figured things out. Both now are great about being tied with a collar on and have already mastered how to rotate the collar and rope when they move around.
9. Going off property: Both horses have been walked through the neighborhood and out on the trail. I’ve also had a friend ride Jovi while I took Saint out to the trail. I try to walk one or both horses at least once a day so they can get familiar with the neighborhood and other animals and livestock. On one of the last outings I even had Saint jogging alongside me.
10. Trailer loading: I have put each horse in the 2 horse trailer once and then decided that was good enough for now. I want to spend more time doing groundwork and getting them comfortable with me and their new home before asking them to trailer load. I know I could get them in if there was an emergency.

11. Ground driving: I have done a few ground driving lessons with Saint. He figured it out quickly and I am able to steer him through my little obstacle course and all around the property. The most recent ground driving lessons I tacked him up with a saddle and boots. He just needs a little more work on whoa, and backing though he does it just needs to get a little more proficient before I get on him.
12. Obstacle course at liberty: This is where both horses have really impressed me. It literally took one time of me leading them through the obstacle course before I let them follow me through it at liberty. They follow me through the poles, over the bridge, the railroad ties, poles on the ground at a walk and trot. I think each time one of them watches the other work the course they then try to show off when it is their turn.
13. Group free longing. This is where I have all three horses together in the acre field and get them walk, trot and cantering. Saint and Cowboy tend to stick together while Jovi is comfortable being on his own either ahead or behind them. Jovi has been teaching them the process and what is expected and they have picked it up quite well.
14. Quad training. I use my quad to drag the fields every couple of days and let the horse get used to the sound of it starting and running. Now I can drive up to either of them and give them a carrot or pet them, and if they are grazing they just keep their heads down. Saint and Cowboy both look towards Jovi to see how he reacts and fortunately he is a really laid back and non reactive horse.

So I’d say that we have made a lot of progress already. I am taking it slow and careful with the new horses. I realize that mentally they both need time to get settled and comfortable in their new home. It is different for each horse though I feel that usually it takes about six months.

I’m going a little slower with Cowboy, since he is only 4. I’m just happy that thus far I have managed not to get stepped on. These new guys are really keeping me on my toes while they learn about manners and to stay out of my space.

 

The first week and a half with the new horses

Things have been going well with both Saint Croix and Midnight Cowboy. They are adjusting into their new home and getting more comfortable and familiar with the routine and their surroundings.Jovi has been a bit jealous about me spending time with another horse. In the last week I have taken him to a night ride, and also did some more Ride and Tie training for the upcoming R&T than I plan to take him to at the end of the month.

Both of the new horses seem to handle new things rather well. Saint Croix is initially more reactive but is also more quickly accepting of new things. Cowboy is pretty chill overall and has been great when the other two horses leave him home alone.

I have now taken both horses out for walks through the neighborhood and out on the trail. They handle it well going either alone, or with Jovi for company. Both horses are lovely movers. Cowboy is still a bit butt high but is only barely 4 so still has more growing to do.

So for the first week and a half these are some of the things that we have accomplished:

Leading out to the trail and back and handling barking dogs, bicycles, traffic, baby strollers and newly resurfaced roadways.

Longing lessons, both at liberty alone and together and on a line. Today I free longed (at liberty) all three horses together – Jovi, Saint Croix and Cowboy. They all remained calm and respectful of one another and didn’t get wound up or excited. They have already worked out their hierarchy with Jovi being the lead horse and Saint Croix being the most submissive. Saint Croix and Cowboy have bonded really well and often eat together side by side.

Leading through gates and stalls (initially they weren’t sure about some of the new things)

Tying on a hitching post and on the trailer ties on the LQ trailer. While tied eating out of hay bags and drinking from buckets like they would have while camping overnight somewhere.

Picking up and doing light rasping on their feet. Cleaning out any floppy frog bits.

Having both horses on the trailer while I worked on Jovi’s feet with the air compressor running the air angle grinder.

Fly spray. Saint Croix is accepting a bit faster though Cowboy has made great progress. Something we’ll just keep working on a little at a time. They say Pigeon Fever is going around so it is important that I keep everything sprayed.

Leading through some of the obstacle course – over the little bridge and through the railroad ties. Sometimes the horses have their own preferred way of going, lol but they are getting the idea.

Saint Croix has been leading behind me on a singletrack trail with lovely manners. They are both good eaters and are enjoying eating as we go down the trail.

I have fit Renegades on both horses and they were fine with the boots. Both horses have nice sized feet for their size.

I’ve also measured them with a weight tape for height, girth circumfrance, cannon bones, etc. Saint Croix turned 8 in June and is 13.2, 7.25″ cannon bone and 4.6″ wide front hooves. VG Midnight Cowboy turned 4 in June and is just over 14 hands, 8″ cannon bone and 5″ wide feet. VG Ben Jovi is fully mature now at 9 and 14.2, 8″ cannon bone and over 5″ wide feet. The weight tape gives an estimate on their weight and puts the two new ones at 750-800 pounds which seems about right.

Both horses are completely fine now with putting a fly mask on and off while they are loose. Totally fine with velcro noise. Both are easy to catch and halter.

Lots of other stuff going on – they have seen me drag the fields with the quad twice now, seen the lawn tractor, my dogs running about, the neighbors llamas, baby strollers, the hotwire fence (is on, as they found out!), a squeeze of hay got delivered and each horse has been left home alone. It has rained so they have seen an umbrella several times. Neither horse is worried about my longe whip with a plastic bag on the end – they also love getting their hineys scratched with the pitchfork.

In the next week I hope to fine tune their longing skills and start introducing them to loading in my horse trailer. Once we get the longing down on a line and at liberty then I’ll start to introduce them to neck collars.

Introductions: VG Ben Jovi

VG Ben Jovi
I’ve had Jovi for two years now.He is a nice little 14.2 hh Arabian gelding. We got off to a slow start as he grew a huge sarcoid in his groin soon after I got him. It took a few months of treatment and then a few more months to completely heal and then we started to work slowly.

I worked through a lot of training issues with Jovi – for those that have followed me already know some of the ups and downs. One of the bigger issues was trailer loading. He would load great at home, but then would refuse to go in the trailer to come home when we trailered out. It was so frustrating. I know many thought we just had to force or beat him to go in the trailer but I knew that wasn’t working, and that the end result would be having him get worse and worse each time, and a completely shut down horse.

I was fortuantely given some advice from a very experienced endurance rider that worked beautifully on how to get him in the trailer. Jovi has been loading and unloading like a pro for the last 9 months with just a neck collar.

For awhile I felt like Jovi was difficult because he was stubborn, or holding a grudge due to the sarcoid treatments. I nearly gave up a couple of times. I came to learn that he really wasn’t being stubborn at all but rather he was just shut down. I had never worked with a horse before that was like this, refusing to budge, not giving to pressure and not willing to even try. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of videos and tried to educate myself on ways to work through this.

The most important lesson that I have learned from Jovi is that we were going to be doing this on his schedule, not mine. I thougth my other horses had taught me patience. It just goes to show that you never stop learning with horses. Jovi has taught me so much and is such a joy to work with. He definitely hasn’t held a grudge, if that is such a thing as he wants to be my partner and tries really hard. He also isn’t stubborn, he just needs to figure things out HIS way, and needs a patient and calm hand.

Now I feel comfortable trailering Jovi anywhere by myself, riding him and then loading up to come home. He is now happily going along well in a braided noseband hackamore or a rope halter. I have taken him on one AERC 25 mile ride along with several other rides from other groups like NEDA and Cal/Neva. We have done the Nevada Day and Sparks Christmas parades, a trail trials and are currently training to do a Ride and Tie next month. I also feel that he is ready to do a 50 so will be looking forward to that.

Jovi is of CMK breeding, here is a link to his pedigree. I’ll post some additional photos and video of him below. In the coming months I’ll go over some of the training issues that we have had, and how we worked through them.

endurance horse training