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July - August 2009's POSTS
August 27, 2009

From LFL to You
from the American Saddlebred World's Championship


Tip of the Day - Some people find it a greater reward tieing fifth in a large class of great horses than winning in a small class of mediocre ones!

As I am certain you are aware, I seldom use this vehicle as a place to express my personal opinions. Today, however, I wish to share something with you who are fans of the American Saddlebred Horse. Last night I was privileged to sit next to an old friend who is a very famous horse trainer of another breed and a different discipline. It was his first visit to the Worlds Championship American Saddlebred horse show. I was thrilled to see the delight on this great horseman's face as he watched and savored his first five gaited class. He was enthralled, impressed and generally taken by the power, performance and athleticism of our extraordinary breed as they competed in the class they were bred for. I tried to answer all his questions about what this class truly entails but was reminded of something I had recently written in response to a similar question. I will quote myself here as I think it covers it all....

Unlike any other breed in the World, the American Saddlebred, shown at the five gaits, the job he has been developed to do, enters the show ring to compete against others for 20 minutes not 2 minutes as in racing. He will show with a group of horses not individually as in Dressage, Jumping, Reining, Cutting, etc. He will be wearing a bridle with two bits, not a single snaffle. His hoofs may be 5 inches long, he will be wearing protective boots in front and his shoes may weigh 16 ounces, not 4 ounces as in the aluminum plates on racehorses. He might be wearing a tail brace to insure that he looks the part thought of as the ideal so that his 4-6 foot flowing tail can be shown to its best advantage. He will have colorful braids blowing in the wind flopping around his head with ribbon colors accenting his coat of hair that should shine as if it was covered with diamond dust. He will be required to execute 5 distinct gaits, displaying extreme athletic motion and great speed at the Trot and Rack and yet come back to the walk, canter like a "hobby" horse and stand quietly in center ring to be judged for conformation. While doing this, he should maintain the high "swanlike" head carriage and form that sets this breed apart from the breeds and disciplines like the Quarter horse, Thoroughbred, Hunter etc, whose polls rarely are found much higher than their withers. Since, "they called the thing horse show" his demeanor should be that of a stage performer with his ears always alert and an air of excitement about him yet subject to penalization should the excitement lead to a mistake. This demeanor is often called "the look of eagles" and although not mandatory, it is truly what separates the show horse from one just going through the motions, not making mistakes. Quite often, unlike the Thoroughbred race horse, the Standardbred at the track, the Grand Prix jumpers etc. which are most often ridden by professionals and non- hobbyists, the American Saddlebred must do all of the things described while being exhibited by a child or adult amateur. It is easy to see how truly remarkable this breed is.

My friend is now truly a Fan of the five gaited American Saddlebred and would like me to let him ride one. I will.

August 15, 2009

Becoming a Horse Trainer
(Advice to a prospective trainer)

Hi, i am 14 years old and i live in Los Angeles California, and i am the proud owner of an American Saddlebred, i take lessons at the Los angeles Equestrian Center. When i grow up i want to be a trainer, i was wondering how you made it in the saddlebred world to be one of the best trainers, do you have any tips to give me ?


Tip of the Day - It is certain there are many easier and more profitable jobs than being a horse trainer...I doubt there are many that are more rewarding!

Thank you so much for your question. To be honest, I grew up in the horse business making the third generation of American Saddlebred trainers in my family, (My daughter and son are the fourth) Although there are still many professional families represented in the business, most of the newer trainers typically start as you are doing. First with a love of the Saddlebreds. Many had horses and showed as children in Equitation or juvenile classes. All put some time in at a professional training stable as caretakers where they learned there are no 8 hour days, seldom a lunch hour, and days off few and far between, as the horses eat seven days a week. The fun of a horse show loses a little luster when you are putting away your last hot horse at midnight so you can be ready to start working again at 5 the next morning. This is basic training if you will and a great time to see if you can hold up in the "trenches".

Although your monetary reward will not be too great, the things you will learn about a horse, taking care of them and training, will be invaluable to you if you wish to pursue such a career. I held summer and winter weekend, grooming jobs from the time I was 12. At your age, I was already leasing and running my own small training stable during the summer break from school. I was successful on the very local level but could not have competed with the top stables of the day. I enjoyed it very much for 3 summers and could not have done it at all without the experience I received working for some top trainers. After graduating from High School, I went to college, which I would encourage anyone to do as those lessons too will serve you well no matter which business you decide on. After leaving college, I went to work for K.K.Gutridge, a top horse trainer where I learned how very much I did not know about training. Taking a job as assistant trainer is the usual next step for all who aspire to become a trainer. Here one can polish their riding and training skills and observe how a stable is to be run.

That is, in general, how most people become horse trainers. Keep in mind the many things necessary to become an American Saddlebred Trainer.

  1. Must be an excellent rider.
  2. Must have a great work ethic.
  3. Must have a great love and appreciation for a horse.
  4. Must be familiar with the physiology, and psychology of the horse.
  5. Must understand the physics of shoeing.
  6. Must be a great manager.

To become a successful American Saddlebred trainer, all of the above and:

  1. Must be able to teach riding lessons.
  2. Must be familiar with the psychology of the client.
  3. Must be patient and have great phone skills!
  4. Must be entertaining and know how to make things fun.
  5. Must be familiar with a Profit and LOSS statement.

To be a wildly successful top Horse trainer.....

Must have top horses and the clients that can purchase them for you!!!!!!

That pretty much sums it up. As the Tip of the Day eluded, one thing about my nearly 50 years as a trainer, I enjoyed going to work every morning and that means a great deal no matter what line of work one decides upon.

I hope this has been of some help in answering you question. Look forward to reading about you in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

August 11, 2009

Need an Explanation for My Consternation about Bit Application!
(Bridling a Difficult Horse)

Hi there

I have a question about bridling a 5 year old QH/Arab mare. Iris was a rescue. We've had her for 2 years. She has become really well bonded to me but is friendly and happy with just about anyone. She is rather flighty (gotta love Arabs... She's my second!) and a bit of a nervous horse. She is bottom of the pecking order in our 3 horse herd.

She has progressed really well in her training. My big issue with her is getting a bridle on. I can easily get a hackamore on her but she tosses her head horribley and has a fit about a bit. I'm not sure if it was a prior experience (as far as I know she had no training experiences when we got her. She was a field kept baby with little people interaction). Once a bridle and bit are on she is fine no problem. My question is do I keep pushing her on it? My trainer has said to bridle her every night and she'll get better. I just want to be sure I do right by her.


Tip of the Day - No matter how fancy the bit is...if you can't get it in the horse's mouth... using it is a moot point!

Thank you so much for your question. I have always felt that a horse that is "flighty" and "nervous" makes a perfect pleasure horse. Although I think it is great you have bonded, it sounds as though she has little respect for you. I am very glad that unlike some people,who would feel lucky she wears a hackamore, you are wanting more. Let's see if we can't make it happen.

As I have said thousands of times, any undesirable behavior that has to do with the bridle should first be addressed by an equine dentist. There is no way I can stress enough the importance of having all dental issues resolved before even considering putting a bit in your horse's mouth. To not insist on having your horse's teeth "floated" twice a year, is inviting disaster by causing the horse great discomfort. That being said, poor bridling practices and hypersensitivity of the head and ears can also cause the reaction you describe. If this is the case, you can correct it with patient corrective and repetitive training. I will quote from a previous entry........

Even though at least 50% of all horses are hypersensitive about their ears or muzzle, proper procedure in bridling and for that matter trimming, usually alleviates any problems and can make both tasks so much easier. To bridle a horse correctly, you must:

  1. Stand on the near (left) side of the horse's head.
  2. With your left hand cradling the bit between your thumb and first finger and third and fourth finger, your right hand holding the top of the headstall with your arm on or very near the area between the horse's ears. (poll)
  3. The right hand raises the bridle till your left hand comes in contact with the muzzle and then the mouth.
  4. Using your thumb, and/or "pinkie" or your "ring" finger put pressure on the gum of the lower jaw just behind the teeth.
  5. As the horse opens his mouth in response, gently slide the bits into the open mouth while raising the bridle at the same time. (Make certain the bits are not under the tongue.)
  6. This is the critical part and this is where most horses are taught to be hard to bridle. Move your left hand to the top of the headstall and with your right hand very gently fold the right ear down, forward and under the headstall.
  7. Move slowly to the other side and with your right hand now lifting the headstall with your left hand, very gently fold the left ear down, forward and under the head stall.

The Key words here are Gently and Forward! Gently needs no explanation but forward may raise questions. If we assume you want the ears to go under the headstall with little or no contact from the bridle, try gently folding the ear backward and down. Can't do it without bending the sensitive part of the ear. What usually happens to start this defensive behavior, is the person running out of patience with the fidgety horse and rapidly pushing the bridle back and over the ears causing some discomfort. Additionally, forcing and bending the ears backwards often dislodges dander etc which drops down in the ear canal. If you see a horse shaking his head while working, this is most likely the reason. This type of bridling, done two or three times, easily establishes a behavioral issue. Continuing to bridle in that fashion only strengthens this response. (I have had horses sent to me that had to be twitched to bridle.) To undo this, much time should be spent petting and rubbing around the ears and the poll. Maybe minutes, maybe hours, maybe days. Whenever she becomes comfortable with your hand there, start pressing with you fingers on the poll pushing the head down. A reward in your left hand to encourage this is sometimes helpful. When you can pet, and rub and bend the ears forward and she responds correctly to your push on her poll by putting her head down, you are ready to introduce the bridle in the manner already described.

This process should take but a week or two of diligent work on your part. With her teeth "done" and her head and ears desensitized, your mare should nearly bridle herself. I hope this has been of some help to you and look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

August 8, 2009

Want to Teach some New Tricks
(Racking an older horse)

I just bought a Saddlebred and need some advice. He is a ten year old stallion. He is out of Kilarney's Echo on top side and Wing shot on bottom. I am wanting him to rack just to show in some of local horseshows but don't know if he can or If I can do something to help get him gaited. I train singlefooting horses but I hear saddlebreds are different. Any advice on how to shoe or ride would be greatly appreciated.

Tip of the Day - It has been my experience that no matter what the breed... a nice horse is a nice horse!

Thank you for your question. Teaching an "old dog new tricks" can sometimes be a difficult task. Stallions, in particular, can become pretty set in their ways and often not very receptive to change. All things are possible however. If he is "mouthing" and riding well and with your experience with gaiting horses, I see no reason why you can't be successful at this endeavor. I further cannot imagine gaiting an American Saddlebred to be much different than the horses you are used to. There are a few things you can do to make the task a bit easier.

The rack is the product of several steps taken over a good bit of time. To sum it up, it is achieved by shifting the horse's balance from the forehand to the haunches while urging him forward, usually at the walk. By doing this, you are discouraging the trot and encouraging a "single foot" type gait which is the lateral beginning of the racking process. The walk and the rack are both four beat gaits making the transition reasonably easy in most cases.

If he is currently shod, you may try to get him to "shuffle" in your normal way. Putting a leather strap or a chain on his rear ankles will make it a little easier for him as you lift his head and try to walk him into it. If you are having no luck at all after a few days, pulling his front shoes and continuing this same program can often have a dramatic effect. If he currently unshod, the approach should be the same. Rome was not built in a day and it is not very often a horse learns to rack in one day. Overworking the horse or expecting too much at first will usually sour the horse and make your task more difficult, sometimes impossible. With a ten year old stallion I suspect you are going to need to use a good bit of horse psychology along with some very patient training.

His breeding indicates that he comes from families of horses that produced several top gaited horses so he should have the conformation and the ability to execute the gait.

I hope this is of some help to you. If you need a more detailed recommendation, don't hesitate to write again. I am confident that you will find little difference in the training of this breed and feel you will have great success. Thank you once again for your question. I look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

August 5, 2009

Grazing at the Salad Bar!
(Odd things Horses eat)

I have heard that it is okay to give horses sweet potatoes and watermelon/rind to help keep weight on. Is it okay for squash too. What are your thoughts on this?

Tip of the Day - Although quite capable of separating tiny shotgun pellets from their oats, horses can eat, swallow and choke on some very strange things.

Thank you so much for your wonderful question. With the recent poisoning of the California horses, this is certainly a timely topic. To be sure, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato bread, watermelon rind etc. can all be beneficial additives for a horse's health when used prudently and sparingly as supplements. As with apples and carrots and any other "treat" offered your equine friend, size is very important. Not only the size of the portion (none of these are meant to be the entire diet) but also the portion's size. (choking is always a concern with horses) Often, serving a whole apple is wiser than cutting it up as the horse will bite it into palatable size pieces. Although I have had no experience with feeding squash, I am certain it is probably useful as well. There can be no doubt that the number one "vegetable" called for to help a horse gain weight is the sugar beet in pulp form with the roots and greens providing plenty of vitamin A and potassium. Although not usually thought of as "fare" for a horse's palate, when fed correctly, it can truly work miracles on a horse that is a hard keeper. In fact, it may really surprise you to learn of some of the bizarre fare offered horses around the world. Here are some of my personal favorites.

Being Irish, I am no stranger to a little stout, beer or ale poured on a horse's feed, along with some raw eggs for top dressing.. While stopping to eat on the Deserts of the Middle East, horses are often fed dates which have been pitted and, as in many countries, citrus fruit. Sugar Cane, unrefined, chopped or ground comes into play wherever it is grown and it is a great source of protein and fiber. Although not extremely nutritious, garden greens such as those from carrots, radishes, turnips, lettuces and most other leafy tops can help with a horse's grazing instincts when hay is not readily available.

In some tropical paradises, Coconuts are often fed to horses who eat the fibers in the husks and enjoy the Coconut meat and sometimes they even "graze" on the Coconut palm's leaves. Sunflower seeds and products from them, are rapidly becoming a popular supplement in this country and have long been fed in the "land down under!" Bamboo grass, peanut hay, rice hulls, lupine hulls are things you might find horses eating in Japan and Indonesia Leave it to India to be a little different serving cow's milk (ghee) to horses, mixed with grain. In Great Britain, fermented acorns are coveted by some horses and ponies who, in turn, can become rip roaring drunk on them.

All of these pale when compared to an integral part of the diet of horses in Iceland...salted herring!!!!

As you can see, horses around the world are far from picky eaters. One must be responsible and do their homework before embarking on any program featuring exotic food. There are very many plants, herbs, etc that can make a horse very ill or perhaps can be deadly. The innocent looking oleander, used in the California poisonings, is one of these. Be careful what you feed and as mentioned, portion control is imperative.

Thank you once again for your question. I hope I may have been of some help. I look forward to reading about your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 31, 2009

How the Divisions Divide!
(Finding the right division for your horse)

Dear Mr. Lavery,

I have a question about showing my first ASB. How do you decide which division to put your horse into? I have a talented horse (5 years old and not been shown) that I can't decide if he belongs in the Park Pleasure division, Park, or 3-gaited Full Mane and Tail? Which divisions can a professional show in? The same goes for the difference between Country pleasure and Show pleasure. Can you explain the rules for each and what the judge is looking for in each class? Thank you,

Tip of the Day - Sometimes the class you would like to be in.... is not the class you ought to be in!

Thank you for your question. Although each class you mentioned is listed with their specifications, in much more detail, in the Rules section on the United States Equestrian Federation's web site, I will put my spin on your inquiry with some general comments about each.

3-gaited Full Mane and Tail- This class and the Park class have devastated the ASB Three Gaited Division throughout the country, as they now contains most of the Walk Trot horses that should be trimmed and shown that way. It is judged as an open class. Performance, Conformation and Manners, in that order. The horse should have high motion, be extremely animated at all three gaits. Manners count, to some extent, but are not paramount. Horse may wear a tail brace and be gingered. Professionals may ride in the open class.

3-Gaited Park- Similar to the FMT, also containing many horses that should be in the Three Gaited class but these horses are judged with a bit more emphasis on manners: Performance, Manners, Conformation. To be shown with a "natural" tail (no brace, string or ginger). Professionals my ride in the Open class.

Park Pleasure - As the title describes, these horses are to be judged as pleasure horses: Manners, Performance, Conformation. The flat walk comes into play. The animation and high motion are not as important as the manners aspect but some small mistakes may be tolerated. Natural tail. Professionals may ride in open classes and this class is a useful tool for trainers developing pleasure horses for amateurs.

Show Pleasure - The judge is looking for a pleasure horse that can couple performance with manners. Animation at he trot is a welcome option but not at the cost of a flat walk and mannered canter. The criteria is: Manners, Performance, Conformation. Mistakes can be costly here. Natural tail and no professionals.

Country Pleasure - This division was created for horses that were not competitive in the show pleasure division. Their reward for not being good enough, if you will. Although high motion and animation are not yet penalized, the focus here is most definitely on manners. A small mistake here could cost you a class as the majority of these horses can claim manners as their biggest asset and the Judge will certainly be acting like a policeman as that is what the exhibitors expect him to do. As you can imagine, this has become a very popular division as there are plenty of horses that belong there. Natural Tail, absolutely no Professionals!

As I mentioned at the start of this letter, this is my spin. You can get a great deal more information by visiting the U.S.E.F. web site. There are a myriad of different classes in each of these divisions, all described at the site. Hope this has been of some help to you. I look forward to reading of your decision in the Guest Book.

Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 28, 2009

She has really got me over a Barrel!
(improving a Gymkhana horse)

Hi, My horse was trained for over a year before I got her, and she has a problem extending her canter. When she runs she feels like she's sideways and shes making herself sore. I cant seem o find a way for her to stretch out to avoid her hurting herself. My farrier is putting shoes on her fronts today, so were thinking maybe with the weight of the shoes she'll push herself up better. I plan to barrel Race her and I cant if she makes herself sore all the time. PLease help, I dont want to have to sell her, shes a great horse. Is there any way to teach her stretch out and canter normally?

PS. To see what I mean, here is a video of me riding her in her final run in a Barrel Clinic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odn4x2-GIs8

Tip of the Day - As in life, so it goes in horses..to travel the shortest distance between two points,the horse must be in a straight line!!

Thank you so much for your question and for including the excellent video clip. Your mare is attractive and appears to be really trying hard. That is a good thing. Having watched the video several times, I see several issues that may be causing you problems. There is no doubt that your mare does not look comfortable in spite of her willing attitude. She appears to be very "toe' d" in with her front hoofs thus making her break off the ground unnaturally. Your farrier can easily fix this. She is very straight legged behind and the effect this has on her stride is very noticeable. I see exactly what you mean about feeling she is sideways most of the time. She is, except leaving the arena. Running from the last barrel, she is in a straight line and is picking up some speed. Although she has a good deal of trouble switching her leads at the correct time while running the "course" she levels off when in a straight line.

All of the things that I have pointed out, although very evident on the video, are not, I believe, the major cause of your problems. In fact, soundness, stride, lead changes and your overall time will greatly improve with the correction of one thing. Your mare is not steering correctly. She spends most of the time in between the three barrels with her head over one shoulder or the other as you attempt to make her make the turns necessary to get your time down to the high teens. It simply will never happen until you teach this mare to guide. An event horse such as yours, cannot be bent in half for 60% of the run and be competitive. Horses are most efficient when their body is in a straight line. That is how they are made. Turning a horse correctly for the job you wish to do involves only the slightest turn of the head. The rider does not pull them around but guides them to the next barrel with little effort of the hands and a little reinforcement with the proper leg aid at the proper time.

To accomplish this, forget about how fast she can go for now....Go back to the basics and teach this mare to neck rein, move and bend from your legs, side pass, stop, back and be supple in the bridle. Try her in long lines where you have control of her whole body, spend a great deal of time at the walk and jog and slow lope. Lope the "cones" where she can get comfortable with her lead changes. Lope in circles so she can feel her body still keeping straight. Walk, jog, and lope the barrel course again and again until the slightest turn of your hand, lean of your body or pressure of your leg receives the correct response from her. Anything you can do to put that perfect "Handle" on her, always striving for a supple, responsive mouth. It will take time but no winner was ever made on short cuts. When you can lope that course, in the four virtually straight lines cutting close to the barrels, then....and only then should you even be considering speed. Sweetheart, that is how champions are made!

Thank you so much for your question. I hope I have given you some food for thought. I will look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 26, 2009

I Seem to have Ying and Yang!
(What to do when horses are inseparable)

I need help!! I have a 9-year-old mare who is so barn sour she throws a fit when she's away from her "buddy." Even though she may be with other horses, that's not the same--she wants her friend. She will try to buck and tosses her head from side-to-side. I admit I don't ride her very often because of school and work, but I thought she would settle down if she was with other horses. Any suggestions? Thanks!!

Tip of the Day - Although they know there is safety in a lot of numbers, two horses can sometimes comprise a herd!

Thank you so much for your question. This is a more common problem than you might imagine. It sounds as if you are somewhat disillusioned with the Equine "Buddy System". Is it not possible for you to take the other horse with you on your ride? Roman riding is not that difficult, I did it as a young man! Seriously,there are many reasons for this behavior to manifest itself, the major one being what the Tip of the Day eludes to...Horses are herd animals. The two you describe have obviously "bonded" as members of a herd would do. Depending on the physical limitations of the stabling arrangements where your horse lives, dealing with this issue can be difficult. Unlike humans whose hearts cry "absence makes the heart grow fonder", it is not the case with horses. In this case, separating the two for quite a long period of time is the only answer I can give to you on this venue. To quote from a previous question on this subject: "Horses are "herd animals". In the wild they run in groups depending on each other and the herd's Stallion for security, safety and guidance. What you are dealing with in the behavior you describe is nearly the same as weaning a colt from the mare with the exception the colt is pretty much independent except for the "lunch box" so this transition is relatively easy when the food becomes the substitute for Mom's milk. Your two, however, obviously have bonded in such a way as to depend upon each other at all times, as if they were in a herd. This is not a bad behavior but an inherited trait. You need to start treating them as individuals rather than a pair. In this manner each will come to depend on you rather than each other. To change this behavior, they must be separated 24 hours a day. That means, at the minimum, out of sight. (Out of hearing and smell range as well, would be better). I doubt you can accomplish this in paddocks. If you cannot physically accomplish this at your place, perhaps you have a friend or a boarding stable where you could place one horse for 30 days."

Once separated, it will be up to you to spend a great deal of time with your mare. The object is for you to replace the other horse as "Pack Leader", if you will. You want the dependence she has on the other horse to be transferred to you in some respects. This can only be accomplished by hours of gaining her confidence. You will have to make time for her if you want this to happen. It can be accomplished but will be simply for nought if you cannot make a commitment to her. I wish I could give you an easier "fix" but I cannot. Here is another "read" on this topic that might give you some more insight. He likes Her way Better than Me!

Thank you so much for your question, Hope to hear more about your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding,

LF Lavery

We invite reader's comments or suggestions, in the Guest Book, on this or any other topic.

July 21, 2009

She Just wants to "Ranter" and "Rot"
(Dealing with the soft trotting Horse)

Hi Lonnie. I am looking for some advice on a subject that you have covered in the past. I have a SBR mare that I have recently started working now that the weather is nice in Northeast Ohio! My problem is that I can't seem to get any gait out of her other than a rack/pace/slow gait-something like that. I have never ridden a gaited horse in the past and did not know that she was until I attempted a canter on my first ride. I do not ever see these gaits while longlining, so I know it is me. I finally broke through yesterday and got a walk, trot and canter out of her. I used a very lightweight chain on front and leather straps behind. That is what made the difference. Here is what I have learned, if I touch her mouth, we start doing some other gait, if I touch her with my leg, same thing, if I do a quiet cluck, same thing. So, even though I got the trot, she wasn't going forward. If I asked her to go forward, she does some other gait.

Here is her deal, she is barefoot, I have tried a couple of different bits on her and didn't notice much difference. I have tried my reins a million different ways and that doesn't make a difference. So, obviously she is extremely sensitive to any type of leg or hand aid. I have tried keeping my hands very low, no difference. I even took her out of the arena into the front yard to see if maybe it was the footing or her being bored with the arena, no difference. So, the big question of the day, will shoeing help this? I am hoping to try to show next year and only plan to use three gaits! Any special shoeing advice? One thing I have not done is that I have not carried a whip while riding. Once she does this "other gait" she sort of gets fried and I worry that the whip would only make things worse. She is a pretty hot horse and it appears to me that her past training wasn't done to suit her mind. She responds really well to the quiet, calm approach and that is my style. I have probably only ridden her about 8 times total but I have done a lot of long lining with her. I may be jumping the gun a little with my question since I haven't spent much time in the saddle but I was just curious about the chains helping my three gaits. They are a very lightweight chain, but I don't want to overuse them either.

Again, I realize that you have covered this topic on several occasions, I just wanted some more specific advise for my personal situation. I really appreciate the advice that you give and I make your site one of my "daily readings"!

Thanks for the help.

Tip of the Day - Why do they use the term "double gaited", when all the horse wants to do is rack?

Thank you so much for your question. As you mention, I have covered this topic several times and have offered many generic "fixes" as most recently presented in: He Just Wants to Pace Himself. To be sure, every horse presents a different set of issues, but for the most part these various fixes are most always the solution to the problem. One thing though, you must determine the cause or causes of the problem.

Soundness is quite often the catalyst for this issue. In re-reading your description, I would have to assume this is not the cause. You mention "perfect" in long lines where, while circling, any unsoundness (with the exception of soreness in the back and body) would surely show up.

Her mouth, another probable cause certainly sounds like a possible culprit. Either she is in need of some dental attention, bitted too sharply or adjusted incorrectly, your hands are not quiet or you are inadvertently giving her signals for different gaits. Starting with the dental attention you'll just have to go down this list and determine what does or what does not apply and correct those that do as I cannot determine this from sitting here in front of my computer screen.

Footing, obviously does not apply although conditioning might be a factor in a horse that has had no work all winter. As mentioned, a tired horse will slip easily into a lateral gait.

Although many of the items mentioned above may well impact your situation, your description would make me lean towards the classic, "double gaited" horse. The fact that the chains in front seemed to help immensely, would bolster that thought. Along those lines..I would suggest putting some kind of shoe on her in front. Until you can do this, try wearing a rubber bell boot on her in front and nothing on her hind feet . Put less bit in her mouth than you are using so she might get a little security. Quiet your hands and work solely on the walk and trot for a while. I feel this might be of help to you.

Thank you once again for your question. I hope to read of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 14, 2009

Is there "Hair Club" for Horses?
(Keeping tail feathers while wearing a tail-set)


I asked a question before about a saddlebred mare that would not go forward...she has improved greatly and is improving every day!! She is now in a full bridle, is not afraid of the bridle anymore, and will go forward willingly as long as she trusts you. I found that she took a long time to trust anyone, and gets very nervous if you scold her at all. The more "good girls" she gets, the better she is! Thank you for your help!

I do have another question though, I am going to take her to a show later this year, and just got her a tailset. Her tail was already cut before I bought her and is very loose (I stretch it a bit before I work her). How do you tie the tail into the set? The old trainer I was with had a hard time keeping nice tails, and I think it may have been with how he tied them in. The only way I learned to tie them in was with a towel folded over the tail feathers, and a tail net tied on top. The horses all rubbed out most of their feathers, and what was left were broken and mangled. I would really appreciate your opinion on how to keep a tail in the set without damaging hair!

Tip of the Day - Maintaining American Saddlebred tail feathers is an art, not an accident!

Thank you so much for your question. Being somewhat folicly challenged myself, I can appreciate your concern over your horse's tail. Nothing more attractive than thick, long, healthy tail feathers and nothing uglier than a naked tailbone. While a switch is an easy fix for a thin or short tail, caps and artificial feathers are hard to apply correctly and usually look like just what they are. Let's see how we can avoid "Hair Club" for horses.

  • Horses rubbing their tails account for the lion's share of hair loss.
  • Hair that is brittle and not in good condition easily breaks.
  • An ill fitting crupper can cause hair loss.
  • Improperly applied crupper pads or bandages too tight or too loose can cause hair loss as can strings that are too thick.

The main trick is to keep your horse from rubbing his tail, sometimes not easy and even more difficult with a tail set. Beside grooming your horse on a daily basis, the tail must be kept clean and conditioned. A once a month shampoo is a good rule of thumb and remembering to rinse all traces of soap out is vital. Alcohol based products tend to dry the hair out and promote itching. Too much of any product tends to build up, clog pores and make the hair greasy rather than soft. I soon will be featuring the tail balm product my family has used with great success for many years. There are many fine conditioning products on the market as well. Equally important, the dock must be wiped clean daily. The tail bone is where all the hair comes from. It must never have its circulation interfered with. The padding in the crupper must be kept very clean. Using a light dusting of corn starch on the cotton or pad in the crupper will keep chaffing to a minimum. Sets should be changed every day. During fly season, an insect system is invaluable in keeping constant tail movement and breaking hair to a minimum.

A crupper that is too deep can virtually cut the hair, one that is too shallow wears the hair. The feathers should gently cascade over the sides of the "spoon" The crupper should neither be too tight or too loose simply secure. When securing the tail in the crupper, after dampening the top of the tail bone with water or a tail balm so that the hair is soft and will part easily, one usually places a very soft and padded towel, diaper or piece of cloth over the area. It should be long enough to cover the break over. The feathers are then carefully separated and strings attached to the crupper are carefully threaded through these separations and then tied on top of the pad. A variation is a crocheted "schnood" with cotton strings that lays over the pad and then the cotton strings are threaded down through the hair. Usually the rest of the tail and the crupper would then be enclosed in a tail bag. Although a bit pricey for an initial investment products made by Top Notch Tails will end up saving you money, are state of the art, simple to use, comfortable for the horse made out of hair friendly material that is washable and will last ions longer than cotton or your padded towel. Contact Jean Mead at 907-264-7463 for information.

I hope this has answered some of your questions. In summary, all I can say is taking care of a tail takes a lot of time and effort. The end product will be well worth it. Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

We welcome reader comments, on this or any other training topic,in our Guest Book.

July 12, 2009

We Seem to have a Hitch in our "Get Along"
(Hitching behind)

Dear Mr. Lavery, I have a 6 year old mare that I am trying to show in ASB Country Pleasure, she on the other hand is attempting to reinvent the trot. She prefers me on one diagonal all the time, every time,any direction. She will trot reasonably square if I stay on this diagonal. If I force the situation and make her trot while posting the "bad" diagonal she will do every type of hitch, hop, skip or dip to get me back on the "good" diagonal. She is well cared for w/ recent vet visits for dental and lameness evaluation (negative). She trots nicely in long lines... so my questions for you are... Is this normal or an indication of a sorness issue I and the vet haven't found? Will using one diagonal exclusively cause problems for us down the road? Other people have ridden her w/ the same results, so I do not think it is my riding, but since I am on her most often is this a problem I could be causing in her mouth? Should I try to get both diagonals square? My non-asb horse friends have suggested hill work and cavelletti drills, do you see these being beneficial? Thanks for being sooo wise and generous enough to share it!!

Tip of the Day - Riding the correct diagonal is not just a test to separate equitation riders in a class, a good horseman knows it is a "must" when training a horse!

Thank you so much for your question. The importance of diagonals is often overlooked and not thought about until one finds himself in a situation such as yours. There is no mistaking a diagonal that cannot be ridden. For the most part, the very first place to look is in the soundness department. You obviously surmised this and brought the vet in at the start. Good for you. If, upon checking stifles, hocks, whirl bones, hips ankles and pasterns, he gave your horse a clean bill of health..we can move to ahead to other possible causes.

  • A horse that interferes can hop and hitch behind. (Discomfort)
  • A horse that is not straight in the bridle can hop and hitch behind. (Compensation)
  • A horse that is sore footed can hop and hitch behind. (Discomfort)
  • A horse that is not square in front, for whatever reason, can hop and hitch behind.(Compensation)
  • A horse that has always been ridden on one diagonal can hop and hitch behind. (Habit and physical development)
  • A horse that is not engaging his rear end but working from the forehand can hop behind. (Balance)

Much like a canter lead, the diagonal is important to the balance and correct and equal development of the horse. A horse was meant to travel with his body in a straight line front to back with each leg equally sharing the load depending on which gait the horse is doing. Think of it as a car with the legs being the four tires. An underdeveloped hind leg is like a flat or soft tire. The car's performance will surely suffer not only driving in a straight line but really suffer going around the race track.

Not being able to see this in person, all I can suggest is this. Try to determine what is actually causing this condition and try to resolve it. Jogging in a cart will go much farther towards improving this than hill work or caveletti drills with less wear and tear on the hind joints. Work in circles, especially tight ones, should be avoided at all costs. When riding at home, always ride both diagonals no matter how difficult. Think of your horse as now being a "Lefty". You must exercise the weak side to make him ambidextrous. Improvement will not come overnight but you will feel it become easier to ride the "bad" diagonal although maybe never perfect. At the show, you have to do what you have to do to be competitive but the rest of the time keep "balance" in mind!!

I hope this is of some help to you in dealing with this issue. I look forward to reading of your progress in the Guest Book. Thanks again for your question, Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 8, 2009

How the Heck Did They Do That?
(Unusual Head Set)


Maybe you can help with this.

I saw Chuck Herbert exhibit an absolutely incredible 2 year old fine harness horse. The horse had everything going for it including the most incredible headset. The horse was high headed and carried his head well; but, he flexed wonderfully. How do you train a horse to do that, especially that young. He is doing something others are not. Is it simply hours in dumb jockeys, draw reins, et al or is using something like a half or full port Liverpool during training. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw the horse.

Tip of the Day - Without some divine intervention at the start, all the talent and tools at a trainer's disposal will be of little help in making a super star of a horse!

Thank you for your question. Great young horses are nearly always a topic of conversation at a show. Sort of a "barometer" of how our breed is doing. The colt you describe is a very unusual one, indeed. Although Chuck is a top trainer, I doubt he would give himself very much credit as the creator of that headset. The propensity to wear his head like he does came from a creator on a much higher level! The colt is royally bred, freakishly made, has a great attitude and has an excellent horseman who has figured out how to keep him exercised and happy.

I would love to tell you how we can pull them together and make them look like this with the draw reins, bits, DJ's and hours of hard work...but I would be lying to you. This colt is probably doing most of this on his own. A trainer can use tools such as these to enhance, improve and sometimes correct, but without the God given "hinges", attitude and conformation that horses like this colt display, we can only make them look a little better than when we started.

This brings up the old "apples and tomatoes" comparison. Horses without "options" like this headset are merely horses, while ones with these "options" are truly something different. As you can imagine, like autos, it is the options that usually determine the value.

I thank you again for your question and hope this has enlightened you somewhat. Should you ever see a horse like this again in the future, realize you are probably seeing history in the making. Although it is fine to have great respect for the trainer be as in awe of the horse and the job the "trainer upstairs" did. Always remember, a trainer is only as good as the stock he has to work with.

Good Luck and Good Riding.

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 5, 2009

Having a little Trouble with Our Entrance and Exit!
(Dealing with a horse that bolts through the gate at a show)

I have a half Arab my nieces is showing in country English pleasure.. Issues we are having with him is first: he wants to bolt into the ring. He warms up well but when its time to enter the ring he because anxious and wants to dart in. He in general is well manner during the class but can also become anxious when its time to line up. He stands well in the line up but once again when the gait opens he tries to dart out. He of course as I am sure you have figured out by now, is a lead horse and wants to be the first to exit. My niece handles him well but I am afraid he is going to take someone else out in the process or my fear is that someone will try and grab his bridle and he will go up and over. Is there any way to break him of this habit. He is 11 years old and is well seasoned in the show ring. He doesn't do this at home so its difficult to train it there. Should we be so lucky to be the winner.........:) he is good when he is in the ring alone.

Tip of the Day - The fun "quotient" of horseback riding becomes greatly diminished when you are not in charge of the final destination!

Thank you very much for your question. I attempted to mail some further questions of my own to you so I might gather a bit more information about this behavior but, alas, I guess you did not receive them. Not seeing a behavior in person, puts me at quite a disadvantage and always in dire need of very detailed descriptions in order for me to be somewhat effective. I'll try to be of help with the information I have.

I read with great interest how well your niece handles this and then, in the same sentence, read of your concern about him taking someone else out! As you have intelligently surmised, this is a potentially, very dangerous behavior. We will discuss some ways of dealing with it but to correct any "vice" we must determine how it started. Ruling out three of the four things we usually look at, health, soundness and a psychological condition, we are left with a training issue. This could be lack of or improper foundation training, improper or inept training, or simply a small mistake in judgement that has really escalated in a particular horse. I am quite certain he is receiving excellent training at this time so I would guess the initial blame would fall in his earlier more formative years with a small mistake continuing to reinforce it.

Although he may have a "lead" horse philosophy, most of this kind of behavior, and I am certain this will surprise you, does not come naturally but is usually taught to them. I have seen it being taught at every horse show, at many training barns and at most back yard stables. I have seen it being reinforced, under saddle, in harness, even at the end of a lead shank. How many times have you seen any horse stop before exiting the show ring gate? How many times have you seen a horse wind up from across the warm up ring and be sent like a "missile" through the gate and into the show ring rather than stopping and waiting a few moments 30-60 feet from the gate? Have you not seen this at a training barn on a daily basis, as well? How many people have you seen stop a horse and make them wait before being led through a gate or a door? We train these big "beasts of habit" using repetition and this one little mistake is repeated on a daily basis in both the best and worst stables. This, for the most part, is not incompetent horsemanship but merely a very small but very important basic that gets past over or forgotten. Fortunately, most horses will not become as "proficient" at this issue as your horse has become.

Although there are several very effective ways to correct this behavior, common sense would dictate stopping the reinforcement of it and never again letting this horse go through a gate, door, horse trailer, van, wash rack etc. without stopping him first would be a good place to start. This is especially important at the show and now is the time to start! They are beasts of habit and that is how he has gotten this way and I feel this is the simplest and most just way to deal with it. After all, he has been taught this behavior! I will warn you, if not dealt with, this behavior could well escalate and I am certain you do not want your niece put in that kind of danger.

Once again, thank you so very much for your question. I wish I could have had a bit more information but hope this may have been of some help to you. I look forward of hearing of your progress in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

"We welcome, in our guest book, reader's comments about this or any other topic"

July 1, 2009

I Think it is a "Commission" of a Crime!

Mr. Lavery,

I am writing to you as I have been reading your advice for over a year now and feel you have a grasp on the horse industry. I know, by your reputation, you are a well respected professional trainer and have always found your advice to be right on target. Although this question is not about training problems, I feel you are the one to explain it to me with no B.S. I am looking into to moving my horse to a different trainer and she sent me a letter describing her charges. Right there, as if she is not charging enough already, she says she charges and I quote, "A minimum 10% commission on all horses bought or sold." What is meant by minimum? Can she get away with charging more than 10%? Why is she entitled to a commission, it's my horse and my daughter riding. What are your feelings in general concerning commissions. If you don't want to publish this, I understand it is not a very popular topic but I would really appreciate an answer. Thanks

Tip of the Day - When dealing with unpopular subject..it is always best to let the Elephant out of the room before he stinks the place up badly.

Thank you so very much for your question and your kind words. Commissions have been a sore subject for years and frankly, they are a pet peeve of mine, as well. Most people are afraid to discuss them but not yours truly. I think it is way past time to get them out in the open! The great thing is I know how to do away with commissions! Yes, I have figured it all out and come up with a plan to get rid of them completely!! Let's talk about why's and where's of commissions and what is fair. Let's look at some of the aspects of running a training barn in today's economic environment. I will quote from an older post dealing with why horses cost so much and how high expenses are today. Why Do Horses Seem To Be Getting More Expen$ive?

Nothing costs like it used to cost and it seems to be getting more expensive to do business on a daily basis. Some of the things are; "Where are those $2500-$3500 first horses of the 70's? What the hell happened to oats at $2.00 a hundred, hay at 75 cents a bale, straw at $20.00 a ton, a pickup truck to haul it at $3200. Perhaps the $2000.00 stud fee is a factor or maybe the $75.00 veterinary farm call or the $125.00 reset or the lack of grooms willing to work for $85.00 a week, electric bills that are no longer $30-$40 a month, how about that "Blue Chip," Blue Cross? For that matter where is the McDonalds 35 cent burger, the $3.00 haircut, the $7.00 Filet and 25 cent a gallon gasoline? Did you ever wonder how much insurance is today on a 250'x50' arena? I really miss the days of the $1800.00 tractor and $700.00 manure spreader and the $350 an acre land they were used on.

Well, things have changed since the 70's! Oats are no longer $2.00 a hundred but nearing $10.00. Hay, when you can get it, around $4.00 a bale. Try $90.00 a ton for straw to haul in my $26,000.00 pickup! In 1965, my young and willing and plentiful American help were thrilled to be earning $75.00 per week. By 2006 when I closed my doors I was paying my Hispanic (yea, where did the Americans go)? workers nearly $500.00 per week, taxes and a place to live. Do I have to tell you about health insurance? My insurance on my home and stables was nearing $12,000.00 per year and the $300-$400 a month electric bills had me using flashlights and acting as the "kilowatt police"! I could have sold my 20 year old tractor for $7500 and the 16 year old spreader for $3500. Not long ago, allotment land , around here, was selling for $40,000.00 plus, per acre. As you can see, nearly everything I have mentioned has increased many 100s of percent over the years. All these things factor in to a horse's cost (and the cost of training). Maybe of interest, something that has not rocket so high skyward in price, when my Father closed his barn in 1955, he was charging $175 per month board and training. When I closed my barn, 50 years later, my B&T was $750 per month. Do that math and find the bargain!"

In a nutshell, there you have it. Like no other business I know of, people running a public training stable today, go to work, every single day, knowing they are going to break even, at best. Yes, break even. They are in business to, hopefully, break even! The actual process of training and caring for a show horse (the trainer's business) is that unprofitable if one does it correctly. The overhead is oppressive. To attempt to make any sort of profit, a trainer must rely on other things such as sales, lessons, stud fees, boarding, Prize Money (Ha,ha) and, of course, commissions to help with the cash flow. Could you imagine Lee Iacocca, having to run a driving school after work at Chrysler to make ends meet. (come to think of it, maybe they would be in better shape today) So here you have a trainer that spends 8 to 12 hours each day, applying his trade, hearing an accountant (if he can afford one) point out he is earning about 65 cents an hour.

To answer your question specifically, as to why a trainer is entitled to a commission, I will quote again, "Trainers want clients to do well in the show ring, that is their "score card" so to speak. Trainers want clients to be happy, it is a word of mouth business. To do well they must find the right horse for the level of rider and the level of competition and the level of finance. (Many an amateur has found a "bargain"horse on their own and also found the truth in that old adage, "You get what you pay for!") Ultimately, the trainer will have to use his or her expertise to make this horse work for you and to hopefully maintain or increase its value. To be sure, his reputation is on the line should it not work out. Additionally, they must be certain they can teach you or your daughter to ride the horse well enough to be competitive and still maintain it's value. Should the time arise when you wish to sell, your trainer will use all tools at his disposal to ready the horse and find buyers and get the best price the market has to offer. This means a great deal of networking, telephone calls and possibly making a lot of changes with your horse to make it more suitable for the general market. Not everyone rides as well or as poorly as your daughter. If you want your horse experience to be rewarding, talk it over with your trainer. Remember, it is their business to make your hobby a pleasure! If money is a big problem they can show you ways to still "play" but with much lower expectations." That is what they do to earn a commission.

What is meant by minimum? I take that to mean it might be more than 10%! Seriously, circumstances might dictate a higher rate, but let me assure you, I doubt you would ever be charged a rate you did not agree to. Of course, she may charge anything she likes as long as you are aware of it. Take this circumstance, for instance. Your horse is for sale, a client in your trainer's stable is in need of a new horse. Rather than select a horse from the outside, your trainer sells your horse to the client. He has done the job for you....annnnnd...the buyer! Is that worth more than 10%? In this scenario, I feel both buyer and seller would be charged 10%.

Moving along to how I plan to do away with commissions all together! It is so simple I cannot believe no one has thought of it before. As I eluded to above, things such as feed, insurance, electric, help, cars, tractors, land, food etc. have escalated in price many 100's of percent while the charges for Training have not at all kept up over the same period of time. It is time to allow these trainers to go to work at their job, much like you, and make a profit doing that job, much like you. Then we could do completely away with commissions! I see in the paper that the charge to board (feed, house and pick up his shit) a large dog is around $35.00 a day, ($1050.00 per month) Now mind you, this is not a 1000 lb horse in a 12x12 stall and this does not include any training, grooming, lessons, etc. They make no entries or hotel reservations for you., never take a client to lunch and I doubt they are interested in discussing anything with you after closing time. Taking all of this into consideration, I think a "Minimum" monthly charge for Board and Training should start around $2500.00. Then...we can stop this terrible commission practice! In fact, I want you to be the first to sign a petition to put this into effect.( Anyone else wishing to sign just contact me in the Guest Book)

Thank you for you great question, I hope I have put it into perspective for you and you now understand my feelings on Commissions. I hope to hear about your move in the Guest Book. Good Luck and Good Riding!

LF Lavery

We invite reader's comments or suggestions, in the Guest Book, on this or any other topic.

Links To Questions & Responses
Date Subject Search Criteria
Aug 27, 2009 From LFL to You
from the American Saddlebred World's Championship
Aug 15, 2009 Becoming a Horse Trainer Advice to a prospective trainer
Aug 11, 2009 Need an Explanation for My Consternation about Bit Application! Bridling a Difficult Horse
Aug 9, 2009 Want to Teach some New Tricks Racking an older horse
Aug 5, 2009 Grazing at the Salad Bar! Odd things Horses eat
July 31, 2009 How the Divisions Divide! Finding the right division for your horse
July 28, 2009 She has really got me over a Barrel! improving a Gymkhana horse
July 26, 2009 I Seem to have Ying and Yang! What to do when horses are inseparable
July 21, 2009 She Just wants to "Ranter" and "Rot" Dealing with the soft trotting Horse
July 14, 2009 Is there "Hair Club" for Horses? Keeping tail feathers while wearing a tail-set
July 12, 2009 We Seem to have a Hitch in our "Get Along" Hitching behind
July 8, 2009 How the Heck Did They Do That? Unusual Head Set
July 5, 2009 Having a little Trouble with Our Entrance and Exit! Dealing with a horse that bolts through the gate at a show
July 1, 2009 I Think it is a "Commission" of a Crime! Commissions

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