Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The Ins and Outs of Trailer Loading

by Mary Gallagher

Horse places foot on step-up obstacle
Trailer loading—a task that needs a lot of practice—was the theme of last Friday’s Ground Work class. Getting a horse to be okay at loading into  a scary cave on wheels is a challenge for the horse and handler. We warmed up using our foundational skills to establish communication cooperation and confidence in our horse partner. We did this through exercises like front end and hindquarter yields as well as stepping over and stopping over a pole going forwards and backwards.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Teaching a Reactive Horse to Think Through Problems on His Way to a Safer Life, Part One

By Mary Gallagher

Does your horse look to you for leadership?

The reactive horse generally does not, and that’s why we can learn a lot on the subject from teaching a reactive horse to respond in situations with confidence rather than react in fear.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a horse that did not look to the human for leadership—not his owners, and certainly not me, when we first met. He was what you would call ‘over the top’—scared of just about everything, scared of his environment, and prone to avoiding any connection with humans—to the point of developing some truly dangerous behaviors. He would easily get out of control, spooking and bolting while being handled, snorting and acting totally checked out. His head carriage tended to be extremely high, and he’d be focusing and fully absorbed far out into the distance, ready to bolt (again) at any moment. Not a safe horse to handle.

So here he was, and I needed a plan. I returned to a diagram I have developed over the years (some of you may remember it from earlier blog posts), The Optimal Teaching Gauge. (I used to call it The Leadership Gauge.) It lays out where the sweet spot can be found between the human and the horse, with a range of behaviors to either side. It’s an assessment tool and a sort of compass for planning how to work with a particular horse, while developing your own leadership.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Stories I Tell Myself About My Horse: A Conversation

by Mary Tulin and Mary Gallagher

Mary Tulin: So the other day I was riding my Morgan mare Era through shoulder ins down the fence, wondering why she kept drifting off the track. As far as I could tell, I was doing all the things—opening inside rein, supporting outside rein, inside leg back and asking for the hind foot to step, etc. I was thinking things like, “Gosh, she’s a little low energy today.” “Hm, I guess she’s forgotten all the practice we did with this last fall.” “Wow, she must be a bit burned out on this; I should have taken her out for some non-arena time yesterday.”

Take your pick. Commiserating with myself in this way, I continued through a frustrating repetition of tight, unsuccessful attempts.

Mary Gallagher: Excuse me, Mary T… as you know, the stories we tell about our horses are really about ourselves.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Gratitude for a Very Busy 2023

by Mary Gallagher

A very full year. Somehow I feel like we started this year busy and never stopped! I am going to share some highlights…

Early spring cleanup. As I sat down to write this year’s notes of gratitude, I let my mind wander back
to late winter 2023. The extensive winter clean up from last year featured the expert pruning and cleaning of the flower beds by Gerardo Vidal and crew. I was so very grateful for Gerardo blessing our gardens and fruit trees—our spring and summer foliage and fruits reflected your expertise. Thank you Gerardo!

Many colts to start..! Jerry Schmidt connected us again this year with clinician Martin Black for
Jerry and Jackson, first saddling.
another fabulous clinic, which included a pretty amazing colt starting series, pushing us to acquire more skills again this spring. After the clinic Jerry was so generous with his time, helping me and training assistant Elise Dean with what seemed like a constant string of talented babies to start. Thank you Jerry and Elise! Also thanks to fellow trainer Brad Varner who joined us for some great early sessions. Most of all—speaking of the colts—special, deep thanks to their owners Amy Johnson, Wendy Comstock, and Melene Bourm for sending so many lovely, special horses this year. We honor and value your trust in our work.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Building Emotional Fitness in Yourself and Your Horse

Wendy Comstock on 3-year old Marcus for the first time.

by Mary Gallagher

It seems like this year we started more horses than ever. They just kept coming every month and we (Jerry Schmidt and I, with our special student Elise Dean) got into the flow of playing with young, promising horses every day. Pretty fun work, when you understand it! Anyway, with the days getting shorter, and knowing that soon the last of the babies will go home, I’ve been reflecting on what really stood out for me over this time with them. Overwhelmingly, the piece that means so much to me and connects our work with each of the horses is building their emotional fitness.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Lessons in Tuning Your Horse—and Yourself! (Growing our Horsemanship With Martin Black, Part Two)

By Mary Gallagher

I am still learning from our recent, fabulous clinic with Martin Black. I'd like to share what I've been doing lately with some of what I learned, though I'd recommend hearing it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, if you can. I can’t recommend Martin highly enough, and you can join us for his next clinic with us in March 2024 to experience much more, first hand!

I’ve been walking my students through a basic pattern of foot placement exercises learned from Martin, relating it to what I’ve been teaching for years. One of the students, a musician, commented that taking time to learn and refine these exercises was a lot like practicing scales. Musicians want to play songs and do the cool things they are inspired by in other musicians, but without developing dexterity and musical sense through patient practice of scales, the goal remains far away. I thought it was a great analogy. We tend to want to jump in and ‘make music’—get our horse ‘in frame’ by various means, trot, canter, and go right to the things we ride horses for. To get there, too often we solve issues with specialized tack, firmer aids, stronger grip…the list goes on.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Growing Our Horsemanship with Martin Black

By Mary Gallagher

We had been looking forward to our clinic with Martin Black for months, and Martin did not disappoint! He is definitely a special horseman, bringing to us 6 generations of ranching wisdom, including the mentorship of many top horsemen. In his own career he has started tens of thousands of colts, ready within weeks to help managing cattle on the open range. Martin has also trained thousands of eager clinic participants, ready to absorb the horsemanship he has so finely distilled. Those of us fortunate to spend last week with Martin are the richer for the experience.