December 20, 2015

Trick Training Your Equine: Frisbee

Ever since a video of Jethro playing Frisbee went viral, the most frequently asked question I receive is, "HOW ON EARTH DID YOU TEACH HIM THAT?!?!" Today, I am finally answering the question of how to teach this party trick.

Yup, I taught Jethro how to play frisbee! I think he may be part dog...Follow Jethro by liking The Moody Mare!
Posted by The Moody Mare on Friday, October 24, 2014

Step 1: Clicker training and targeting

Before you roll your eyes and tell me that clicker training will 100% ruin your animal, hear me out and check out these two good reads: Clicker Training Myths and The Click That Teaches.

Clicker training is simply a reinforcement method — something that concisely tells your animal, "YES, that is what I want!" if used correctly.  You can use it with any discipline — whether you are an eventer, barrel racer, or simply putz around — and with any training method such as natural horsemanship. It is simply a reinforcement tool that you don't even have to use 24/7.
  1. Buy a clicker and cut up some carrots/apples/treats.
  2. Choose a target. This can be anything. A cone, a water bottle, a pool noodle on the end of a whip, or my favorite, a Whips-a-Daisy.
  3. Go out to the barn.
  4. Stick your animal on the hitching post or in their stall (with a stall guard)
  5. Stand back. This is essential in the beginning.
  6. Hold out the target.
  7. Wait for them to touch it with their nose.
  8. Upon touching it, click and give them a treat.
  9. Repeat
NOTE: In the beginning, you may notice mouthy behavior. It is important to note that this is just a phase and 100% normal. The animal is new to this method, and thus does not know how to properly take a treat yet. If your horse attempts to mug you, push their head away and step back. Completely ignore them and pretend as if they do not exist. Eventually, they will lose interest and look away. When they do this, give them a click and a treat. Animals are not clueless, if you consistently do this they will likely put two and two together and realize that they do not get treats for being rude. Ypke, my Fjord, was completely horrible in the beginning, though we worked through it.

trick training your equine
Jethro targeting with his Whips-a-Daisy

Step 2: Introducing the Frisbee

Once your equine gets the hang of how to target and properly take a treat, you are ready for step 2.
  1. Purchase a Frisbee. I personally recommend getting one with a hole in the center since it makes it easier for the equine to grab.
  2. Introduce the Frisbee as a new target. Hold it out, have them touch it with their nose, and give them a click and a treat.
  3. Repeat step 2 until they understand the Frisbee is a target.
trick training frisbee

Step 3: Holding the Frisbee
  1. Touch the corner of their mouth, almost as if you are asking for them to accept the bit.
  2. Once their mouth opens, place in the Frisbee.  Immediately give them a click and a treat before they spit it out.
  3. Repeat step 5 until they realize that they are supposed to hold the Frisbee, not just touch it.  This is the most difficult step because with targeting, they are discouraged from biting their target, so they will be confused about why you are allowing this.
trick training frisbee

Step 4: Picking up the Frisbee
  1. Drop the Frisbee at your feet.
  2. Wait for them to pick it up.
  3. Once they pick it up, immediately click and give them a treat.
NOTE: They will likely just try to touch the Frisbee with their nose and become confused that you are not acknowledging their efforts. Simply wait it out, no matter how long it takes.

Step 5: Retrieving the Frisbee
  1. Throw the Frisbee.
From this point, one of two things will happen:

Option 1: They stare at you like you are an idiot. If this happens, walk with them to the Frisbee and point at it. At this point in their training, they have enough knowledge to pick it up. See option 2 for how to progress.

Option 2: They will immediately run after it, pick it up, but just stand there and not bring it back. The first few times they do, physically walk to them and give them the click/treat.  Eventually, you will want to stand your ground and wait for them to come to you. It may take a while, but they will come.

NOTE: It is imperative that you start out by throwing it short distances and gradually increasing the distance as the equine becomes more experienced.  Do not throw it 50 feet the first time you want them to fetch it. This is discouraging.

And there you have it!

Disclaimer because of people: This post is based off of my own personal experiences, and I am not a professional trainer. While my experiences have been positive and these steps worked for me, I cannot guarantee the same for you. Don't sue me if you or your animal suffer negative consequences. Train at your own risk. 

December 12, 2015

Small Business Saturday: Frilly Fillies

What is your horse getting for Christmas? 
"All Frilly Fillies Bonnets are handmade in the U.S.A. These luxurious and durable bonnets are made of specialty yarn in a variety of vibrant and stylish colors and designs. Each bonnet is custom designed for you and made to order, creating a look that will ensure that your show horse catches the judge’s eye and is the envy of your barn."

Frilly Fillies, a small business owned and operated by Nancy Dein, specializes in making quality custom fly bonnets right here in the United States (California to be exact). It all started back in 2012 when her daughter wanted a bright red bonnet for eventing.  After searching around, she couldn't find quite what she was looking for.

Custom fly bonnet

Nancy, considering herself to be somewhat crafty, picked up her crocheting hook and set to work at making a bonnet that was just the shade of red they were hoping for. However, she soon realized that coming up with the perfect pattern for a fly bonnet was no simple task. After much trial and error, she finally had the formula of how to make a stellar bonnet.

Custom fly bonnet

As people around their barn, Dragonfire Farm, began noticing the bonnets, Nancy received great feedback. The bonnets even caught the eye of Canadian Olympian Hawley Bennett, who was leading a clinic at Dragonfire at the time. Soon enough, she had a small business on her hands! Upon her son and nephew building her a website, orders started to pour in. In fact, she outfitted the U.S. eventing team with bonnets for last summer's Pan Am Games, and she is supplying the U.S. eventing and dressage teams with bonnets for the Olympics.

Custom fly bonnet

A crucial part of her business model is customer service. Since she doesn't keep bonnets "in stock," all orders are custom made. Due to this, occasionally customers accidentally measure incorrectly [side note: aka totally me], and thus the bonnet doesn't fit. If you order from Frilly Fillies and your bonnet doesn't fit, Nancy guarantees she will fix it free of charge, no big deal.

Custom fly bonnet

While Nancy primarily does the bonnets by herself, when there are copious amounts of orders to be filled she enlists the help of a friend to work on the base pieces.  Despite some assistance, Nancy prides herself in working on, inspecting, and packaging each individual bonnet.  She always cuts the ear fabric herself and enjoys working on the decorative trim, piping, and rhinestones.

Custom fly bonnet

Along with her special pattern, each bonnet has unique, quality materials.  She only uses the softest bamboo jersey and all ear materials are four way stretch with multiple varieties: jersey, velvet, Ice Fill Cool Mesh (yep, that's the stuff Kerrits uses!), and small hole mesh.

Shhhh, don't tell Ypke, but she is getting one for Christmas. Can't wait to see how swanky and stylish ponykins looks sporting her new fly bonnet! 

Be sure to like Frilly Fillies on Facebook, so you can stay up to date with their latest designs!

December 5, 2015

3 Things My Donkey Taught Me

In honor of Jethro's rapidly approaching second birthday, I figured it was time to recognize the life lessons he has taught me + share some ear pictures.

1. Accept imperfection
I have always been an over-analytical perfectionist, but the fact of life is that you won't always be 100% successful at everything you do... and I finally accepted that. Give 110% effort into whatever you do and don't quit, but acknowledge that things won't always work out and there is no use in dwelling over the doors that closed. Use those unsuccessful attempts for motivation.

Sometimes things seem to be going really well, but then suddenly your baby donkey goes into "I hate the world and everyone in it" tantrum mode and nearly tramples some toddlers. It is okay (as long as you don't get sued) — you can work through those baby stages and laugh about it someday.

2. Choose your battles wisely
Know when to step up or step down. Not everything in life is worth fighting for, and some issues that seem super important at the time are quite insignificant.

If your baby donkey takes a couple of small steps when asked to halt (while still new to the concept) you should *probably* not draw even the slightest attention to it otherwise a huge fit due to Short Man's Syndrome may occur. Like I said before, accept imperfection, particularly when starting a new concept, and know that the issue will likely solve itself in time.

3. It is okay to ask for help
One thing I have gotten way better at this year is asking questions. I once had a teacher that said "don't fail silently, ask questions" and five years later, I have finally heeded that advice. While the thought of admitting confusion used to embarrass me, I realized it is okay to not have all the answers. Sometimes you have to seek out people who have more knowledge than you in a given area.

While training Jethro from scratch has been mostly smooth sailing, there have been bumps in the road where I wasn't sure why we couldn't master that one showmanship maneuver. After asking for advice, he is a pro at something that once seemed unattainable.

November 29, 2015

TRM Blog Hop: 25 Questions

Shoutout to Cathryn of That Red Mare for giving me something to post about.

Fjord in the snow

1. Mares or Geldings? Why?
 Mares. I’ve always been around mares, and have never really gotten along with geldings unless they are donkeys. 

2. Green-broke or Fully Broke?
 Fully broke, preferably as close to bombproof as possible. While I love challenges, I don't love them when it comes to horses. I want a horse that will happily putz around with me and not bat an eye at whatever is thrown at them.

3. Would you own a “hotter” breed (ie. Arabian, Trakhener, etc).
Well, Trakheners aren't in the budget and I am generally not too fond of Arabians, so *probably* not.  The calmer the better!

4. What was your “dream horse” growing up?
 Back in the day I had dreams of a jet black thoroughbred gelding fresh off the track.  Good thing that didn't happen.

5. What kind of bit(s) do you use and why?
 I believe my love for Myler bits is well documented on the blog.  Their comfort snaffle line is definitely Ypke's favorite, and I usually ride her in the dee-ring comfort snaffle w/ hooks and a copper roller.

6. Helmets or no helmets?
Helmet 100% of the time!

7. Favorite horse color?
 Grullas and sooty duns by far!  Shiny dappled bays are also great.

8. Least favorite horse color?
 Double Dilute coats and blue eyes.  But the worst is definitely a color called "I love rolling in mud puddles, especially after being groomed."

Muddy horse
Hideous, isn't it?

9. Dressage or Jumping?
 As far as me riding goes, definitely dressage. Watching? Sorry, but watching dressage is like watching paint dry for me, so I will have to go with jumping.

10. How many years have you been riding?
 As far as "seriously" with lessons, 4 years.

11. Spurs/whip or no spurs/whip?
None. Ypke is forward (though still somehow lazy at the same time) so there is no need.

12. Your first fall?
My first fall was on the Fourth of July a few years back... I think it is fairly self explanatory what happened. It was 6:30am, and I cleverly thought I was avoiding the fireworks during the early lesson. Ypke was going great, and I happily called out, "She's perfect!" to my trainer. Literally 4 seconds after I said that a firework went off, Ypke teleported to the side super fast for about 15 feet, and I was tossed right off.

13. When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
Halloween (sadly), and we walked and trotted in circles around the arena while I took between the ear pictures.

Fjord horse mane

14. Most expensive piece of tack you own?
My saddle.

15. How old were you when you started riding?
I was just a teenybopper.

16. Leather or Nylon halters?
Leather — I love the classy look!

17. Leather or Synthetic saddles?
Leather by far, though it is nice how easy synthetic tack is to clean.

18. What “grip” of reins do you like?
I hoard reins, and I have to say that so far I haven't found a pair better than high quality laced reins.

19. English or Western?
When we are just putzing around I prefer Western but for working I would have to go with English. 

Fjord horse
Who am I kidding? We never work, she just stands there as I pet her.

20. How many horses do you currently own/lease?

21. Do you board your horse? Self-care/full board? Home board?

22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?

23. How many saddlepads do you have?
 A dozen-ish

24. Slant-load trailer or straight haul?
Well, I would prefer a slant, but it is Ypke's way or the highway, so the slant got traded in for a straight. 

25. Why do you ride?
Because I love it. It is very freeing and you can forget every bit of stress.

October 31, 2015

Quit Babying that Horse!

The other day I was approached by a fellow horse person.

"Hannah, do you know what's funny?"

As I'm sure you all know, that is a very dangerous question to be asked. It either means a disappointing observation has been made or you are about to get roasted. Luckily, in this case it was not the latter.

They continued, "You use positive reinforcement.  Haven't you ever noticed that when your horse acts up, 20 people attack you because you are supposedly 'babying' her which supposedly makes her take advantage of you?  I mean, when Ypke rubbed her head against you people said it was all because of her being fed treats, clearly neglecting that nice ride you had just finished. But when ______'s horse always behaves poorly by bucking and rearing and she spurs and hits him hard constantly, people either ignore it or say, 'Good for her, showing him who's boss.'"

As they continued on, I sat there speechless. After thinking about it, I realized that the scenario happens to me and another local clicker trainer wherever we go.  Ypke could be 100% willing and quiet during a ride, but the second she misbehaves — no matter how minor — I am instantly scolded and told that she is only behaving in that manner because I "baby" her with treats.
Not wanting to call anyone out specifically, so...
I find it rather amusing that many around here who rough their horses up have very ill-behaved animals as a result.  If their horse rears and flips other people will laugh and write it off as a fresh horse  [yup, your horse that seems to rear 50 times during a ride is DEFINITELY just fresh, totally not a training issue].  I know for a fact that if Ypke were to offer even a tiny little crowhop it would instantly be clicker training's fault.  Obviously you may have to smack a horse for your safety because they are huge animals, but I do find it rather amusing that those who are constantly getting after their horses over nothing have terribly ill-behaved horses as a result.

But that's none of my business...

September 11, 2015

Clicker Training Myths (and a bit of Beezie too)

"Horses aren't dogs.  Clicker training will just cause mouthy behavior and aggression." -Most people
Whenever I mention clicker training, the majority of people scoff, roll their eyes, and proceed to lecture me about how I am going to ruin my animals. There seem to be many misconceptions about the method, and people tend to approach it with a bad attitude. Before you say, "she's just some granola yahoo" and exit out of this, I just have to say one thing: Beezie Madden has used clicker training. Do you consider her to be a granola yahoo? I'd say not!

Myth 1: Only Weekend Warriors who cry "horse abuse" at everything use clicker training.

This is not the case at all! Judgement ISF, one of Beezie Madden's jumpers, used to have huge issues with jumping water. Beezie used clicker training/target training to help overcome his fear issues. The pair actually won the $1,000,000 CN International back in 2005, so I think it is safe to say that clicker training did not ruin Judgement. 
"After positive reinforcement training, Judgement’s aversion to water was permanently eased. Since then, Mary Alice Malone and the trainers at ISF use clicker training not only for day to day riding and training, but also to make the more challenging movements, such as tempi changes and half-passes, easier and fun for the horse to learn." (SOURCE to prove I'm not lying)
Miniature donkey jumping
Jethro the Judgement Wannabe
Myth 2: Clicker training will cause horses to become mouthy.

This is the myth that really grinds my gears. Just like with anything, even something as small as feeding treats has to be properly trained. Aggressive behavior is a result of improper training, and you need to head back to the basics. 

That being said, when you first begin clicker training you may notice mugging behavior. This is simply because they have not been properly treat trained. While Jethro never had issues taking treats, Ypke was absolutely awful and I thought the clicker had ruined her. What I did to combat the issue was tie her to the hitching post, take a couple steps back, and wait. At first she tried to reach over and bite me, so I turned around and waited again. She soon lost interest and looked away. That moment was precisely when I gave her a click and a treat. By doing so, I reinforced that she doesn't get treats because she is being mouthy or because she wants a treat right then and there, she gets one when she is being respectful and I think she deserves one.

After about a week's worth of short 15 minute sessions each day, the mouthy behavior disappeared.  I don't even remember the last time that she has tried to bite me!

She bites pastures, not people
 Myth 3: Your horse will not behave unless you have the clicker 24/7.

Wrong!! The whole goal of clicker training is to wean your horse off the clicker. 

For example, Ypke used to have a terrible habit of blowing past the bit and racing around at the trot as fast as she could go. I wanted a slower, almost Western pleasure jog. At first, I asked for a couple strides of the jog and gave a click and a treat. Gradually, I began expecting more and more steps of slow jog in between each click. Now, I don't even need to use the clicker for her jog — she just does it no matter how many laps around the arena we do.

Clicker training a horse
Another benefit: their necks get super flexible.
Myth 4: Clicker training is solely for tricks.

As you probably figured out from the Beezie Madden paragraph, this is also simply not true. The clicker is just an interesting, concise way of telling your horse, "YES, that is what I want." That's it.  Really. It is just a reinforcement tool. Whether you do eventing or barrel racing, you can integrate the clicker into your training program. It doesn't matter if you do natural horsemanship or use traditional methods — the clicker is just a reinforcement tool.

Jethro's latest work-in-progress trick: "Donkey Brain Teaser: can you put the hoop over the cone?"
Posted by The Moody Mare on Tuesday, August 4, 2015

**Disclaimer: I'm not a pro trainer and this post is just based around my own personal experiences.  I can't guarantee you will have a positive experience, so don't sue me if this completely ruins your horse.**

September 4, 2015

Dreadful Donkey Takes on Showmanship

I came into the barn at 6:30am and Jethro had already begun striking his stall door and braying his head off.  We began prepping for showmanship after he ate breakfast, and he wanted to GO. Halt meant walk quickly, walk meant trot, and trot meant bolt-and-cause-Hannah-to-sprain-her-ankle.  Unlike last year, I had the pattern memorized and felt quite confident, minus having to handle an out of control donkey. 

miniature donkey showmanship
At least he is adorable
The judge was very tough and kind of reminded me of a western George Morris. Jethro was the only yearling, and at the judge's discretion he was mixed in with the green horses. Right off the bat, people were called out for this and that, but the judge did compliment how "nicely groomed that mule is," (how to offend a donkey person 101: call a donkey a mule). The pattern was simple: trot halfway to the judge, trot circle right, halt upon completing the circle, back five steps, trot to the judge, halt, set for inspection, do a 180* haunch turn, and trot back to the line up. 

miniature donkey showmanship
This was the moment where he grabbed the lead rope in his mouth and wouldn't let go.
There was one key problem: once in the ring, Jethro adamantly refused to trot halfway through (though, ironically, he really wanted to trot after we exited the ring). We did a nice job trotting the circle, halting, and backing. He fell apart when I asked him to do the haunch turn and pulled back as we were supposed to be trotting away. Once in the line, ants filled his pants, and it took all of my strength to hold him back.

miniature donkey showmanship
Note how only one of us is trotting.
According to the judge, our back was resistant and slow (90% disagree, I watched the video and his back looked great except for a small head toss on the last step), but our haunch turn was nice (100% disagree, it was nowhere near a correct haunch turn, his back leg wasn't even close to being planted, he took a couple steps forward, and he tried to drag me). He liked my use of the quartering system and said Jethro was very well groomed. We ultimately came away with a grand champion ribbon by default and a white ribbon. For those of you who are not familiar with 4-H, white means "at least you showed up and paid the entry fee." From his other comments, it sounds like he was unimpressed that someone my age would have such a resistant animal.

While I definitely don't approve of this misbehavior and take the blame for it seeing as how I hadn't been working with him much, I actually found it quite hilarious. He was a huge character and definitely let me know what he thought of showing that day! Plus there is something comical about an adorable, defiant 30" tall animal misbehaving in a ring with huge horses.

At least he was nice to the judge
The judge got a lot of hate throughout the week, but while he wasn't my favorite, I thought he was alright. While I thought a couple of the comments I received were incorrect, I actually quite liked him and will definitely work on a couple of things he suggested... but as much as I love mules, it was rather disappointing to have someone think Jethro was one. He's 100% miniature Mediterranean donkey, and I take great pride in how huge his ears are. 

Let's talk about satin now. Rosettes from left to right are: 6th place in groom squad, Grand Champion in yearling showmanship, Grand Champion in public presentation, Reserve Champion in photography, and 6th place in horse bowl. I qualified for state with my public presentation, "Clicker Training Your Equine," so I will be competing at the state fair on September 13th.  

August 28, 2015

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Fair is over. It wasn't the best, and I got pretty beat up, but it was a good learning experience for Jethro. Before I begin talking about the nitty gritty details of Jethro, I have to wallow in self pity by complaining about my series of unfortunate events.
Day 1: Stung by a bee (nearly passed out) and sprained my ankle
Day 2: Bit by a spider (red bullseye + bruise rings) and broke my iPhone 
Day 3: Came down with a lovely cold
There are greater tragedies in life, but nonetheless it was definitely not very fun. Enough about my first world problems, let's talk about Jethro and how I completely set him up for failure.

Donkey long ears
His long ears are full of lies
In short, my donkey was dreadful to be around. While in his stall he constantly struck his door, reared, and brayed his head off. In the ring, he found it quite comical to rear in the line up and ignore my cues. Whilst meeting new people he found it fun to buck towards them, run away, and/or attempt to nip at them. He also took great pride in biting my legs and rearing while I tried to halter him or practice showmanship. Oh, and he also tried to kick the vet. 
In short, he hated everyone he met and was in a terrible mood the entire time he was there. My sweet, innocent little darling donkey was replaced by a dreadful donkey. That being said, I hold no grudges about the way the week went and take 110% blame for his terrible behavior.

Miniature donkey
Taken seconds before he brayed for 5 minutes straight

The first 6 months I had him, I would work with him for two hours a day and hauled him to different places multiple times a week. He never put a foot out of place — he was never mean and screaming little kids could run up directly behind him and yank his tail for all he cared. These past few months I have been slacking off and mainly working on tricks, going on nature walks, and lightly practicing showmanship. I haven't taken him to any shows, and he hasn't been exposed to strangers lately. I also have definitely not been working with him for two hours each day.
Looking back, it was very unreasonable to expect him to be a rock star again this year considering his age and the lack of amount of actual training I have be doing recently.  He is quite well behaved at home, but fair was a whole different story.

Miniature donkey
After this was taken he bit my knee... at least he's cute
I definitely believe his issues are easily fixable; in fact, they aren't even his fault — they are mostly mine. Regardless, his behavior was absolutely unacceptable at the fair, and I am changing a lot of things. For starters, I will be bringing him to a lot more events, even if it is just to sit and watch.  Doing well at home is one thing, doing well in a crazy environment is another.

August 21, 2015

Off to the Fair

It's that crazy time of the year again: fair week. Unfortunately, it will just be Jethro and I attending the fair this year. I would love to bring Ypke, but due to moving I can only stay for the first half of the week. Since Jethro is in the yearling category, he is allowed to leave earlier in the week, but Ypke would have to stay the entire time since she is not considered a green horse. It's a bummer, but there is always next year.

Last year's haul

Last week it finally hit me that fair was rapidly approaching. I really haven't done much with Jethro in terms of showmanship and groundwork this summer... Whoops! He has mainly just been learning new tricks, playing fetch, going on nature walks, and having spa days.

After realizing that all he really did was walk politely at my shoulder and halt when asked, I slightly panicked because trotting, backing, haunch turns, and the like are required in showmanship patterns.  I made it a priority to begin working with him on showmanship twice a day whenever I could — once in the morning and once in the evening.  

Showmanship last year
I am honestly amazed by how quickly he learns compared to Ypke. Don't get me wrong, Ypke is very bright and catches on quickly, but Jethro literally only takes 5 minutes to learn something. I'm not sure if it is just him being young or a donkey thing, but it is actually quite surprising. I had never really asked him to back before, so I just kept a gentle, steady pressure pulling back on the lead. He took one step, and I gave him a click and a treat. Literally 5 minutes later he was backing several steps and already weaned off of the clicker. 

As of today, he can correctly transition and stay at my shoulder in both the walk and the trot, halt the second I ask, back, and do a forehand turn. Now we have two days to pick up the haunch turn and sidepass. Haunch turn is my first priority!

This past week has pretty much just been cramming for the final test after not paying attention the entire semester. Not a recommended tactic!

August 7, 2015

Wahl Saves the Day!

Last month, I wrote about how body clipping Jethro this summer didn't go quite as planned. There were bald spots, clipper lines, and uneven/choppy hair. In other words, he looked like a neglected, diseased donkey.

Lister Star body clipping
Guess who came to our rescue?  None other than Wahl Clipper (aka Lister Shearing for you UK folks). They saw what a mess I had made and kindly sent me their Lister Star Clippers to clean up the situation.

Lister Star horse body clippers
So pretty
Upon taking them out of the case, the first thing I did was plug them in and turn them on. As far as heavy duty clippers go, these were actually a lot quieter than I expected. My other pair sounded like a chainsaw mixed with somebody furiously sharpening a knife — these are definitely not that extreme. Don't expect a whisper as these are powerful clippers, but they shouldn't startle you or make you want to cover your ears. 

Lister Star horse body clipper

Now onto the blades — have you ever had to hunt down a screwdriver (bonus points: a type that you don't have and is good for nothing else) and take out several tiny screws? Maybe I am just unlucky, but I sure have! That is not the case with these. The knob that you see above the blades is for adjusting the tension. To remove the blades, simply loosen the knob with your hands until the knob, spring, and screw come out. Voila! It literally only took me 10 seconds max, and I am probably the least dexterous person out there.

Lister Star body clipping
Jethro AFTER (same side as the before picture)
What I previously mentioned is all dandy, but I'm sure you are wondering how well they actually clip. Here's your answer: like a hot knife through butter. My coarse (2.5mm) blades had no issues cutting through his thick hair whatsoever. However, as he is a miniature, I did find it difficult to clip between his legs and other small areas since the blade alone is 3" wide. The struggle is that although they are a bit too large for a mini, they are the only clippers I have found that can actually cut through his yak fur. Throughout the session, I came to like two additional things about these clippers: 1.) At just 800 grams (about 1.76 pounds) they are very lightweight and your arm doesn't feel like a noodle after you have been clipping for awhile. 2.) They don't overheat! My old clippers would get burning hot after several minutes, but these stayed fairly cool.

-Fairly quiet
-Don't overheat
-Long, heavy-duty cord
-Easy to remove blades for cleaning
-Several different colors to choose from

-A bit large for maneuvering them on smaller animals
-Blades are rather costly at $50 each, but at least they can be re-sharpened inexpensively

Grooming a donkey
Jethro is ready for fair now!
Thank you to the kind folks at Wahl for salvaging Jethro's dignity! They have recently been running some neat giveaways, so if you want a chance to win some free swag, be sure to check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

**Disclosure: Wahl Clipper/Lister Shearing sent me their Lister Star clippers free of charge for review purposes. While I did receive this product at no expense, all thoughts expressed in this review are based off of my own personal experiences.**

July 31, 2015

Cycle of Insanity

When you have 4 consecutive GREAT rides with few issues, you begin to wonder when that streak will end.  Mine ended yesterday.

After thoroughly cleaning the barn, I thought that Miss Ypke deserved a thorough spa day and brought her out to the hitching post. Once out there, the horseflies and wasps swarmed us. Not fun. After she was all cleaned up, I figured a short 10 minute bareback stroll would be nice because it was a beautiful day, so I bridled her and headed to the mounting block. The train derailed from the tracks.

Don't be fooled by the fluffy earzz
It started okay, but then went downhill. She stood by the block just fine, I stepped up, but then as soon as I began to swing my leg over she backed up real fast. Not cool. This ensued for about five minutes before she wouldn't even let me go so far as to touch the mounting block before backing away. 

I tried the most common tactics of having her "work" (lunge) whenever she moved away or asking her to back up farther and quicker than she already was (in hopes of making her realize that backing up wasn't as enjoyable as she initially thought). It got us back to the point where we could stand by the block... which she would then use as a scratching post before backing away again.

After 30 minutes of the previous two methods with zero luck, I did what any other wimp would do: pick the block up and carry it right next to her side.  We went around in a cycle of insanity like that for 15 minutes before I remembered one key thing about Ypke: she doesn't like being poked. 

Not the slightest look of guilt
I got her to halt a couple of feet away and then clucked and said "walk on."  Whenever she didn't respond I would lightly poke just behind her girth area with my thumb with increasing amounts of pressure every three times (luckily she responded almost immediately, so it was really light). Right when she would take even one step, I immediately released the dreaded thumb and praised her. Within several minutes I was able to stand on the block again. While she did try to back away once again, I would tap her girth area as a reminder and praise her when she came back.

After over 50 minutes, I finally managed to begin the ride. Ironically enough, she kept trying to force her way over to the mounting block as we were trudging around. It was a poor, short-lived ride that was just a couple of laps around the arena, but at least we ended on a good note. She has always been fine being ridden around bareback, but today was just one of those days. It was clear that she was in a "I should be in my field right now, so I won't listen to you," testy mood. While it wasn't necessarily an enjoyable time (for either of us), it was rather productive.

It is times like these where I wish I was agile enough to swing myself up rather than needing a mounting block.

July 24, 2015

Blog Hop: Bit of Luck

I think that we all have those tried and true bits in our collection while others we just steer clear of.  Are there any bits that work like magic for your horse?
When I began riding Ypke three years ago, I always rode her in a single jointed eggbutt snaffle.  If you have been reading for awhile, you will know that I was a complete beginner when I purchased her (riding for less than two weeks).  While my hands were never unsteady to the point of flailing every which way or constantly yanking, they definitely left a lot to be desired.  At the time, I never thought about how bits could affect the performance and willingness of an individual horse.  A different trainer noticed her constant evasion tactics of chomping, ducking, or being a giraffe and brought up how many horses are bothered by the "nutcracker" effect that single jointed bits can have.  He suggested that I look into the Myler Comfort Snaffle line for Ypke. Research mayhem ensued.

Myler dee with hooks with stainless steel comfort snaffle with copper roller MB 03
Here is the breakdown of my favorite features offered by the dee Comfort Snaffle w/ hooks and  copper roller that I chose (and really the comfort snaffles in general): 
  • Curved mouthpiece alleviates tongue pressure and allows the horse to swallow easier
  • The sides move independently and are isolated from each other which is especially helpful for a bending cue.
  • Copper inlay bars
  • Hooks!  Some people say they are for leverage, but I personally think that they are great for keep the reins, cheek peices, and curbchain from sliding around the ring and tangling with each other.
The day I tried this bit was actually the day I began clicker training Ypke.  Partnered with each other, the difference in her willingness to work was monumental.  Bit evasion used to be constant throughout our rides, but now it only happens every once in awhile on our off days.  She does still chomp out of habit, but it is noticeably less severe.  Prior to Myler two years ago, I always thought people were exaggerating or bluffing about how a bit completely changed their horse's tune.  After I experienced it firsthand, I can testify that the difference was almost magical for Ypke.
Since then, I have only stuck with Myler and am starting a collection.  Some of my favorites are... 

Myler kimberwick comfort snaffle
I used this Kimberwick Comfort Snaffle in Ypke's first class at her first show.
Myler 3 ring combination
When I first saw the 3-ring combination I thought it looked scary, but I was wrong.  My mom's horse had to be ridden bitless because he HATED bits, as in he refused to open in his mouth and had huge meltdowns. This combination is set up to where it uses nose pressure (like his bitless bridle does) before it goes to the mouth. This bit was the perfect solution for him and now he has 0 tantrums and is quite an easygoing fellow.
Myler comfort snaffle
HBT shank w/ sweet iron Comfort Snaffle and copper roller is her Western bit.
Myler comfort snaffle
I have been eyeing this dee Comfort Snaffle as our dressage bit for awhile now.  The dee ring that I have right now is not legal due to the hooks and copper roller. Wish list!
Which bit does your horse go best in?

July 17, 2015

Lords Hill Farm Miniature Donkeys

Shoutout to Debi, Jethro's breeder, over at Lords Hill Farm for kindly sending Jethro a show halter!

Miniature donkey show halter
So spiffy
It just so happens that it is H.O. Little Red Man's (Jethro's sire) old show halter. Red Man has some End of Year awards and Grand Champion titles... maybe those will rub off on Jethro now, haha.

Miniature donkey showmanship conformation
Jethro's sire, Little Red Man
I often get asked, "WHERE did you manage to find a miniature donkey?" Unlike horses which are frequently sold by owners, you usually don't see many people selling their donkeys. The easiest way to acquire a donkey is through a breeder or a rescue. Lords Hill Farm, located in Snohomish, Washington, is owned and managed by Debi Steltz. Debi goes out of her way for visitors, and happily let me stop by at anytime — even unannounced.

Baby miniature donkey
Baby Jethro
The first time I visited Lords Hill Farm, Debi led us into the large pasture. Immediately, the donkeys began making their way towards us seeking attention. Imagine being swarmed by a sea of cute little donkeys seeking a good wither scratching. I was surprised by how friendly and outgoing most of the donkeys were — it was a great experience. We also were able to see all of the babies galloping around and playing which was absolutely adorable. You would be hard-pressed to find something cuter than a herd of baby miniature donkeys racing around together.

I spent time with each of the little foals and lastly came across Jethro. Right when I met him, I knew he was the donkey for me. Debi invited us over to Snohomish several times to visit him before he was weaned, and each time she happily chatted about donkeys for a couple of hours. It is obvious that she loves what she does and has a strong passion for miniature donkeys. I've had Jethro for over a year now, and Debi still keeps in touch with me and is more than willing to answer any questions that I have. Thanks again, Lords Hill Farm!

July 11, 2015

The Case for the Fjord

A while back I wrote a blog post about the case against the fjord. While their looks can be deceiving, I believe that the good outweighs the bad. Here's why:

1. They are adorable. 

This one is a given, because, well, they are Fjords for crying out loud. At the end of the day, sometimes Ypke's cuteness factor is her only redeeming quality.

Horse eye
A cute pony with kind eyes
2. They are level-headed.

I for one have never seen a Fjord completely lose it (bolt, throw huge tantrums, bucking fests). Sure Ypke sometimes has crazy spooks, but they are far and few. From my observations, Fjords are tolerant horses who put up with A LOT — whether it is getting their mouth yanked on, someone bouncing around in the saddle, or little Mary Jean who insists on running up directly behind and petting their tail. They aren't hotheaded horses, but they are definitely willing to move out when asked.
Horse smiling
Be happy, not hot-tempered
3. They are hardy and strong.

I have never heard of or known of anyone who had a Fjord go lame (except in the case of founder).  Ypke has never had a lame day in her life. This breed is known for their excellent hooves and ability to go barefoot — I can testify because Ypke has strong, beautiful hooves with no issues. While there are sportier builds being bred, I have always liked their drafty structure. Fjords are short yet stout tanks that can carry a surprising amount of weight.

Fjord horse

4. They are bold.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Fjord that spooks at butterflies and plastic bags.  I have always loved how confident they are — whether it is crossing bridges and tarps without a second thought or happily splashing through water. You can literally throw anything at Ypke and she will end up cocking a hind leg, drooping her lip, and falling asleep.

Fjord horse jumping
Kori, owned by Wendy Luscombe, jumping 4'3
Photo taken by: Carol Hill
5. They are athletic and versatile.

Remember how I did that Fjord of the Month interview with Koriakin of Narnia? Kori is a lovely dressage horse who has been shortlisted for the National Dressage Championships and won 12 USDF All Breed Awards among other things. Don't be fooled though, this dressage horse can JUMP.  In fact, he easily cleared a 4'3 fence during a jumping demo at Equine Affaire.  Many people are under the impression that Fjords are just slow, fat, lazy little ponies, so I'll just let that sink in.

I think that about sums it up!  Have you ever met any Fjords that can relate to this?