Partnership: The Give and Take In Training


Thoughts From Devin:

Alise’s last post, and a conversation with my good friend Jen over at Toklat led me to think on the partnership of horse training.  I often talk about what a willing and easy horse Rainier is to train, but the training is a give and take, and requires a good deal of reflection on the right way to bring THIS particular horse forward at each training session.  As trainers, our goals and intended outcomes are usually the same, but how we go about getting our horses there varies with each partner.

Rainier and his canter leads provide a good example.  From the beginning, his gaits have been balanced and lovely, with neither a tendency to speed up, or break to the trot.  Picking up his leads, however, has presented a challenge.  He easily and quietly picks up his left lead, but he struggles to pick up his right lead.  After years of training ottb’s to have good canter departs, I have several methods I use to teach the transition.  But after using all the regular options, Rainier still struggled.  I had to come up with a new plan, and one that worked with his talents and his desire to be correct, as he was getting worried about being wrong each time I asked for the right canter depart.  Plan…..D was to ask for a flying change from left to right.  This worked very well, but not as a long term solution.  Now, using repetition and praise, Rainier is learning to pick up the right lead from the beginning, with a combination of restarts and flying changes when he picks up the left lead instead.  Using a combination of methods allows him to be right some of the time, and get praise, and therefore keep his willing attitude and desire to please, while still correcting him from the “wrong” answer of left lead.
Wanting to give him another opportunity for praise alongside this challenge, I decided one day to ask for changes not as a correction, but intentionally.  You will be happy to know that Rainier has two lovely , consistent changes, and does not speed up, kick out, or otherwise get agitated when asked to change.  Going back to the topic of partnership, this element of his training demonstrated that as trainers (and riders, since every ride on your horse is reaffirming good or bad behaviors), we need to listen to what our horses are telling us, and proceed accordingly.  I do like to teach my horses flying changes early in their education, but I would not normally teach it before confirming solid and correct canter departs.  But we must listen, and teach what each horse is ready to learn, and not be fixed on a set series of steps that must be learned in order.  Flexibility and communication are key elements to a successful training program.
In other week four highlights, Rainier was an absolute star on his second cross country trip, getting exposure to ditches, banks, and schooling with other horses.  He learned each lesson with willingness and caution, and ended with confidence and ease.  Today he had his first lunge lesson, and it was a huge success.  Lunging can be as difficult to teach as any mounted training, and Rainier completed his session with no attempts to change direction as an evasion, listened to transition requests, and licked and chewed with gusto. Teaching him to lunge is another way to help him pick up his right lead canter, which he did many times during the session.  Before heading back to Canada, my working student Emily Corrie showed Rainier some basic ground work maneuvers, and after his lunging session he was willing to follow my instructions and demonstrate he remembered what he had been taught.

Rainier has also picked up a new generous sponsor! CHS Nutrition and Equis Feeds have agreed to supply Rainier with their Equis Element Grain and Rice Bran, in a combined effort to add weight while keeping carbs and sugars low.  Thoroughbreds can be very sensitive to feed, and respond well to low carb grains.  Rainier, a typically picky thoroughbred eater (he has not decided yet whether apples are something to eat or just roll around the paddock) is happily devouring his new grain, which was an easy transition from my own CHS specially milled low carb supplement, Blue Rider BlendThanks again to CHS and Equis for sponsoring us and providing Rainier with great nutrition!


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Bright Spots: The Foundation For Success

I first met Devin when we were working at our local community college. We were both on a college wide committee that focused on student success.  The goal of the committee was to look at all aspects of the student experience to find ways to identify the best practices for student success and improve our usage and delivery of those known success principles.  As I watch Devin working with Summer Snow (Rainier), I see her applying the best practices of learning to his training program and him thriving under her plan for success.

SS-TeachingIn our culture, we tend to romanticize failure.  Everyone has heard a story of someone overcoming great odds to learn or reach a goal.  While demonstrating the ability to stick to something and see it to the “end” and ultimately gaining success can be seen as a positive attribute, it could also be looked at as an ineffective/inefficient learning plan. In the book Swith, Dan and Chip Heath coin the term “bright spots“.  Their theory is that in times of change you need to look for the early glimmers that something is going right, and when you find a “bright spot” you focus your attention there.  Develop skills from the point of what is going well.  Acknowledging weaknesses is important, but too many times we focus on filling the holes rather than strengthening what is already good.  In school, we focus on the F a student got in Math and not the A the student got in English. We jump into remediate the F and overlook rewarding the A.  Looking back over my pictures and our posts, it jumps out at me how Devin has worked with Rainier from the perspective of his “bright spots”.  Coming off the track so recently, it was clear he would have “holes” in the skills he would need moving forward, but Devin started his training program based on the “bight spot” skills he came with.  She started building his A skills even stronger and letting him learn to apply them in new areas. It’s easy to rave about what a great horse he is and how much he has learned, because he has been set up for success from the beginning. Every lesson ends with success and builds his skills a bit more each time, but Devin is careful not to increase the difficulty of the task too quickly.  It could be tempting to want to push Rainier’s skill development even faster because he seems to thrive and learn easily based on his willing nature.   Devin’s experience with OTTB’s has lead her to design a training program that acknowledges the previous knowledge they bring with them and develop the skills they need to learn at a pace that is challenging, but not overwhelming.

SS-Water-Jump-XCLast Weds., Rainier had his first experience schooling on a cross country course away from his home base.  Before they ever left home, Devin has a “lesson plan” in mind for the day for Rainier.  She would be teaching 2 groups of students and horses that day and Rainier would be in the second group.  This meant that he would need to stay back in the stalls by the trailers while the first group went out on course.  Devin arranged for a friend to bring a youngster that needed some travel experience over along with the horse that would be schooling, and it was a win-win for everyone.  The youngster stayed back in the stalls with Rainier for company, and Rainier, being experienced at waiting in stalls, calmly did his thing.  Both horses were happy, and Rainier got to pass his knowledge along in the process.

SS-XC-GroupWhen it was time for Rainier to go to the course, he walked over with 2 other horses. Looking back through the posts, Devin has used “modeling” as a technique to help maximize Rainier’s learning.  She uses other horses to support Rainier and grow his courage as well as demonstrate what he needs to do next.  When he went on his first trail ride, another horse who was skilled in what they were about to do accompanied them.  The result, success for Rainier and a good experience under his training belt.  The first time Devin schooled Rainier on her own cross country course, Foose, a barn buddy was there to show Rainier around the course and lead him over his first logs.  Again, modeling facilitated Rainier’s success and fostered his courage.  Each step of the way, Devin has worked from Rainier’s “bright spots”.   Success builds trust and from there it is possible to add complexity to the tasks.

SS-Up-Bank-XCLearning without thought is labor lost.  ~Confucius

Great coaches have a plan.  It’s easy to forget the hours they spend planning behind the results we see.  We know football coaches spend hours watching game films and creating drills to practice skills and then pull those skills together to help the athletes learn the plays needed to seem effortless when we, the spectators, watch.  The same is true for Rainier.  Devin has a “game plan” in mind for him.  She is teaching him the skills he will need to execute the plan and helping him put the information together for us, the spectators, to see. He is thriving under the tutelage of Devin’s training program, and it is awesome to see the plan unfold.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the lesson plan.


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A Matter of Priorities

XCountry-Trees-2-SSDevin’s Thoughts On The Past Week:

Rainier has done so much since the last post! A week ago we were working on getting in front of the leg, and today we were cantering a series of cross country fences.  Rides like today remind me why I love working with green horses.  If you are skillful at prioritizing and teaching a specific lesson before moving on to the next one, they can learn so much so quickly. My goal this week was to begin to teach him to jump. To jump, horses must understand to come forward and turn.  It took a few rides to establish Rainier must go forward when my leg pressure increased.  We also worked on following an opening rein and moving away from leg pressure- in other words, Turning!

IMG_6186Taking Rainier out on a trail ride was a great way to put the forward aid to the test.  He was easy to load and stood quietly by the trailer while getting tacked up (I LOVE easy travelers).  Once on the trail he took about ten minutes to settle down and relax while following Beemer, ridden by my student Carolyn.  Then the big river crossing! Rainier was SO afraid to go in the water, he was shaking…and yet he never refused, even for a moment.  Understanding that he must go forward when my leg was on, and having a buddy lead him into the water meant he could go in, get rewarded for being so brave, and then realize there was nothing to worry about.

IMG_8156The trail ride was a huge success, with him learning to go over small logs, cross bridges (they make so much noise!), and even lead the way on a loose rein cantering through the fields. Walking and trotting natural fences on the trail is a great way to introduce jumps since horses have a friend showing them it’s easy, and there isn’t anywhere to go but straight ahead. And on the way back, he confidently stepped into the river with no fear! (Thanks Carolyn for the photos!)

Jump-1The next day, we tried a few cross rails in the ring.  Now that Rainier understood I wanted him to go OVER the obstacles, he was easily trotting and even cantering the small fences including a little cross rail oxer.  After each one, he received a ton of praise, and every fence was an opportunity for him to reaffirm he was answering the question correctly.

Cross Country day! Feeling good about his learning curve, I decided to have my working student Emily, and her fabulous young horse Foose, give us a lead around my back woods that contain a dozen small cross country fences.  I wasn’t sure if we’d be trotting a log, or just getting used to being out in the open field and woods.

XCountry-CanterLet me just tell you how nice this horse is to ride! His trot is lovely, but his canter is so rhythmic, and soft, and he has the lightest mouth.  I cantered around the field with almost nothing in my hand, and he kept his balance and pace perfectly.  Now for the jumping!  We started by following Emily over some small stuff at the trot, then on our own, and then finished by cantering a few fences.  Alise was there to take some wonderful photos for you to enjoy.

XCountry-Log-1-SSHe jumped well, and quietly, and when a few early fences resulted in a little over excitement, he was wonderfully responsive, and it took only a light squeeze to bring him back to the walk.  He still needs to work on straightness to the fence and turning…

XCountry-Tree-Jump-SS(seriously Rainier, if you don’t turn, we will run into that tree!) but he is very adept at collecting his canter to put one more small stride in front of a little fence, making him very easy to jump and find a good distance.  I think he will excel as an event horse, or in the hunter ring. Oh, and there’s that lovely dressage movement too.  I love my job.-Devin

IMG_9881Special thanks to Chris Camp our AWESOME vet at Del Oeste Equine Clinic for helping Rainier get his dental health care taken care of!  The right bite makes so much more possible for the horse.


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The Power of The Humdrum

Ears-Forward-Watching-LessonMost of our interactions with our horses involve everyday life activities. The horse show, camping trip, trail ride, and other excursions/activities are usually the occasional event rather than the norm. Even for an OTTB, everyday wasn’t race day. The power of the humdrum refers to how  horses handle the routines of their lives as well as the changes they experience.  Whether that means learning a new riding related skill, getting a new pasture mate, moving to a new stall, taking a new route to their pasture, going on a trail ride, waiting patiently for what comes next, or any number of things, daily life is full of routine.  The power of the humdrum relates directly to the temperament of the horse.

Curious-3RIn her article, Five Ingredients to Finding the Perfect Horse Partner, Devin says that temperament should be the most important quality when selecting a horse. In the process of selecting a horse for the 100 Day Challenge, she was looking for ” a good temperament that was sound and ready to start work.  Movement and beauty were just a bonus!” Rainier has proven to be a great package of the  4 out of the 5 ingredients Devin looks for: age, soundness talent, temperament. The 5th ingredient, training is why he is with Devin. Rainier is willing to learn and has a great attitude about life in general.  He has the power of the humdrum.  Rainier is the kind of horse that makes a trainer want to get out of bed and go to work each day.

This past week, Rainier has worked on multiple surfaces.  He took his first trip from the sandy arena over to the grassy Dressage arena. The Dressage arena is an open field with a very different look and feel. Rainier’s first reaction, stop and look around, then get on with it… going back to working on his trot.

Extended-Trot-Grass-3RTrot-Left-Grass-3RIn addition to checking out the grass arena, Rainier took his first spin around the jump course.  Not bad for just getting started!  How did he handle it?  Just like everything else, he took it in “stride.”

Jump-1Rainier’s training session was in the morning, so the rest of the day was spent lounging and chatting with his buddy, and former Emerald Downs racer himself, Beemer.  Rainier makes friends easily and adapts to new places without issue.  He is well liked by the other horses at the barn.

Beemer-&-SS-chattingThree cheers for the power of the humdrum!

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5 Indgredients To Finding The Perfect Horse Partner

Trot-R-Lead-Arena-3RA few months back, Devin published an article in Flying Changes Magazine about the 5 thing to look for when selecting am equine partner.  She identified the factors that she emphasizes as being the key to finding the best horse and rider combination.  Her article begins with these thoughts:

As a horse professional, I’ve spent the last 10 years buying and selling horses in the Pacific Northwest and California. After years of talking with buyers and seeing for myself what kind of horses sell and for how much, I’ve found that there are five important factors to determining the price of a horse: age, soundness, talent, temperament and training.
While everyone should seek out these five qualities, even if you have an unlimited budget for horses, you may not find a mount with everything. Horses are living creatures, not built in a factory; and while near-perfect horses exist, they often aren’t for sale. For most of us, money is a factor and we have to prioritize the characteristics we are looking for, plus be realistic about the quality of horse we can find for the price we are willing to spend.


The complete article may be found by clicking here.



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Relaxed And Quiet… The 3rd Ride

Bending-TrotIt’s hard to believe this was Rainier’s 3rd ride with Devin.  Every time I see him he gets better and is so willing to try whatever Devin asks of him.  He has talent that is still untapped and a personality that is willing to dig deep to see what he is capable of doing. As a special treat this time we have not only Devin’s thoughts on the ride, but a video!

Rainier continues to be a pleasure to work with and have at the farm.  I am a big fan of a relaxed, quiet, vice free horse in the barn.  I’ve had to wait a few days to ride him since he needed shoes when he arrived, and then decided to remove one shortly thereafter.  It can take a bit to turn off the track feet to sporthorse feet.  Thank goodness for bell boots!  So on ride number three, my trusty working student Emily Corrie (also a fabulous photographer and handy videographer) and Alise Lamoureux (blogger and photographer extraordinaire) took a little pictures and video for you all to see what a nice horse I selected.  Under saddle, Rainier is quiet in the ring, safe to mount, and willing to learn.  His natural gaits have balance and rhythm, and he is definitely not hot!  He is a bit one sided, like many horses that have not spent months or years working on being ambidextrous (can you imagine if you were asked to perform every task equally with both hands?) but is learning to bend around the leg, and even showed his understanding of moving off the leg when asked for a simple lateral movement (watch his first “leg yield” in the video!) He is getting his teeth floated next week, and then I hope to ask for more true connection and straightness.  He understands and will reach in the walk and trot, but currently he thinks dropping behind the bit in the canter is what I’m after, and even tries to keep this over framed carriage to his little fences.  He is sorting out what to do over these strange pieces of lumber in his way, but keeps a very level head, watches where his feet go, and does not rush to or bolt after the fence.  It will be fun to keep working with this guy, he makes my job easy!  As Emily said, “He doesn’t look like he just came off the track, he just looks like another horse in for regular training.”  She also said he could be a bridle model.  😉 Devin

Adjustments-3RQuietly standing to be mounted and Devin adjusts her tack.  Really hard to believe he is just off track!  Not the stereotype that’s for sure.

Trot-L-lead-Fence-3RSimply stunning to watch move!Canter-Corner-3R


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Let’s Get To Work!

SS-Face-W-BridleRide #2

The great thing about Rainier, (Summer Snow) is that is ready to go to work and start learning new things!  Here is what Devin had to say about him today.

Rainier is like most tb’s I’ve trained off the track.  Smart, willing, and quick to learn.  I love training tb’s, because you can make progress so quickly by keeping the request simple, within their ability, and praising them every chance you get. Timing is really critical, and a reward the instant the horse behaves even a tiny bit in the direction you asked them will teach them so much faster than any correction will.  Today, Rainier learned to accept the contact and lower his frame, move away from leg pressure, and even trotted and cantered a couple cavaletti once I had some steering.  The first thing I generally teach a green horse (or a horse that has holes in it’s training) is to move away from the leg, come forward from leg pressure, and submit to some degree to the bridle.  Some common misconceptions about OTTB’s is that they run from your leg and lean on the bit.  I find most of them need to learn to come forward from the leg (I love this type of horse!) and they are sensitive enough in the bit that asking them to come round is easy, getting them to really take the bit and put pressure on it is the challenge!  Rainier learned so much in one ride, I have no doubt he will be making leaps and bounds forward in his training, and make some lucky amateur a wonderful partner in 100 days.  Though I have to say, he already has some fans here at Blue Rider Farm who may first in line once he’s available!


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