Busy Behind the Scenes

Have you noticed?

Over the past few months, the delivery of newsletters and content on NickerNews and BestHorsePractices has gone from a steady flow to a steady, um, trickle.

coverBut slacking off ain’t the cause.

Aside from the big move to Utah and a new blog, I’ve been working on a book.

A Rider’s Reader: Exploring Horse Sense, Science & Sentiment should hit the proverbial bookshelves by June. It highlights journeys with horses, profiles of renowned horseman and women, equine research, and editorials.

Emily Kitching, president of Eclectic Horseman, generously wrote the foreword. I’m grateful to Gary Lawless of the Gulf of Maine Books, Cindy Meehl of Cedar Creek Productions, and Meris Bickford CEO of Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, for their critical reviews of the manuscript.

Here is a cover shot, taken by Shepherd Waldenberger, a talented, young photographer currently working in Jackson Hole, WY.

Stay tuned for more details. And, as always, thank you very much for your support.

Read more about A Rider’s Reader progress and process.

Mule Progress comes in Leaps and Bounds

My first trail ride with the new mule was successful if success can be measured by staying on and nothing bad happening.

But Jolene’s lack of bend and the absence of a one-rein stop revealed glaringly large holes in training.
joSo, we added two elements to our work:

  • More lateral flexion (with instant release as soon as she offered it) from the ground and while being ponied as I rode Shea.
  • The snaffle bit. (The bit had, in fact, been introduced already but only to carry, not with reins attached.)

Given the precarious state of our “successful” first ride, I was more than a little nervous about getting back on. But with coaching and encouragement from Steve Peters, I banked on my progress, pushed back fear, and got on.

Not surprisingly, Jolene wanted to take off within the first 10 seconds. But I shortened my left rein and pulled tazher head towards my left knee. The young mule turned and turned and turned. We moved down the trail like Taz, the Looney Tunes character, but in slow motion. She was willing to bend, but not immediately willing to stop. Read article on bolting.

ponymule12 copyAfter five spins, she stopped. I released, nearly throwing the rein back to her. I rubbed her neck to comfort her.
We paused for a moment, allowing me to get undizzy before resuming our walk.

Almost immediately, she tried to bolt again. But I was ready with a one-rein stop. This time, she only spun three times before standing. Again, I offered her an immediate release.
It turned out to be one of those pivotal, memorable rides where horse and rider start in distant waters and end up together on an idyllic isle. After 15 minutes of consistent pressure, release, and positive reinforcement, something clicked. Jolene relaxed. I relaxed. (Up to then, I had had a veneer of confidence; only pretending to be competent and relaxed.) Jolene’s gait smoothed. She started looking around. She even stopped to graze.

Read more about confidence in riding.

Over the course of an hour, there were several times I could have jerked the reins or restricted her movement. Unlike past rides when fear had the best of me, I resisted those impulses. The reward was huge: a relaxed, seemingly happy and trusting new partner.

On a second outing, we headed out solo. Jolene tried to bolt several times and our Taz depiction returned, especially when a frightening stick got caught in her tail. But the rein pressure, quick release, and loving neck rubs prevailed.

Hooray for us!

Progress with Ride Along Dog

Pep and Kip

Pep and Kip

Development of our Ride Along Dog took a long pause as we moved from Iowa to Utah last year. However, after a few outings here, Kip, the young Australian Shepherd, is making great strides.
Partial credit is due to the new use of an electric collar instead of a squirt bottle to discipline her.
Let the critics cry foul. I’ve found that the mere wearing of the collar encourages Kip to adhere more closely to rules and commands she already knows. It’s a bit like having cameras at road intersections, where drivers become newly accountable for their actions.
Many professionals use electric collars to train sport dogs. It provides a way to check the dog in off-leash situations. From my experience, it’s humane.  (Obviously, like any tool, the collar can be misused and abused in the wrong hands.) If the dog vocalizes in any way, the signal is too strong. Most often, Kip tilts her head when I press the button.
She knows she’s wearing it. Her behavior modification is not unlike that of a horse who sees its rider carrying a bwhip. Research shows eventers who carried whips but didn’t use them were more successful than both non-whip carriers and whip users. Read more.
Positive reinforcement is key. Kip gets tossed treats frequently when she’s jogging alongside. When she makes the mistake of getting too close to the horse’s back feet, I say, “No. Go on.” If she gets perilously close and starts riling the horse, she gets a collar warning. When she adjusts and comes along side us: more treats.
On a recent outing, I resorted to using the electric collar just twice over a span of two hours. Each time, she was getting just a tad too excited by our speed and was putting herself in harm’s way (at the horse’s heels).

What’s even better than the progress?

Now that horse, rider, and dog understand the game better, everyone’s having a blast.

BestHorsePractices welcomes Emily Thomas Luciano

NickerNews and BestHorsePractices are growing, expanding their reach and reaching new readers. This year, our features have been shared by well-known equine researchers, movie producers, and policy makers. Newsletter subscribers now come from nearly all 50 states (Thank you, Maine for representing so well!) as well as Canada, Australia, and many other countries. We’re growing while staying true to our roots and keeping it down-to-earth.

Rather than spreading ourselves too thin, we’re bringing help on board.

Welcome Emily Thomas Luciano, our talented new Marketing Director. A graduate of Emory and Henry College in Virginia, Emily has an impressive background in communications and public relations. She worked for RLF Communications in North Carolina before moving to Florida last year, where her husband, Anthony, serves in

Emily and her mustang, Gus, compete in Extreme Mustang Makeover

Emily and her mustang, Gus, compete in Extreme Mustang Makeover

the U.S. Army.
She and Anthony have five horses. Three are Extreme Mustang Makeover veterans, trained by Emily and her father, Jim Thomas, who runs Bar T Horsemanship in Pittsboro, N.C.

With Emily’s help, we look forward to greater exposure of all aspects and avenues of NickerNews and BestHorsePractices. It’s great news for us and our event listers and advertisers.

Got questions or ideas? Contact us.

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