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Day 7 at LS Ranch

I felt a little low this morning. I’ve done a lot of learning and plenty of hadn’t been absorbed yet. Lots of thoughts swirling on my head and the pressure of trying to own all the new information. I’m sure I was also feeling homesick, missing my family and my life.

I arrived a little late and was immediately given Flash to ride and Houston to pony on the track for 5 miles. Houston is the Road to the Summit horse for Dave and Jody. He’s a long yearling that needs exercise as well as time finding the feel and yielding to pressure. He tickled me as we trotted along, not wanting to lead up. It was like pulling a boulder down the trail at times.  He seemed to get a little better by the end.

Then, we talked a little with Dave about the Richard Caldwell dvd we’d watched the night before. I announced to Dave that I was feeling a little full and I was going to step back a bit today and play with all the new information (meaning, go easy on me today -I’ve go nowhere to put anything new! )  🙂  He understood and acknowledged that I had been learning non-stop for 7 days already. Pressure off, thankfully.

I decided to pull Zeke out and no other horse. The plan was to ride one and develop that house a bit, then with the 2nd one we’d go find the cows. I decided Zeke would be my guy for all of it.

Laid back day with Zeke

Laid back day with Zeke

We trotted out on the back 270 acres in search of the cows. Once we found them, we took turns sorting one out and putting it at a specific place. I really enjoy this type of horse time – it was just what I needed. Zeke moves slower but we were still able to quickly sort out our cow each time and convince it to go stand near my chosen spot. Fun stuff!!  I wish I had cows at home.

I’m feeling good in the hackamore. The hackamore is designed to help the horse develop the vertical while the snaffle is designed for the lateral. I focus a lot on never pulling the horse, always tugging and bumping when necessary, and only ever using 1 rein. It’s working quite well.

I helped a little more with hooves, just looking at Martina’s work and offering my perspective. She’s doing a nice job and I totally understand wanting as much feedback as possible when you’re still figuring out the barefoot trim.

I helped get the horses fed and a few other quick chores, then called it a day.

Day 6 at LS Ranch

I decided to play with Keeper and my new string horse, Zeke.  Zeke is a really nice Friesien gelding, about 7 years old. I rode him as a 4 year old when I was last here.  He’s come a long way since then!

This was a full day with a lot of information to absorb.

Exercises: canter, sweep, canter in a large figure 8.  Great exercise for lead development.
Trot with the nose in, then out. Haunches in, then out.

Dave wanted me to help Zeke get better by asking him to be more round.  This was a little tougher for me in the hackamore, so it was good for me to feel Zeke and help him understand my ask.

Zeke - 4th horse in my string

Zeke – 4th horse in my string

Keeper started off ok, but then Dave wanted me to really ask her for lots of transitions.  He rode with me a bit, helping me find the transitions quickly.  She seemed to get very anxious and I had a harder time getting her to relax.  I understand his theory here, but I imagine it would take 2 days straight of it before Keeper would find relaxation.  We discussed it briefly and he explained that there are 2 schools of thought on how to handle a horse like Keeper.  I want to keep thinking about how I’d approach that horse.  I did eventually get her to be slightly more relaxed.  She wanted to put her nose in the air a lot today.

We fixed the arena drag, cleaned up some old hay, I helped Dave get a truck to the shop and then we met at his house for a Richard Caldwell video.  Excellent video, tons of information.  I highly recommend this video become part of any horseman’s library.

Some random notes from my day (for me to do further research):

Doug Williamson – horseman Dave goes to for further education

Light hands horsemanship, hawaii guy – find out who this is

Richard Caldwell, Mike Bridges, Martin Black – top 3 hackamore experts in Dave’s eyes.  Richard Caldwell passed away last year.

Put the chin on the shoulder.  Something I’ve never asked a horse to do.  Great exercise to test/help a horse turn loose.

Advice:  Go learn from those who know more than you, but don’t let them tell you how to do it.

Read the working cow horse web site mission statement.  Working cow horse association is all about preserving the vaquero style of horsemanship.

There are two ways to approach developing the horse, natural and normal.  Either they are ducking the punch or looking for the release. Natural is the latter. Our goal is have the horse looking for the answers, not just ducking punches.  Loved this.

Ask the horse to perform at some point. Even if it’s just 10 strides of some performance, can the horse hold it together without you reminding him of his job?  Test and allow the performances with your horse.

Leon Herald, cutting horse guy. Used to be with Pat.  Research more.

On spurs:  Rowers with more points are softer, solid is more aggressive. Drop needs to get the point into the ribs only when you want, not all the time.

Leg yield means still going forward. Sidepass has no forward.

Primary purpose of a hackamore : teach a house self carriage, which is physical and mental.

Day 5 at LS Ranch

So much to learn today. I started to ride in the hackamore first thing. Dave showed me the various types and sizes and talked about how to tie it. He rides in a bosalito with a full bridle and a rommel. I’ve not ever ridden in that type of tack, so the bosal is where I start.

I was very interested to see how anxious little Keeper would do in it. She was way nice today. She seemed to like the bosal and the ranch manager said it’s the nicest ride she’s ever seen with this mare. I’ve got a lot of experience riding a hot horse like Keeper thanks to my beautiful Zarah (miss that horse!).

Dave helped me to understand how to use the bosal properly. There is “tugging” to help the horse respond to your body, then “bumping” if they need more info.  Your hands are held knuckles up. You’re riding in your body and using the bosal to help the horse find a reason to care what you’re body is doing. This made perfect sense to me.


Joaquin in the 1″ bosal

If the horse runs through the bosal when a down transition is requested, you “double” the horse. Doubling means taking their feet away in the same location, then trying again. Keeper needed me to do that once or twice, but then she had the idea. We were playing with walk trot transitions and eventually played with the canter. We were able to canter pretty nicely, which I wasn’t expecting. I expected her to run off in the canter and throw her nose in the air, but she stayed pretty connected. Cool!

I wanted to keep riding her but Dave wanted to see me ride my next horse, Joaquin. This is an Azteca gelding, gorgeous gray, about 5 yrs old. I really liked the look of this horse so I was excited to ride him. He wasn’t quite as responsive as Keeper, but still quite nice.

I was getting better with the bosal and started playing with”hinging” the horse. This means the horse is traveling one way, but the head is facing left or right. Joaquin was willing, has a lovely canter, and was just a nice experience for me. He definitely was looking for input with the bosal, so I kept reminding him I was there and that he should maintain direction when he got off course.

We rode up a very steep hill to check the water tank after a while. He seemed happy to do that. The hill was so steep, we needed to switch back coming down. He was a champ, sure footed and confident. I really enjoyed riding Ricky the first 3 days, but I think Joaquin might be the one I’d take home if that were an option. (So glad it’s not, I have enough horses!)

As an apprentice, I earn my teaching time by helping on the ranch after riding. We rode until 1 or 2pm, then we got to work. Today, part of our chores included manure clean up riding paths and in arenas, feeding the cows and horses, then we changed out a broken fence post. I actually enjoyed the fence post work!  I learned a few things and the ranch manager and the other apprentice are fun to be around.


Ilena, Martina and Ruthie the cattle dog pose with our completed fence post repair

So, a full day beginning at 730 and ending at 515. Huge learning day for me. I’ll be in the bosal the rest of the week. Dave explained that the better you ride in the bosal the better you ride in the snaffle.

Looking forward to another day!  Missing my Pilates with Amy Stone.


Patterns to remember

1.  Question box with 2 cones as gates entering from each side.  Make straight line through the gates and through the middle.

2.  Add cones between the gates to make a circle.  Ask the horse to weave into the middle and out again, leading by the hip at the trot.  Help the horse get better and lighter swinging the hind on request.

3.  “Declare” in the question box which direction you’ll be going after the gate and help the horse start to learn to get himself prepared.

4.  Play with declaring your direction until the horse starts to prepare himself with less and less assistance from the rider.  Then, as the preparation gets better, do the pattern at the canter and declare your position closer and closer to the exit gate.  Voila!  Flying changes!

Dave talks a lot about flying changes and how to get them by just setting your horse up to find them himself.  He never jams a horse into a lead change.  I always have a lot to consider when Dave talks about how he sets up flying changes.  He explains that the horse will find more comfort in the correct lead and we are best to use the “set it up and wait” mentality to get seamless and easy changes.  He says he will always prefer a smooth and flowing simple change over a forced and jammed flying change.  The more you do simple changes, where the horse is changing gaits, the more your horse will start to ask if he can just change the lead and skip the gait change.  The gait change is more work for the horse!

Day 4 on the LS Ranch

I’m happy to say today was a short day.  I’ve been running pretty hard and it was really nice to be done around 1:30 today.  Still, it was about 5 hours of horse time with Dave, the ranch manager and another apprentice.  I have been assigned my own “string” of horses for the week.  Each one has an area that Dave would like developed, except for one named Keeper.  I will be getting to know my “string”, figuring out how to talk to each horse and trying to set them up to be better in some way.  I love this sort of challenge!

Ricky and I.  We partnered well for the Ranch Versatility clinic.

Ricky and I. We partnered well for the Ranch Versatility clinic.

Dave had things to do in the afternoon, so he made sure I was good to go with the 2 horses I’d been assigned for the day before he left me to my projects.  I was trying to figure out exactly how to function as an apprentice so I was slowly getting going with my first mare, Keeper.  Keeper is a super cute Morgan who is very RBE under saddle.  Dave gave me a little history and explained that he’d never seen anyone get her to settle and be calm under saddle.  Dave thought it would be good practice for me to ride a hotter, more anxious horse as a way to help me manage my own energy.  My endurance mare Zarah was quite similar to Keeper, so I have years of experience getting a horse like this to settle.  I’m excited to see if I can help her find some relaxation under saddle this week.  She’s a nice mare who really aims to please.  Dave was clear that he doesn’t expect the horse to change, but that I could benefit from riding such an anxious girl.  I hope I can help her, but I’ll focus on regulating my energy and staying calm and free myself.

Keeper on the left, Cuda on the right

Keeper on the left, Cuda on the right

I started her off in the 75′ round pen and then took her out on the obstacle course.  She’s such a nice little mare, just so anxious about being ridden.  I tried to stay light in my hands, but connected.  She has very little flexion in her neck, so I tried to set her up to bend an awful lot and find softness there.  She was getting better and better!  I’ve got a week to play with her and see how we can get going together.

Next, I played with Cuda, a chestnut Qtr Horse mare.  She was Jody’s first Parelli levels horse.  She’d been someone else’s rejected horse before Jody.  She has some challenges staying connected with her rider and Dave helped me to help her stay with me.  She needs to know her rider is there and if she starts feeling disconnected, she will raise her head and take it side to side.  She helped me practice feeling back to the horse through the bit and asking her to stay with me stride after stride.  I don’t know if she can be ridden freestyle, but I might try a little.  When I first started riding her, she gave me the feeling that she might run away with me.  I’ll be playing with her connection through a lighter rein as I get to know her this week.  She’s an amazing mover and she trots sideways lighter than any horse I can remember feeling.

I gathered my stuff and decided to call it a day.  An afternoon off will help me be fresh for the rest of my stay.  I’ve been going non-stop and a little time off made sense.

More tomorrow!

Day 2 at LS Ranch

Our day started with Jody spending more time on using Friendly to connect.  The day before, she’d done a demo using this concept.  It was very interesting and a few students wanted some individual help.  So, our day started out with a few of the students playing with the concept while Jody and Dave coached and assisted.  I’m glad I let my horse take a nap for this part so I could just observe.  I noticed a few things that left big impressions.  First, this will only work if the horse has a good grasp on it’s responsibility to maintain gait and direction.

One of the horse/human partnerships I got to watch closely.  I noticed that the human was struggling to apply the concept.  Her horse had figured out that the send meant to go until she didn’t feel like going anymore (about a lap, in this case).  As the human became more frustrated, the horse spent less time on the circle and more time turning in to ask questions.  The human felt the horse was being defiant, but I could see that there was no clarity on the ask from the horse’s perspective.  Dave eventually took the horse and reminded us all that we have to help the horse understand their responsibility of maintain gait and direction.  To do that, we must cause the horse to get uncomfortable whenever they make a change we didn’t ask for.

Learning how to use Friendly game to connect

Learning how to use Friendly game to connect

A big item for me – something I think I knew unconsciously – there are no phases in principle #5!  (Number 5:  the attitude of justice is effective)  If I’m using a consequence to help my horse find comfort, this is NOT the time to use phases.  Dave also talked extensively on principle #6 (Body language is universal).  For the human early in the program, it’s very hard to use your body to talk to the horse.  This takes practice, trust, the ability to put ego aside, the willingness to feel silly…  but if we are to learn to communicate with the horse in it’s language, we must begin to become effective with body language.  There was a student in the class who talked to her horse throughout all her dealings with the horse.  It was more clear to me today than probably ever, as to why that’s not a great deal to the horse.  Animal trainers are typically teaching the animal to work in our language.  What we’re trying to accomplish is learning to talk to the horse in THEIR language.  When we start to abandon the use of our language in our communication with the horse, we start to speak horse… natural horsemanship.  I’m so on board with this concept.

After this session, we mounted up to learn a dry work pattern in ranch versatility.  We used the question box and asked the horse to canter three circles (2 large and fast, 1 smaller and slower) through the box and then change leads.  A simple lead would suffice, a flying lead would get more points.  This, I think, was tough for many as everyone is watching as each participant takes a turn.  At least, it was challenging for me.  But, we were able to get it done just fine.  I’d been struggling with feeling a little downhill on Ricky and the day before Dave had helped me teach Ricky to come up in front while cantering.  Today, I was pitching forward and I got a little extra help from Jody on sitting back with this horse and this saddle configuration.  It’s definitely a tough downhill situation for me and I was happy for the opportunity to figure out how to learn from it.  The things Jody talked about were similar to things I’ve heard before and I continue to develop within my own riding, but in this situation I was finding it very challenging.  However, I played with it and made some improvements that definitely helped Ricky lift up the front more.

20140215_142247After lunch, it was time for the cows!  We went in groups of 3 and had 3 turns of increasing difficulty in stockmanship.  First we simply tailed the cow.  Ricky was expecially awesome at this, biting the cow frequently.  Quite entertaining to the others watching as we careened around the arena behind this cow, biting at his rump.  Ricky was so dang handy and offered flying changes all over the place.  The second round we were to cause the cow to make some change, then back off and release the horse.  The cow could turn or stop, but the idea was to let the horse know that his efforts caused the cow to make that change and his work was done.  The third round, we were to cause the cow to stop in each corner of the arena.  So, 4 corners meant 4 opportunities to get the cow to stop exactly where we wanted.  This was very fun and I was able to play with the counterbend to cause the horse to back up.  This can be quite tricky as you use the horse’s hind end to keep the cow from turning around and the horse’s front end to push the cow backwards.  You’ve got to have a good feel for the balance point of the cow as well as a horse in sync enough to follow your request instantly.  Tough!  But a very fun challenge.

It was a great afternoon of putting principle to purpose.  Cows make horses better, braver and keep things fun for both horse and human.

Day 3 at LS Ranch

Today was a complete blast!  This was the 3rd and final day of the Ranch Versatility clinic.  The entire day was devoted to 4 classes – trail class, dry work, cow work and pattern work.  For the first class, we drew numbers to order the competitors randomly.  For this class, we had to follow a pattern that included transitions with walk/trot/canter/backup gaits.  The track wrapped around some round pens and had us maneuvering inside and outside of a large arena.  It probably took each contestant about 5 minutes to ride through the pattern and each transition and section was judged.  This was pretty fun!  I definitely want to set something like this up for my students.  Ricky and I were able to win this class.  He’s an excellent horse partner and very responsive to my requests for transitions.

The second class was the trail class.  Here, we were asked to show 6 of the trail obstacles we’d played with on day 1 and day 2.  My mount was great on everything except the drag.  Surprisingly, he’s not too crazy about feed bags being tied to ropes and chasing him around.  🙂  A few of the other obstacles we didn’t do as well, but that was only because I wasn’t exactly clear on the expectations.  My horse partner was superb and I take all the blame for any low scores.  I definitely don’t think we did as well in this class as we could have.

Dave and Matt keeping the score

Dave and Matt keeping the score

The third piece of the competition was dry work.  We had to ride a pattern showing lead changes (simple or flying) with concentric circles.  This one is especially fun because you’re challenged to lope for a long time, changing leads and varying your speed at the lope.  Ricky was again a superb partner for this.  We were able to get the high points in this class.

The last part was the actual cow work.  This was a tricky one because we were not being judged on stockmanship, but on horsemanship.  The judges wanted to see that we could maneuver our horses in a way to influence the balance point of the cow and not simply following the cow.  This one is tough because the cow could make or break your run.  We had to cause the cow to ride along 4 walls of the arena (it’s about a 200’x200′ arena).  The faster you were able to go while keeping the cow moving along the rail, the better your score would be.  Then, after the 4 walls were covered, you were to pen the cow in a round pen set up in the middle.  This meant using your horse’s zone 1 to cause the cow to turn into the pen opening.  Driving your cow into the pen from zone 5 would earn less points than driving the cow in from zone 1.  Our cow kept stopping along the rails and trying to turn the other way, which made it tough to get a good run down each rail.  Our penning was pretty good, though!

Ricky and I were the high point winners for the entire competition.  I was proud but mainly thankful to have such a good horse for the day and for the whole clinic.  He’s a hell of a horse.  He allowed me an opportunity to work on myself that I haven’t had in quite some time.  I’m typically developing the horse I’m on and it was a treat to be able to truly develop myself for a few days.

I got so much out of this day, but the biggest win for me was the ability to play with my own emotional fitness in a competitive environment.  I laughed a lot and had fun with it, but I struggled with nervousness before each performance.  My horse, thankfully, stayed on task in spite of my nerves.  It’s a challenge to lope around patterns or obstacles while a group of people watch.  I was able to play with forgetting about the audience and focusing on that moment with my horse.

Loping a section of the pattern

Loping a section of the pattern

If you’re a student of mine, get ready!  We are going to be having some fun with this over the spring and summer.  🙂

We finished late afternoon and I made sure Dave was ok with me going out with Ricky alone to play with some jumping.  Jody overhead that and offered to give me some coaching on western jumping.  Excellent!  We focused a lot on the approach and the follow-through, staying out of the horse’s way while flowing with the horse in the jump and figuring out a few good ways for me to weight myself and get deep in the saddle through the jump.  I used a night latch a few times but had more success putting one arm high in the air through the jump which pushed my butt into the saddle.  Super fun and I felt super successful.  Thank you, Jody!

Note:  When Jody and I got started, she reassessed the saddle position and moved the shims.  I felt way better with the new balance point of the saddle after the adjustment!  This definitely helped me with the jumping.

A great finish to a great 3-day clinic on Ranch Versatility at the LS Ranch.  Now, I’ve got 7 days of apprentice work with Dave and the other 2 working students on the ranch.  Time to hunker down and get serious.

More to come tomorrow…

Ten Days with Dave Ellis at LS Ranch

I have been able to figure out how to get away for 10 days to expand and grow my horsemanship with Dave Ellis and Jody Grimm at their ranch in California.  For anyone with kids, a business, a life at all… you can appreciate how difficult this is.  I have an amazingly supportive husband, though.  I’m so lucky and immensely grateful.

I will post as many details as I can remember from my experience so that maybe my friends and students can attain some valuable horsemanship gems, as well.  Please feel free to comment any questions you have.


Day 1 – The beginning of Ranch Versatility on Ricky

Day 2 – Learning a dry work pattern and starting with cows

Day 3 – The Ranch Versatility competition

Day 4 – Beginning as an apprentice

Day 5 – Learning the proper use of the hackamore

Day 6 – Overloaded with information

Day 7 – Letting it all soak in

Day 8 – Enjoying the ranch

Day 9 – Equitation and collection

Day 10 – The Grand Finale!