Category Archives: Fun Stuff

Entertaining horse stories – you just might get a laugh!

That Special Horse – 2015 Contest Winners

Well after much deliberation (and some tears, apparently), the judges have finished going through all of your stories and the long awaited results follow!

But first…we have to give a big THANK YOU to our prize sponsors:

Brand Y Tack and Supply

Brandy has donated many great prizes for this contest. When in the Sylvan Lake area make sure you stop in for all of your equine needs, a smile and a cup of coffee!

Lisa Blanchard donated the horse blanket and provided contest advertising and promotion. Not to mention helping me build a rail fence!


Irvine Tack and Trailer has been a long time sponsor for our various activities and we’d like to thank them once again!



And we can’t forget ourselves. We’re sponsoring 2 spots in our Amazing Horse Country clinics this summer. Check out all the details here.

And second…we have to give a big THANK YOU to our contest Judges!

Choosing the Grand Prize winner is Monica Culic.

You’ll recognize Monica as the producer of The Horse’s Mouth TV, Calgary Stampede M/C, keynote speaker, published author and the owner of Equinicity Communications Inc.

Monica is also the proud owner of a Canadian mare named Secret.  Monica has a wealth of her own horse stories, too!

And…the additional judges were my own mom and dad. Two very special people in my life that have supported my ‘crazy’ decision to pursue horses as a career. They have been captivated by the beauty, power and irresistible charm of these amazing animals. They know a connection between a horse and a person when they see it – or read it!

So are you anxious yet? Did you even read any of that above? Or did you just scroll down here for the meat and potatoes of this post? Hmmm….I could keep everyone waiting another day.

But man – the Facebook posts I’d get if I did that!

Ok. I relent. Here you go.  Note – if you are a prize winner, we’ll be contacting you this week.

Grand Prize Winners of the 2015 “That Special Horse” Contest are:

The authors of the following two stories both receive a spot in the Amazing Horse Country Clinics this summer.

Echo, the Family Pony – by Gale Dodd Hayday

Gales story was engaging, well written and interesting. A real treat to read. Though the other contestants work was solid, Gales story captured the spirit of the relationship between a human and horse. She truly epitomized the purpose in your mandate: “that special horse.”

Merlin – by Susan Curnow

The first paragraph says it all: When you have a horse for any length of time, it becomes more than a horse but a family member. You understand its moods and quirks from a daily interaction that goes beyond pet.. Merlin was like that.

Most Likes

Big John, a True Gentleman – by Timmi Shorr

For the most liked story, Timmi wins $50 in Irvines Gift Certificates!

Runner-Up Prize Winners

Rocky – by Yvonne Miller
He was such a good teacher and so responsive to the riders, be they old, young, novice or experienced.
Yvonne wins the Weaver Barbed Wire Collection! This great looking set includes a matching headstall, breast collar, spur straps AND reins! Brown skirting leather highlighted with a crisp, deep hand stamped barbed wire pattern and stainless steel hardware.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack and Amazing Backcountry

The Gift of a Horse – by Natalie Axten
He taught Natalie that there is so much more to life – to relax, enjoy a wonderful horses and her surroundings.

Natalie wins a an EOUS Solid Fleece Blanket. An outstanding neckline sets the EOUS Solid Fleece Stable Rug out from the rest. The details make it ideal for show awards or to use at the show grounds, and yet the quality of the workmanship makes it perfect for everyday use as well!

Prize Sponsor: Lisa Blanchard.

Liberation – by Alana Goldney

Shows the tremendous healing power of horses.

Alana wins A Bridle Bag : Your bridles, bits and reins are worth a lot of money. Prevent them from getting snagged, scrached or covered in dust (or other horse things!) with this great bridle bag.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Alaska, My Heart’s Breath – by Sandy Bell

She was shown humility, courage, forgiveness and how quietness speaks volumes when communicating with horses.

Sandy wins a Hoofprint Framing Kit!  This is really cool and totally captures the spirit of this contest. You can take an imprint of your horses hoof! The kit comes with all you need including sand and your choice of wood frame.

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Miss Lupita – by Cindy MacDiarmid

A horse that senses when people need her is a great comfort.

Cindy wins $50 in Irvines Gift Certifcates!
Shop in store or online at one of Canada’s biggest tack retailers.

Prize Sponsor: Irvine Tack and Trailers

Perfect Timing – by Leona Tompkins

The discovery of the power in the connection with a horse – by a person new to horses.

Leona wins a Framed Print – Four riders enjoying their horses with a sunset for a background. What could be better?  The print is framed with a barbed wire inset. Very artistic!

Prize Sponsor: Brand Y Tack

Head over Heels into Horsemanship – by Susan Larsen

Susan demonstrated some amazing ‘stick-with-it-ness’ with a horse through tough training episodes to serious health issues, and learned so much in the process.”

Susan wins $25 in Irvines Gift Certifcates!
Shop in store or online at one of Canada’s biggest tack retailers.

Prize Sponsor: Irvine Tack and Trailers

And that, my human and equine friends, is the end of our first contest of 2015! ??We heard more than one comment from story writers that this was a great opportunity to finally tell their story. We also heard, more than once, from the judges how hard it was to decide.

That says something.

We’ll see you on the trail!

Scott Phillips, Amazing Backcountry

The Birds and Bees and Bread?

Interactions with children and animals are entertaining and always educational. Although the education the animal is giving isn’t always what a parent wants to field.

Springtime always leads to inevitable “birds and bees’ questions. These questions are generally coupled with long in-depth debates about who’s right or wrong about how the babies come to be, it makes for interesting discussion.

My other half has three children, ages 3, 5, and 6. Cattle have been a part of their lives, and they have experienced bringing in and turning out the bull many times; they have yet to put two and two together’ on the subject. “The cows eat lots and lots and by the time it gets warmer the babies fall out,” according to the 5 year old this last spring.

horse bred

A horse getting bred.

Pretty simple? Easy to field that that statement, right? Maybe, but now lets introduce horses into the equation.  Because we don’t own a stud we have to transport the brood mares to their perspective mate. Over months of planning, phone calls with frequent references to horses being bred, hauling horses around the countryside to get bred, the question finally came up.

“Dad, what kind of bread do the horses like and why does it take them so long to eat it? And why do we have to take them somewhere else ? We can get it in the kitchen and take it out to them.”

Being that this is a very important question to the 6 year old, one must be reminded that you may not laugh until said toddler is not within earshot. This endeavour becomes very difficult when you’re in a truck, still two hours from home.

So with the straightest face you can manage, “Well that’s a very good question. You’ll understand when your older.” Although this typically sends the children into a riot.  They trip over their words explaining how they’re old enough already, that they are smart and understand lots of things. After a moment of silence, “Dad, why don’t we have to take the cows to get bread?” and the whole new ballpark has begun.

So thank you, horses, for the wonderful wobbly legged babies you give us that bring joy and wonder to our kids. But I don’t thank you for the complications that you bring to the birds and the bees.

“Mom, when you eat bread why don’t babies fall out of you?”


The Great K-Country Race: Horse vs Bicycle

Riding along the Elbow Falls Trail on horseback in Kananaskis Country, affectionately known as K-Country, offers sweeping vistas, boulder strewn creek crossings, aspen groves and a floral bounty through the warm seasons. An immersion into this sublime landscape after a weeks worth of urban living and stress, makes K-Country a blessing.

But, and there is always a but, especially on weekends, the trails are well occupied: from a family outing with strollers and picnic baskets attended with all the yelling and screaming and barking dogs to birders clad in dozens of zippered pockets, Tiley hats and binoculars drooping from the neck to the fitness crowd all spandexed up in neon athletic wear and bulging with muscles and water bottles.

The trails are multi-user and there was a time when I did training rides for endurance riding, attempting to ride without a lot of people on the trail–impossible if you’re working of course, weekends are usually the only time to do this. Parking the trailer at Station Flats, I’d tack up my mare, Sheba, to follow the Elbow Falls trail to the Powderface trail, linking to Prairie Creek and then return along Elbow Falls Trail.  As an endurance rider, I pride myself in preparedness for human and horse.  I rattled along with enough stuff to ensure a comfy night out in an epic snowstorm.  This included a stethoscope, sponge, water treatment equipment, matches, flare, TP, lunch, horse cookies, electrolytes, plastic bag, jacket, halter and shank, hoof pick and Lordy knows what else I stuffed into my saddle bags.  My little 13 3HH mare Sheba, an Arabian/Anglo-Arab never got the height or the nervy spooky attitude from that cross. A sweet, dainty and handy little lady got me from A to B without any fuss, although there seemed to be at time when spooking at white things on the trail, like a rock.  Really?  Or plastic bags hanging and/or flapping from barb wire fences along roadsides seemed to program 180s or 360s into her behavior.

Imagine a gorgeous summer day in K-Country: a cloudless heavens with those hard blue skies; a faint breeze shimmying the aspens, patches of summer flowers brightening the rich green meadows. And, it smells good.  A perfect day to boot and scoot over 30 or so kilometers of well designed trails.

The Challenge

Riding from Station Flats to Powderface, I didn’t encounter another soul on the trail; walkers tend to do the short loops and cyclists have a few choices for longer distances. It’s a hilly, roller coastering stretch that goes in and out of a couple of coulees until the final meters drift along the paved road to the Powderface parking lot. It’s always full; people must arrive at dawn to secure any spot.  This particular day, there were small groupings of people wandering on the trail. A bit past the trail head, on relatively flat ground and still a distance from the mountain, a cyclist was just starting to go through one of the cattle gates. This was serious cyclist, if the mountain bike, clothing, helmet and muscular body meant anything. He kindly held the gate open for me, which I then closed with his help.  One of those gates in which closing a gate and holding a horse can cause exquisite moments of indecision. Trail courtesy means that you train your horse at home to lift the gate, pull it along and refasten it from horse back. It looks very cool and skillful. Unless the gate is six feet tall, weighs what it looks like and a struggle to drag the darn thing aside even on foot because it is not a real gate!  Just barb wire strung between 8 foot poles and held up by tension.  Help is good. He was shocked that I just didn’t ride off. But no: if someone opens a gate for you, you close it. Trail courtesy 101.  One final look at me and a pleasant “see you”, and off he rode. Hard.  What, I thought….see you???? No, no, no, no NO! Not only can I keep up, I can beat you with your fancy-schmancy bike. All in a mental dialogue, of course.

horse vs bicycle

Monika and her Arab-Saddlebred cross mare, Koko

Ok, Sheba, horse vs bicycle – the glove is dropped!?? I know this trail. I know where we can go fast and give me a break, I’m on a horse: the horse conquered the world for mankind, not the bicycle. And, thinking about local terrain, I can beat a cyclist on horseback, going up Powederface.  How many times have I jogged past cyclists pushing their bikes up the mountain, looking enviously at my very cool mare and I?

Climbing aboard, I trotted and cantered after the disappearing wheel of the cyclist or for the Western crowd, jogged and loped off, planning my strategy to–well not flip a bird, but to also say, “see ya” as I gracefully lope past, giving a queenly wave from my Ay-rab horse.

Round One

While the rules of the race hadn’t been discussed with Sheba, first across any finish line wins, right?  And, if it’s really just wanting to get in front, well, there are ways and means that a horse really does have the upper hoof.

This was MY territory and I knew these trails.

Needless to say, the cyclist peddled hard.  I stayed a good 20 meters behind at an easy pace until we hit the open meadow just before the serious elevation starts. The first hill, he did good.  But, I now had my furry four by four engaged and kept the same pace as on the flats. I very quickly trotted by.  Since this was pretty much at the beginning of my event, a “see ya” was inappropriate and I needed to look intent but conservatively eager. Helmet on lockdown, slight lean forward, heels down.

That was easy!

Feeling pretty cocky on my amazing mare and making mental raspberries to all those who don’t appreciate the physicality of a horse as I powered up the trail, climbing higher and higher up the mountain to the amazing vista that Powderface offers and seeing a blaze of mountain forgetmenots rivaling the blue of the sky. At the top, I always give my horse a breather, get off and check that the pulse is going down, let her have a chew and nibble on the grasses and take a short break. Naturally, the trail is relentless down on the other side of the mountain and the geology has springs, washouts and other interesting features that are not found on the “going up” side. Mounted again, I carefully trotted down, zigging and zagging with the trail to a point where I knew it would be boggy and then simply cut across the meadow a hundred meters or so to the Powderface road and about couple hundred meters to where the trail links up to the road. This was a day to enjoy and take my time walking along the road until the turn off to the Prairie Creek link.

powderface kananaskis

View from Powderface

Is it a bird, a plane?

Glancing back at Powderface, I saw a flash of colour between the trees, descending the trail. Descending?  it was the express elevator down the CN tower!  What the?…..And almost in front of our collective noses, THAT cyclist burst out of the trees seemingly teleporting from top to bottom in a matter of seconds. Then riding off in a dust cloud on the road in the same direction the Sheebs and I were going.  Had I been on Secretariat, at a flat out gallop, I would not have caught him.

I was shocked and awed. Regrouping, mentally and physically.

Ok, there is NO WAY that he could continue at that speed on Prairie Creek. I know that trail; I know that there are lots of different ground conditions and elevation changes that my Sheba can handle well at a decent clip.

Round Two

Allowed the Sheebs a quick slurp at Prairie Creek turnoff and thinking, thinking….And off we went !  A bit of speed on this section, so good ground for shod feet, no tricky turns, no sudden elevation changes.

Right on !

Success, because a few minutes later, there he was, off his bike, having a break. Sitting to the side of the trail and eating a sandwich. I blew by. This time he looked at me.  I am hardly invisible on a horse and make a bit of noise.  But, there seemed to be a wakeup call his eyes. Maybe the unspoken challenge was making itself heard. Or maybe I was reading too much into a quick glance.

That said, Prairie Creek became a leapfrog of team Monika and Sheba verses the unknown cyclist, passing each other where the passing was good for the horse or the cyclist. Needless to say, this is a technical trail.  It follows a mountain stream that flows between rocky faces with good clambers up and down. This area also concentrates hikers on the narrow trails, so people, dogs, kids and other cyclists have to be thought about, in front and in the rear view mirror and on the sides.

There is a spot towards the end of the Prairie Creek where the occasional cyclist just seems to give up and abandons their bike on the trail and lies down in exhaustion.

That this is also a very scenic spot doubles the desire to stop here.  That this beautiful spot is also the size of an extra large beach blanket means that space is at a premium. One hiker and cyclist with the bike tucked in is fine to ride around.  Two hikers, a dog and cyclist and there can be carnage on the trail. With a few people, it does look like a seal pack eyeing a great white when a horse comes over and around the bend. Seriously, I am not going to ride over a bike, but I am also not going to dismount and drag the bike off somewhere. Fortunately, these unmounted humans tend to quickly recall that they have abandoned their stuff on the trail, and quickly tuck the bits and pieces into the shrubbery and pop back to their piece of prime real estate to relax and watch the parade go by.

Where did he go?

With all the wiggling and jiggling of attachments to my person and saddle, I had an equipment malfunction…..a water bottle fell off, requiring me to dismount and hunt for it. That took a few minutes backtracking.  It seems that the order of go on this trail was Powderface to Prairie Creek, not PC to PF.  And on a narrow trail, having a wall people coming at you, well, finding that water bottle had to be really important.

Yes, it was.

Final lap

Remounting and going with the flow was now a very steady, very slow walk. I totally lost sight of the cyclist and realized that I lost the race. It wasn’t a formal loss, no crossing a finish line, no ribbons or speeches by the winner.  No thanking the organizer (ok, thank you God, for this magnificent land) or sponsors (thanks Monika!).  And it certainly pointed out a few truths about strengths and weaknesses: up hills, rocking it; hills down, not so much unless I ask for speed, or get off and run down. Flats a coin toss. Ok, let’s do it over 160 km and see weighed down horse competing against pedal power.

Fortunately, the point of the training ride was just that. Training–my Sheebs did what I asked of her and she definitely passed my horse health check with a fit to continue.

The final kilometer or so of the trail notches up the technical aspects of the trail, ending in a downward approach to the creek.

There he was, derailer deep in the creek, cleaning up man and bike.  I rode in and parallel parked my horse, knee deep, and let the creek wash off a bit of the mud on her legs and cool her off. Horse vs bicycle – to finish is to win; yea!

Then he looked at us, followed by:

I didn’t realize a horse could go that fast !?

To which I replied, I didn’t think a human could !

I am sure the cyclist went the 50 meters to the parking lot at Powderface and loaded up his car, where on the other hand, would need to go another 10 or so kilometers back to my trailer at Station Flats, and with a lot of horse left over.

See ya!

Need a Bridge Moved?

Need a bridge moved? We get some fun opportunities here at Alberta Carriage Supply, but the chance to move a bridge into the back country with horses was one we were happy to take on.

David Farran with Dick & Duke, Terry and Linda Bailey driving Leroy (LeRoy) & Lulu, and myself and my wife Marsha drove Hank & Pete.

The Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBCTA) is a purely volunteer group of Bragg Creek residents that are working hard to design, build and maintain trails and pathways for the benefit of residents and visitors of Bragg Creek.

The group had pre-built a bridge and needed to get the pieces to the construction site for re-assembly. That’s where we came in.

Being a flat-lander and not knowing the trail, I overloaded the gear. We got stuck in a bog on a hill and had to unload a portion of the load on the side of the trail and pick it up on the second trip in.

We did get the job done in three trips though, 6 power poles (32 feet long) and all the small pieces as well!

If you are interested in volunteering or donating, check out their website

Dale Befus

Mail Attachment-5 Mail Attachment-2 Mail Attachment-1 Moving a Bridge Mail Attachment-18 Mail Attachment-15 Mail Attachment-13

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

Hello back-country users, I would like to share with you a unique project taking place in the southern portion of Kananaskis Country.

Last year the heavy rains and flooding that destroyed so much in towns and cities of southern Alberta also did a lot of damage in the high country. I had the opportunity to see some of the destruction last year with Dewey Mathews of Anchor D Guiding and Outfitting, and it was suggested that is difficult to repair trails and follow the rules of  No motorized vehicles.

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

As a partner in Alberta Carriage Supply, I am always looking for ways to help people put their horses to work.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity rather than an obstacle. I proposed repairing the trails with draft horses.

This may seem like a good idea, but is it possible? I called Bill Graham of the Road Builders and Heavy Construction Historical Society of Canada. I know Bill and the RHHS from their participation in Draft Horse Town at the Calgary Stampede. Bill has been involved in heavy construction for most of his life (among many other ventures) and has a penchant for collecting old motorized and horse drawn pieces of construction equipment. He also likes to see it work and get dirty. Bill liked the idea.

Dewey, Bill and I had a meeting to discuss the project. As we talked about the project, the excitement grew as we realized it was possible. Our planned 1 hour meeting turned into 3.

As a partner in the venture, Anchor D will obtain the necessary permits, provide meals, accommodation, and back country knowledge. RHHS will provide horse drawn construction equipment and road building expertise. Alberta Carriage Supply is charged with finding teams, teamsters, labourers, training and co-ordination of the project.

Trail Damage

Trail Damage

The damage to trails is extensive. In some areas, bridges and crossings were washed away, some trails had water cuts in them 3 feet deep and some parts of trails sloughed away.  Debris of deadfall, rock and silt has changed the look forever.

Our goal is not to put things back as they were, but to make the trails safe for all back country users.

To accomplish this we will be using road plows, dump wagons, graders, fresnos, wheelers, and even a horse bull dozer. The equipment is all close to 100 years old, so does not have any safety guards and is inherently dangerous to man and beast. To ensure we have a productive experience, we require that all participants attend a 2 day clinic at Alberta Carriage Supply to learn how to safely operate the horse drawn equipment.

Wagons on the Trail

Wagons on the Trail

So who can be a part of this?  Anyone with a smile and a love of the back country! We need help, teams, teamsters and labour to make this a successful operation!

Trail Rangers Details:

Working Days: September 8 -11 in Kananaskis Country

Training Dates: August 17 & 18 (Alberta Carriage Supply)

Cost: $250.00 per person  includes 3 good meals per day, tent, cot & foamy, & training
$75.00 per horse for feed.


To sign up, or for more information, please contact Dale at:
Phone: 403-934-9537

Horses and Kids

Several years ago my neighbor, Chantele, called me. Her good friend, Denise, had recently lost her baby in the final days of her pregnancy. She was understandably distraught, and Chantele thought that a visit to my horses would be a therapeutic distraction. Little did she know, it would be an amazing experience for all of us.

The three of us were soon standing at the rail fence watching my horses. Chip, two months old at the time and always intrigued by visitors, bounded over to us. When he neared Denise though, his playful attitude evaporated. He slowly walked closer to her, and sniffed her.

Lowering his head, he nuzzled her.

The unspoken thought was in all of our minds: He knows you’re a mom.

She put her hand out and touched his neck. He closed his eyes. The communication between the two of them was instinctive. Electric. Emotional. There were no dry eyes.

Kids meet the new horse.

Kids meet the new horse.


The human world has many parallels in the animal world. This is understandable, considering we are just another animal species. Parallels manifest themselves in many areas, but one obvious and understood by all is the relationship with infants.

Take, for example, a colt in a herd. He can kick, bite, jump on and basically be a pain to every other horse around him. He is exploring his world, and is permitted to do so. He is engaging behaviour patterns that, although entirely and instinctively horse, allow him to learn through a feedback process: what happens if I do this? Sounds like a human child, doesn’t it?

The herd understands on an instinctive level that the actions of a colt are non-aggressive. If he becomes too annoying, they let him know. But they don’t respond as they would to a rival. They understand he is not a competitor in the ultimate herd order; at least not yet.

Similarly, both colts and adult horses know the difference between human children and adults. It is a beautiful part of nature’s poetry. And one we can capitalize on.

Horses understand kids.

Instinctive understanding

In the Company of Children

My paint horse, Spud, finds his way into many of my articles. Spud is the most mentally active animal I have ever experienced. When I climb on his back, he is aware that it will be an exploration in learning for both of us. He is in a different mental state because he knows he will be put in a position to think through a decision. When he isn’t sure if his decision will be the right one, he worries. Through our training he is learning to trust his decisions, and learn that even if he acts counter to my expectations, that I will coach him on the right path and he will feel great at the end of our ride.

With Spud I must be exceptionally cognizant that all of my actions are positive reinforcement.

Conversely, when a child is on his back, he is immediately in a different mental place. He is happy and calm, with his head down and his eyes half closed. They can pull on his mane or play with his ears. He is totally fine with that.


It’s because Spud knows that he’s in the company of an infant. And just like a colt, he’s attuned to their innocence. Like a colt, a human child has no ultimate motive or intention – no goals. They are simply full of wonder, play and awe. Sometimes infatuation. As easily as a horse can sense nervousness in an adult, they can sense innocence in a child.

Horses sense the innocence in children

Sensing the innocence

Spud is my first pick when taking a kid for a first ride. He’s the last horse I would put an adult on. My cousin, Deb, recently brought her daughters out to visit. I introduced them to all of my horses, then asked who they wanted to ride. Ashley picked Spud. I wasn’t surprised.



Capitalize on the Connection

Many of us have stories of children and horses. Sometimes those stories start with, I remember when I was a kid…and go on to relate some tale of a bareback bridle-less canter through the back pasture. We climbed on that horse because it felt right. We didn’t have an agenda for what to accomplish in the hour we allotted to be on his back; all we cared about was having fun with the horse. Do you think the horse knew that? Absolutely.

So as adults, where do we lose that innocence and intrinsic trust? Can we get it back? Can we make use of it? I believe we can.

Zara and Ponkey

Your head is bigger than my whole body!

Our adult lives seem forged in goals, motives and to-do lists. We need to have to have our horse ready for that competition on a specific date, no matter what. A pattern of schedule, competition, pressure and personal agenda. In this rush, we forget about the horses mind.

As adult humans, however, we have the ability to climb above instinctive emotions caused by pressure or fear. We have the ability to fall back on that child-like innocence. We can choose what emotions we feel. And we can use it to our advantage because a horse will sense it.

Spud has been my greatest teacher. If I focus on the mechanics of a physical maneuver I expect him to make, he becomes tense. However if I’m relaxed, smiling on the inside and enjoying the moment; if I’m not focussing solely on his response to my aids, but on our mutual goal as a single unit in the bigger picture, he picks up on that right away. To me, it feels like taking off the padlock and throwing away the chains. My understanding is that it feels the same way to him. My mental state creates a happy-place for him. In those moments we learn, accomplish and succeed.

Try this at Home

Saddle up your horse, climb on him in your pasture or paddock, and do nothing but enjoy the moment. Don’t ask anything of him. Enjoy him. Relax. Use all of your senses to feel him. If he moves off, let him. Just relax and feel what his body is doing. Get in tune with it. Smile a big smile. Think back to when you were a child, and give your horse a treat for a minute: be that kid. Fill your mind with innocence and fun; with awe and love and respect for that animal you are sitting on.

This is a very powerful state of mind. Capture it like a picture on your smartphone. File it so that you can use it again when you need to: Before a show when you’re nervous. When your horse is stressed because he is having trouble comprehending what you’re asking. When you’re frustrated.

Once you have achieved that mental state with your horse, then introduce the exercise by asking your horse to follow your body, not by driving him with your hands and feet.

Your horse might be wondering who this new awesome person is on his back. And you might be surprised at the results.

Horsemanship for your English Trail Horse

Is your horse only ridden in the arena?  Too valuable to be ridden outside? Only a show horse ? Too spooky to ride outside?

While it is crucial to have your horse gymnastically trained over jumps or dressage, your horse also benefits greatly from real world riding as I like to call it. This may entail working with cows, trails or just riding out on the ‘Back 40’. Great horsemanship entails all of the horse in all environments.

If you answered affirmatively to any of the questions above, you’re not alone. There is a general perception that English riders only ride in the arena. I think we can change this. Buy why ? Lets look at some advantages to training and riding outside the arena – an English trail horse.



While I believe all horses are personally valuable to their owner or rider, there is a monetary value on the highly bred types. But your horse does not know how much he is worth in human dollars.

If you have spent a sizeable amount of money on your horse you, may be afraid to take him outside as you think he may hurt himself. If your horse is confident and happy in his work, there is a much lower risk of injury. A tight horse, no matter what his dollar value will be much more prone to injury.

Arena training can transfer to the real world. Is your horse tense in the arena? A focus on training the mind to be relaxed and still, is transferable to all breeds. While a hotter horse may perform with more extravagant movement the relaxed horse will have beautiful flow and self carriage in theirs.

A horse that has a foundation of stretch, rhythm and looseness will outlast and perform his counterparts. This looseness and rhythm is the tell of a still mind.

Your Show Horse

Your horse will encounter countless situations at these shows that are potential spooks. There are tables with cloths, potentially hiding monsters under them, children – very unpredictable at times, dogs, flower pots, people with papers in hand and who knows what else. Your horsemanship skills are put to the test at these show venues.

So your horse may deal with these mini crises but is he dealing with them positively?

Horsemanship in training may entail bringing in the potential spooky situations into the arena. Use things you already have for your training. Got a tarp, sheets or flags? Use your imagination. Put these in the arena and see how your horse reacts. Let him investigate. Be cool. Have positive calming thoughts and breathe. Taking on a worried mindset will not be beneficial for your horse. He needs you to be an energetic positive horse-person.

‘Outside of the Box’ Training

You may have had some positive experiences with spooky things in arena. Now take it outside. Start by hand walking him and stay in the comfort zone. If you sense him near the edge of his comfort zone, stay calm and breathe. Your emotional strength is what your horse draws from. Walk at the edge of this zone until your horse is more relaxed, then return to his comfort zone.

Then repeat. It is crucial you build on the positive mindset. Try not to overwhelm yourselves as this will be detrimental to success. You can recover an overwhelming moment by returning to the edge of the comfort zone and re-establish the calm mind set.

Your horsemanship skills are what the horse is counting on. Listen to what he is telling you with his expressions and posture. If he is tight with big eyes then he needs your help to be calm.

English Trail Horse

Hitting the trail with your English tack and English horse is a ton of fun. When you go out take a friend with you who has an experienced and calm horse. This will help you both be successful. Keep it short and positive the first time out. Horsemanship skills are crucial to observing when your horse is in a still state of mind and returning to the comfort zone in this state of mind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are very good horsemanship trainers out there who can help you and your horse. Work with one who has experience in helping people and horses. We all need professional support and it is well worth the reward of riding out on the trail.

Your arena horse can benefit tremendously by riding outside of the box. The trail is mentally stimulating and can be physically demanding. Your horse will strengthen his muscles and the variety of terrain will help him become more confident and surefooted. Cross-training is essential for all athletes no matter what level.

Now go out there, feel the wind in your hair and enjoy your horse – he will enjoy the change too.

Linda Fitzpatrick
March 25, 2014

A Life with a Horse

Years ago I participated in an annual historical ride near Thermopolis Wyoming.  I had my mare, Belle, who was about five years old at the time.

Each night we camped at a different location along the trail, fed and watered our horses, set up our tents and had dinner.  At several spots we had entertainment which included a dance, demonstrations and even historians making presentations on the local history.

One Native American fellow caught my attention.  Tall, gaunt and with a long ponytail. He rode his paint horse bareback.  He wasn’t using a bridle or halter, simply a length of soft rope with a small loop at one end.  I wouldn’t swear by it, but I’m not sure in the two days he was with us that he ever got off of that horse. Curiosity got the best of me and I wandered over and had a chat with this fellow.  He told me that he has had the horse since a foal, and the horse was now 18 years old. Life with a horse.

Napping on horseback.

Comfortable place to nap.

There are many whose riding is more like a poetic dance – it’s impressive to watch. But this fellow had something going on that was much more than just ‘partnership in motion’. The dance didn’t stop when the ride was over. It was as if he and the horse shared a mental connection – not only while riding – but all the time. When this fellow took a nap, he would stretch out on the horse and sleep.  The horse slept then too.

As I watched them, I got to thinking about where the future would take my mare and me.  She was young and I’d only owned her for a few months.  She can be a complete cow to other horses and to other people, but my relationship with her is special. There is something there that is more than just trust. I know what she’s thinking and what she is going to do before she does it, and I’ll put money down that she has me figured out just as well, and probably even better. I have put many miles on that horse in the mountains now.  We’ve traveled, camped, and explored together. Our relationship is very comfortable.

Partners with a horse.

Scott and Belle taking a break.

In 2010, Belle had the better part of the summer off to spend with her foal. I rode my other horses, in particular my paint horse, who was new to me then. I enjoy all the time I spend with him – working, playing or sleeping.  However with him I have to focus on the little things. I have to be sharper and be aware on a different level.  With Belle I don’t.  When I weaned the foal, I took Belle for a solo ride in the mountains. I swear she had a smile on her face the whole time. I sure did. I didn’t have to do any work and she just enjoyed herself.

Some horses come, some horse go, but some horses stay. So what does the future hold? How long will my equine friends live? How long will my relationship last with them? Who knows?Those same thoughts ran though my mind when I first gazed upon my little foal.? As I knelt down and stroked the golden mane of this newborn horse, I wondered what the future would bring for us.? Where will we be in ten years? Twenty?

Life with a horse.

So I got to thinking about the age of a horse.?  The Department of Agriculture states that the average age of a horse is 28+/-5 years.  There are many factors of course: breed, health, etc. The Guinness Book of World Records cites the oldest reliably recorded horse as 62 years old.  That is extreme, no argument there.? But if you even search on the internet for what owners feel is an old horse,  you’ll find many horses in the mid 30’s and in good health.
I can’t find the reference, but a couple years ago I read an article about a female endurance rider in her seventies that had won a competition with her horse, which I believe was 35. Just imagine the kind of relationship you can have with a horse after 35 years.

Several months later I stood with my colt and I thought, If this horse lives to be 35…….Well I don’t need to give away my age but let’s say I will be in my seventies as well.

Nearly half of my lifespan partnered with a horse.

Life with a horse.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Horse Role Reversal

There has been plenty written about teaching a horse to lie down. Just a circus trick? A demonstration of yielding and trust? Perhaps a practical purpose such as a rider who has difficulty mounting.?

The scenario I’ve often pictured when I hear the latest teach-your-horse-to-lie-down-method is this: if your horse knows that lying down is a good thing, and knows that dropping himself to the prone position is a great way to get rid of pressure, you might be in store for some fun rides. You’ll certainly entertain your friends on the trail. What are you doing down there?

[singlepic id=17 w=300 h=225 float=right]Well I can’t really judge anyone after what happened to me the other day.  This was during our recent southern Alberta monsoon.  My youngest gelding Chip recently turned two, and has some sort of respiratory irritation.  It’s not a big thing but I thought I’d make a closer inspection. He’d snorted out a couple of big gobs previously, so I wandered out in the pasture to have a look, up his nose of course.

Standing in front of him, I lifted his head up to look in. He’s taller than I am now. He leaned into me. And that was all it took.  The downpour had turned our pasture into a sloppy skating rink of mud. I slipped and fell backwards, and with a splash I landed right on my back in the mud. It happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to catch my fall.

[singlepic id=18 w=300 h=199 float=left]The next thing that happened took me by surprise.  Chip had been standing in front of me.  As soon as I was on my back, he lay down lengthwise on top of me. His rear legs were on either side of my legs, and his knees were on the ground on either side of my shoulders. He did it with enough care that I wasn’t at all hurt, and he was elevating himself off the ground so that he was hardly touching me.

I had no problem having a look up his nose from that vantage point. None at all. I didn’t really have the option NOT to look up his nose, actually.

Although my Chip-blanket was a warm comfort in the wet weather, my backside was in freezing cold mud. And I was praying that those hooves landed in the right spot when he got up.  I didn’t let the situation drag on.  Get up, I said. And he did.  He never touched me once. Come to think of it, I’ve seen him try the same thing with the other horses when they are sleeping. He hasn’t succeeded yet because he hasn’t quite learned the stealth mode of approach, and his pasture mates are fully aware of what a brat he is.

[singlepic id=12 w=300 h=225 float=right]Chip and I have spent many an hour together, playing games intended to teach him yielding, engage his mind, and nurture his curiosity. He is shaping up to be a great horse. But he is so full of play, that sometimes I think he’s going to burst. He took off with an orange pylon last week. He ran over to my old gelding Ty, and started to whack him with it. Ty typically just ignores him.  I think Chip likes Ty because he has the most patience with him. Spud, my 7 year old paint, would have kicked his butt.

Several days ago I had five feed dishes lined up along the fence.  I thought I’d let the rain rinse them out overnight.  I left them on the non-horse side. I returned in the morning to find all of them missing. I reasoned correctly that I’d left them too close to the fence, and the horses had grabbed them. I hopped the fence to go pick them up, and wandered the entire pasture to no avail; I couldn’t find them anywhere! Confused, I returned to where I started, and in the process walked by the water trough.  And guess what? There were five feed dishes resting at the bottom.  I spun around at a tickle on my neck. Chip was standing right behind me.

Aha! I thought, you’re the culprit! Who else, really?

[singlepic id=14 w=225 h=300 float=left]Chip likes his toys. He has a tarp he drags around and a horse ball. He has a deflated exercise ball that he loves swinging around, but it no longer holds air due to a game of catch I was playing with him over a barbed wire fence. And he does enjoy himself at the expense of others, intentional or not.
HUGE Security Blanket!

I used to have one of those plastic poop scoop things for the trailer. (Note the past tense.) You know, like a pitchfork, but with about 20 plastic tines spaced close together.  I no longer have one. I have a nice handle though.  Not sure what to do with it.  Anyone need a handle ?Regardless, I left it too close to the fence. Leaning up against the fence, I believe.  A perfect invitation for a mischievous equine. My trailer cleaning chores had been interrupted and I neglected to put it away. I returned some time later, and went to put the scoop back in the trailer tack room. It was nowhere to be found. Staring across the pasture I spotted what I thought was a long handle.  I began to walk towards it and noticed something odd on the ground. I picked it up and realized it was one of the tines. Snapped right off.  And with each yard of my passage through the grass, I found another. I reached the poor handle and picked it up.  It had one lonely tine left. Like a plant with all its leaved picked off, save one.

I felt sorry for it.  It could no longer scoop poo.

Chip at his best.

[singlepic id=13 w=300 h=225 float=right]Last fall I built another horse shelter. I worked alone, for the most part, putting it together. I had the wall sections up and I was inside the shelter lifting lumber up onto the roof. I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone hammering. Apparently someone had shown up to help me; my first thought was that I would have to make a beer run!  I couldn’t see who it was, so I said, Hello!  No response. I thought that was a little odd, so I walked around to the back side of the shelter from where the hammering originated.  I needn’t have worried about beer.  Here stood Chip, hammer in mouth, whacking away at the wall.

If only I could teach him to hold a nail!

[singlepic id=16 w=300 h=199 float=left]I was hauling the hay sled back across the pasture after feeding. You would think that the horses would have their minds on food. But not Chip. I heard him run up behind me, but I didn’t bother to turn around. I should have. He jumped and landed in the hay sled just as I was giving it a tug.  My arm almost came out of its socket, as 1000lbs landing in the sled stopped it instantly.  I turned around, and here’s Chip, standing in the hay sled. If he could talk he would have said, Pull me! Pull me!  I actually did try, however I couldn’t budge it.  Maybe I should hook it up behind the quad or the truck and give him a ride. How’s that for role reversal?

I consider Chip’s curiosity and playfulness an asset. It’s important to me that my horses be allowed the opportunity to discover their environment. When curiosity outweighs fear, a trail ride is a real pleasure.  And barring any medical catastrophe for either of us, there is a chance that I will be riding Chip on a mountain trail 30 years from now.  I might find that his ability to lie down (preferably with me on top) beneficial, as I will undoubtedly need mounting assistance given my track record of ending up on my backside in mud.

(originally published May 2012)