Do You Feel Nervous When You Ride?

Interesting how horses can look beautiful when they are on the edge of exploding. Granted, this is not the most flattering photo of me in the saddle, but it IS one of my favorite photos of my horse, Bear. The photo was taken in 2011 during a weekend of casual camping and participating in a timed obstacle-course competition. To say that Bear was pumped that day would be an understatement. I was worried about riding that much horse out into this big, open field of obstacles. The photo was taken as we rushed back to the finish line. It was like 95 degrees with 100% humidity. I was nervous, overheated, exhausted. It was all I could do to keep Bear together and not get completely out of control on our return run. The photo definitely captures a time when I felt nervous in the saddle. 🙂

I know I am not the only equestrian that struggles with their nerves while riding. As much as I absolutely love to ride, I still get nervous. I feel most alive, most electric, most vibrant when in the saddle. Yet I can get quite apprehensive at times too. Weird but true.

When we learn to ride, much of what we are taught focuses on the mechanics of riding. What we should do with our bodies. Less attention is often paid to the mental aspects of riding. What we should do with our thoughts, emotions and energy. It is often left to the rider to figure this out for themselves.

I know for me that when I start to feel nervous and then think about why I am nervous, that pattern takes me out of the present moment and out of my body. Thinking about those nerves takes my attention off my horse and what I need to be doing in that moment of my ride to help my horse.

It is really hard to stay with my horse when I am ruminating about my nerves and then jumping into the future imagining some disaster scenario. For me, the saddest part about rider nerves is when the horse gets blamed for spooky and anxious behavior that actually originates with that nervous rider.

Even if we are not a naturally relaxed and confident rider, we can still learn to channel our mind to refocus negative thoughts/emotions and increase positive ones.

One of my favorite techniques to help relax and refocus myself is to recognize when I am starting to feel nervous and then implement three proactive steps that bring me back into the present moment. Here’s an example. If I am riding and then I feel my stomach tighten, my heart rate rise or my body curl forward, I know that I am getting tense and need to implement my action steps.

My three proactive steps might change depending upon the horse I am riding or where I am riding (at home verses a show) but they often include

(1) Taking a deep breath where I breath into my belly ( and exhale too)
(2) Looking up and out between my horse’s ears
(3) Feeling the rhythm and hearing the sound of my horse’s hoofbeats.

Other ideas are to make sure I can see my horse’s inside eyelashes as we are going around the ring (aiming for correct bend in the arena). I might also check in with my body to address some of my less than helpful habits such as seeing if I need to bend my elbows, roll my shoulders back or point my toes forward. I might remind myself to smile.

I’ll go through this pattern every time my nerves come into my awareness, as often as I need to during my ride, until I forget about my nerves and refocus on what my horse and I are physically doing in the present moment.

If I can’t seem to refocus and the nerves stay, I take that as a sign that I need to slow down. Maybe change the activity. Maybe ask for some help. Remember, nerves CAN be useful in keeping us out of dangerous situations.

We riders have to regularly practice discernment in figuring out when we should proceed with an activity while simultaneously managing our nerves VERSES using our nerves as a sign that we need to stop and change course.

I know this can be tricky as all horse activities carry an element of danger just by the very size, strength and nature of the horse. It can be a journey to try to mitigate the dangers and yet also make peace with a certain amount of risk inherent with horses.

I try to do all this in a spirit of positivity. With a spirit of generosity towards myself. Some of us will never be the bold riders that we would otherwise like to be. We just aren’t’ wired that way. I know I am not. I feel sad about this, but I also don’t want to beat myself up about it.

Even with nerves, I still think we can be successful riders with the right type of the horse in a suitable discipline, surrounded by the right type of support. We can still enjoy the ride.

How about you? Do you struggle with nerves while riding? What are your favorite ways to cope?

Equine Illustrated Inspiration

“The moment I put my left foot in the stirrup, step up on the horse, and settle into the saddle, I just come alive . . . That is the greatest feeling in the world. It isn’t a feeling of power or superiority or even the anticipation that I’m going to do something; it’s just this general feeling of being in harmony with . . . the whole world! That sounds very high blown, but that’s just the way it is with me, and I believe, with many people. It’s one of God’s privileges . . . it’s God’s gift is what it is!”

-Helen Crabtree as quoted in Living with HorsePower! Personally Empowering Life Lessons Learned from The Horse by Rebekah Ferran Witter

Equine Illustrated Inspiration is a periodic feature on The Backyard Horse Blog. I combine pictures of my backyard horses with inspirational quotes from a variety of sources.

This edition of Equine Illustrated Inspiration is dedicated to my horse, Bear (shown in the photo), who just turned 26. Bear is retired now. But I have MANY fond memories of coming alive as I put my left foot in the stirrup of his saddle. Happy birthday, my dear Bear!

Enter The Latest Valley Vet Supply Sweepstakes- Ends Tomorrow, Friday, April 23rd,2021

Do you live in the USA and like to enter contests or sweepstakes like I do? Head on over to Valley Vet Supply to enter their Swingin’ for the Fences contest. Despite the baseball theme, the nine prize packages are all horse, farm, livestock or pet related. You can also sign up for their email or catalog lists while entering. Or just enter the contest and opt-out of the rest.

“We’re kicking off 2021 with a load of packages that will have you Swingin’ for the Fences! Step up to the plate; we have nine gift packages you and your animals are sure to love! Entries close on April 23. Not entering this giveaway is a swing-and’a-miss, because this giveaway is outta the park!” – Valley Vet Supply

If you are not familiar with Valley Vet Supply, you might enjoy checking out their internet store that includes products for horses, pets, livestock and people. Valley Vet also has a Facebook page for you who favor social media. Please note this post was not solicited or compensated by Valley Vet Supply. 🙂

Remember, enter by midnight on April 23rd at (FYI- this is a link through their Facebook page so it will take you from Facebook back through to the Valley Vet website).

The FEC: Do you know your horse’s count?

FEC? Say what? For the uninitiated, FEC stands for fecal egg count. Egg of what, you may ask? Well, worms. Worms that can have negative health consequences for your horse. For the why/when/how of equine FEC’s (fecal egg counts), I recommend the following sources of information:

What is Your Horse’s Fecal Egg Count Telling You?

Smart Equine Parasite Control: Fecal Egg Count Cheat Sheet

The Fecal Egg Count for Horses

When I bought my first horse, rotational deworming (deworming your horse with a different class of chemical dewormer every other month) was the norm. In the last ten years or so, many veterinarians have switched to recommending deworming based on an individual horse’s fecal-egg-count as a way to combat worm resistance to currently available deworming drugs.

On this topic of FEC’s, my horse, Bear, has a confession to make. Drum roll . . . He is what is known as a “high shedder” and tends to have FEC’s in the 1000 eggs-per-gram range. He used to be a medium shedder, but now that he is a senior horse with PPID(Cushing’s Disease), his FEC’s have gone even higher. Age and PPID tend to reduce immunity.

In case you are wondering if I might already have a case of dewormer resistance on my property, the FEC reduction test we had done last year showed that the deworming chemical Moxidectin still works well to temporarily reduce his egg burden. But the egg numbers build back up in between dewormings.

Bear’s FEC for this Spring was 1050. Shiloh’s FEC was 75. Two horses sharing the same home environment. Two horses cared for pretty much the same way. Yet two horses showing very individual FEC results. My veterinarian recommended that I deworm Bear this month but not Shiloh. Both horses were recommended for retesting in the Fall.

Last week, I took both these photos of Bear shown here in this post. Yes, he is a retired, senior horse (turning 26 next week!) with Cushing’s disease. He no longer has the muscle of a horse in work. He is still in the process of shedding his now dull, end of Winter coat. Even so, I wouldn’t suspect that Bear’s FEC was so high just from his outward appearance.

To me, that is a big benefit of fecal egg counts. It helps identify an internal issue that doesn’t necessarily show externally. Having said that, it should be noted that a horse who is a high shedder does not necessarily have a heavy parasite load.

“Egg counts can never indicate any role of parasites in disease or even predict the risk of disease . . . Many people still believe that egg counts correlate with worm burdens, and I am correcting that misconception on a weekly basis.” – From Frustrated By Fecal Egg Counts? by Stacy Oke, DVM, MSC, an article that appeared in the May 2022 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care magazine.

How about your horse(s)? Have you had a FEC performed? Has a FEC result ever surprised you?

***As with anything horse-health related that you read on the internet, please remember to consult your veterinarian for guidelines about how you should treat your particular horse(s). What my veterinarian recommends for my own horses may not be appropriate for yours. ***

This post was originally published in April 2021 and was last updated May 2022.

Playing with Pivo- Part Two!

Whoot, whoot! I got my Pivo device to work properly. Last post, I showed a few video clips taken with the Pivo when I couldn’t get it to rotate. Now I have some clips to share of the Pivo working in all its glory.

Pivo really is a cool little device. As long as it tracks me properly, it records everything from start to finish. When I have a person take video, they don’t record every single segment of my ride. If you’ve ever held up a camera for a long time/stared into a little screen, you will know what a pain that can be. The Pivo gets the good, the bad and the ugly in equal measure without having to wear out your human video photographer!

Thanks to Pivo, I now have some nice footage of Shiloh in his foxtrot (takes him a minute to get, but you can hear when he goes from his flat-walk into the foxtrot). This is about as good a foxtrot as we can do at this point. Good job, Shiloh.

From online Pivo reviews, I understand that it does sometimes loose track of the horse. In my longest 37 minute clip, it lost me three times. But not for very long. It always picked me back up the next time I came into view. Here is an example:

The Pivo also does a good job of tracking me from further away. In this next clip, I take a little walk outside of the round pen. You can see the Pivo lose me behind a tree but then pick me back up on the other side.

I am SO excited to get full videos of my rides for learning purposes. I can watch the whole video multiple times while taking in different aspects with each separate view.

Maybe one time I will concentrate on my horse’s expression to get a sense of how he might be feeling about our work together. Another time I will hone in on gait identification to more clearly see when my horse is going in and out of his foxtrot. A different time I will focus on my own position and aids. During another viewing I will concentrate on our general presentation as a team. The possibilities are endless.

The videos taken with Pivo also have real potential to show differences over time. I unfortunately have hardly any early videos of Shiloh and me, but I was able to see progress by comparing a short clip from 2019 to a recent one.

This first clip was taken by a kind friend in 2019. I wanted to document how quietly Shiloh carries a flag (I actually got more than I bargained for as I hadn’t anticipated the wind would change directions like it did!). Anywho, if you watch Shiloh’s body instead of the flag, you will see him pacing. Both pairs of legs on the same side are moving almost in unison. The rhythm is more 1-2 than a correct walk rhythym of 1-2-3-4. Note that he is so stiff that there is almost no head nod.

In this second video taken with my Pivo device this month, you can see a decent 1-2-3-4 rhythm with a head nod at the walk before he starts gaiting. There is actually a big difference in how he used to move compared to now. A difference that I hope will contribute to his soundness and longevity as a riding horse.

Lest you have concerns, I won’t blog about the Pivo during every future post (although I will incorporate relevant video clips from time to time). But I wanted to emphasize that the Pivo really is a nifty little gadget that has the potential to add a lot to one’s horsemanship journey.

Even if you don’t ride, you could record any groundwork you do with your horse like lunging, trick training, liberty work, trailer loading, etc . . . Interesting to observe your own body language and watch how your horse responds.

If you’d like to learn more about the Pivo, I highly suggest googling “Pivo horse review.” Lots of equestrians have made really detailed You Tube videos, written posts, etc . . . that show you the different kinds of Pivos, their features and how they function. Many of them review the Pivo Silver version, but I have the Red version which is less expensive and slower. The Backyard Horse Blog has no affiliation with Pivo, other than being a happy Pivo user. 🙂

Playing with Pivo- Using This Little Device to Record My Rides

Have you used a Pivo device to record your arena rides? Pivo is a small device that sinks with your Smartphone. To record your ride, place Pivo (with your Smartphone attached on top) in the middle of your arena on a barrel. Your Pivo and Smartphone work together to track and video tape you and your horse as you go around your arena or roundpen.

It is a great way to view your rides if you don’t have a helpful ground person to do the recording. If you would like to read/watch how other riders use their Pivo devices, just google “Pivo horse review.” I was thinking of doing a formal review of it for this blog, but others have done such a stellar job that I think readers will get better value from their reviews.

I bought my Pivo last year, only to find that my cell phone was not compatible. I now have a more updated phone so I decided to unearth my Pivo from a back closet and give it a try earlier this week.

Unfortunately, I had trouble working the Pivo app. I did get video of my ride, but since I did not activate the device properly, it did not rotate. I think I finally figured out what I did wrong. Next time I bring it out, I hopefully can get my entire ride recorded.

Even so, the video clip I captured contains useful footage. I can see Shiloh in the video only when we pass in front of the camera, but some video is better than no video.

It records with sound so even when I can’t see Shiloh and me when we passed behind the camera, I can hear his hoofbeats. Gaits have different sounds, including the different intermediate gaits like the pace, running walk, fox trot, etc . . . So sound can be useful in deciphering the puzzle of gait identification.

At, I wrote last year about my quest to encourage Shiloh to move his body is a healthier manner. He had a strong tendency to offer up a pace instead of a foxtrot when asked to gait, moving in a super strung out and stiff kind of way.

We had made quite a bit of progress by the end of last year, mostly leaving the pace behind us, but seem to have lost some ground with our Winter break. I am in the process of trying to help Shiloh find a more consistent gait again.

Here are two snippets from this week’s video footage. In this first 28 second clip, Shiloh transitions into a foxtrot. It is not a super clean or distinct foxtrot in my view, but it is in the ball park.

Below you see what happens when I don’t’ set him up well for a decent transition into the foxtrot and then struggle to help him find his foxtrot as we go along. In these instances, we often just find a hard trot. In this particular case, we found mostly a weird pace/canter combo. Sometimes I can encourage him to rebalance and bring him back into foxtrot, either using my seat aids and/or my voice. This was one of those times where I wasn’t effective. In those cases, I bring him back to the walk, try to establish a relaxed four-beat rhythm and then ask again for the foxtrot again.

In transferring the video footage to my computer, I can stop the action and get “still photos” that can provide useful information in a different way from the videos. For example, here is a photo moment of backing. The back is really hard for Shiloh. Here I can see that he is getting better at transferring his weight backwards while stretching over his back while moving those diagonal pairs of legs simultaneously and not getting too crooked. It is a lot to coordinate for him (and me!).

Long story short, I think the Pivo will prove even more useful once I get it to work properly. 🙂 To have a complete video of entire rides ought to really help me document our progress and give me more insights into areas in which we struggle. Plus it is always great to have lots of photos and videos to mark our time together for posterity.

Finally, here is my favorite photo moment. Me just pleased as punch to be spending some time in the saddle. Go Pivo. Go riding!

Gotta Love Those Horse Infographics!

Have you seen some of the infographics from the American Association of Equine Practitioners? I love the simple clarity that most infographics provide. I also really like knowing these particular selections come from the AAEP. It gives me added confidence that the information presented is accurate.

If you would like to check out some of my other favorite infographics from a different source, see this previous post at

How about you? Do you have any favorite horse-related infographics? Feel free to share the links to them in the comments section.

Failing While Daring Greatly?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

I am guessing readers are familiar with this oft quoted tidbit of wisdom from US President Theodore Roosevelt. It is a small part of a lengthy speech titled “Citizenship In A Republic” that he delivered in France in 1910. If you’ve read about his life, you will recognize a man who was an accomplished horseman and extremely gritty in a way that I never have been and never will be. So while I’m thinking President Roosevelt did not have my kind of life or my recent clinic experience in mind when he wrote it, I am still grabbing the spirit of the quote and running with it.

One can in fact argue whether taking two horses by oneself to a clinic fits the description of “daring greatly.” I will say that for me, it probably comes close. Sometimes I just have to gently laugh at myself. For all my equestrian ambitions, I have a tendency to not get as far as I would like.

In a post last week, I talked about my efforts to prepare my two horses for separating at clinics. I also mentioned how amazed I feel when I actually manage to arrive somewhere with my horses in tow considering all the obstacles that often present when I try to participate in horse events. I DID actually make it to my first clinic of the year. But instead of staying for the two day event as planned, I ended up staying about four hours.

After packing, hooking up the trailer, loading, driving to the clinic, unloading, unpacking, making a little staging area for my equipment and setting Bear and Shiloh up in their stalls (including lugging around the dreaded water buckets), it was time to take Shiloh to the arena. We started with groundwork. That portion ended up lasting longer than I anticipated. It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make it through the clinic.

All that time on my feet made my arthritis act up and set off a chain of pain across my body. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to walk properly if I kept pushing myself, so I made the choice to pack up at lunch time and head home.

Normally, I am able to schedule my daily activities so that I’m not in so much pain. When I’m pushed past a certain point, though, the pain unfortunately takes over. And apparently the beginning of the clinic experience was that point. You know the horse that is labeled as “limited use only” or “intermittently lame”? That’s me in human form.

I am obviously disappointed that I didn’t get my full money’s worth out of the experience. I didn’t even ride. I didn’t even snap one photo. Still, I had some important experiences that made me glad I at least gave the clinic a go:

  • I drove my new trailer on the highway for the first time. Seemed to pull well at higher speeds even in the wind and rain.
  • The horses loaded both times pretty smoothly, even in the rain for the drive home.
  • At the clinic, there were about 12 horses in a fairly small indoor arena. Shiloh and I aren’t used to that excitement so it was needed exposure to a jazzier environment.
  • Bear and Shiloh got some much needed practice separating. In a previous post I addressed my attempts at doing some practice on this issue, but as it turns out, the practice did not seem to apply well in this particular clinic situation as the horses behaviors were different than what I’d seen before. Bear (who doesn’t seem to mind my taking Shiloh away to ride at home or at the local indoor we frequent) started hollering as soon as I took Shiloh away from their adjoining clinic stalls. Then there was constant hollering back and forth between Bear and Shiloh for the first half-hour or so. Yes, I was that one person with the screaming horse (or in this case two horses) that seems to appear at every clinic. Shiloh wasn’t doing anything terrible, but he wasn’t really “there” with me either. His mind was on Bear. Shiloh was much quieter after the clinician did some groundwork with him- but it is something I’d like to develop for myself- that ability to draw Shiloh’s attention even if he is feeling insecure. My experience is that attending clinics can bring out the holes in your own horsemanship and your relationship with your horse. Holes that don’t show up when you work in the comparatively comfortable setting of your own backyard. Even just attending a few hours of the clinic proved that point. My horsemanship looks more like swiss cheese than solid cheddar.
  • In the process of my unloading the horses at the clinic barn, another participant noted that I didn’t have the lead ropes tossed over the horses backs. At the time, I didn’t understand what that person meant, but it later occurred to me. In my old trailer with mangers, I had to untie the horses through the small feed door but am not tall enough to reach through and put the lead ropes over their backs. The lead ropes just dangled in front, and I reached out and caught the ends when the horses came off. With the new trailer, I have full doors on both sides. I must enter through one of them in order to untie (the look on Bear’s face the first time I appeared in front of him on that trailer was priceless. He probably wondered how I crawled up in there when I hadn’t done that to him in the ten years he traveled in the old trailer). I was so used to leaving the lead ropes dangling in front of the horses with the old trailer that it never occurred to me that I can now untie and place the lead ropes over their backs. So when we returned home, I made sure to untie and toss the leap ropes over before I asked them to back out so I can start a new habit. It is in fact easier and safer to grab the lead rope this way. Funny how you get in such a pattern that it doesn’t occur to you that adjustments could be made!
  • Finally, we all traveled safely and managed to get to the clinic and home again in one piece. A simple thing perhaps. But not to be taken for granted.

Looking forward, my next clinic multi-day clinic isn’t scheduled until the Summer. I need to make some adjustments, figure out some different way of doing things, maybe get some help along the way so I don’t exacerbate my chronic physical issues. But having horses in my life is too much of a gift to not continue to strive to do something with it. Even if it means performing my own version of Teddy Roosevelt’s failing while daring greatly.

Want A Horse Product Reviewed For You Before You Buy?

Photo taken from the Ask Annie Facebook Page

An offer recently popped up in my email box from HorseandRider magazine regarding the Ask Annie podcast. The podcast is looking for suggestions on horse products to review.

“Curious about different horse products? Heard about a tool, but want to know how it works before you purchase it? That’s where the AskAnnie Podcast comes in! Every episode features useful, relatable, and insightful reviews on products or conversations with the people who make them. Learn how gear works in Annie’s everyday equestrian life as she tests, reviews, and reports her findings back to you.” – From HorseandRider Magazine Newsletter issued on 4/2/21

It doesn’t cost anything to submit your suggestion. There is no guarantee that they will use it, but if they do, that would be kind of cool!

To fill out the suggestion form, go to the following link

If you haven’t check out the AskAnnie podcast, you can do so here at AskAnnie also hosts Facebook and Pinterest pages. If you prefer the written word, they provide transcripts of each episode for you to read instead.

I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I would like reviewed, but if I come up with a question about a product, I’ll be sure to ask Annie!

Finding My Way After My Mind Goes Adrift

I really like the above quote by horse trainer, Nahshon Cook. The issue of developing feel in our horsemanship is a tough one for those of us who tend to live in our heads.

Some folks just seem to naturally stay in the moment with their horses and can absorb every movement, every gesture while also responding to the horse automatically.

Others of us feel something from our horses and then start thinking about it in a way that is not particularly helpful in the moment. “What just happened? Why did he do that? Now I’m scared. What is wrong with me? I wish I were a braver rider. What do I do now?”

Thinking is good in general, of course. But staying in my mind while absorbed in my own spiraling thoughts? That is usually not helpful to my horse. As with so many things in life and horsemanship, there is an ideal balance between thinking and feeling and thinking about what we are feeling.

When I am staying in My mind, focusing on MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY past, MY future, I have stopped thinking about the horse. I suspect it feels to the horse like I have stopped riding and abandoned him to his own devices.

Too much thought and the emoting about those thoughts as Nahshon Cook mentions? They take me right off the horse in the middle of the ride. No wonder some of us riders can get really good at creating anxiety in our equines.

What if instead I can stay in touch with how the horse feels underneath me, in each moment of each stride? That is how I can create calm for me and my horse.

What if instead of thinking and emoting about the last big, scary moment during my ride (say a big spook), I can take a deep breath and go back to feeling my horse underneath me, feeling each next stride? If so, the rest of the ride goes so much better than if I dwell on that incident.

If I keep on focusing on that spook during the rest of the ride? There I go again, mentally dismounting. Maybe even right when the horse needed me the most to help regain his own sense of safety and composure.

I also like Nahshon Cook’s imagery of floating within the ocean. I imagine myself making small adjustments to keep swimming along in the direction I want to go while keeping my face above the water. I am going with the water and yet still charting a course, whether further out into the ocean or circling around back to the shore.

In making lots of those small adjustments, I am not fighting the water (horse). I am learning how to move with the water (horse) while at the same time accomplishing my goal of us arriving safely at my chosen training destination. It is an interesting give and take.

Trying to maintain this frame of mind is definitely a work in progress for me, particularly on days where I seem to have misplaced my confidence and can’t find it anywhere. But it is exactly what I want to aspire to with every horse I ride.

Clinic Preparation

Do you know what the downside is to keeping only two horses? Sometimes separation anxiety appears when the horses are removed from each others’ presence. This can present some challenges when you are one person traveling with two horses.

Bear and Shiloh have been pastures mates for about 2 and half years now. Fortunately so far, I can easily remove either of them from their paddock to go do groundwork, riding or have the farrier/veterinarian attend to them.

Neither horse fusses about leaving other. I am able to safely work with each horse without them turning into a ball of nerves when they are alone with me.

But for the horse left behind in the paddock? That is more problematic. Bear generally handles those situations better than Shiloh. He rarely gets visibly upset. Shiloh, though, can become much more emotional. He often whinnies. Sometimes he even races the fence line with his tail flagged.

It is hard to be a herd animal and find yourself suddenly single. Your instincts from birth tell you that being by yourself is unsafe. And then you add in some stressful life experiences to the mix.

At both their ages, Bear at almost 26 and Shiloh at almost 18, they were obviously weaned from their mothers. They have changed owners a number of times. They have also both been the only horse left after their respective pasture mates died. They know that sometimes, a horse leaves and doesn’t come back.

Of course, I don’t know exactly how they process or associate these issues. I don’t think anybody can say for sure since we can’t get inside their heads. But clearly, anybody who has been around horses for longer than a minute will see that separation is a source of stress for many horses.

So what does all this have to do with clinic preparation? I’ve signed Shiloh and me up for two, multi-day riding clinics this year. I don’t want to leave Bear behind at home by himself so I’ve secured stalls for both of horses at the clinic locations.

Since Bear is retired, I won’t be riding him in the clinics, but if I have the opportunity, I would like to see if I can include him in a groundwork segment or two. At the very least, I’ll probably want to hand walk him periodically. He’s not used to stall confinement. As an aged horse with arthritis, I don’t want him to stock up or stiffen up. This means Shiloh will have to stay behind in his stall and watch me and Bear walk off together.

So in addition to riding Shiloh as I usually do, I am taking Bear out of their shared paddock. I do a little groundwork with him in my round pen while we leave Shiloh behind.

Below, Bear and I practice some liberty work without halter or lead rope. I work to see if I can encourage him to follow me through a little obstacle course. Shiloh is alone in his paddock while Bear and I are in the round pen.

Now see if you can “spy with your little eye” Shiloh watching Bear like a hawk.

When I asked Shiloh how he felt about being left behind, here was his response to my inquiry (he also showed off his off-set pair of chompers in this photo- you may recall my mentioning that he was kicked in the face as a foal- one of the reasons I ride him bitless).

My horses have a new ride this year so part of the clinic preparation is also practicing loading and unloading in a new set up with a ramp. And I’m thinking I need to give those tails and back legs a nice shampooing to remove a Winter’s worth of staining!

We also completed our first, brief field-trip of the year off the property to the local boarding/training barn. Bear practiced staying in a stall while I rode Shiloh in their indoor arena. The day we loaded and traveled was super windy so it was good exposure in working in less than ideal conditions. We all know that clinics don’t always take place on sunny and 75 degree days.

Here is Shiloh post-ride and sporting his travel halter. He is looking worried about what we are going to do next, but he loaded back up like a champ. Bear, Shiloh (and I!) returned home safe and sound.

Hopefully we will be able to get to our clinics and have a successful experience in tackling this separation issue. But there’s a lot of steps before we get there. Ever noticed how many stars have to align for you to go somewhere with your horse(s)?

You have to stay healthy. Your horse(s) have to stay healthy. Both your truck AND trailer have to stay in working order. Your horses have to load (this is a biggie!). Your family and any pets/livestock remaining behind must avoid having any crisis that require your attention. Ditto for work emergencies.

I’ve had trails rides, horse shows and clinic plans all derailed by every one of those issues, much to my disappointment. Whenever I actually arrive at a ride location with horses in tow, I always feel charmed and amazed (maybe a little dazed too).

How about you? Any plans with your horses this year? How are you preparing yourself and your horses for your own adventures?

Horse Care and The Comfort of Routine

*Today I bring you an essay that I previously wrote and published on another site last Spring. The link to the essay no longer functions so I rewrote it here (with a few tweaks) for inclusion on this blog.

I have been a backyard horse-keeper for about eighteen years now. I appreciate many aspects of keeping my horses at home including how their very presence encourages me to maintain a routine.

I am naturally drawn to structure and organization so I don’t need much prompting to keep a schedule. But during times in life when the chips are down, the regular rhythms of horse care help mitigate the chaos.

Knowing that my horses still need me, no matter what else is going on in the world, provides much needed normalcy.

While there are some varied opinions on the topic, most horse people seem to think that maintaining a routine is beneficial to horse well-being.

In reading about horses living in the wild, the description of their lives sound quite organized to me. Preferring to live in communal herds, they seem to naturally appreciate structure.

While some contend that horse herds in the wild are very hierarchical, others think that an observed pecking order among equines is only seen in domestic horses. They believe that being housed in close quarters creates competition for resources that gives rise to those hierarchies.

Pecking order or no pecking order, horses naturally seem drawn to predictability in many forms. Any time I have welcomed a new horse into my backyard, it is my observation that they relax once they catch on that I am coming back to feed and otherwise care for them on a set time-schedule.

Nature in general seems to share this innate sense of organization that I find so appealing. In spending time recently in the pasture and barn, I see signs of Spring everywhere. Each season has its own familiar structure.

My horse are shedding their Winter coats. The grass is staring to grow and go green, prompting me to wait for the ground to dry out so I can start the first mow of the season. The avian activity is increasing. I see birds flying with pieces of horse hay in their mouths. Fathers and mothers building nests in anticipation of egg laying.

The rhythms of the Spring season and of nature itself give me quiet comfort when other evens in my life seem out of control. They connect me to something larger than myself.

In my own Christian faith tradition, nature is God’s handiwork. The wonder of nature reminds me to look to Him for inspiration and guidance, both in times of plenty and in times of want. It is a beautiful thing to appreciate His creation. This appreciation is in many ways an act of worship that calms and centers me.

As I prepare to head out today to serve another horse meal, I will be thankful to have the opportunity. For the thousandth time, I will stuff the hay bags full of forage, check the water trough and gather the tools to start cleaning the run-in-shed.

Horse care is physical work, not always completely welcome to my ever-aging body, but the process never gets old. Performing this routine means that I have horses in my backyard for at least one more day. No matter what else is going on in my world, for this I am ever so grateful.