training horses

Dressage For The Average Rider


International level dressage is wonderful to watch and attracts large audiences who delight in the dancing and skipping horses doing intricate figures. But as enjoyable as it is to observe, it’s even more fun to do. Of course at the high levels, the riders are full-time professionals and the horses worth millions of dollars. That doesn’t stop thousands of average horses and riders from joining the fun.

Dressage is the French word for training and refers to the basic training all horses should have. It’s not limited to English riding; the principles apply to Western too. In fact, you often see demonstrations of Western dressage.  The aim is to develop a relaxed, attentive, supple horse that responds effortlessly.

One of the nice things about dressage is it is an absorbing activity that you can do alone without being part of a team—although a trainer is vitally important. You can compete if you want, but the training pyramid provides levels to achieve and can give you a sense of accomplishment without having to show. It takes years to move up the levels, so there is always more to learn and accomplish. This feature is probably why dressage has become so popular with educated, professional women. They like something that requires concentration, dedication and measurable goals.

palominoYou can do dressage with any horse but one with the correct conformation and native ability will make it easier to advance up the levels. You want one with a good mind, a willing disposition and the physical ability to do what you ask. A horse specifically bred for dressage (usually a warmblood) can be pricey, but you can also find ones with a lot of talent in other breeds. Off-the-track Thoroughbreds often are good choices because of their work ethic and athleticism. My OTTB mare Glory was quite talented and trained to Third Level.

One way to verify how far you’ve come in your training is to compete. The U.S. Dressage Federation defines a series of “tests” at five advancing levels, starting with Training and culminating in Fourth Level. (The international level tests are overseen by FEI (Federation Equestre International) Each level has four tests that list the series of movements required at different spots in the dressage court. At non-championship shows usually one judge sits at the long end of the arena and gives a number score for how well each movement was performed and also comments on how it could be improved. Once you have achieved acceptable scores at one level, you can go on to the next. (Unless you are extremely dedicated and put in a lot of time, you usually advance one level per year.)

Here is a video of a Training level, Test 1 ride.

Compare it to this Second level test.

In addition to the basic tests, you can also compete in a Freestyle at each level. This is a performance set to music where you demonstrate all the required moves for that level, but with your own choreography. Watching horses do the same moves over and over at the lower levels is only interesting to other dressage riders, but audiences of all kinds love the Freestyles.

Here is a video of an Amateur Adult Rider doing a delightful freestyle.

Categories: animals, dressage, dressage competition, Horses, Olympics, riding, Thoroughbreds, training horses, U.S. Dressage Federation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments





The last time I posted I talked about the Olympic equestrian events: Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping. I’ve done articles on Eventing and Show Jumping previously, so today I thought I’d take on Dressage – my personal favorite.

If you’ve been interested in horses for a time, you may have seen the old Disney movie The Miracle of the White Stallions. It tells the tale of how the Spanish Riding School of Vienna survived the Second World War and how General George Patton helped save the Lipizzan breed of horses. During the film the School puts on a performance for Patton and demonstrates the beauty and precision of Classical Dressage. I fell in love with the idea of dressage then, but it was many years later before it became popular in the US and I was able to take instruction in it. As much as I have loved doing many other types of riding, dressage became my favorite.

Dressage is a French word for training. Its aim is to develop the horse’s athletic ability and a willing attitude using a standardized progression of exercises that challenge but don’t overtax. The ideal is a calm, supple, attentive horse that responds to its rider’s slightest commands (aids). Both horse and rider should appear relaxed and effortless. One of the fun things about dressage is that there is always more to learn and achieve.

Training starts at the basic walk, trot, canter level and slowly progresses to the Olympic level. It takes several years for the horse to develop the strength and athletic ability to do the high level movements. The first objective is to teach the horse to move in a regular, even, rhythmic way. This is important in everything they do. The second is to achieve relaxation, being comfortable and willing. Then comes willing Contact, Impulsion (pushing, carrying power), and Straightness. The last level of the training pyramid is Collection. This is where the horse has developed enough strength to transfer some of his weight to his hindquarters, which frees his front end to do the difficult movements we see at international competitions.




The Piaffe is a trot in place with high front knee action and very little forward motion. The horse “sits” slightly, bringing his hind legs under and lifts his front.








The Passage is an elevated, slow motion trot, usually with a slight pause in the movement.





Extended trot

In an Extended Trot or Canter, the horse reaches forward with his front legs, covering a large amount of ground, in contrast to a collected trot or canter, which has high knee action and doesn’t move as much.



The Tempis are flying changes at the canter and, depending on the competition level, are done every one to four strides. In Grand Prix competition (Olympics), the horses look like they are skipping as they change every stride.


Half pass

Half pass


The Half-Pass, done at the both the trot and canter, is a diagonal movement where the horse goes sideways and forward.




The last high level movement is the Pirouette where the horse canters around in a tight circle with one hind leg almost stepping in place.

High level (Grand Prix) dressage can be exciting to watch, especially the Freestyles, where the moves are choreographed to music. Look for Dressage in the next Olympic broadcasts and you will see some beautiful dancing horses.

Here are a couple of videos that show them dancing to music.



Spanish Riding School:allfamouswonders.comPiaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Piaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Half pass:


Categories: dressage, Horses, Olympics, riding, Show jumping, Spanish Riding School, training horses, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Introvert or Extrovert?


Horses have different personalities, just as humans do. And the personality dictates how you handle and train if you want to have a successful collaboration with your horse. Today I’m partially recycling a post from two years ago when I first started blogging. I assume most of my current readers haven’t seen it before. 

Extrovert enjoying showing off

Extrovert enjoying showing off

You can classify horses as having one of four basic personalities. (Of course, there are other ways to categorize them, but this one works for me.) Just like with people, they can be Extroverts or Introverts. They also can be Thinkers or Reactors (emotional). So you can have an extroverted thinker, an extroverted reactor, an introverted thinker and an introverted reactor. Then you add their gender and their experience into the equation and you have a complicated being that requires some thought to train effectively. Each personality type has its pluses and minuses and is good for different things and different riders. And each type needs to be dealt with in different ways.

Star, the little Morgan mare I grew up with, was an extroverted thinker. She was friendly, self-confident, rarely afraid of anything and willing to try whatever I asked her. She was also strong-willed and could be difficult. Once we started communicating properly she was easy to teach. Correct, fair treatment was key with her. She couldn’t be forced, but would give her all when asked. She loved to learn new skills, do different things and explore new trails. She really enjoyed life.

Horses are prey animals and, as such, are basically “scaredy cats.” In the wild they stay alive by being hyper-aware of their environment and ready to run on an instant. Domestication hasn’t done away with that basic instinct. A horse whose emotions dominate sees threats everywhere and can react without thinking. My Portia was a prime example. When I first got her, she would whirl and try to bolt at the slightest provocation. Typical extroverted reactor. She needed very calm, relaxed handling. If she got upset I loosened the reins. Trying to fight with her would have brought on an explosion.

Glory, on the other hand, is a super-sensitive Thoroughbred who requires somewhat different handling because of her introverted reactor personality. She was basically timid, afraid of the world, and over-reacted to stimuli when I first got her.

Thinker, working hard

Thinker, working hard

Due to inappropriate handling she learned to shut down under saddle and would only respond if she was cued in exactly the way she had been trained. She was afraid to try. At the same time she was a panic attack waiting to happen on the ground. The slightest thing would provoke a frantic pull-back. My job was to convince her she was safe.

My husband’s horse, Koko, could have been the poster child for the introverted thinker type. Strong-willed and stubborn, she often had to be convinced to do what we wanted. Thank goodness she was also laid-back, sensible and good-natured. Her busy mind was evidenced by her quirky sense of humor and love of playing. She delighted in doing things like untying ropes (just to show she could) and flipping the barn light switches on and off.

What kind of equine personalities have you dealt with? What kind do you enjoy?

Categories: animals, horse care, horse personalities, Horses, nature, riding, Thoroughbreds, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Body Language of Horses – Part 2


Last time I focused on the front of the horse—ears, mouth, face. Today I’m going to talk about the other end. The rear is the other important area to be aware of because it’s the most dangerous. The two important indicators are the tail and the legs and feet.

A tail is like a flag, signaling safety or danger. Hanging softly while standing still or waving slightly small_2431865552when moving usually shows the horse is relaxed and comfortable. A tail stuck up straight, combined with a high head, indicates an alert or excited animal. You often see high tails when horses are playing and even ones curled over the backs of exuberant Arabians. A horse will sometimes clamp its tail, just like a dog does, when it is frightened and trying to protect its vulnerable areas. Or it could be clamping to protect against cold water when being bathed. J

In the summer when there are flies about, horses swish their tales to chase away the pests. Usually, this is a fairly lazy motion, but sometimes it can have some force as anyone who has been hit in the face can attest. However this is quite different from a rapidly slapping tail that indicates the horse is angry or upset about something. Be very careful when you see this. A kick may follow if you aren’t careful.

A kick can be quite powerful and damaging. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a frightened or angry blow. On the other hand, often kicks are just warnings and have no power behind them and/or are not intended to connect. Horses often cock their legs as a threat and may medium_132910292even kick out but not actually hurt another horse. Most of the time they kick out of fear and to defend themselves.

This is one reason you don’t want to startle a horse. You always should talk to horse if you come up behind them to let them know you’re there. This goes doubly for touching them unexpectedly. A defensive blow that another horse might barely notice can be much more damaging to a human. One of my horses, after spending most of the day being bathed, shaved, having her mane pulled (which she hated) and braided, and getting thoroughly primped for a show, had simply had enough. Her patience had run out. When my trainer bent down to adjust a rear leg wrap, the horse lightly tapped her on the leg, not trying to hurt, simply telling her to go away. Unfortunately, she hit the trainer’s shin and that did hurt like blazes.

There’s one other thing I’d like to mention about protecting yourself from being kicked. It’s actually much safer to be close to the horse than back a ways. If you’re next to the horse, a kick will be more like a push. If you’re father away, you can get the full force of the blow. You’ll notice most horsemen keep their hands on a horse. This lets the animal know where they are and person can immediately feel any changes in the horse’s body, such as tensing to kick or move.

IMAG0335I mentioned before that a horse might cock its leg in threat. They also cock their legs when they’re relaxed and comfortable. You can tell the difference by reading the whole body language. Is the body braced and tensed? Be careful. Or is the body slack and loose? He’s probably dozing. If he’s dancing around, he’s excited and maybe fearful. So what it comes down to is you need to be aware of your horse and learn to read his body language. Horses have different personalities and you need to learn to interpret his particular dialect.

Categories: animals, horse body language, horse care, horse personalities, Horses, How horses talk, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Guesting on “Stilettos at High Noon”



Today I’m a guest on “Stilettos at High Noon,” a blog devoted to Western romance fiction, and I’m talking about horses in the old West. Rather than have two blogs on the same day, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop by Stilettos and take a look. And hopefully comment.




In a little over two weeks, June 13-16, I’ll be taking part in the Summer Splash Blog Hop. Stay tuned for details on how you can win books and lots of other prizes.


Summer Splash

Categories: Cowboys, Horses, old West, riding, rodeos, romance, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Horses’ Body Language


Sorry for being a little late today. The computer gods were being difficult.

horse headLast time I talked about how horses communicate with sounds. While humans are naturally most focused on vocalizations, the horse’s most important form of communication is by body language. The variety and complexity is actually quite astounding.

If you see a horse with its ears back and pinned to its head, eyes slitted, nose tight, and head snaked forward in an aggressive manner, I hope you would realize that the animal is upset or angry about something. And that you would have enough sense to stay away. On the other hand, a horse with its ears forward, eyes open, nose relaxed, and head slightly extended is interested in something and possibly looking for a treat. That’s a horse you can approach (with the owner’s permission). Between these two extremes are a wealth of expressions that indicate what is going on with a horse. And this is just looking at the head.

The ears are like miniature radar cones and they tell you where the horse is focused. Ears rigidly forward with the head high, eyes wide and nostrils flared says he’s on high alert and looking at something exciting or scary and debating about departing the scene. Since horses are prey animals, their first response to something frightening is to flee. That plastic bag may be a horse-eating monster!

A slightly modified version of this, with the head down and a curious expression, indicates something interesting to explore. Again, as prey animals, it’s important for them to investigate their environment to determine if something is a threat, so they have a strong sense of curiosity. And an even stronger desire to play. My Portia was initially scared of the pink unbarrel racericorn piñata hanging from a tree near the pasture and high-tailed it back to the barn. When a crowd of kids gathered around it and began playing with it, she couldn’t contain her curiosity and crept back up to the fence. Each time someone whacked at the toy and sent it swinging, she’d run away, then stop and turn to watch. In a few minutes, she was back at the fence again. I think she was quite disappointed when it finally broke.

Ears that are swiveled backwards are quite different from angry, pinned ones. These mean the horse is focused on something behind him, hopefully the rider. You see this quite often in training sessions and in the show ring. The horse is paying close attention to the rider’s commands. You’ll also see one ear turned back and the other forward or sideways. This indicates a divided attention, with something that the horse needs to keep an eye and ear on.

horses on beachSometimes you’ll see the ears flopped sideways, with the head down and eyes half closed, indicating a totally relaxed, unconcerned attitude. This is great when lazing around in the pasture. However, on the trail a spaced-out horse could be suddenly startled and react in a way that may unseat its rider. Personally I prefer a horse that’s paying some attention to its surroundings.

Learning to read horse body language is a skill that takes time to develop. Also, not all horses are alike, so you need to be aware of the individual. But if you’re going to be around them (or write about them), it’s a vital knack to develop. This post focused on the head. Next time I’ll talk more about the rest of the body.



Horses on beach: photo credit: <a href=””>nick see</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Horse head: photo credit: <a href=””>Tambako the Jaguar</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Barrel racer: photo credit: <a href=””>Al_HikesAZ</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Categories: animals, horse care, horse power, Horses, How horses talk, nature, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Sensitive Extrovert

Wow! WPRG Reviewer's Choice nominee flathat a surprise!

My books, WYOMING ESCAPE and FOREWARNING, have been nominated for the PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award for “Best Mystery/Thriller/Suspense.” Voting is open from through Sun, Jan 12.

I’d really appreciate your support and vote. Unfortunately the books are competing against each other, so I hope you’ll choose Forewarning. You’ll have to page down a ways to get to the Mystery/Suspense listing. If you click on either cover image, you’ll be able to see the reviews for both books.  And you need to register on the site in order to vote.


I’m still catching up from the holidays, so I’m recycling an older post about horse personalities that I hope you will enjoy.

Previously I talked about the Extrovert Thinker as typified by my horse Star. Today, I’d like to discuss the Extrovert Reactor.

First, a quick note: These personality types are on a continuum, of course. Some are more extroverted than others, some are less reactive. Some can change—become less introverted or more of a thinker. But their basic type remains and influences their actions.

Portia at 29

Portia at 29

My mare Portia, a grey Anglo-Arab (half Thoroughbred and half Arabian), was a typical Extrovert Reactor. She was very sensitive to stimuli and hyper-aware of her environment. Even at age twenty-nine and retired, she could be a challenge and needed an experienced handler. Not that she’d ever deliberately hurt someone, she just tended to react first and think later.

She also really enjoyed life. She loved to play and would try her best to please. She’d yell a greeting when she saw me and come running up to the gate eager for a treat or an outing. In the show ring or a parade, when she “turned on” all eyes were on her. She also used to fly down a new trail with her incredible walk, eager to see what was around the next corner. Even though she could be a pain in the butt, her exuberance was a lot of fun.

When I first got her as a seven year-old, she was ready to spin and bolt at the slightest provocation—a rock that looked funny, a horse scratching it’s ear with a hind leg, a COW on the trail! She soon learned bolting wasn’t acceptable behavior so she tried others. Like teleporting half way across the arena or jittering in place or jumping straight up. I eventually discovered that part of the reason for her reactivity was because she was in pain. She needed chiropractic care (just starting with horses at that time and not widely accepted) and a correctly fitted saddle (which proved to be almost impossible to find). Once those problems were solved, she settled down a lot.

But she still retained her quirky personality. One time we hung a bright pink piñata in a tree near the pasture and she and my daughter’s horse decided that it was a decidedly SCARY thing. They came up close to the fence, took a look, then snorted and high-tailed it back to the barn. Duchess stayed there, but Portia couldn’t resist. She’d dance back up to the fence and watch big-eyed as one of kids swung at the colorful unicorn. Then she’d take off for the other end. A few minutes later, she was back, waiting to be “scared” again. I swear she was disappointed when the thing finally broke and everyone went away.

Her playfulness and sensitivity made her a delight to train. She was eager to learn new things and would try her hardest to do what I asked. Of course, this meant I had to be quite careful  with my corrections so I wouldn’t discourage her. In general, she’s always required a very light hand. As a result, I got a horse responsive to the slightest cue and that just about read my mind.

Riding her was never dull. One time we were exploring in the mountains and I twisted around in the saddle to get a map out of the saddlebag behind me. Just then a pair of fawns exploded across the trail, directly in front of us. Portia spun aside–out from under me because of the way I was turned. I ended up hanging off her, one hand somehow on her bridle, one hand on the breast collar, one foot still in a stirrup under her belly and the other still in the stirrup on top of her back. Because of how far down I was and the fact the saddle was slipping, I couldn’t get back up. Another horse might have freaked and tried to get rid of me, but Portia stood perfectly still and waited for me to work myself loose of the stirrups and drop to the ground. I really couldn’t blame her for dodging  the fawns and I certainly appreciated her being sensible.

Obviously a sensitive, reactive personality is not appropriate for an inexperienced horse person. This type needs a calm, confident rider who doesn’t get upset by spooks and silliness. But if you know what you are doing and have a light touch, a extrovert-reactor can be great fun.

I lost Portia this summer at age 30. I really miss my delightful “brat child.”

Categories: Books, horse personalities, Horses, nature, outdoors, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gaits – Not Gates


Today I’m going to talk about how horses move—their gaits. Contrary to what the movies usually show, horses do more than walk or run flat out. In fact the most commonly used gait of all, the trot, is only seen if they are pulling carriages. So what is the reality?

You’re probably familiar with the horse’s four natural gaits—walk, trot, canter and gallop. But did you know that some horses have six or more gaits? I’ll talk about the basics first.

small_10020981376The walk is a slow four-beat movement. First a rear foot moves, followed by the front foot on the same side, then other rear foot followed by its front. With this pattern three feet are always on the ground providing a smooth, easy ride. Horses vary greatly in size, shape and energy, but an average walk is about four miles per hour. Some have much faster walks, in the six mph range.

A good rider knows to keep his/her body still and quiet so as not to disturb the horse’s balance. If you allow yourself to move in the saddle, the horse has to constantly deal with a shifting weight that can interfere with his equilibrium. Therefore, it’s important to keep your upper body still—but not rigid. Your pelvis needs to move with the movement of the horse’s body. At the walk, this means allowing each side of your pelvis to move forward and back independently as first one rear leg steps forward and then the other. At a normal, casual walk this is usually no problem. At a speed walk, it’s surprising how tiring that can be.

The trot is a faster two-beat gait where opposite pairs of legs move at the same time. small_369623604As each pair goes forward, the horse’s back drops a bit, which causes the rider to feel a jar when the feet land and the back rises again. Learning to ride a trot comfortably is a beginner rider’s hardest task. The easiest way is to learn to post, which means rising out of the saddle and sitting back down in rhythm with the gait. Some horses do a slow jog that has very little bounce and is much easier to sit, but it doesn’t cover a lot of ground. If you want to go a long distance fairly fast, you’ll be doing most of it at a trot. This applies whether you are riding or being pulled in a carriage or coach. The trot is the “working” gait for going places. Something to keep in mind if you write about people traveling distances.

small_2431865552The horse’s third gait has a couple of names. If you are riding English style it’s a canter, but it’s a lope when you ride Western. Either way, the canter is a three-beat leaping gait with a moment of suspension, but is much smoother to ride than the trot. Here the rider needs to let her whole pelvis move forward and back with the movement. The canter or lope is a controlled fast pace that allows you to cover ground quickly, for a shorter period of time.

The gallop or full out run is the fourth standard gait and used for racing or fleeing a predator in the wild. It’s a four-beat, stretched out, ground-covering canter that can only be sustained for a relatively brief period of time—one to two miles. Despite what you see in the movies, horses can’t run fast for long periods. Usually the rider stands in the stirrups when galloping.

In addition to these standard gaits, there are a number of additional gaits specific to certain breeds. These horses are unusual and fun and I’ll talk about them next time.

Here’s video about gaits:


Race photo credit: <a href=””>Jeff Kubina</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
Horse walking photo credit: <a href=””>Katherine Mustafa Photography</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
Horse trotting photo credit: <a href=””>nikki_tate</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
Horse cantering
Categories: dressage, Horses, nature, outdoors, Racing, riding, Thoroughbreds, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Eventing – Not For the Faint of Heart



Three-Day Eventing is an Olympic and international equestrian sport that originated in Europe as a competition to demonstrate the fitness of cavalry horses. In those days, the armies wanted horses that looked impressive on the parade grounds, could travel across any kind of terrain at speed and for long distances, and then be ready and able to continue the next day. To test these abilities they developed a three day competition—in essence an equestrian triathlon.

The first day the horses demonstrate their dressage skills, performing intricate movements requiring high levels of training and obedience. The second day they show their courage, endurance, and ability to handle all kinds of difficult situations by completing a challenging cross-country course. The last day they prove their fitness by doing a precise and demanding stadium jumping round.

These tests developed into national competitions, culminating in becoming an Olympic sport in 1912. Initially, only military officers were allowed to compete. In 1952 male civilians became eligible, but women weren’t allowed into the club until 1964. Equestrian sports are among the few where men and women compete head-to-head. With a couple of exceptions—rodeo and racing—male strength is not a particular advantage and both sexes can be equally successful.

Eventing has become a popular activity for all levels of riders. You can start out on very easy Beginner Novice, Novice or Training courses, then move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced. You can also take part in one day events known as Horse Trials.

A horse and rider compete either as individuals or, at the international level, also as members of a team. Scores are computed on the numbemedium_2568292756r of faults a pair collects. As in golf, the lowest score wins. You acquire faults through mistakes in the dressage test and refusals, course mistakes or taking too long in the two jumping portions. Three refusals or a fall of horse or rider will result in elimination. Horses are also eliminated if they don’t pass the daily vet inspections.

The most important qualifications for the horse and rider are courage and fitness. The horse has to trust her rider and be willing to go where asked, sometimes jumping blindly, not knowing what is on the other side. Of course, the rider has to be equally brave, trusting that the horse can do what he asks and will keep him safe.

One year I served as a jump judge at a local Intermediate championship. This involved sitting by a large wood pile jump and watching to see if any horse refused, totally missed the jump, or fell. While I had done some cross-country for fun, I’d never tried anything the size of that wood pile. The sight of those horses tearing downhill and then having to slow and gather themselves to jump had my heart in my throat a good part of the time. Unfortunately, one rider did not get her mount back enough so the pair did not make it and fell hard. The rider got up sooner than the horse. There was no question of it doing anything more that day. That was the inspiration for a similar incident in my book Forewarning. My heroine Kasey Edwards is a former Three Day competitor.

Just as vital is the athletic ability of both. Top ranked riders cross-train, ride multiple horses daily and are extremely fit. They also put in long hours conditioning their horses to be able to finish the grueling second day.

medium_8123864734Unlike most other Olympic sports, Three-Day Eventing started as an Olympic event and then developed as a more general contest. The Badminton Horse Trial in Great Britain was the first major non-Olympic event and is still considered the most prestigious. The premier Three-Day in the US in the Rolex, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the limited TV coverage of Eventing in the Olympics used to concentrate on jumping falls, the increased public interest has resulted in actually being able to see portions of all three events. Below are a couple of videos.


Three Day Eventing:
2012 Rolex:
The Cross-Country Ride to London:



photo credit: <a href=””>clickerjac</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
photo credit: <a href=””>Zlatko Unger</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Categories: dressage, Horse Trials, Horses, Kentucky, nature, Olympics, outdoors, riding, Three Day Eventing, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Personalities and Horses

Last week I posted about how sex or gender influences how horses interact with the world and you, as a rider or trainer.  But that isn’t the only thing you need to be aware when handling these wonderful animals. Just like people, horses have very different and distinctive personalities. Some of these are easy to live with and others are quite challenging.

(I still haven’t quite caught up from being gone most of last month, so I am again reusing parts of an early post which ties in with last week’s.)

My first instructor in this area was my horse, Star, who I’ve talked about before. small_4888162686I became pretty successful in teaching her to do a lot of different things. Then her second son, Junior, came along and I discovered I needed a different set of tools to work with him. And this has been true with each horse I’ve dealt with.

You can classify horses as having four basic personalities. They can be Extroverts or Introverts. They also can be Thinkers or Reactors (emotional). This means you can have an extroverted-thinker, an extroverted-reactor, an introverted-thinker and an introverted-reactor. Then you add their gender and their experience into the equation and you have a complicated being that requires some thought to train effectively. Each personality type has its pluses and minuses and is good for different things and different riders.

Star was an extroverted-thinker. She was friendly, self-confident, rarely afraid of anything and willing to try whatever I asked her. She was also strong-willed and could be difficult. Horses are prey animals and, as such, are basically “scaredy cats.” In the wild they stay alive by being hyper-aware of their environment and ready to run on an instant. Domestication hasn’t done away with that basic instinct. A horse whose emotions dominate sees threats everywhere and can react without thinking. My Portia was a prime example. When I first got her, she would whirl and try to bolt at the slightest provocation. Typical extroverted-reactor.

Star, on the other hand, rarely reacted to anything. Her version of a spook was to stop, study the offending object for a minute and then go up and sniff it. She had grown up along a railroad track and had experienced earth moving equipment moving around her space, so she learned early thatsmall_4125411682 loud noises and big things weren’t usually dangerous. Given her basic self-confidence, she extended this attitude to the rest of her world. You could surprise her, of course. She wasn’t bothered by the fire engine racing down the street, but nearly jumped onto our neighbor’s porch when it suddenly blasted its siren right alongside her. Scared the dickens out of me too!

Because of her personality, Star was easy to teach, once we started communicating properly. She enjoyed learning, experiencing new things and exploring new trails. Portia liked to learn too but got upset easily, which shut down her brain. On the other hand, Glory, an introverted-reactor, is harder to teach because she’s afraid to try new things. And my husband’s horse, Koko, an introverted- thinker, could be down right stubborn about trying anything new. So I have had to adjust my methods for each personality.

Being aware of these personalities also helps you when you pick out a horse to own or work with. Some people do better with one type, and others do better with a quite different one. Since I’m more of an introverted-thinker, dealing with a horse of the same style would drive me bonkers in the long run. We’d probably both fall asleep. I do much better with the reactors who need to be calmed down. This wouldn’t be true of someone who had an emotional nature. They would be better at energizing a thinker.

What personality type are you?  What types do you like best?


photo credit: <a href=””>Clara S.</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
photo credit: <a href=””>abejorro34</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
Categories: horse personalities, Horses, nature, outdoors, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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