Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Geting from Green to Broke--and Hayburner

by Laura Crum

Back in March I did a post titled “Finding A Been-There-Done-That Broke Horse”. Subsequent to this someone emailed me with the question, “But what if you have a green horse that you love and don’t want to sell, and you want to put in the time to turn that horse into a broke horse. How do you do it? How do you get from here to there?”

That is a really good question. There is, of course, no simple one-size-fits-all answer. But I studied on the question for awhile, to see if I could come up with something helpful. And thus today’s post was born.

First of all, I want to clarify a couple of things. A green horse is very different from a spoiled horse or a problem horse. For the purposes of this post, I’m gonna speak from the perspective of having a green horse—a horse who hasn’t had a lot of training—rather than a horse that has some bad habits that he’s learned and is attached to. Retraining a problem horse is a lot harder than training a green horse—in general. Its not that you can’t (sometimes) cure the horse of the problem behavior such that he acts right. Its just that the horse will tend to revert to said problem behavior when stressed, or when he thinks he can get away with it. So today we’re talking about green horses.

Green horses will have problem behaviors, of course. It sort of goes with the territory. But a green horse behaves as he does because he doesn’t know what is wanted, and hasn’t been convinced he needs to do what is wanted at all times. Green horses are (or should be) young. If a horse is a green horse and he is older than eight (or so), then you have a problem horse. Because horses tend to get a bit set in their ways after eight, and it is harder to train them. So, for the purposes of this post, let us say you have a green horse between four and eight (I don’t believe in riding three year olds hard, and I’d be thoughtful what I did with a four year old). How do you train your green horse such that he becomes a reliable, broke horse?

There are quite a few variables here. Some horses are gonna be a lot harder to train than others. That’s just how it goes. And there are tons of different training methods. So I’m not going to talk about individual personality types, and I’m not going to talk about specific training methods (much). I’m going to try to find some approaches that work across the whole spectrum.

All right, I do have to say that in my experience some training methods work better than others. I have never seen a horse that came out of a natural horsemanship/Parelli-esque program that impressed me as a well broke horse. But maybe I just haven’t seen enough of them. On the other hand, I have seen a good many horses come out of traditional horse training programs that sure could execute—but they were treated so harshly that they were physically crippled and/or emotionally blown up. This did not impress me either. So I am going to simply say that you can pick your own training approach and/or specific trainer—just make sure that what you do is consistent, not abusive, and keeps you in charge. And I’ll give you three basic principles to follow that I think will turn almost any horse from a green horse to a broke horse.

The first one you will have heard before. But it is absolutely true and you won’t succeed without it. Wet saddle blankets. You’ve got to ride your green horse often and hard enough that he gets tired. The saddle blankets must be wet. You cannot train a green horse in twenty minute increments of walk/trot work (in hand or on his back), where the horse doesn’t even crack much of a sweat. You will simply frustrate each other.

A green horse needs to be worked five or so days a week for at least an hour and he must get sweaty and tired enough that he doesn’t carry around a lot of excess energy. No, turn out will not do the trick. Wet saddle blankets are essential if the horse is to become a reliably broke horse. If you are willing to do longer rides (and the horse is old enough and strong enough for this), you may not have to ride five days a week. Young ranch horses would get maybe two days a week. But they went all day a lot of the time (with breaks).

Wet saddle blankets means you are RIDING the horse. I don’t fault anyone for doing lunging or round penning if they are afraid a horse might buck them off or run off with them, but as soon as you can safely get on, get on and ride. You will not achieve the goal by playing games of any sort (including lunging and round penning) on the ground. You need to ride the horse. If you are afraid to ride the horse, send the horse to a trainer you have confidence in and make sure they ride the horse. Its perfectly OK to get your wet saddle blankets with someone else in the saddle. But green horses need lots of miles with a rider to become broke horses and you must make sure the horse gets those miles.

Now I could say a lot here about the difference between miles with a competent rider versus miles with a dude, but you know what? In my view, the miles are the most important. I have known quite a few horses trained by fairly ignorant people who put in the time and miles—and the horses made good, reliable broke horses. Maybe not well trained horses, but broke horses (see my March post “Finding a Been-There-Done-That Broke Horse” for the difference between well-trained and broke). So on to the next principle.

Give the horse a job. The absolute worst thing you can do with a green horse is to hold no more of a goal for him than he let you walk/trot around the ring on him, with maybe the occasional lope down the long side. No. If you don’t want to do anything more “exciting” than this, then take up beginning level dressage, or western pleasure, or reining. You can still stay in the ring and walk/trot, a little lope, but you have a defined job you are teaching the horse to do, and you make him work at it until he gets it right.

Trail riding can be his job. Jumping, endurance, cutting, whatever you like. But it needs to be something where you can challenge the horse a little and ask him to work pretty hard at learning and executing his job. You need to be focused on getting the job done, not whether little Fluffy is in just the right mood today, which is what happens when people dink around with horses endlessly with no real goal in mind other than the horse do what they tell him. Yes, he must do what you tell him, but it goes much better if it is for a purpose—part of a job he must learn and do. Remember—you dink around, you make a dink (a quote from cutting horse trainer Leon Harrel).

It is your “we need to get this job done” attitude that will do the most to turn a green horse into a broke horse. In essence, you ignore or correct his little shenanigans as needed, but you keep your focus on getting the job done. And pretty soon the horse will, too.

And finally, as in most things, persistence is key. You have to persist. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll have good days and bad days, and if you ride green horses, be prepared for some drama. Because you’re likely to get some. In fact, you’re almost sure to get some drama of some kind. And just when you think the horse is done being a drama queen, you’ll have another “drama day”. You just have to persist. More wet saddle blankets, keep your focus on getting the job done. Correct, reprimand, ignore, show what is wanted, encourage and reward…all in turn as seems needed.

If you become afraid of the horse, you need to get help. Fear is not a good position to come from, though I think most of us get a little anxious at times when working with green horses. But you need to be clear that you are up to the task, anxious or not, or you shouldn’t be doing it. You can send your green horse to a trainer (no shame in that) and persist that way, but you must persist in some form or other in a steady way—and again, it takes awhile. Realistically, if you have a six year old green horse, expect him to be eight before he is a solid broke horse. And in those ensuing two years, lots of wet saddle blankets as he learns to do his job reliably. Be sure that you are prepared for the occasional exciting moment and are willing to forgive and get on with the job. This is what training a green horse amounts to.

OK—these are the best insights I could come up with. I can think of a few other good tricks that are helpful—the tie-up trick being one of them, but the last time I posted on that, I got a certain amount of flack from folks who thought I was cruel, so we’ll just leave that out for today. If anybody else has a contribution on this subject, chime in. I’m sure there are many things I’ve forgotten that might be helpful to discuss.

And on a somewhat unrelated note, my seventh novel, Hayburner, is now up on Kindle for 99 cents. Its not totally unrelated, because the “background” horse theme in this book (all my books have a slightly different background horse theme) is breaking a colt. I’ve broken/trained dozens of colts in my life, and have tried to weave a few of the insights I’ve learned into this story. Hayburner is overall a good read (says I), but there is one thing that really bugged me while I was going over the ms to get it ready for Kindle. And I want to know if anybody else has this problem. I hated reading the sex scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, its not that I don’t like sex and I can enjoy a well-written erotic scene—written by someone else. But I absolutely HATE writing these scenes, and I find I hate re-reading them even more. Since mine is a more or less classic mystery series, sexy scenes are not obligatory (thank God), though a touch of romance pretty much is. But I know from my own reading that one gets a little bored of the sleuth who continually teases but won’t get in the sack. So in this book, I decided that Gail was going to get some action. Well…its not badly written and all that—I seem to have improved somewhat as a writer in these later books—but I cringe when I read the bedroom scenes. Not that they are so explicit or anything. From a romance writer’s viewpoint they are dreadfully tame, I’m sure. So here’s my question. Do the rest of you, especially the romance writers, have a hard time reading your own bedroom scenes? Or is it just me?

Anyway, Hayburner is a good story (bedroom scenes and all) and it is now available for 99 cents, if you read on Kindle. Here is the link to buy it. And here is a brief synopsis.

HAYBURNER: Veterinarian Gail McCarthy is called out to treat injured horses when the biggest boarding stable in Santa Cruz County catches fire. When a second barn fire occurs nearby, the California horse vet finds herself in the middle of the search to catch an arsonist—before any more horses or people die.


Anonymous said...

All very good advice. I've got one green (Pie) and one problem (Drifter) horse, and Pie was a lot easier for my trainer and I to get flying right as he had very few bad habits to lose, just new ones to learn. And the spookiness/nervousness needed to be helped by getting him breathing and using his body properly. His training is going very well, now he just needs more experience - the wet saddle blankets you speak of. I think helping a horse get a work ethic is as much the purpose of this as just mileage and experience.

I think green horses are benefitted by the company of older, experienced, calm horses, particularly in new situations that might otherwise be scary.

And older problem horses can be fixed (within limits - there are certain problems I'd never consider dealing with), but that takes more work, since they not only have to learn new things, they have to let go of old habits and behaviors that have worked in the past or been trained into them. This is Drifter's challenge, and we're making really good progress, but it's hard work for him and us.

To me it comes down to riding with intention and focus - you've got to know exactly what you want and be deliberate and matter-of-fact about it - speed, direction, quality of gait/transition, etc. That's why having a job helps many horses - it's not the job itself, it's that the rider is focused on a specific task - it's our focus and attention that gives the horse what they need in order to follow our leadership. (Although I do think certain horses love certain jobs, the way Lily loved to jump.)

Great post (and thanks for the book - I was about in need of one!).

Laura Crum said...

Thanks Kate. Great comment, as always, and I've been happy to hear how well Pie and Drifter are doing.

Val said...

I rode a friend's young horse a little while back that turns unexpectedly. He tried to turn once with me and then quit. I think that he was just not being given direction where to go, even if it was straight. As soon as I sent him straight, he stopped trying to turn. Like you said, give them a job. If you do not have a job in mind, make one up!

Laura Crum said...

Val--that is so true! I would often pretend I was checking the fence when I rode around the pasture on a green horse. I was very serious about it--must see every bit of fence and make sure its OK. Kept my mind on the job--not too worried about the horse. And darn if those green horses didn't mostly settle down.

horsegenes said...

Spot on as usual. I have three young ones that I am riding right now. One is at the trainer and the other two are home with me and not being ridden near enough. The weather is killing me! The young ones are the first to the gate and seem to want a job. My older broke horse looks at them like they are crazy.

And no matter what anyone says - standing tied and learning patience is an invaluable lesson for a young horse.

Laura Crum said...

Its raining again here, too, kel. Boo-hoo. Our practice roping is canceled for the week. I hear you about the weather.

And yeah, standing tied is a hugely helpful tool in making a broke horse--just as you say.

Funder said...

Wow, what a great post. And YAY Hayburner! Off to get it now!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Funder. Let me know what you think of Hayburner.

Unknown said...

Off the topic of horse and onto the sex scenes. LOL I feel your pain, Laura, I also don't particularly enjoy reading my own sex scenes. Editing them is always a chore for me. Is it really bad or is it just my dislike of reading my own stuff? That is always the question. But I somehow get through it. ;-)

summersmom said...

Great post and I am definitely buying your new book! Great deal!

I have owned my horse for just about 5 years now and when I first bought her she was a green 5 year old who's only speeds were fast, faster, and fastest. Things were rough in the first few years but I have found that as I have continued to evolve as a horsewoman and am always searching for answers, we have become a better team. I have come to the realization that everyone in the horse industry has something to offer, whether it is good or bad, and as long as I recognize this and learn from it I will continue to get better and so will my horse. She will never be a Western Pleasure champion but we have recently discovered that reining is both fun and mentally stimulating. Not sure where we will go with it but for now we are learning and enjoying ourselves and that is what matters.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Angie--glad to hear I'm not alone.

And yay summersmom--that is exactly the kind of success story that illustrates what I mean. You persisted.

joycemocha said...

In my experience, it takes a horse to get to about the age of 7-9 to settle down and be a broke/finished horse mentally as well as physically. I really could tell the difference in Mocha from age 8-10--by the time she was ten she was clearly a finished horse, mentally, with none of the squirreliness of a green horse. One of the other owners in the barn was complaining about her five year old gelding, who's a bit pushy and lazy. I suggested she'd probably hit a plateau, especially when she said she'd had a really good ride on him just a couple of weeks earlier.


G used to do a lot of rehab training work. He really wanted to see those horses for 120 days, with owners present for lessons. Even then, sometimes he'd consider the horse/rider combination a walk-trot only, because the horse often needed maintenance and skilled riding at a canter/lope above and beyond the rider's ability.

Laura Crum said...

joyce, I agree. Somewhere between 8-10 is the window when most horses can become broke--if they are given the chance. Thanks for an insightful comment.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

I agree with you that to become well broke a horse needs plenty of regular work. That was the thing that got young trail horses ready for my former riding holiday business. Tiredness and working in a group that included older reliable horses kept the youngsters in line on trails.

Brena is now turning into a really nice reliable mare at 8 but still has a little way to go dealing with strange things along the trail. Now she only stops and stares however time and experience will enable her to walk straight past. It did take perseverence to reach this point. There were some awful rides, a bad fall and some heartache through the first six months.

Laura Crum said...

whp--Brena seems like a fine example of a green horse becoming a broke horse, and your program with her is very much the way that I, too, would proceed. I've enjoyed reading about your adventures with her--great photos, too. The fact that you persisted through a difficult patch is exactly what I mean about green horses requiring perseverance.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I'll come around to your second point if you don't mind. I was talking to a friend today about sex in literature - she is a psychotherapist and set me thinking. In particular we discussed Joseph Roth's "The Radetzky March" where the protagonist has two formative affairs. (We weren't talking about you:) My view is that the author was describing personal experiences or fantasies, perhaps at an unconscious level, but nevetheless those accounts were so intense as to clearly hold some meaning to him. That kind of a place is fertile soil for embarrassment. My limited writing has included a few sex scenes, not all entirely conventional. I would be embarassed, consciously or unconsciously, where I have used material either from some sort of socially taboo interaction or from a personal private fantasy. The latter could well slip out unconsciously. For instance, me being male and describing how a female protagonist seduced a man posted to guard her. I'm not writing from experience so the material has to come from the imagination, that weird place fed from the well of the unconscious. For me any embarrassment is a mixture of two things. First, thinking "just what sort of filth does my imagination contain?" which is all about worrying what other people might think of me. Secondly, getting a frisson of excitement because actually that little fragment of fantasy strokes a nerve, which is a guilty feeling and also about fear of discovery. My psychotherapist friend might comment that repression is busy at work causing that guilt and embarassment.

Laura Crum said...

whp--I think what you said may be over my head (!) I just read the scenes I've written and think they sound sort of embarrassingly banal and juvenile, you know. I'm afraid it takes a better writer than I am to do that sort of thing in a way that isn't porn and is well written. I'm good at horses, weather and scenery and OK at human interaction--except bed room scenes, I guess. I struggle with the violent scenes, too.

Alison said...

Love the cover of "Hayburner" Laura!
And good advice to the person who wanted to know about training a green horse. Kind of like trying to explain how to write a novel.

Terri Rocovich said...

Laura, I could not agree with all of your advice more. The basic approach I take with all horses in my training program is this:
1) They need clear boundaries and expectations of what is acceptable or not acceptable behavior. 2)They need to have, like and understand their job which is suitable for their capabilities and 3) they need to be happy and healthy. With those 3 basic things plus the miles you referred to, horses want to please and become great partners for their riders.

To me this is so simple but it is element that seems elusive to many others. I think that all common sense horsemanship is natural and all that Parelli does is make a lot of money off of horse owners who lack, or have never been shown, common horse sense. Did I really say that? Yep, I did.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I really like that cover, too. Artwork is by the talented Peter Thorpe, who has done most of my covers.

Terri--Yep. Couldn't agree with you more. I didn't talk about choosing a job which is suitable to the horse or making sure the horse is healthy or setting appropriate boundaries and being clear and consistent with them--but those are all great points, and I appreciate your bringing them up.

lytha said...

i'm going to look at some 3 year old arabs saturday and really really don't want a green horse but they are the only ones that are affordable and i'm stubbornly sticking to my breedism, at what might be a financial regret. (by affordable i mean at the top of my price range). you've written a good post and i am drawn to the challenge of starting another horse but at the same time i'm so lazy!

Laura Crum said...

lytha--When I was younger I enjoyed working with green horses and pretty much always had a "project". Now that I'm in my fifties, I'm just not up for the inevitable "drama days". But I've read your blog and you sound as if you can handle the drama just fine. Though I know you must be spoiled after having such a long and happy relationship with Basha. I hope you find just the right horse.

Michelle said...

Working with a green broke horse can be challenging, but it can be rewarding as well. Purchasing a green broke horse gives you the opportunity to train your horse just the way you want. Be ready to have some horse probiotics for their health.